Oscars 2021: The Case of Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley is next up in my Case Of posts for the ten 2021 Best Picture nominees. If you didn’t catch the previous entries, they can be accessed right here:

Oscars 2021: The Case of Belfast

Oscars 2021: The Case of CODA

Oscars 2021: The Case of Don’t Look Up

Oscars 2021: The Case of Drive My Car

Oscars 2021: The Case of Dune

Oscars 2021: The Case of King Richard

Oscars 2021: The Case of Licorice Pizza

The Case for Nightmare Alley:

The lat time that Guillermo del Toro made a movie, 2017’s The Shape of Water won 4 Oscars including Picture and Director…

The Case Against Nightmare Alley:

And that’s where the case for ends. Nightmare Alley is generally seen as the tenth picture that made the derby (it’s the only one I didn’t predict making the cut). It did land 4 nods (Picture, Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design) and could manage to win an Oscar (especially Production Design). However, its challenges are many. While it materialized  in BP, there’s no mentions for Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, or any of the actors (only Cate Blanchett in Supporting Actress was considered a possibility). Alley has the second lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of the bunch at 80%. And it was a major box office disappointment domestically at only $11 million.

The Verdict

Of the 10 contenders, I would rank Alley 10th as far as it chances to reign supreme.

My Case Of posts will continue with The Power of the Dog

Nightmare Alley Review

Guillermo del Toro has been making geek shows geared to movie geeks for years. In Nightmare Alley, based on a 1946 novel and the picture that followed it a year later, he gorgeously opens up his stylistic bag of tricks to give us a film noir where the scariest creatures are of the human sort. Geek shows take on a different meaning as the traveling carnivals where we spend the first act features one. That’s where spectators with jaws agape watch a drug addled performer (“geeks” in the show’s vocabulary) bite the heads off of chickens. All for the price of a quarter or two!

We meet Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) in 1939 as he happens upon the larger road show filled with psychics, strongmen, and beautiful ladies with electrical currents running through them. He’s destitute and jobless and picks up menial duties from Clem (Willem Dafoe), who runs the demented circus. Stan is an audacious fellow who’s not fearful of romancing good-natured performer Molly (Rooney Mara) or picking up mentalist tips from the alcoholic Pete (David Strathairn) or his clairvoyant (with help from cue cards) wife Zeena (Toni Collette). He occasionally takes pity on the resident geek (Paul Anderson) but it’s clear Stan is mostly looking out for himself. An opening flashback sequence shows a strained relationship with his deceased father who was also a fan of the drink. While dad, mentor Pete, and that poor chicken feeder suffer from substance abuse, Stan’s vices are hubris and power.

The opening scenes of Alley explore this fascinating world with the exquisite production design, cinematography, and impeccable lighting that we would anticipate from its maker. This is constantly a visually striking experience. When we flash forward two years later, Stan has used the teachings of his colleagues to move up to the big city (Buffalo) and deem himself a psychic. With Molly as his assistant and companion, his dinner theater act attracts the attention of the city’s elite. Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a psychologist, tries to unmask Stan’s schemes during such a performance. It only serves to fool more of the attendees. The two decide to team up and swindle movers and shakers like a judge (Peter MacNeill) mourning a son and his devastated wife (Mary Steenburgen). For a price, Stan will convince them that their loved one is with them in spirit. The doctor provides the backstory from such grieving former patients.

Stan and Ritter also engage in therapeutic sessions that occasionally crackle with intensity. The two actors are up to the task with Blanchett picture perfect as the femme fatale and Cooper’s aw shucks Southern drawl cloaking his wild ambitions. Mara’s Molly gets lost in the shuffle as Stan’s pining is not just for a quick buck, but for the bad doc as well.

The ladder climbing of his consultations leads to Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins) and, at last, Stan may have bitten off more of an assignment than he can chew. Not a typical crime boss type of figure, the calm but firm Grindle looks for otherworldly messages from a former love. If Stan doesn’t produce, he may lose more than the fee.

Nightmare Alley is worth seeing for its look alone. Mr. del Toro is known for his onscreen creatures (from Cronos to Pan’s Labyrinth to his Oscar-winning The Shape of Water). We don’t see those types in his latest, but there’s monsters around and Stan is among them. Their habits are often just as frightening. When Dafoe’s Clem explains how the geeks are hired, it’s a tad hair raising.

