Opinion

CODA saved the 2022 Best Picture race from being a snoozefest

Netflix probably thought it had the race locked up. But here comes 'CODA'…

Who would have thought this year's Best Picture race would turn into such a coin toss? 

When the 2022 Oscar nominations were announced in early February, the Best Picture winner already seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Clearly, it would be The Power of the Dog, meaning Netflix was finally set to win Best Picture for the first time. 

But then, wait a second, here comes … CODA?

The coming-of-age film from Apple TV+ — which once didn't even seem guaranteed a Best Picture nomination — has had a late surge in momentum, setting up this Sunday to be the ultimate battle of the streamers. So who will come out on top: Netflix or Apple? 

On the one hand, The Power of the Dog has a lot going for it based on the nominations alone. It's the only Best Picture contender to receive all the nominations a winner should traditionally have, namely for directing, editing, screenwriting, and acting. The film overperformed by picking up 12 nominations, including some it wasn't expected to receive, like a Jesse Plemons supporting actor nod, so there's clearly backing for it throughout all branches of the Academy. 

On the flip side, CODA has a mere three nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It's unusual for a movie to win Best Picture without a directing nomination, and it's unusual to win without an editing nomination, but it's extremely unusual to win without either. In fact, since the editing Oscar was introduced in 1934, no film has ever done so. 

Looking at the precursor ceremonies, The Power of the Dog has also picked up top wins at the Golden Globes, the Directors Guild of America Awards, the Critics Choice Awards, and the British Academy Film Awards. The BAFTA's voting body, in particular, overlaps considerably with the Academy, but since 2015, its Best Film winner has lost the Oscar all but once. 

So what about CODA? The heartwarming film about a "child of deaf adults" got a major boost at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, taking the top prize of Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Granted, SAG has an imperfect history of predicting Best Picture — some past winners include Hidden Figures and Black Panther — and The Power of the Dog wasn't nominated. But the acting bloc is the Academy's largest contingent of Best Picture voters, and a SAG win propelled Parasite to victory in 2020.

The SAG Awards also gave CODA much-needed time in the spotlight not long before Oscar voting began, which could be crucial in a year in which it was the first major televised awards show thanks to the Golden Globes getting yanked off the airCODA also snagged a surprise screenplay victory at the BAFTAs over The Power of the Dog, making it a strong contender to win the screenwriting Oscar in addition to Best Supporting Actor. 

This alone wouldn't have been enough to make CODA the Best Picture frontrunner, but the movie then scored a monumental victory this past weekend by taking the top prize at the Producers Guild of America Awards. It was a shock result after pundits generally thought The Power of the Dog would win, and it's quite significant considering the PGAs have the strongest recent track record of predicting Best Picture. Since 2010, the PGA winner has gone on to win Best Picture nine times (if you count the year there was a tie). 

Just as important is the fact that the PGAs select Best Picture using the same system as the Oscars: a preferential ballot. This involves ranking the films in order of preference, and if a voter's top film is eliminated because it doesn't have enough support, their second choice becomes their first. The theory has always been that this process favors movies that are widely liked to the point that they're many voters' second or third favorite, and that could boost a feel-good crowd-pleaser like CODA that's hard to passionately dislike. On the other hand, The Power of the Dog is a slower, more challenging film, so it's easy to imagine some voters ranking it low even as others put it at number one. 

Additionally, Academy voters love a movie that tugs at the heartstrings, and CODA, which culminates in a tear-jerking finale, does that. The Power of the Dog is arguably a greater technical accomplishment, but it doesn't deliver the kind of emotional wallop at the end that CODA does, and Academy voters could be inclined to honor a movie that leaves them with such a positive feeling, especially given the dire state of the world right now. 

The Power of the Dog's Jane Campion will win Best Director either way. But the situation could mirror the 2019 Oscars, when Alfonso Cuarón's Roma — a Netflix movie — won Best Director but a more feel-good crowd-pleaser, Green Book, won Best Picture despite its director not being nominated. Then again, it could also be more like the 2007 Oscars, when the feel-good Little Miss Sunshine won SAG and PGA but lost Best Picture to The Departed

If The Power of the Dog truly loses to CODA, it would be a major embarrassment for Netflix, which has for years been vying for Best Picture and the prestige that comes along with it via contenders like Roma, The Irishman, and The Trial of the Chicago 7. But if CODA triumphs, Apple TV+ will become the first streamer to ever win Best Picture, snatching those "Netflix makes history" headlines away. After all that effort — and millions poured into campaigning — Netflix could be robbed of Best Picture glory by a competitor that didn't even exist when its efforts to win first began. 

Ultimately, it would be unwise to count out The Power of the Dog — even if my money, personally, is on CODA at this point. But even if Netflix pulls it off, we can at least thank CODA for adding suspense into a race that once seemed destined to be dreadfully dull.

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