Glass Onion, Babylon And Emancipation’s Best Picture Impact
Feb 17, 2023
The Best Picture field is narrowing. Well, to be honest, there have always been a bunch of unlikely players in the mix, but with the recent screenings of Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” and Antoine Fuqua’s “Emancipation,” the list of ten likely nominees is getting a bit clearer. And with just one major player remaining, James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the sprint to the last voting ballot is about to begin.
READ MORE: “Everything Everywhere All At Once” tops 2022 Gotham Awards [Complete List]
Before we get to the latest entries into the race, let’s take a moment to revisit Rian Johnson‘s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” as it’s had a bit of a release boost. Considering the original “Knives Out” likely would have earned a nomination in a 10-picture field (there were just nine nominees that year and it landed a PGA Award nom and an AFI Top 10 mention), the fact Johnson will almost assuredly repeat a screenplay nod (Adapted Screenplay this time around) and that it should crack a number of other below-the-line categories gives it a compelling Best Picture formula. Netflix may have thought “Bardo” was its Best Picture nominee, but “Glass Onion” is the populist player that is almost universally adored by those who have seen it in the industry. It’s fun, classy, filled with strong performances (including Janelle Monae poking around the Supporting Actress race), and has the critical chops too (81 on Metacritic, 93% on Rotten Tomatoes). Would it help if it stayed in theaters longer or had opened wider to assist the theatrical business? Sure. But what it did was likely enough. Is it a lock for a nomination? No, but there is only a handful of those this year. That being said, the Netflix team is smart enough to pivot its resources where they need to. Especially for its best shot at any BP nod this year (and you better believe that matters).
Now, about “Babylon,” let’s clarify that reviews are still embargoed at the moment so we can only write about the film from an awards perspective. Without going into details, let’s just note we are highly skeptical it can still make the cut. Reactions have been polarizing and we haven’t talked to any AMPAS or Guild members who are fans (I’m sure there are a few). Can Margot Robbie crack a historically competitive Best Actress race? We have our doubts. Could it snag some below-the-line nominations? Absolutely possible, although there is fierce competition in the Cinematography, Production Design, Costumes, and Makeup and Hairstyling races this season. We’ll have a much better gauge of how AMPAS feels about Chazelle’s opus when the Oscar Shortlists are revealed in three weeks on December 21.
As for “Emancipation,” this is a thriller with a dash of a period war movie that is wrapped around a publicity campaign that hopes to redeem Will Smith faster than anyone could have imagined following his assault on Chris Rock during the 2022 Oscars telecast. An event that occurred a little less than nine months ago and saw him kicked out of The Academy and banned from the ceremony for a decade. The campaign so far has left almost no stone unturned. A friendly interview with Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show.” Screening for friendly media and allowing exclusive access to Smith before a majority of the press or industry had seen the film. An LA “first screening” at the massive Village Theater for what one would expect is a redemptive standing ovation for Smith in front of a crowd of close to 1,000 attendees. From a p.r. and media relations perspective, it’s quite remarkable.
The movie itself would have been a borderline Best Picture nominee if the events in March had never occurred. The film is inspired by the true events of Gordon (“Whipped Peter”), who journeyed 40 miles to escape his slave plantation to the freedom of the Union Army in Baton Rouge. A picture of his horrifically scarred back from years of whipping became a rallying cry against the Confederacy and the evils of slavery around the world. Screenwriter William N. Collage and Fuqua turn this scenario into a “Fugitive”-esque thriller where Peter (Smith) is hunted by a fictitious slave hunter (Ben Foster), fights an alligator, and faces one obstacle after another. The last segment of the picture finds Peter joining the North Army as they battle the Confederacy in a brutal battle on the banks of the Mississippi. Fuqua depicts the horrors of slavery early on in the film, but truly goes above and beyond when it comes to the consequences of war in the mid-19th century. Cinematographer Robert Richardson can frame and light a pretty image in his sleep, but his work is often hindered by Fuqua’s overuse of drone shots and the decision to time the imagery in a distinct filter instead of just going full color or black and white. Overall, the movie has more impact as a thriller than a grounded drama. It’s clunky, and AMPAS members would have noticed that whether or not the slap happened.
