‘Trial of the Chicago 7’ could follow one of two paths to Best Picture Oscar: ‘Spotlight’ or ‘Green Book’

On paper, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” looks like it was custom-made to win Oscars: a prestigious historical drama with righteous political themes, an Oscar-winning writer-director (Aaron Sorkin) and an award-winning all-star cast. But it has underperformed at some events this season like the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards and Producers Guild Awards, making it an underdog for Oscars while “Nomadland” has taken the lead. However, I’ve been having the sneaking feeling that it could still follow one of two paths to the Best Picture Oscar.

Is it this year’s “Spotlight”? Like “Trial,” “Spotlight” was a fact-based drama about heroic (mostly male) characters fighting against injustice (in that case, the Catholic Church’s coverup of sexual abuse). Both films feature awards-friendly stars (heck, both movies feature Michael Keaton), and both won the SAG Award for their ensemble casts during divided years. “Spotlight” had lost the PGA Award to “The Big Short,” and then the DGA and BAFTA Awards went to “The Revenant.”

This year’s DGA and BAFTA Awards haven’t yet been decided as of this writing, but our users aren’t betting on “Trial” to win either of those prizes. Like “Spotlight,” though, it could win the Oscar anyway, even if it only ends up winning one or two other categories (Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing seem like its best bets).

Or could it be this year’s “Green Book”? The Oscars have changed a lot, making progressive, offbeat Best Picture choices like “Birdman” (2014) and “Moonlight” (2016) in recent years. Coming off the “Moonlight” and “Shape of Water” (2017) victories, many of us thought the academy would pick the Mexican drama “Roma” as the best film of 2018, or perhaps “BlacKkKlansman,” “The Favourite” or maybe even “Black Panther.” Instead, voters swung back to a traditionalist choice: “Green Book,” a film about historical injustice from a white perspective, somewhat like “Trial.” It won the top Oscar even though its filmmaker, Peter Farrelly, was snubbed for Best Director, just like Aaron Sorkin was snubbed for directing “Trial.”

It’s not a perfectly analogous comparison: “Green Book” won the PGA Award, unlike “Trial,” and it wasn’t even nominated for its cast at the SAG Awards. But they’re similar in that both feel like throwbacks in a year with several more progressive nominees (“Trial” is up against “Nomadland,” “Minari” and “Promising Young Woman,” among others). So while it’s probably not going to be the winner of choice for Film Twitter, we shouldn’t underestimate how much “Trial,” like “Green Book,” might still resonate with older academy members.

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