Damien Chazelle‘s whimsical musical comedy “La La Land” seems to be on track to prevail at the 2017 Oscars for Best Picture. After all, it’s claimed top prizes at the Producers Guild, Directors Guild and now the BAFTA Awards. However, don’t forget that another film — “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) — won that exact same trifeca 11 years ago and was still bested on Oscar night to a movie that took home only one major precursor: SAG Ensemble winner “Crash.” If history repeats itself, does that mean the only film standing in “La La Land’s” way is current SAG champion “ ”?
Of course, the rules for voting on Best Picture were much different in 2005. Back then academy members simply chose one film as their favorite and the winner was the movie with the most votes. Now, the Best Picture prize is determined by a complicated preferential ballot system that requires the voters to rank the contenders. The academy believes the preferential ballot “best allows the collective judgment of all voting members to be most accurately represented.”
As our own Paul Sheehan reports, “This year, voters will rank the nine Best Picture nominees. If one nominee garners more than 50% of the first place votes, it will win Best Picture. If, as is more likely, no nominee reaches this threshold, the film with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, with its ballots being reapportioned to the second-place choice.”
What that essentially means is that a broad, consensus choice like “Hidden Figures” could easily win the Oscar for Best Picture, particularly if the perceived frontrunner — in this case “La La Land” — earns many last-place votes. Last year many pundits incorrectly predicted that “The Revenant” would win Best Picture, forgetting the fact that the film had its fair share of detractors. Instead, “Spotlight” prevailed, a movie that was more universally loved.
Back to the infamous “Brokeback Mountain” vs. “Crash” battle, there was something else at play that year that turned out to be a big factor. Some voters, including most notably Ernest Borgnine, refused to vote for “Brokeback Mountain” because of its gay themes. “If John Wayne was still alive, he’d roll over in his grave,” Borgnine once laughed. Since “La La Land’s” love story centers on a much more traditional [white] man and [white] woman, it will have no problem garnering votes from the steak-eaters of the academy.
“La La Land” earned a whopping Oscar 14 nominations — tying it in the record books with “All About Eve” (1950) and “Titanic” (1997) — compared to only eight for “Brokeback Mountain,” so there is already more support for the musical-comedy. “Hidden Figures,” by comparison, only has three: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer. But since “Hidden Figures,” like “Crash,” won the SAG Ensemble prize, that means we all need to take it more seriously in the Best Picture race.
Sure, “Hidden Figures” missed out on a directing bid, but “Argo” (2012) was able to win Best Picture without its director Ben Affleck getting nominated. Yeah, it was snubbed for Best Film Editing, but “Birdman” (2014) won Best Picture without an editing nom. And just last year, “Spotlight” proved that a film can win Best Picture with only taking home one other prize — in that case Best Original Screenplay.
“Hidden Figures” has a real shot to win Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars where the current frontrunner is “Moonlight.” It has less of a chance of claiming Best Supporting Actress for Spencer, as Viola Davis (“Fences”) seems to be such a safe bet to win there. But be warned: If “Hidden Figures” wins either of those prizes early during the Oscar ceremony, get ready for one of the biggest Best Picture upsets in modern times.
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