Something Old, Something New

Feb 20, 2019 by

Something Old, Something New

For the last two and a half years the political landscape in the US has been, for obvious reasons, particularly heated. A climate that yet again will be reflected at this year’s Academy Awards.

The Oscars 2019 won’t have a regular host as Kevin Hart had to pull out over an incident involving homophobic tweets, and a seemingly endless stream of controversies has been going on during this awards season regarding some of the films’ representations of ethnicity, gender, class and so on, which makes the Oscars more than just an awards show celebrating the movie industry. At its core, it is also a power struggle between political ideologies within the entertainment industry fighting for various agendas.

The Oscars can also be seen as a power struggle between what some people frame as New Hollywood vs. Old Hollywood, with the traditional production studios being challenged by new players in the market, most prominently, the streaming service of Netflix. Punters willing to place a bet on the Oscars need to be aware of these factors as they can turn out to be decisive regarding who takes the trophies home on Sunday night.

The betting market currently has the Netflix-produced Roma as the clear cut favourite to win the prize for Best Picture and for good reasons. It is a brilliantly executed and innovative technical achievement depicting the everyday reality of life of a young, indigenous housekeeper in the context of early ’70s Mexico City.

Considering the ongoing political debate over the Trump administration’s obsessive focus on the US Southern border, it appears plausible that a large part of liberal Hollywood will be tempted to send a signal to Washington and the world that US-Mexican relations are not as hostile as the news feed suggests by awarding a Mexico-centred film.

But there are also valid arguments against Roma. It has never happened before that a foreign language film has taken Best Picture, and since it is Netflix who produced and released this film on its streaming platform, a Roma win would mark a premiere in both those instances. Netflix’s business model not only threatens traditional film-making sponsored by studios, it can also be seen as a threat to the culture of going to the movie theatre in general, as it makes it more convenient for consumers to stay at home.

The Oscars is more than just an awards show celebrating the movie industry; it is also a power struggle between political ideologies within the entertainment industry fighting for various agendas

Another argument against Roma is that it didn’t win the Producer Guild’s PGA award, which uses the same preferential ballot system that will decide the Oscar for Best Picture. Voters are asked to rank their favourite films out of the nominees from top to bottom. It is a complicated system that favours less polarising films that manage to do well with voters across the academy, not necessarily requiring the most first places on ballots, which is the standard procedure in all other categories.

The PGA win for the market’s second favourite, Green Book, indicates that it is a film that may fare better in a preferential ballot system than Roma does, even though it is dealing with controversies on its own about the depiction of a true story of an African-American Jazz pianist and his Italian-American chauffeur. It is also possible the PGA dismissed Roma because the producers feel particularly threatened by Netflix’s business model, an attitude not necessarily shared by other branches in the academy.

Oscar pundits will also point out that Roma not being nominated in the Film Editing category presents a red flag, as a Best Picture winner usually appears at least in the nominations list for editing. However, there may be specific reasons for Roma missing out on an editing nomination. The film has many uninterrupted long shots, so editing is just not a significant part of the film’s experience and director Alfonso Cuaron edited the film by himself. One could argue that the academy would much rather award the prize for editing to a professional editor than a director, who already seems guaranteed to walk away with two prizes for directing and cinematography.

Out of all Best Picture nominees Roma has the strongest momentum after winning the Critics Choice Award, the Directors Guild Award, and most recently the somewhat surprising win overseas at the BAFTAs. Another strong indicator that Roma is loved by the wider academy is that it bagged two surprising nominations for best actress and supporting actress, in addition to both sound categories, production design and original screenplay.

Netflix has spent a lot of money to campaign for Roma to get recognition as a central player in Hollywood and if the betting market is any indication its efforts will most likely be rewarded. If Roma fails to win Best Picture it will be due to the preferential ballot vote, but at this point it seems difficult to make a compelling case for any of the other nominees gathering enough support across the academy.

The preferential ballot system favours less polarising films that manage to do well with voters across the academy, not necessarily requiring the most first places

At least three of the four acting categories seem pretty much locked up. Glenn Close is considered overdue and voters will most likely reward her with Best Actress for her entire body of work, not just the role she played in The Wife, which ironically depicts the story of a woman that failed to get award recognition for her life’s work. There is only Olivia Colman who seems capable of spoiling Glenn Close’s night after beating her at the BAFTAs, but this can probably be dismissed as a case of the Brits voting for their own.

Rami Malek distanced himself from Christian Bale in the Best Actor race for his portrayal of Freddy Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody by winning all the important milestones at the Golden Globes, SAG and BAFTA, while Mahershala Ali faces no serious competition for Best Supporting Actor at all.

Regina King, who is favoured in the Best Supporting Actress category, is the only betting market favourite that appears vulnerable, as she didn’t make the nominations list at SAG, for her striking but very short appearance in If Beale Street Could Talk. The Screen Actors Guild threw a curve ball at punters by awarding Emily Blunt who isn’t even nominated for an Oscar.

This could present an opportunity for Amy Adams to emerge, but the momentum of late seems to be with Rachel Weisz for her role in The Favourite. It is a bit worrying that Emma Stone is also nominated for Supporting Actress for the same film, which could split the vote of people that really liked The Favourite. But since it was Rachel Weisz who took the BAFTA she may be in a position to claim enough support for herself while a vote for Stone now appears to be a vote wasted.

It is unclear how many voters have actually seen the nominated short films when casting their ballots and the betting markets often tend to get these less prestigious categories wrong

Bettors looking for value propositions are usually far more interested in the smaller technical categories. Since winning the BAFTA, Vice has positioned itself as a legitimate front-runner in the Film Editing category, while Bohemian Rhapsody seems to have emerged as a late contender in both sound categories, particularly with an eye on Sound Mixing, originally assumed to go to A Star Is Born, which has under-performed at every awards event. One has to wonder if Bradley Cooper’s character urinating on himself during a fictitious awards ceremony in A Star is Born left a bad taste in the mouth of people who are taking the entire awards circus very seriously.

Of particular interest to me are the short film categories this year. It is unclear how many voters have actually seen the nominated short films when casting their ballots and the betting markets often tend to get these less prestigious categories wrong.

At the time of writing it is still Black Sheep that is favoured to win Best Documentary Short, but it is a documentary that includes acted scenes, which may turn out to be a problem for voters looking for traditional, documentary style film-making. It faces a serious challenge from Period – End of Sentence, which is on Netflix, so it is included in its campaigning efforts and the theme of women taking agency over their bodies is a topic that may strike a chord with a large part of the academy in the current political climate.

The award for Animated Short is expected to go to Bao, because it is produced by the Disney-owned company Pixar and has therefore been seen by more people than other nominees in this category. But recently the betting odds have shortened for the low budget, indie film Late Afternoon from 40-1 down to 16-1 in places with high street bookmakers. The reasoning here appears to be that a vote for Late Afternoon is a vote against Disney, which gets criticised for its monopoly-like status in the ever-changing landscape of Hollywood.

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