The danger in predicting the Oscars, is the embarrassment you suffer when you’re wrong. I only guessed correctly eight of the 24 categories, or one third. Last year I managed 15 correct, and the year before 16. I did better than random guessing, but not by much.
In early January, I didn’t think that a foreign language movie had any chance of getting the top Oscar. With time it became clear that Parasite was rising in the ranks. Still, I think everyone was
surprised at the movie’s outstanding success. Nominated in six categories, it won in four of them, including Directing and Screenplay. These are significant wins for a foreign language film, indicating that the Academy is now viewing itself as an increasingly international body. That could have a profound effect not just on academy membership, but also on an industry that might now look harder at talent outside of our borders.
It is interesting that, despite an expensive campaign to sway academy voters, Netflix did so poorly. The Irishman received ten nominations, half of them in ‘major’ categories, and did not win a single Oscar. Marriage Story earned six nominations with all but one being in the major categories and yet Laura Dern was its only winner for Best Supporting Actress. Other Netflix movies nominated but failed to receive Oscars included The Two Popes, I Lost My Body, Klaus, and The Edge of Democracy. That The American Factory won the documentary category may have more to do with it being produced by the Obamas, than the fact that it came from Netflix.
Out of 24 nominations, almost a quarter of all possible, Netflix took only two Oscars. Is that truly because their talent is not on par with the rest? Or is it that the Academy members see the Netflix distribution model as a threat to their traditional theater-based industry? The old school has it that people need to get dressed, drive to a theater, buy a ticket and popcorn, and sit in a dark theater for two hours – the movie is in full control of the viewer. But in the Netflix model, it is the other way around – the viewer is in full control of the movie. Perhaps the older academy members are having a hard time with this shift and are unwilling to reward the new threat. Many movies work best in a theater setting, but there are some that work better in a more intimate setting. I’m not sure the Academy sees that yet, and that bias would have worked against Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Adam Driver, Anthony Hopkins, Jonathon Pryce and Scarlett Johansson in the acting categories, and Noah Baumbach, Steven Zaillian, Anthony McCarten, and Martin Scorsese in the writing and directing categories. These are talented people and, had they not been working for Netflix, they might have collected more Oscars.
Another bias in the nominations was that women and people of color, were underrepresented in the directing and writing categories. Not a single Best Picture or Best Director nominee was a woman. Everyone noticed this when the nominations were announced. I had thought that the Academy would at least acknowledge their foolishness by awarding Greta Gerwig the Oscar for her Little Women adaptation. I misjudged their lack of shame – they are more incorrigibly misogynistic than I thought. For Leading Actress, I was hoping they would boost Little Women even more by giving the Oscar to Saoirse Ronan who I like a lot, but I’m OK with Zellweger – critics say she did a terrific job as Judy Garland.
My guesses were better in the technical art categories where I got four out of nine right. 1917 was the big winner in these races, winning Oscars for Cinematography, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. That reflects a general consensus that this was a well-crafted movie. I got the first two right, but I thought Visual Effects would go to the Avenger’s installment, largely because of it’s box-office success, but the Academy just wasn’t having much of comic book movies this year. (Although they did like the Original Score for Joker which was a little surprising because it was done by a woman, Hildur Guonadottir, and, generally, it didn’t treat women well this year). I correctly guessed 1917 for Sound Mixing, but, contrary to recent history, they awarded the Sound Editing Oscar to a different movie – Ford v Ferrari. ( I’m not sure most members of the academy know the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing any better than the rest of us.) I suppose, though, that racing cars is almost as noisy as making war, so maybe it doesn’t make much difference. Giving the race car movie the Oscar for Film Editing might be because it deserves it, or it might be because of their bias against Netflix and it’s offering, The Irishman. Guessing Bombshell for Makeup and Little Women for Costumes was sort of an easy, and correct choice, but I have no explanation for why Once Upon a Time… won over 1917 for Production Design.
I correctly predicted that Toy Story 4 would take the Animation Oscar, reflecting the strong pro-Disney/Pixar bias. I thought the best song performance Oscar night came from Cynthia Erivo (for Harriet), but the votes were in long before she sung her song. So did they pick Elton John (Rocketman) because he’s an old white guy? I have no idea. (Guessing the Short films is always just a guess, and I only got one of those right.)
Overall, It was a humbling exercise and all I can say is that we recognize that predicting what the Academy will do is not an easy task – they will do darn well do what they want to. The best we can do is simply try again next year.