Will 'The Power Of The Dog' reign supreme?
It's been a tremendous year for film, but who (and what) will sweep the floor at this year’s Oscars…
Friday 25 March 2022 By Matt D'Ancona
And the winner is…
“You don’t make pictures for Oscars,” said Martin Scorsese. that is certainly true of the great auteur himself, who, in one of the most distinguished careers in the history of cinema, has only picked up a single golden statuette (Best Director, The Departed, 2007).
It is undeniable that television audiences are losing interest in the awards ceremony itself: only 9.85 million Americans tuned in to last year’s show, a 59 per cent fall since 2020.
Yet studios continue to sink tens of millions of dollars into their campaigns for Oscar glory: Netflix may be Hollywood’s great digital disruptor, but its craving for the highest traditional accolade available in tinseltown is strictly old-school. The streaming giant has had a team of strategists working round the clock to ensure that Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog – nominated for 12 awards this year – sweeps the board.
As fashionable as it is to declare the Oscars a zombie of the analogue age, the yearning for this particular cultural laurel is undimmed. Whatever cineastes claim to the contrary, the prestige of the awards is still palpable: let’s not pretend that the words “Oscar-winning” or “Oscar-nominated” have been drained of all power. And, as Brian Cox points out in his terrific memoirs: “when you win an Oscar your salary goes whoosh.”
However, the awards have not yet fully recovered from the #OscarsSoWhite furore of 2015, when all 20 of the nominees for acting categories were white – in common with 93 per cent of academy members, 76 per cent of whom were men. Since then, the number of female and ethnic minority members has doubled; but the academy knows it is still on probation after a dismal period in its history, and this year’s Oscars have already generated their fair share of contention. Jessica Chastain, for instance, has threatened to boycott the red carpet this year in protest at the decision to cut the so-called “artisan” and “below-the-line” awards – makeup, production design and so on – from the live broadcast.
What matters most, however, is that this has been a tremendous year for film – both in the quality of movies released and the more fundamental fact of movie houses’ survival. That the future of film is a hybrid of home streaming and cinema-going is beyond doubt. But the worst portents of the pandemic years – that the age of the cinema as an entertainment venue was over – have, for now at least, been proven wrong.
You can peruse all the nominations here. Who and what will (or should) win on Sunday?
My own pick would be Denzel Washington, who delivers a formidable performance in The Tragedy of Macbeth (see Creative Sensemaker, 16 December). Benedict Cumberbatch is also superb as the tetchily macho, sexually ambiguous rancher, Phil Burbank, in The Power of the Dog. But Will Smith seems to have this one sewn up for his portrayal of Richard Williams, father of the tennis superstars, in King Richard.
Perhaps the most open race of the night. Nicole Kidman made the early running with her win at the Golden Globes for her performance as Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos. Olivia Colman would be a worthy victor for The Lost Daughter (see Creative Sensemaker, 16 December), having already won in this category in 2019 for The Favourite. But the smart money is split between Penelope Cruz for her terrific performance as Janis in Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers (see Creative Sensemaker, 27 January) and Jessica Chastain, whose portrayal of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a stupendous achievement in an otherwise ordinary film. After two previous Oscar nominations for The Help in 2012 and Zero Dark Thirty in 2013, three should be the charm for Chastain.
The kinetic, technicolour majesty of West Side Story is such that the award should really go to Spielberg – who has been nominated in this category eight times and has won twice for Schindler’s List (in 1994) and Saving Private Ryan (in 1999). But it is more likely to end up in the hands of Kenneth Branagh for Belfast (see Creative Sensemaker, 20 January) who would be a worthy winner; or, of course, Campion’s.
One of the reasons that the biggest award of the night sometimes ends up in surprising hands is that the voting system for this particular honour is different. In 23 of the 24 categories, all members of the academy vote for nominees selected by its various branches and committees: whichever nominee gets most votes, wins (a first-past-the-post system, essentially).
In contrast, the award for Best Picture is decided by preferential voting, where members rank their choice in order of preference: in each round, the lowest-scoring movie is knocked out and the second choices of those who voted for it are reassigned, until a film crosses the 50 per cent mark.
The logic is that the most coveted Oscar should command a broad consensus of approval: since ten movies are nominated, a movie could win with only 10.1 per cent of members’ support if the regular system were used.
In movies, as in politics, transferable votes make for consensus – but also for dissatisfying compromises that please nobody. My own hope – that Paul Thomas Anderson’s magical journey through 1970s Americana, Licorice Pizza, should win on Sunday – looks unlikely to be realised.
All the signs, then, are that The Power of the Dog will prevail. But the Campion camp is nervously watching CODA, a likeable but comparatively bland tale about Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), a Child of Deaf Adults who finds fulfilment in singing and music. Never underestimate the power of the innocuous “issue” film in a hotly contested field: CODA has been building momentum at a remarkable rate in recent weeks.
The Dog will probably still leave with the top Oscar in its jaws. But – out of the blue – this year’s ceremony is now set for a nail-biting finale.
You can find all of the usual recommendations for what to watch, read and listen to in this week’s edition of the Creative Sensemaker on the Tortoise website.
Enjoy the weekend.
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