Not all is as pleasing as the aesthetics. del Toro is clearly having a blast playing in the noir sandbox. So much so that he doesn’t seem to realize that these genre excursions should be lean and mean in their running time. Alley plods along for 150 minutes. Plenty of the characters are mean though it’s not so lean in execution. There are sequences that land effectively after the carnivorous first act but plenty that don’t match their potency. On the plus side, it’s got a humdinger of an ending with its darkly appealing beginnings and that makes it worth the price of admission.

*** (out of four)

Nightmare Alley Box Office Prediction

The last time Guillermo del Toro was behind the camera, 13 Oscar nominations came his way with 2017’s The Shape of Water (including wins in Picture and Director). His follow-up is Nightmare Alley, a remake of a 1947 pic which was based on a 1946 William Lindsay Gresham novel. The noirish thriller boasts an impressive cast led by Bradley Coper (in his first starring role since 2018’s A Star Is Born). Costars include Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, and David Strathairn.

Long looked at as an Oscar contender, the recent review embargo lapse made the situation a bit murkier. The 83% Rotten Tomatoes score is decent, but some critics are griping that it’s a disappointment. Its standing in the Best Picture race is questionable.

Stronger awards buzz could have pushed this to higher numbers, but that’s not the only challenge. Plenty of moviegoers will be distracted with the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, which looks to blow away pandemic era records. Alley is only opening on about 2000 screens (about half of Spidey’s). It’s normal for projects in the December time frame to open relatively small and hope to play well in subsequent frames. That is likely to be the case here and low to mid single digits is my forecast.

Nightmare Alley opening weekend prediction: $3.3 million

For my Spider-Man: No Way Home prediction, click here:

Spider-Man: No Way Home Box Office Prediction

NBR Delivers for Pizza

The National Board of Review bestowed their honors today for their finest of 2021 and they delivered it to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza. The coming-of-age dramedy took Best Film and Director. The awards certainly solidify its status as a major contender in the Picture race at the Oscars. In the 21st century, only 3 of the 21 winners (2000’s Quills, 2014’s A Most Violent Year, last year’s Da 5 Bloods) did not manage to make the Academy’s cut. On the flipside, the victorious picture here usually doesn’t win. In this century it’s happened thrice (2007’s No Country for Old Men, 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, 2018’s Green Book). So if we’re going by recent history, Pizza should get nominated but probably won’t take the gold.

This voting branch also names nine other movies in their Best Of rundown. Over the past five years, the number of NBR selections compared to Oscar BP contestants ranges between 4-7. In 2016, it hit the high mark at 7. There were six in 2017 and 2019, five in 2020, and just four in 2018. The other nine films in 2021 are Belfast, Don’t Look Up, Dune, King Richard, The Last Duel, Nightmare Alley, Red Rocket, The Tragedy of Macbeth, and West Side Story. From that list, I would say only Duel and Rocket seem like major longshots to get attention from the Academy. All others are feasible.

The biggest omission from NBR’s list is absolutely Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, which I’ve had ranked at #2 in my BP standings for awhile. The solace for Dog is that two recent BPs (2017’s The Shape of Water, 2019’s Parasite) didn’t make the NBR ten. Other pics that missed NBR: Being the Ricardos, C’Mon C’Mon, CODA, House of Gucci, Mass, Spencer, and Tick Tick… Boom!

As for the actors – Will Smith (the Academy frontrunner) took Best Actor for his King Richard while costar Aunjanue Ellis won Supporting Actress. Both are widely expected to play in the Oscar race and either or both could win.

NBR did not choose Academy favorite Kristen Stewart for Spencer and opted for Rachel Zegler in West Side Story (her debut role). I had Zegler placed sixth yesterday in the crowded Actress derby, but she could be on her way to making the final five cut.

The wide open Supporting Actor derby favored Ciaran Hinds for Belfast. I am completely unsure what the Academy does in this race. This could forward a narrative that Hinds is more likely to receive Oscar attention than his costar Jamie Dornan (though they could both get in).

Screenplay races provided a couple of surprises. Pizza would have been the logical choice for Original, but NBR instead chose Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero. In Adapted, Joel Coen was selected for The Tragedy of Macbeth (which also took Cinematography). Most pundits (including myself) have Power of the Dog as the winner, but the category opened up on this platform since it missed the ten.

