Barring some wild upset, the Best Picture Oscar race is between one of the first to be seen of the nominees, “Parasite,” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and one of the last, “1917,” which opened on Christmas Day. “1917” still sits atop our odds, with “Parasite” in second, and it’ll probably remain that way through Sunday, especially after the World War I epic claimed seven BAFTA Awards. This is ostensibly a very tight race, and you can’t really be faulted for predicting either one, taking personal preference out of it, but even though most stats favor “1917,” “Parasite” can still be the first foreign language Best Picture champ. Here’s why.
1. Guild-wise, it’s as strong as “1917” is
Eight months ago, if you had told anyone that “Parasite” would win multiple guild awards, including two big ones, they probably would’ve laughed in your face. But here we are. “Parasite” and “1917” have each won four relevant guilds: The former has the Screen Actors Guild Award for ensemble, the Writers Guild of America Award (original screenplay), the American Cinema Editors Award (drama) and Art Directors Guild Award for contemporary design (it also won a minor Motion Picture Sound Editors award for foreign language film), while the latter triumphed at the Producers Guild and Directors Guild, the American Society of Cinematographers and MPSE, where it won one of the two “main” awards, dialogue/ADR (“Ford v Ferrari” took effects/foley).
“1917” will have the tech branches behind it, but “Parasite’s” victories, the first for a foreign language film, demonstrate support in three of the top Oscar branches that are historically bellwethers for a Best Picture win: acting, writing and editing (directing, where Sam Mendes is the overwhelming favorite, being the other). Not all guild members are Oscar voters, of course, but if most of that support translates over, advantage “Parasite.” The largest branch is the actors, which didn’t nominate any “Parasite” or “1917” actor, but “Parasite’s” triumph at SAG — one of the most populist and broad bodies — and the rapturous two standing ovations the cast received say a lot. The Best Picture winner wasn’t nominated for SAG ensemble the past two years, but “1917” would be the first winner without any kind of SAG bid.
“1917” also didn’t get an editing Oscar nomination, which could be explained away with its one-take gimmick, a la “Birdman” (2014). It did manage to get a very important bid in original screenplay, but, with all due respect to Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, that feels like a coattail bid more than anything (it hasn’t won any screenplay award anywhere — and didn’t even get nominated at home at BAFTA — whereas “Birdman” claimed multiple writing wins, including the Oscar and Golden Globe). The “Parasite” script is expected to win, especially after its WGA and BAFTA victories. “1917” winning Best Picture without major acting, editing and writing support, and with just directing and techs would be very weird. But then again, we’ve had a lot of strange things happen recently, and whichever of these two prevails, there’ll be stats falling.
“1917” garnered most of the big prizes, including the drama and director Globe, but “Parasite” can hold its own with its win ledger. The only thing that hurts it is an intangible: being a foreign language film. If “Parasite” were in English, we wouldn’t be as wary about predicting it (but also, it being in Korean lends it some of that “cool” factor, as in people who might not normally watch/like foreign language films feel “cool” about liking it). It’ll come down to voters being willing to not only watch a foreign language film but vote for it to win their sacred top American honor, and not just relegating it to Best International Feature Film.
2. Screenplay has dictated Best Picture in the preferential era
While we’re on the subject of writing, there’s been a stronger correlation between picture/screenplay than there has been between the tried-and-true picture/director pairing since the preferential ballot was instituted 10 years ago. In the preferential era, there have been three instances of the Best Picture champ nabbing both directing and writing (2009’s “The Hurt Locker,” 2010’s “The King’s Speech” and “Birdman”). The other seven years, Best Picture has won one or the other: two winners bagged directing and not screenplay (2011’s “The Artist” and 2017’s “The Shape of Water”), while five won screenplay without director (2012’s “Argo,” 2013’s “12 Years a Slave,” 2015’s “Spotlight,” 2016’s “Moonlight” and 2018’s “Green Book”).
Best Director has increasingly become a tech honor for Most Directing, and nothing is more showy this year than Mendes’ one-take extravaganza. But we’ve already had more picture/director splits in the last seven years (five times) than we had had in the previous two decades (four). Nowadays, the tech marvel takes directing and crafts, while the smaller film can swing picture with writing and another award or two. “Spotlight” won Best Picture with screenplay as its only other award, the tiniest haul for a Best Picture champ since “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952), which also scored a writing award, the defunct Best Story, as its only other prize.
If “Parasite” scoops up screenplay and since it’s a shoo-in for Best International Feature Film, it would have more wins than “Spotlight” did and would be in line with the recent low win totals. “1917” is predicted to win six, which would be the most for a Best Picture champ since “The Hurt Locker” also grabbed six.
3. “Parasite” has always been the underdog
This sounds backwards to say, but “1917” asserting itself as the frontrunner, with its Globe, PGA, DGA and BAFTA sweep, is good for “Parasite.” As a foreign language film, “Parasite” will always be an underdog, but its lack of picture and directing wins at the aforementioned groups shields it from becoming an outright favorite and enduring any potential backlash (as a foreign language film, it already has built-in “backlash”). People love an underdog, and if it’s still seen as the David to a Goliath, people are more inclined to support it.
