Last week brought news of the Academy Award nominations, and all the controversy that comes with them, yet even though the Oscars are not until Feb. 9, the race is evolving every day. Indeed, this past weekend saw two major developments that create at least the perception of competing frontrunners for Best Picture, and maybe Best Director. 1917 won the Producers Guild of America equivalent of Best Picture on Saturday, and Parasite won the same from the Screen Actors Guild.
With the PGA winners announced Saturday and the SAG awards held on Sunday, the weekend created the illusion of dual frontrunners between Sam Mendes’ World War I drama and Bong Joon-ho’s foreign language critical darling. While 1917 always looked like a strong frontrunner due to its conventional subject matter (at least per awards voters’ tastes) of a war story about sacrifice, no Korean film has ever won the SAG’s Best Ensemble prize. The competing narrative is only further accentuated by the fact that 1917 also won the Best Drama Golden Globe trophy only a few weeks ago.
At this point, it is obvious the Mendes picture is the frontrunner. Even though it was ignored for any SAG nominations—despite excellent performances by George McKay and Dean-Charles Chapman in the lead roles—it is most certainly a filmmaker’s movie with the technical wizardry achieved to make the film look like a single uninterrupted shot. Its tight atmosphere and tension, which relies just as much on quiet moments as the clock ticks on two British Tommies and their desperate mission, is rather unique among a genre so well-worn. Its British subject matter also makes it a shoo-in to win the BAFTA for Best Picture.
Even so, I’d hesitate to say its Oscar win for Best Picture is a lock. As Parasite’s support among the SAG voters indicates, we are now in a new era where awards voters have less traditional “Oscar friendly” tastes. Think Moonlight and The Shape of Water both winning Best Picture in the last few years. Further I would not count Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood out just yet.
Admittedly, it is the movie I predicted a week ago, and that now looks far less certain. However, Once Upon a Time also picked up a Best Picture Golden Globe (in the Comedy/Musical category) and also earned Best Picture from the Critics Choice Association. And notably both the CCAs and the PGAs have differed from each other and the Academy on recent Best Picture winners: the PGAs have lined up with the Oscars three of the last five years, diverging in 2016 and 2017 when they gave The Big Short Best Picture over Spotlight in a competitive year and picked La La Land over Moonlight; the CCAs, meanwhile, similarly picked La La Land over Moonlight, as well as Roma over Green Book and Boyhood over Birdman.
All this is to say that it would appear there are three frontrunners for Best Picture instead of two. And if Bong or Tarantino win the Directors Guild of America’s Best Picture equivalent prize over Sam Mendes, expect all prognostication hell to break loose… which would be welcome if it created some actual suspense on Oscar night!
No matter what though, the other real takeaway from these wins is further confirmation that there is still a strong bias against Netflix original films amongst industry voters. While Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director at the Oscars last year for Roma, and The Irishman is cleaning up in awards nomination counts, the Martin Scorsese crime epic continues to be largely ignored for top prizes by voting blocs. Similarly, Netflix’s other traditionally award-friendly film, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, is going largely unloved beyond continued Best Supporting Actress wins for Laura Dern. At this point, the likelihood of The Irishman winning Best Picture (or perhaps even Best Director for Scorsese) appears remote.