Lastly, the Animated, Documentary, and Foreign Language races all featured movies that could prevent Flee from taking any of the three prizes at the Oscars: Encanto, Summer of Soul, and A Hero. 

My blog posts on the state of the 2021 Oscar race will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Nightmare Alley

Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is likely to be the final film screened that could contend for Best Picture at the 2021 Oscars. That happened tonight and its social media embargo has lifted. This is the filmmaker’s follow-up to 2017’s The Shape of Water, which won four gold statues including Picture and Director. A remake of a 1947 noir thriller, Alley has a cast filled with familiar faces led by Bradley Cooper and Rooney Mara (who are slated to contend in the lead races). The supporting cast includes Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, and David Strathairn.

Reaction out tonight offers plenty of praise. Unsurprisingly, this is being lauded for its technical aspects. Production Design and Cinematography sound like shoo-ins (and might challenge Dune for the victories). Other down the line derbies such as Sound, Costume Design, Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Score (though that’s gotten awfully crowded) are feasible.

How about the big dances? Early word solidifies its opportunity to get a Best Picture nomination and for del Toro’s behind the camera work. I had it ranked 8th yesterday and my early hunch says that’s about right. There’s enough mixed buzz in reaction tweets to make me think it’s not a threat to win. Adapted Screenplay is probable.

As for the actors, Cooper and Blanchett are the recipients of the most acclaim. The former’s path will be fascinating to track. I had him ranked #1 in Supporting Actor for weeks before Licorice Pizza was unveiled. That race, as has been discussed on the blog, is wide open. His limited screen time in Pizza could cause him to miss there. The question is whether Best Actor is already too packed (Will Smith as King Richard, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog, Andrew Garfield for Tick Tick… Boom!, Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Peter Dinklage in Cyrano, Leonardo DiCaprio for Don’t Look Up). Is there enough space for Cooper? Precursors will tell. Supporting Actress is also filled with hopefuls and Blanchett will also need some early love from either critics groups or SAG or the Globes. Best Actress is also overflowing and I don’t see enough Mara talk for her to be viable.

Bottom line: Alley helped itself. It might be the “last in” but I feel decent about a Picture nod and definitely tech competitions. Cooper and Blanchett are more of a mystery. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Director Race

After four posts focusing on the acting races at the 2021 Oscars, it’s time to turn to Best Director. If you missed those entries on the lead and supporting performer derbies, you can find them here:

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actress Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actor Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actress Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actor Race

With the directing category, I do believe there’s three filmmakers that have likely punched their ticket to a nomination. Before we get there, let’s take a look at how my projections panned out at the same early November time frame in 2019 and 2020.

Two years back, I correctly identified four of the five contenders: winner Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) as well as Sam Mendes (1917), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Todd Phillips (Joker) was mentioned in Other Possibilities. 2020 was more unpredictable with two months left to go and that resulted in only two directors being accurately named: Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), who took the gold, and David Fincher (Mank). Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) was in Other Possibilities while neither Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) or surprise nominee Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) were yet listed in my top ten.

Back to 2021 and the three individuals who I believe stand probable shots at making the cut. They are Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), and Denis Villeneuve (Dune).

It was 28 years ago that Campion was nominated for The Piano. If it hadn’t been for Oscar juggernaut Schindler’s List, she likely would’ve been making a speech. Upon its premiere in Venice, Campion took the Silver Lion (equivalent to this competition) for Dog. I don’t see her being left off the ballot.

Belfast is the current frontrunner for Best Picture and it’s hard to envision  writer/director Branagh not making it in. If so, it would be his first nod in directing since Henry V some 32 years back.

Dune is being heralded for its technical wizardry and it should pick up numerous down the line wins and nominations. Five years after his behind the camera work was recognized for Arrival, Villeneuve should be a factor again.

Interestingly, I don’t feel there’s a clear favorite to win. There are plausible scenarios for any member of this trio to emerge victorious. Campion, Branagh, and Villeneuve constitute my top 3 (in that order), but it’s more of a 1a, 1b, and 1c at press time.

As for the other two slots, there’s a few contenders stemming from unseen product. There’s big names in that bunch: Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley, who won four years ago for The Shape of Water), Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza, a two-time nominee for There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread), Ridley Scott (for House of Gucci and not The Last Duel), Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up, previously nominated for The Big Short), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Tick, Tick… Boom!), and Steven Spielberg (West Side Story,  a two-time winner for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan).

