Could Nomadland possibly lose Best Picture at the Oscars?
Shocking Best Picture upsets have become so common at the Academy Awards, it might be wise not to be overly confident in predicting the winner this year.
But come on. It's Nomadland, right? Chloé Zhao's film is the overwhelming favorite going into the Oscars on Sunday, and it's appeared to have the race locked up for weeks now. It's won nearly all of the precursor awards that can often help predict the Best Picture winner.
At the same time, it did really seem like 1917 was on track to win last year, and the same goes for Roma and La La Land. So, should Nomadland suffer the same fate those films did, what could beat it? It seems there are only three options, none of which look all that likely. Still, here are the possibilities:
Nomadland has been perceived as the Best Picture frontrunner since early in awards season, and it's coming off victories at the Golden Globe Awards, the Producers Guild of America Awards, the Directors Guild of America Awards, the Critics' Choice Awards, and the British Academy Film Awards. The PGA win was particularly significant given that since 2010, this ceremony's top pick has gone on to win Best Picture a whopping eight times (if you count the year there was a tie).
Looking at the other Oscar categories, Nomadland also has the big four nominations a Best Picture winner should: directing, editing, screenplay, and at least one actor.
But 1917 also won at all the aforementioned awards shows except Critics' Choice, only to be toppled by Parasite, so this is by no means set in stone. The criticism against Nomadland for its portrayal of work at Amazon has also bubbled up more in the home stretch, with an article in The Los Angeles Times appearing only days before voting began. So there could be a small chance that this criticism, on top of frontrunner fatigue exacerbated by an unusually lengthy awards season, could sway voters toward another film.
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Last year's Parasite wave began in earnest at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Could history repeat itself this year with the SAG winner, Aaron Sorkin's Netflix film The Trial of the Chicago 7, scoring Best Picture?
It's not off the table. The film also won at the American Cinema Editors' Eddie Awards last weekend, scoring another trophy secured last year by Parasite, and a starry Hollywood production about a real-life event with political relevance today seems like catnip for the Academy. The biggest red flag, though, is that Aaron Sorkin wasn't nominated for Best Director. That's a problem considering just five films have ever won Best Picture without their director at least being nominated, the only two this century being Argo and Green Book.
There's also the Netflix of it all to consider. When Netflix's Roma shockingly lost Best Picture in 2019, pundits speculated some ill-will from more traditional voters who view the streamer as a threat to movie theaters may have played a part. It's definitely possible any such sentiment has waned, especially after a year when watching movies in theaters was barely even a thing. But could it be that certain Academy voters will be even less inclined to crown Netflix over a traditional studio at a time when Hollywood is looking to start bringing audiences back to the movies?
Thanks to the SAG win, though, Chicago 7 is likely Nomadland's biggest challenger.
Could it instead be Minari that takes Nomadland down? Perhaps. Lee Isaac Chung's film did perform well in the Oscar nominations with six nods including screenwriting and directing and for actors Youn Yuh-jung and Steven Yeun.
It's also worth reiterating the way Best Picture is selected. Academy voters rank the movies, and the films placed at number one on the fewest ballots are eliminated. Voters who selected that now-eliminated film as their number one choice then have their number two become their number one, and eventually, when a movie ends up with more than 50 percent of number one votes, it wins. The upshot: The winner will likely be a film that's not only a lot of voters' favorite, but also a lot of voters' second or third favorite. Minari seems to have few passionate detractors, so it's easy to imagine plenty of voters ranking it highly — though Variety argues this system could favor Chicago 7 instead, or it could just help Nomadland secure the win.
Like with Chicago 7, however, there's a red flag with Minari: it wasn't nominated for Best Film Editing. That may not sound that important, but it's actually crucial. Since 1980's Ordinary People, only one film has won Best Picture without being nominated for editing: Birdman — and that doesn't even really count since it makes some sense for a movie presented in one shot not to be recognized in that category. Minari has no such excuse, and its loss at the SAG Awards to Chicago 7 was also a major blow.
Promising Young Woman
Finally, Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman shouldn't be fully counted out. The revenge thriller has been performing well in screenplay categories at precursor shows, winning writing prizes at the Writers Guild of America Awards, the British Academy Film Awards, and the Critics' Choice Awards.
That probably just signals it's the frontrunner for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Fennell's film does, however, have all the big nominations it needs for a path to Best Picture, including the editing nod Minari lacks and the directing nod Chicago 7 lacks. In fact, The New York Times notes it's the only Best Picture nominee other than Nomadland to get the four all-important nods for directing, writing, screenwriting, and editing.
But Promising Young Woman is also probably the most controversial film in the entire Best Picture category thanks to its divisive ending. So in contrast to Minari, this could be a movie that's hurt by the preferential ballot system, getting placed at number seven or eight almost as much as it's placed at number one.
These seem like the only films with any sort of chance of defeating Nomadland.
The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Sound of Metal, three movies that many pundits weren't even positive would be nominated for Best Picture, appear to be out of the mix. None of them are up for Best Director, and Judas doesn't have the editing nomination, either. Then there's Mank, which actually leads the nominations with 10. But it missed out on nominations not only for Best Film Editing, but also for Best Original Screenplay, which makes a Best Picture victory seem all but impossible.
Ultimately, Best Picture is clearly Nomadland's to lose, especially since it doesn't seem a huge amount of momentum has gathered behind any one challenger. But we've been shocked by those final moments of the Oscars way too many times to rule out a jaw-dropper.