‘Tár’ Isn’t the Frontrunner, But Can It Win More Than One Oscar?

Todd Field's drama has swept the major critics' awards, so are pundits underestimating its Oscar chances outside Cate Blanchett?

TAR, Cate Blanchett, 2022. ph: Florian Hoffmeister / © Focus Features / courtesy Everett Collection
©Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection

You’d think the movie that won the critics’ awards trifecta of Los Angeles, New York and the National Society of Film Critics would be considered one of the best picture front-runners. Still, Todd Field’s psychological drama about a lesbian conductor’s rise and fall isn’t being touted as a possibility to win the best picture Oscar on March 12. Is this a mistake on the industry’s part? Are we underestimating “Tár,” a film that would be more in line with conventional Hollywood and international voters?

Two movies overperformed on Oscar nomination morning – A24’s multiverse sci-fi comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” nabbing a leading 11 nominations including costumes, original score and original song, and Focus Features’ “Tár,” which picked up two worthy and crucial technical nods for cinematography (Florian Hoffmeister) and film editing (Monika Willi).

After adding another big trophy to its case this past weekend with the London Film Critics Circle, “Tár” is among only seven movies to win the “trifecta” in the history of the three organizations — “Goodfellas” (1990), “Schindler’s List” (1993), “L.A. Confidential” (1997), “The Hurt Locker” (2009), “The Social Network” (2010) and “Drive My Car” (2021). Only four have won the trifecta plus London — “Schindler,” “Confidential,” “Social Network” and now, “Tár.”

Two of those, “Schindler’s List” and “Hurt Locker,” won best picture. Revisiting each respective awards season, each of them, except for “Drive My Car,” was considered a viable, top-three contender to take home the Academy’s top prize.

Looking at the Oscar experts’ projections on Gold Derby, only one pundit has the film ranked as high as No. 3 with the film’s odds sitting at No. 5. But why is that? Is it the perceived reception throughout the industry that while the film has ardent admirers, there are many on the opposite side of the spectrum who disparage it? That reasoning doomed previous divisive contenders such as “The Big Short” (2015), a revisit of the financial crisis, or “Roma” (2018), a gorgeous, albeit slow-burn story of 1960s Mexico. Even last year’s methodical Western “The Power of the Dog” (2021) faced similar hurdles, which allowed the feel-good nature of “CODA” to triumph.

The common denominator of those examples was major Oscar wins for directing or screenplay. Could that hint at a possible Field upset in one of his nominated categories?

©Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection

If any other best picture nominated movie were walking into the Dolby Theatre on March 12 with the list of the accolades and credentials that “Tár” is currently holding, it would be considered a front-runner. Cate Blanchett’s central performance is also a favorite after the two-time Oscar winner walked away with Golden Globe and Critics Choice prizes. Next up, BAFTA is on the horizon on Feb. 18 before SAG weighs in on Feb. 26.

“Tár” has opened in four more countries in the last month – U.K. (Jan. 13), France (Jan. 25), Australia (Jan. 26) and Spain (Jan. 27), and is set to make a stop at the Berlin Film Festival on Feb. 23. With the powerful European voting bloc discovering its tantalizing dissection of cancel culture, the same demographic that propelled international movies like “The Father” and its star Anthony Hopkins to an Oscar win could easily get behind it. Those best chances for awards outside best actress lie in best original screenplay and director.

Writer-director Field’s first feature in 16 years is his most confident, abandoning the tropes of a conventional thriller that may or may not have the big plot twist that many lean on (depending on your interpretation). Instead, he replaces them with a suspenseful and deeply provocative tale of power, intrigue and mystery.

Field’s riveting return to filmmaking is undeniably highbrow and could beguile more cinephile ranks of the Academy as it did with film critics. However, in an era where social media bangs the drum louder for the little-engine-that-could flicks like “Everything Everywhere,” the more formal filmmaking of “Tár” might not seem as joyous or accessible to voters as the energetic multiverse comedy.

Nonetheless, Focus Features has a steep mountain to climb. How do you persuade awards voters to see the genius of a movie that doesn’t blatantly reveal itself?

There’s long been a tried-and-true formula for courting the hearts of Oscar voters. You can travel down the road of the biopic, look at a historical time period or be funny enough (but not too funny) to convey a commentary on classism in modern-day society. As of late, “the movie of the moment” has reigned supreme (deservedly so).

If the Academy isn’t passionate about Steven Spielberg’s glimpse into his childhood or the Daniels are a bridge too far for their tastes, wouldn’t Field be the next natural selection for his directorial achievement?

See the latest film predictions, in all 23 categories, in one place on Variety’s Oscars Collective. To see the ranked predictions for each individual category, visit Variety’s Oscars Hub.