Any of these gentlemen could bubble up to the surface once their pictures are screened. I’m sticking with the two I’ve had in my five recently: del Toro and Anderson.

King Richard has a chance to win Best Picture, but I’m skeptical its maker Reinaldo Marcus Green makes it here. The sports drama seems destined to be recognized more for its performances, but if the Academy really falls for it, Green could be theoretically be swept in. That holds true for Joel Coen (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Pablo Larrain (Spencer) as well.

Lastly, Thomas Vinterberg’s nod in 2020 for Another Round came out of nowhere. While it was pegged to take International Feature Film (which it did), Round was not nominated in Best Picture. There’s a slew of directors who could fill the “surprise” slot this time around (many from foreign features): Pedro Almodovar (Parallel Mothers), Julia Ducournau (Titane), Asghar Farhari (A Hero), Paolo Sorrentino (The Hand of God), Joachim Trier (The Worst Person in the World). I wouldn’t completely count out Rebecca Hall for Passing. Yet none of these upset selections are in my top ten.

The one that is: Jonas Poher Rasmussen for festival darling Flee. While I don’t have it nabbing a Best Pic nom at the moment, I do foresee the Danish doc contending in Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, and International Feature Film. That kind of attention could cause the voters to include him.

Here’s how those rankings look at the start of November:

Best Director

Predicted Nominees:

1. Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog (Previous Ranking: 1)

2. Kenneth Branagh, Belfast (PR: 2)

3. Denis Villeneuve, Dune (PR: 3)

4. Guillermo del Toro, Nightmare Alley (PR: 4)

5. Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Pablo Larrain, Spencer (PR: 6)

7. Steven Spielberg, West Side Story (PR: 7)

8. Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee (PR: Not Ranked)

9. Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard (PR: 9)

10. Ridley Scott, House of Gucci (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Julia Ducournau, Titane

Best Picture is next!

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actor Race

Starting on the blog today, I’m taking a deeper dive into the four acting derbies at the Oscars as well as Picture and Director. It begins with Supporting Actor.

If I could use a couple words to describe this particular race – “very open” immediately comes to mind. With just two months left in the calendar year, I would go as far to say that not I’m not 100% certain on any performer discussed below making the final five. That’s rare.

Before I delve into the many hopefuls, let’s take a look at where my projections were at in 2019 and 2020 during the same time frame. Two years ago, I had already correctly pegged four of the five eventual nominees: winner Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time Hollywood), Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes), and Al Pacino (The Irishman). The other contender was Joe Pesci (also for The Irishman) and I had him listed at #6 in Other Possibilities. In hindsight, Supporting Actor was well on its way to being established with two months remaining in 2019.

Not so much for 2020. Last year was more difficult than perhaps any before it in figuring out who’d make the cut (much of that uncertainty was due to COVID and the constantly shifting release schedule). On November 1, 2020 – my forecasted five contenders yielded just two of the eventual nominees: Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Leslie Odom, Jr. for One Night in Miami. I still had the winner (Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah) listed for the lead Actor competition. Both Lakeith Stanfield (Judas) and Paul Raci (Sound of Metal) were not yet mentioned in Other Possibilities.

With that context, we arrive in 2021. And I would say this year looks more like the previous one as opposed to 2019. There has been one constant since I began projecting the race back in the summer: Bradley Cooper for Licorice Pizza (known as Soggy Bottom just a couple of months ago). I’ve had him listed at #1 the whole way and it’s a prediction based mostly on gut since no one has seen the picture (that’ll change shortly). Cooper is a four-time acting nominee (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, American Sniper, A Star is Born). He’s yet to take the gold. Pizza looks like it should be a juicy role for him. On the other hand, we do not yet known just how big (or small) his role is. When reviews come out, he could solidify himself as the frontrunner or drop out altogether. There’s also the possibility that one of the other supporting players (Sean Penn or Benny Safdie) could rise. For now, I’m still hangin’ with Mr. Cooper until the word-of-mouth tells me otherwise.

Shifting gears – here’s a fun fact. In three out of the last four years, we’ve seen two actors from the same movie recognized here. In 2017, it was Sam Rockwell (who won) and Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. For 2019 – you had Pacino and Pesci in The Irishman. Last year, it was the victorious Kaluuya and Stanfield for Judas.

