Hollywood Elsewhere is hoping and praying that Telluride ’20 will happen, and that a facsimile of an actual, real-deal award season will begin to take shape sometime around late October or certainly by early November, and that all will eventually end well.
2020’s Best Picture nominees will be judged and supported according to five determining factors: (a) how woke or welcome they are, or to what extent they focus on non-white or female characters, (b) how un-woke and potentially unwelcome they might be due to focusing on white-male characters, which are a generic no-no among Khmer Rouge cadres, (c) how good they are in terms of basic craft (directing, acting, editing, cinematography…I know, old-fashioned concept!), (d) how “desperate” Academy voters might feel in a COVID-damaged, take-what-you-can-get realm, and (e) whether or not they seem to defy the categories by way of occupying their own realm and passing alone some aspect of fundamental human truth.
I know nothing, of course. I’m just spitballing (yes, again), and I’m probably going to have to correct this post 15 or 16 times before 9 pm this evening.
I’m presuming that the top 12 contenders right now are (1) David Fincher‘s Mank (Netflix), (2) Paul Greengrass‘s News of the World (Sony), (3) Tom McCarthy‘s Stillwater, (4) Thomas Kail and Lin Manuel Miranda‘s Hamilton (Disney), (5) Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy (Netflix), (6) Steven Spielberg‘s West Side Story, (7) Aaron Sorkin‘s The Trial of the Chicago 7, (8) Chloe Zhao‘s Nomadland (Searchlight), (9) Spike Lee‘s Da 5 Bloods (Netflix), (10) George C. Wolfe‘s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix), (11) Rod Lurie‘s The Outpost (Screen Media) and (12) Lee Isaac Chung‘s Minari (A24).
Jeremy Strong (Jerry Rubin) and Sacha Baron Cohen (Abbie Hoffman) between takes during filming of Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7.
Five of the 12 (Fincher, Sorkin, Howard, Lee, Wolfe) are Netflix releases, and three of these are paleface movies.
Contenders that focus on characters of color or women are Hamilton (non-European-descended actors portraying the Founding Fathers), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Da Five Bloods, Minari (Korean-American family struggling to hang on and stay afloat in ’80s Arkansas) and Nomadland (Frances McDormand as a roaming 60something woman of the highway).
Three of the Netflix movies — Mank, Chicago 7, Hillbilly Elegy — are about white characters and set decades in the past.
Is West Side Story going to be processed as a partly Puerto Rican tale, or will viewers and voters default to a shorthand notion that it’s a 63 year-old adaptation of a classic white-guy creation (Steven Spielberg, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, William Shakespeare)?
I don’t think Hamilton has a chance as it’s not really a film and was shot four years ago to boot. So in terms of the African American experience Lee and Wolfe are the only players, and the presumption is that the only stand-out Bloods contender is Delroy Lindo for Best Supporting Actor. Am I wrong?
A gut feeling is telling me that the five finalists are likely to be Mank, Chicago 7, Hillbilly Elegy, Nomadland and Stillwater. What do I know, right? Obviously the old school never-Netflix crowd isn’t going to be comfortable with this but what can they do about it?
Year in and year out my thinking is that high-calibre craft and emotional involvement are the most important factors, and that the old Tom Stoppard/Real Thing riff about “cricket bats” still applies.
Stoppard: “I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.
“This [cricket bat] here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly
“What we’re trying to do is write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock it might…travel.”
In short, my hunch is that the cricket-bat factor is likely to be strongest with Stillwater, Hillbilly Elegy, Nomadland, Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7. Just spitballing.