‘Joker’ Won’t Win Best Picture, Tarantino’s Ego, and Other Awards Season Takeaways

Anne Thompson breaks down the real-world Oscar odds for all the top Best Picture contenders and other major categories.
'Joker' Won't Win Best Picture and Other Awards Season Takeaways
"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
Sony Pictures

Now that the guild award nominations are in, a clearer Oscar picture is emerging as nomination ballots are due at 5pm PT Tuesday. The BAFTA nominations are also a factor; their membership overlaps with the Academy’s. But while the glitzy Golden Globes burnish winners’ luster, they’re not predictive of Oscar votes.

The likely candidate to win the Best Picture Oscar has landed three crucial guild nominations that indicate support from multiple quadrants across the Academy: SAG’s Cast in a Motion Picture, PGA, and DGA. This year, four movies accomplished this feat: “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and “Parasite.”

Of the 10 PGA nominees, “Marriage Story,” “Knives Out,” “Little Women,” “Ford v Ferrari,” and “Joker” are missing both the SAG Ensemble and a DGA nod. And “1917” has the DGA, but lacks the top SAG nomination.

Let’s break down the strengths and weaknesses of the top 10 PGA Contenders, of which five to 10 will wind up as Best Picture Oscar nominees.

George MacKay as Schofield in "1917," the new epic from Oscar®-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes.
“1917”Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

“1917” (Universal)
Support: The crafts, BAFTA (nine nominations, including Film and Director), WGA, DGA, ADG, ASC. The World War I single-take drama could win Production Design and Cinematography Oscars.

Weakness: The late-breaking film did not land a SAG ensemble or any acting nominations; now the question is how much this extraordinary technical achievement moves people.

Bottom Line: Winning the Drama Globe and Best Director for Sam Mendes turned the anti-war saga into a must-see movie with momentum; it is building steam at the box office and boasts the gravitas to win Best Picture.

“Ford v Ferrari” (Disney/Fox)
Support: Actors, the crafts (art directors, editors, cinematographers, and sound), and BAFTA, which gave the film three technical nods but did not include homegrown star Christian Bale, who did get nominations from SAG and the Globes.

Weakness:  The film did not land SAG Ensemble, WGA or DGA nods.

Bottom Line: The racing drama is both respected and successful ($206 million worldwide), but lacks the gravitas to win Best Picture.

“The Irishman” (Netflix)
Support: Actors, the crafts (especially editing), WGA, DGA and BAFTA, which gave the film 10 nominations including Best Film and Director. Martin Scorsese is revered; the movie has scale and scope.

Weakness: Maybe too much scale and scope. The film runs three-and-a-half hours and covers familiar gangster terrain for Scorsese and his venerable cast. Many older voters can’t sit still in a theater that long, and the film is easily interrupted on Netflix. The movie could have used the boost of strong box office. And star Robert De Niro has been overlooked by SAG and others in favor of showier performances by Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, who are canceling each other out.

Bottom Line: The movie has wide support and could win–Thelma Schoonmaker should win Best Editing. But while Netflix will count a long list of nominations on January 13, a Best Picture win for the streamer still faces resistance.

“Jojo Rabbit”

“Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight)
Support: Crafts, actors (SAG Ensemble), WGA, DGA, and BAFTA (six nominations but not Best Film or Director) as well as the Costume Designer and Art Directors Guilds. It’s period, always a craft advantage. And it won the Toronto audience award, which often predicts the Best Picture winner.

Weakness: Critics dinged triple-threat Taika Waititi for making a light Nazi comedy.

Bottom Line: “Jojo Rabbit” and its inside-Hollywood player Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok”) are admired. He saw what he wanted to do, got backing from Fox Searchlight, and delivered the film on a razor-thin wire of execution difficulty. And the specialty release scored more than $21 million at the domestic box office. The film is resonant and moving, with a happy ending.

“Joker” (Warner Bros.)
Support: Crafts, actors (but not SAG ensemble), BAFTA (“Joker” led the field with 11 nominations), and WGA.

Weakness: No DGA.The Academy directors branch could well go the other way, but awards watchers expected writer-director Todd Phillips to land a slot with the more mainstream directors guild.

Bottom Line: “Joker” is a hugely popular $1 billion global box office juggernaut, despite a mixed reception from critics. It’s admired for its craftsmanship, and Joaquin Phoenix could win Best Actor.  Think last year’s mainstream “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which took home a win for Rami Malek.

“Knives Out” (Lionsgate)
Support: Writers. That’s the likeliest nod for popular auteur Rian Johnson, whether from BAFTA or WGA or the Academy. It has some craft support for a contemporary film, but can’t compete with the big guns.

Weakness: No DGA or acting nominations, including SAG Ensemble.

Bottom Line: The Academy tends to overlook comedies with the notable exception of the writers branch, which voted for the likes of “Bridesmaids” and “The Big Sick.”

“Little Women” (Sony)
Support: Actors and writers. Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic landed a WGA nomination as well as five BAFTA nods, including Globe-nominee Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh. Women support the film, along with many who don’t want women to be omitted from the awards conversation. But women are still only 32% of the Academy.

Weakness: SAG and the DGA shut out “Little Women.” The BAFTA nods did not include Best Film and Director. And even as a period film, there’s little craft support.

Bottom Line: Ronan and Pugh should land Oscar nods, and Gerwig is in the running for Adapted Screenplay.

Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach90th Annual Academy Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 04 Mar 2018
Greta Gerwig and Noah BaumbachChelsea Lauren/Shutterstock

“Marriage Story” (Netflix)
Support: Three SAG nominations, WGA, editors and indies (Gothams and Indie Spirits). BAFTA gave it five nods.

Weakness: The movie did not land a SAG Ensemble or a DGA slot. And the Netflix limited release could have used more of the word-of-mouth that comes with a box-office hit.

Bottom Line: Adam Driver is competing with Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor, while Golden Globe-winner Laura Dern should repeat at SAG and the Oscars. Look for writer-director Noah Baumbach to win Original Screenplay.

“Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood”
Support: Crafts, actors, writers, directors, producers, and just about everybody. The movie is original, mainstream, and a work of art, all at the same time — and like “Birdman” and “The Artist,” it’s about the perils of show business.

Weakness: None. Maybe Quentin Tarantino’s “I don’t have anyone to thank but me” arrogance.

Bottom Line: Brad Pitt will win Best Supporting Actor. And this is the movie to beat for Best Picture.

Bong Joon-ho holds the award for Best Motion Picture - Foreign Language for 'Parasite' in the press room during the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, in Beverly Hills, California, USA, 05 January 2020.Press Room - 77th Golden Globe Awards, Beverly Hills, USA - 05 Jan 2020
Bong Joon-ho holds the award for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language for ‘Parasite’ at the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards ceremonyCHRISTIAN MONTERROSA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“Parasite” (Neon)
Support: If anyone can steal Tarantino’s thunder, it’s Bong Joon Ho. This Korean box-office smash ($24 million domestic, $105 million foreign) is firing on all cylinders with support from all quarters: crafts, BAFTA (four nods), WGA, DGA, and SAG Ensemble. Remember, with the new entrants in the Academy membership in recent years, now fully 20% of the Academy is international. They could help push the movie well beyond Best International Feature Film.

Read: ‘Parasite” Could Do Better than ‘Roma’ At the Oscars 

Weakness: As a foreign-language art film, it plays best across the craft branches, more than mainstream Academy members like executives and publicists.

Bottom Line: Of all the films in contention, “Parasite” is the zeitgeist play. Its tale of rich vs. poor appeals to everyone. It shows us who we are.

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