Could that happen again? Absolutely and the best chance for that right now appears to be Belfast. A strong contender to win Best Picture, we could also see Jamie Dornan and Ciaran Hinds punch their tickets here. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it happen. Dornan seems likelier to make it in, but Hinds is getting plenty of laudatory chatter as well.

There are other scenarios to make it four out of five years and some lie with pictures still not screened. Don’t Look Up has Jonah Hill, Rob Morgan, and Mark Rylance. Willem Dafoe and David Strathairn are viable for Nightmare Alley. And then there’s Jared Leto and Al Pacino in House of Gucci. The latest trailer features the latter more than the former. That disrupts the consensus that Leto has a better shot. I’m still going with Leto above Pacino, but when Gucci screens that dynamic may shift.

The double nominee situations don’t end there. Yet they both have actors that I believe have a significantly better chance than the other. For Mass, Jason Isaacs has been in my five while Reed Birney hasn’t made the top ten in some time. After The Power of the Dog was unveiled on the festival circuit, the narrative unexpectedly shifted to Kodi Smit-McPhee having a clearer path than Jesse Plemons. The Tragedy of Macbeth buzz solidified Corey Hawkins over Brendan Gleeson (though I’m skeptical either get in).

Now is a good time to point out that it’s been ten years since a Supporting Actor winner didn’t come from a Best Picture nominee (Christopher Plummer in Beginners). That’s why I find it a stretch that Ben Affleck (The Tender Bar), Idris Elba (The Harder They Fall), or Troy Kotsur (CODA) will be making trips to the podium. They could still get in, but their paths are tougher and they will all need heavy critics awards love to make the dance. There’s been some mentions for Jeffrey Wright in The French Dispatch, but (somewhat surprisingly) no Wes Anderson directed performance has been Academy nominated and I don’t see this being the first.

One actor where an exception could occur is Richard Jenkins in The Humans. I doubt it will land a Pic nod, but Jenkins is drawing raves for his work. Twice nominated before for The Visitor and The Shape of Water, I could see the veteran becoming a threat to win if Cooper falls.

Others worthy of mention include Jon Bernthal in King Richard. The attention could be so focused on Will Smith (who appears to be in the driver’s seat to take Actor) that his supporting cast fails to get in (that logic also applies to Supporting Actress hopeful Aunjanue Ellis). It’s also totally feasible that Richard is so popular with the Academy that it sweeps them all in. Andrew Garfield picked up solid notices for The Eyes of Tammy Faye. He might stand a better shot in lead for the upcoming and yet to be screened Tick, Tick… Boom! Timothy Spall for Spencer is doable, but Kristen Stewart is just as likely to be the sole nominee (and maybe the winner in Actress). The work of David Alvarez (West Side Story) and Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos) has yet to be seen and is worth keeping an eye on.

So how does that all shake out? Truth be told, the five predicted performers listed below could look quite different a couple months from now. Here’s my best guesstimate for the moment:

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees:

1. Bradley Cooper, Licorice Pizza (Previous Ranking: 1)

2. Richard Jenkins, The Humans (PR: 3)

3. Jamie Dornan, Belfast (PR: 2)

4. Jared Leto, House of Gucci (PR: 5)

5. Ciaran Hinds, Belfast (PR: 8)

Other Possibilities:

6. Jason Isaacs, Mass (PR: 4)

7. Jon Bernthal, King Richard (PR: 6)

8. Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog (PR: 7)

9. Al Pacino, House of Gucci (PR: Not Ranked)

10. Troy Kotsur, CODA (PR: 10)

Dropped Out:

Ben Affleck, The Tender Bar

I’ll have my analysis on the current state of Supporting Actress up next!

Oscar Predictions: The Humans

Adapting his own Tony Award winning play, Stephen Karam’s The Humans has debuted at the Toronto Film Festival. The initial buzz is encouraging for Oscar consideration. A Thanksgiving drama that critics are already calling a different kind of horror experience, the ensemble includes Beanie Feldstein, Steven Yeun, Jayne Houdyshell, Richard Jenkins, Amy Schumer, and June Squibb.

Coming as no real surprise, it’s Houdyshell (the only holdover from Broadway) and Jenkins who stand the best shots at acting recognition. Jenkins is a two-time nominee (once in lead for 2008’s The Visitor and in supporting for 2017’s The Shape of Water). Houdyshell is a newcomer to the dance. Based on early chatter, I suspect both have excellent shots in their respective supporting fields.

