Every year the zeitgeist hits the Oscar race, and this year is no exception. Academy voters are a liberal bunch, and more than ever, many have been inspired during this pandemic election-year lockdown to get active politically. Many documentarians rushed out political agitprop, from White House exposés “Totally Under Control” and “The Way I See It” to Stacey Abrams profile “All In: The Fight for Democracy.” Aaron Sorkin asked Paramount to sell “The Trial of the Chicago 7” to Netflix, so that the timely political drama could be seen by as many viewers as possible before the election.
That movie showcases the moving performance of Sacha Baron Cohen as Yippie Abbie Hoffman, a man who understood how to use comedy to expose hypocrisy and corruption. And now Baron Cohen is back with “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon Studios), a hilarious yet unexpectedly poignant father-daughter story that was filmed during the pandemic.
Both films have political points to make. And the “Borat” sequel actually interacts directly with Vice President Mike Pence and presidential adviser Rudy Giuliani, who has been forced to respond to his pants-down hotel flirtation with Bulgarian discovery Maria Bakalova, who landed a hotel room interview under the guise of a 15-year-old journalist who caters to the one-time mayor’s “preference for women with ample cheese-producing capacity.”
In an ordinary year, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” would be sidelined in the Oscar race with the possible exception of Best Adapted Screenplay. (This script is credited to nine writers, including Baron Cohen.) That was the first “Borat” film’s only nomination 13 years ago, and history could repeat. The writers is the only Academy branch that tends to recognize the high degree of difficulty for a raunchy comedy (see: “The Hangover,” “Bridesmaids”). But this time the movie’s dead-serious political aims will give it another advantage. And the slight Supporting Actress category might welcome rising comic star Bakalova.
Clearly, Baron Cohen is not seeking awards kudos with this movie; he’s looking to generate headlines and get people to think about what disarming Kazakh Borat (in various disguises) elicits from ordinary Americans: some go along politely with his outrageous, often hateful, racist, misogynist, or anti-Semitic comments; others befriend him or play (or sing) along with him, and, occasionally, lecture him (thank God). Obviously, they were all being filmed for a movie, so there are artful behind-the-camera conversations involved.
The Netflix awards team is watching. It’s likely that all the brouhaha around “Borat” will aid their “Chicago 7” awards cause, not hurt it. Voters tend to reward an actor who is having a big year, and to focus on the more serious dramatic performance. Baron Cohen, meanwhile, has already been more present than usual on the promotional trail, from his recent editorial in Time magazine about disinformation to a flashy New York Times interview with Maureen Dowd.
Although the “Borat” sequel was shot during the pandemic and never had a conventional theatrical release planned, it will meet the Academy’s standards for Oscar contenders this year through one of its more recent loopholes. Amazon is qualifying “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” via drive-ins and putting it on the Academy Screening Room within 60 days; the awards team has been waiting to track reaction before getting to full campaign mode. (The Metascore is 67 so far, with IndieWire’s rave among them.)
A “Borat” Amazon awards call on Thursday includes Strategy PR, which will help push the movie when award season finally gets under way. The election is imminent. The Oscars are, finally, a lot less urgent.