Outside of the film, Smith, who has one strong “Oscar” moment, would have been considered an easy back-to-back nominee following his first win for “King Richard.” Especially in what is seen as a very weak year for the Best Actor field (in an alternate timeline he would have been massively overhyped out of TIFF). Could he land a SAG nomination? Possibly. A Critics Choice seems likely considering they nominate six actors. The Golden Globes has five drama nominations so he’ll probably make the cut even with the uncertainty of how the new members will vote (he’s a six-time nominee). BAFTA? Yeah, that’s not happening. And, finally, Oscar? The AMPAS acting branch is much smaller than SAG. Many of those members were in the Dolby Theater that night. I would simply be shocked if it came to pass. Perhaps many of us will be shocked that it does.
The justification from the producers and Fuqua to release this year is to wait would somehow blunt its impact and the work of everyone on it. That simply makes no sense. There is no reason it could not have entered the fray this spring or early next fall. There is no box office to worry about as it’s a direct-to-Apple TV+ release (with a qualifying run, obviously). And if they had waited, they might have had a chance to meet an industry more willing to just consider the movie itself and not its baggage. Why take that chance now? Is it worth all this for some below-the-line category nominations? Perhaps it earns a Makeup and Hairstyling nod. Maybe Richardson sneaks into Cinematography, but that’s a dicey bet with that branch considering the aforementioned reliance on sweeping drone shots.
But maybe Hollywood just wants a redemption story. Maybe it wants to move past all this. Maybe giving Smith a nomination for a performance where he has to physically through his body through the swamps of Louisiana will be perceived as some sort of penance. Maybe they are impressed. Maybe they aren’t. Maybe many of them don’t even watch the movie.
Keeping all that in mind, here’s the current state of the Best Picture race in the latest Contender Countdown.
December 1, 2022
1 “The Fablemans”
Gonna be super hard to beat. It’s just the truth.
2 “Everything Everywhere All At Once”
Will it win LAFCA? Can it win NYFCC? What if it wins both?
3 “The Banshees of the Inisherin”
All this hype for Brendan Fraser or Austin Butler for Best Actor and Colin Farrell is right there.
4 “Top Gun: Maverick”
There is reportedly at least one FYC billboard in Los Angeles. Bless.
5 “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”
If you don’t think it’s in you’re not paying attention.
6 “Women Talking”
Slightly concerned moving the release date back was a mistake.
7 “Avatar: The Way of Water”*
All will be revealed imminently.
Did we think this nomination was happening at Cannes? Hell no. But here we are!
There are members of the TAR hive in AMPAS. It’s safe.
10 “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”
Not sure the limited release really helped (or was necessary) for pre-launch buzz for the streamer, but it absolutely helped with Guild and AMPAS voters who saw it with an audience.
Again, really needs more public AMPAS members to profess their love publicly to get other AMPAS members to watch it.
12 “Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio”
Guillermo is an Oscar-campaigning machine in the best way possible (i.e., always feels genuine). I am not convinced this movie can keep his streak going, however, but fight the good fight.
13 “The Woman King”
Will either make a December surge with Guild honors or will be considered by many the biggest missed opportunity this season.
Listen, anything is possible but Damien, Brad, and Margot better have a lot of AMPAS friends who owe them favors if they are gonna make the 10. Reviews don’t even drop till December 16th!
Moderated a Q&A for SAG and Guild members a few weeks ago. Standing ovation for Bill Nighy and genuine love for the movie. SPC knows how to work it, can they pull off another word-of-mouth miracle? (It’s sort of their thing).
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN…AT THE MOMENT
Hoping for an upset. Is there enough votes?
Fraser, sure. Chau, maybe. Too polarizing for a BP nod in my opinion. Happy to be proven wrong.
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