It is possible that the dark material (even the praising write-ups call it cold) could prevent The Humans from reaching Picture. However, I feel better about its chances now that it’s screened. Same goes for Adapted Screenplay. If it really catches the fancy of the Academy, the leftover effect could even be Karam making a bid for his direction.

Bottom line: The Humans has put itself in contention for numerous races. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

A Happening in Venice

What’s happening in Venice? Well, Happening is. As in the 1960s set French drama from director Audrey Diwan (not to be confused with M. Night Shyamalan’s dreaded The Happening… and it won’t be). The pic surprisingly took the Venice Film Festival’s top award this afternoon – the Golden Lion.

In the past four years, the recipient of that honor has moved onto Oscar glory. Both 2017’s The Shape of Water and last year’s Nomadland took that Italian momentum to a Best Picture win. 2018’s Roma and 2020’s Joker both achieved nominations in BP and won other major categories.

My feeling is that Happening will break that streak. While France may select it for International Feature Film consideration and it could make that five, I don’t see this nabbing one of the ten slots for BP.

Diwan did not emerge victorious in Director. Instead, that went to Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog where she’s widely anticipated to follow suit with the Academy.

The Silver Lion (essentially runner-up) went to Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God. While it got same raves, some critics were a little cooler. In my estimation, it has a stronger shot at BP and especially International Feature Film inclusion than Happening.

Best Actress was a category to keep an eye on as it included Oscar hopefuls like Kristin Stewart in Spencer, Olivia Colman for The Lost Daughter, and Penelope Cruz in Parallel Mothers. It was Cruz grabbing the prize (to the shock of many a Stewart fan) and it puts the three-time nominee and one-time victor in a sturdier position to make the cut come Oscar time. As for Stewart (and Colman to a lesser degree), they’ve still done what they need to do to be in the conversation.

There wasn’t many Academy players in the male actor competition and it was John Arcilla winning for On the Job: The Missing 8, an export from the Philippines. Don’t expect his name in the mix for Oscar.

The Screenplay race honored Maggie Gyllenhaal for The Lost Daughter, which was received very well overseas. This increases her chances to at least get an Adapted Screenplay recognition for her work. She also directed and a nod there could be a taller order.

Overall, I wouldn’t expect 2021’s Golden Lion selection to gain much traction at the big show. Other winners solidified their statuses in various categories.

The Importance of Being Venice

For those who don’t follow the Oscar game and film festivals like I do (which is understandably most of you), this post looks to be a helpful primer on why such festivals are so important when doing predictions.

The 2021 Venice Film Festival kicks off tomorrow and you can anticipate plenty of Oscar speculation chatter on the blog in the next several days. You may ask – why is this Italian extravaganza so key in determining how this year’s awards landscape may look?

Let’s look at just the past five years as prologue. Of the 43 features nominated for Best Picture from 2016-2020, 31 were originally screened at the various high-profile festivals. There were six from Sundance and four each premiered at Telluride, Toronto and Cannes (with one emanating from the New York Film Festival). Eleven had their start in Venice. That’s right. Essentially one in four. That means that, lately, the average year has seen two to three BP nominees coming from this one event.

Of the last five Best Picture winners, all of them kicked off at a festival. 1 from Telluride (Moonlight). 1 from Toronto (Green Book). 1 from Cannes (Parasite). Two from Venice: The Shape of Water and last year’s Nomadland. 

How about the acting derbies? Of the 20 winners in Actor, Actress, and the supporting fields from 2016-2020, only two were performances that did not come from a festival screened film. There’s 1 from Cannes. Three each from Telluride and Toronto. Four from Sundance. And seven from Venice.

This is why the titles hitting Venice in 2021 currently hold lofty positions with prediction makers like myself. It’s why Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog took over House of Gucci (not currently slated for a fest) at the #1 slot in my BP rankings. This explains why I’m keeping a close eye on pics like Dune, The Hand of God, Parallel Mothers, Spencer, and Last Night in Soho. Maybe Spencer won’t win Best Picture, but it could nab Kristen Stewart her first nomination and victory.

Of course, only the screenings themselves will demonstrate the viable contenders. Yet there’s a recent history proving that Venice has become the most important festival of all. Ask the makers of Nomadland and The Shape of Water. Or Emma Stone (La La Land), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), or Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) to name just some.

My coverage of the Venice Film Festival begins tomorrow!