“Parasite” has been likened to “Spotlight” and “Moonlight” as Best Picture underdogs — small, well-written ensemble films with an important social message, and like “Moonlight,” a POC cast (this may also be a factor, given the very white acting lineups and the very male picture and directing fields). The 2015 field was divided between three films, but “Parasite’s” a lot stronger than “Moonlight” was at this stage, which only won Best Picture with WGA as its major guild win (“1917,” meanwhile, is a weaker “La La Land,” but also, to its benefit, less divisive than the musical as well).
4. Context is important
On paper, it’s difficult to bet against a technically dazzling war movie that’s won the Globe, PGA, DGA, and BAFTA, but just as “1917’s” misses in acting and editing could be “excused” (Best Actor was too competitive; Oscar voters don’t like young men; the single take), so too can “Parasite’s” losses at these places.
For one, “Parasite” didn’t lose the drama Globe since the Hollywood Foreign Press Association doesn’t allow foreign language films to be nominated in the main film categories. You can argue that the Globes would’ve also awarded Bong Joon Ho in director and/or screenplay if they truly loved “Parasite,” but the point is, had “Parasite” been eligible, we don’t know how its presence in the drama picture field would’ve affected how the HFPA voted. Maybe we would’ve gotten a “Parasite”/Mendes split or a “1917”/Bong one. Maybe “Parasite” would’ve taken both or maybe they would’ve still gone with “1917.” We’ll never know.
DGA was always going to be Mendes after the Globes set him on track. I never thought “Parasite” would win PGA — I had it in third behind “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (poor thing is getting “A Star Is Born”‘d this season) and “1917” — because that group is more insular than the academy and would be partial to studio films over a small indie like “Parasite.” Plus, “1917” had just opened wide and was making bank. “Parasite” is still doing business at the box office right now, while being out on digital and Blu-ray, but its $33 million domestic total is nothing compared to “1917’s” current $119 million haul. Yes, the PGA uses a preferential ballot like the Oscars, but “Spotlight” lost PGA, to “The Big Short,” and won the Oscar. And it’s just producers voting at PGA; the entire academy votes for Oscar winners.
As for BAFTA, well, “1917” is a British film. Was its sweep a surprise to anyone? We all knew it’d take Best Picture. It’d be like acting shocked when “The King’s Speech” dominated the BAFTAs (and in that case, the film was also the industry fave stateside). There’s also the BAFTA curse: BAFTA and the Oscars haven’t agreed on Best Picture since “12 Years a Slave.” That will end at some point, but it could just as easily continue this year with how competitive the race is and the different voting methods.
5. How will fans of the also-rans rank them?
It’s the No. 2 and 3 and 4 placements that matter on a preferential ballot since it’s extremely unlikely any film will win in the first round. Ballots will get redistributed until there’s a majority, and if this race is as close as we all think it is, this could come down to the wire. So it all depends on where “1917” and “Parasite” fall on all the other ballots where it’s not in first place. I always hesitate to say Voter A would like Movie B because it’s the most similar to their top choice, Movie C. People contain multitudes! But if we ascribe to this notion, “Parasite” might have an edge.
On the surface, the typically male-heavy Best Picture lineup appears to, and could, favor a macho film like “1917,” but fans of similarly character-driven, story-focused and/or thematically rich contenders like “Little Women,” “Marriage Story,” “The Irishman” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might respond to “Parasite” more than “1917.” “Joker” seems like an obvious “1917” vote, but the film tackles class, just like “Parasite.” And the stealthily hot “Jojo Rabbit,” while set during a war like “1917,” is tonally bold like “Parasite” and is also about, as Song Kang Ho said in his SAG speech, coexistence. That leaves Dad Movie “Ford v Ferrari,” whose supporters are probably fans of Dad Movie “1917.”
Also, if you’re a die-hard acolyte of either of these movies or prefer one of the two to win, you’d vote strategically and place their biggest competition dead last. And if people want to “spread the wealth” by voting for “Parasite” in international feature and something else for the top prize, this could still help “Parasite,” provided that it’s ranked higher than “1917” on the non-“1917” No. 1 ballots.
6. “Parasite” is the “Fleabag” of the Oscars
I said this before when I noted that “Parasite” could win SAG ensemble, but there’s tons of passion for it. It’s not unlike the way the world and industry fell head over heels for “Fleabag” Season 2 and Hot Priest. And we know what happened at the Emmys. Sure, different medium, voting system, language, etc, but it’s hard to find two things people loved more than “Fleabag” and “Parasite” in 2019. The preferential ballot is about building consensus, but “Parasite” has that too. People who’ve seen the movie — which, to be fair, some stodgy older voters might not do — have, at the very least, liked it; there’s nary a negative thing said about it. It’s a crowd-pleasing, accessible and universally liked hit, which “Roma” was not last year (no offense, “Roma”).
Now, “1917” is well-liked too, which is a problem for “Parasite.” It’s not polarizing like “The Revenant,” and the season is too short for it to suffer any major backlash like “La La Land” did (the most consistent gripe about it is that it looks/feels like a video game). But is it as beloved as “Parasite” is? No one talks about “1917” the way they do “Parasite.” “1917” is peaking at the perfect time and is the movie of the moment, which could be enough to push it over the edge. But the adoration for “Parasite” has not abated the past few months, and has grown as more and more people watch it. It’s infiltrated the zeitgeist, and its unprecedented run could very well end with a golden night.
Be sure to make your Oscar winner predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before the ceremony on February 9. And join in the thrilling debate over the 2020 Academy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.