Three major American films backed by key studios were unveiled this week at the Venice Film Festival with several more films to go. Downsizing kicked off the festival on a polarizing note, The Shape of Water had all the buzz and Suburbicon split critics and audiences.
Here’s how the Best Picture Oscar chances of all 3 films look at the moment…
In the Oscar game, there’s a particular rule: passion earns you a nomination, consensus earns you a win. In other words, your film may be divisive or not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you can rally just enough voters to place it as their #1 choice as their favorite film of the year, you may very well hear your name on Oscar morning. So which of the 3 films which screened in Venice have that passion?
The Shape of Water stands the best chance at an Oscar nom among all 3 studio films screened so far. And by a wide margin. The film will appeal to all branches of the Academy with its dazzling craft and impeccable acting, but more importantly it appeals to the heart. Emotional films can elicit strong passion which is key during the nomination phase. For a film to earn a Best Picture Oscar nom, it needs to reach the required threshold of #1 votes for it to secure a nom. #1 votes, a clear sign of passion, are usually driven by a film’s importance, emotional impact or in many cases, both.
While The Shape of Water may be seen as science fiction, a genre snubbed multiple times by the Academy until Arrival bucked the trend and restored confidence in Oscar chances for quality genre films, the film is not some epic fantasy set in space. Instead, it is a grounded and deeply effective period human drama with some sci-fi elements and a plot that seeks to establish a connection with the audience rather than over-stuff itself with a complicated plot or dazzling visuals from start to finish for no reasons other than box office receipts. In that sense, it will not alienate older Oscar voters and won’t be seen as complex, challenging or too intellectual. It is simple, beautifully shot and brilliantly designed – and the impact is long lasting.
Chances at a nomination: 90%
Why it may miss: very unlikely except if a larger number of older AMPAS voters take issue with the sci-fi elements of the story. Given how these elements are actually what makes the story so impactful, it is highly unlikely.
Downsizing will need strong support from particular branches – writing and acting – to have a shot at this category. As the response in Venice and Telluride shows, it is not a film that will be a consensus choice for voters. Only strong passion for such a divisive film can make it a contender for above-the-line noms and for now, it is likely that it will miss the biggest nom on Oscar morning. Alexander Payne has his fans in AMPAS so he may stand a shot hence the film shouldn’t be completely discounted. But will his streak continue with Downsizing?
Chances at a nomination: 40%
Why it may miss: a bland second act and a muddled script hurt its chances. The responses so far have not been out of this world, and voters may take issue with the film’s heavy-handed message.
Suburbicon, while enjoyable and entertaining, is more of a commercial and technical player than a Best Picture nominee. Well made, dark and timely, the film may find success at the box office and among the actors branch but may lack the prestige and passion of Best Picture nominees.
Chances at a nomination: 10%
Why it may miss: It is a solid effort from director George Clooney but it is more of a Golden Globes play than an Oscar-type film.