Ethan is and independent filmmaker and movie critic currently based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His favorite will always be Jaws (1975).
Why The Power of The Dog Will DEFINITELY Win Best Picture
It’s been a strange two years for movies to say the least. 2020 saw the human race thrust into a pandemic, and the way we socialize with each other in public completely changed overnight! Within just a few days of the virus entering the US we were told that we had to stay in our homes as much as possible and avoid all contact with people outside of our family. Movie theaters suffered greatly because of this. We couldn’t even shake hands, let alone collectively sit in a dark room watching a film and breathing the same air for two hours or more. So what were the major studios to do? The only thing they could do. They took a majority of the films they intended to put out in 2020 and pushed their release dates all the way into 2021. Ok, problem solved, no big deal; but, what did that leave moviegoers with? To be perfectly honest, not a lot. Plenty of good movies came out that year, even some great ones like The Father and Shiva Baby; but the output was noticeably lackluster when compared to other years. Finally, 2020 came to an end and a new year was ushered in.
2021 was an excellent year for movies in terms of quality. So many projects from directors I adore were finally getting to see the light. Denis Villnueve gave us his much anticipated take on the classic science fiction novel Dune; Wes Anderson immersed us in his most “ Wes Andersony” movie yet, The French Dispatch; and Del Toro intrigued us with a modern noir classic called Nightmare Alley. You may notice that out of those three movies I mentioned, only one of them can really be classified as a box office “hit.” You may also notice that the last mentioned film was actually a complete “bomb!” Why is that? The answer is simple. Despite the fact that life has been slowly getting back to normal, most people still aren’t going to the movie theater. When they do it’s either to see a sci-fi spectacle based off of material that already has a devoted following, or an action film that features a popular superhero. There’s almost no middle ground anymore. Before the pandemic a movie like Nightmare Alley would have made at least 100 million, the same goes for other box office disappointments like West Side Story and In The Heights. Now, in our post- pandemic society, a trip to the theater isn’t worth the risk of exposure to Covid unless explosions are a part of the deal.
This puts the major Oscar contenders in an awkward place. Traditionally (some may say infamously) the Academy recognizes movies that most audience members don’t consider to be crowd pleasers. This isn’t to say that they’re some kind of champion of independent or obscure cinema. On the contrary, most of the films and people they nominate for awards are pretty mainstream. However, it does reveal that there is a great divide between what the masses consider to be quality entertainment, and what the “elite” consider to be quality entertainment. There are ten movies up for best picture this year, and Dune was the only film out of those ten to cross over the 100 million dollar mark. Three other films up for the gold: Coda, Don’t Look Up, and The Power Of The Dog, were released on streaming. Licorice Pizza, Belfast, West Side Story, and Nightmare Alley, were the passion projects of some of Hollywood's most prominent directors, and even they failed to bring people out. King Richard featured Will Smith, an actor whose films have made a total of 4.4 billion dollars worldwide, and even that cookie cutter sports drama film couldn’t sell tickets. Then we have Drive My Car; an excellent three hour long character study that most people would’ve avoided no matter what on account of not wanting to read, and being physically incapable of sitting down while not looking at their phone for a substantial period of time. The point I'm getting at with all of this is that despite the fact that a lot of good films are up for awards this Oscar season, they are not movies that audience members particularly care about. I’ve been told that people used to get excited for the Oscars; that it was an anticipated tradition that spawned significant news coverage and exposure for the movies nominated. That's probably true, but now if you asked most people if they were planning on watching the almost century old ceremony they’d most likely respond with, “ I didn’t even know they were about to happen…”.
So, where does that leave us in terms of predictions? For the handful of us that have seen all, or most of the films nominated, I think we have two movies at the top of our list of possibilities. Those two movies are Jane Campion's The Power of The Dog, and Kenneth Branagh's Belfast. I liked both of these films, but The Power is definitely my pick for this year's winner. For a while it seemed like most people were leaning towards Belfast, which makes sense from a logistical perspective. It’s a black and white period piece about a little boy coming of age at a time of great division and tension within his community; that certainly sounds like a film old white Oscar voters would holler for. On top of that, it’s a very personal project made by a highly respected filmmaker and actor with lots of connections and friends within the industry. The main factor that rules it out for me is this; it’s so much of an Oscar bait film that even most Academy members would consider it a lackluster win. Perhaps I'm giving these people too much credit, but I think the voters have learned their lesson since deeming Green Book the best movie of 2018. No one wants to suffer a disappointment as monumental as that ever again. Though I do consider Belfast to be much better than Green Book, I feel they are equal in terms of how much they line up with the standard “best picture winner criteria”.
Another important factor to consider is the staggering amount of nominations Power has. The film is up for twelve trophies this year, and if we travel back in time it becomes clear that most films with nominations reaching the double digits win big on Oscar night. Seek Gone With The Wind (1939), Ben-Hur (1959), West Side Story (1961) as just a few prime examples of this. It would be strange to deem a film so good that it should be in the running for twelve possible award wins, but then pawn the top prize to some other movie. You might argue that is irrelevant because it all comes down to how the votes tally up, but I think we all know that most of the people in the Academy share similar thought patterns. If they didn’t then how could a term like “oscar bait” even exist?
At the end of the day I can only speculate. I remember thinking that there was absolutely no way Green Book would win Best Picture, but it turns out the Oscars never pass up an opportunity to reveal how out of touch and basic they are. So for what it's worth, I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope that my train of thought has led me to the right conclusion.