Well, what a clusterfuck this award season has become. The best movie of the year, Luca Guadagnino’s sensational Call Me By Your Name, is pretty much out of the game thanks to Sony Pictures Classics glacial theatrical rollout plan (174 theaters after seven weeks? Come on!). Not enough people have seen the movie. It’s only chance at Oscar glory at this point is if enough Academy members rank it first or second on their preferential ballot. After all, the preferential ballot rewards movies that a lot of people love, and very few hate, and the word is that the industry people who have seen CMBYN really, really love it.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of other movies in the running that I can really get behind. I’m a big fan of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, with its clever skewering of inherent racism and the folly of white guilt in modern America, so I suppose that would be my next choice for Best Picture. The movie is timely, to be sure—so very culturally relevant. But will the Academy go for a genre film, when they rarely ever do? The Silence of the Lambs—arguably one of the best genre movies ever made—won Best Picture a distant 25 years ago. Nothing else has come close since.
Then there’s Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which ranked dead in the middle of my ten-best list. It seems to be gathering steam on the awards circuit, having picked up the Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Actress and landing as the de facto Oscar frontrunner. But with that status comes the inevitable backlash. Apparently, some people aren’t thrilled that [SPOILER ALERT!] the film’s violently racist cop (played almost too well by Sam Rockwell) is allowed a sort of quasi-repentance for his past sins, while a black man he was accused of torturing is alluded to only in passing and then assigned to the screenplay’s trash heap. Meanwhile, the film’s protagonist is a white mother dealing with grief over the recent murder of her daughter. She can’t understand why the cops haven’t picked up a suspect yet. I think the unspoken question floating in the mire of the backlash is whether that conveniently-forgotten black man, also a victim, feels the same way. For once, I think the ire might have been earned.
Lady Bird hauled in a respectable load of critics awards, but doesn’t seem to be doing well with the Guilds. With sexual harassment in Hollywood at the forefront of pretty much every conversation right now and the Time’s Up movement taking center stage at the Golden Globes last week, there’s a big push to reward a female filmmaker this year, which means Gerwig is all but assured an Oscar nomination. Putting her in one of the top five slots simply because she’s a woman feels incredibly reductive and insulting to her as an artist. Reward her based on the merits of her work, not her gender. Plus, she’s likely to squeeze out Luca Guadagnino, which will be a real shame. And that still doesn’t say anything about Lady Bird’s chances at Best Picture, which I think are slim since the Academy typically doesn’t reward slight coming-of-age movies.
The Shape of Water is seeing some success, with its recent Critics Choice wins for Best Picture and Director. I’m confident this isn’t Guillermo del Toro’s best work, but I’m nevertheless thrilled to see him finally getting some real recognition for his work. And Sally Hawkins will deserve it if she wins Best Actress.
What’s clear so far this year is that Best Picture is still in hiding. A handful of movies have floated to the top of the list, but continue to split the difference among the critics and guilds. A best possible case scenario for me, one that would make me supremely happy, but isn’t likely to happen, is that all this indecisiveness over the best movie of the year causes a split among voters and none of the movies I mentioned above get enough first- or second-place votes on the preferential ballots, allowing Call Me By Your Name to squeak in for a win. Wishful thinking, I’m sure. Of course, the Producers and Directors Guild awards, those most reliable of all Best Picture harbingers, will decide the winner in the next month. Whether one movie wins both or they split between the two doesn’t matter; our Best Picture winner will be in there somewhere.