Film awards seasons, for the most part, follow a curved path. The action starts in one place (at the Telluride Festival), then loops to end elsewhere (with the Oscars at the Dolby Theater, unless the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences exercises its early termination option with this place in 2024).
Meanwhile, the suitors glide down the lanes, much like a bowling ball. They start at one side, curve towards the pocket and mostly miss. With all those curves and loops, early predictions are obviously a hit and miss affair, but you can often see where the field, down the line, will inevitably move.
In the mid-2000s, when a preponderance of Oscar voters lived in and around Los Angeles, for example, you could spot a distinct midseason tilt from east to west. New York’s sophisticates – critics, media, a clan group of moviegoers and independent executives – rallied around an early favorite like the aviator in 2004 or Brokeback Mountain in 2005. Then the populists of Los Angeles — voters below the line, studio marketers, the trade press — helped crown the real winners, hearts on minds Million dollar baby and centered on LA Accident in these particular years.
Drastic changes in Academy membership have altered the curve. But you can still detect a predictable turn in past awards seasons. With three weeks to go before the last Oscars, a proponent of the austere and hard-witted power of the dog asked me in private: “Are people going to go all green book this year?” Meaning, will voters snub the sophisticated favorite Dog in favor of more conventional, comforting CODAas much as they had thrown Rome for green book in 2019?
I had to answer “Yes, CODA will win.” The old geographic East-West tilt no longer made sense. But the head-heart, sophisticated-populist shift was intact, bolstered by a residual anti-Netflix bias. You can bet on conventional emotion almost Everytime (rhythm, Parasite and birdman).
So, with all that said, can we still spot the curvature of this year’s awards season? I think we can.
Without knowing precisely which films will premiere where and when, we can always be sure that the season will open in a tough and angry place. The fight against abortion, the gun debate, and the midterm congressional elections all but guarantee it. Filmmakers and their fans will arrive at the first round of festivals – Telluride, Toronto, New York – ready to talk about the hot topics and movies they’re dealing with. Pictures like She says from Universal and women who talk United Artists (on sexual abuse); Until from United Artists (about the lynching of Emmett Till); and Call Jane of Roadside Attractions should provide plenty of water for the splashes and signs.
Changing such a tariff, if there is one, can only happen well after Election Day on November 8 – recent experience shows that tensions only increase as counts and the arguments drag on – and probably not before the still-undated Golden Globes. Given the Globes’ beatings over racial inclusion and other issues, the upcoming show will likely play as the final leg of a two-year apology tour.
But once the reproaches, the regrets, the resentments and the reprisals have been wrung out, there will be a month or two to switch to softer films…empire of light? I want to dance with someone? I really don’t know which one – before the Oscars on March 12.
Bouncing back from Will Smith’s slap, the ceremony itself will nestle in a softer, sweeter place. And in all likelihood, Oscar voters will then have moved on from tough issues and difficult stories to something softer, warmer, and perhaps unexpected.