Predictions Index: Best Picture

BEST PICTURE
Belfast
Dune
Don’t Look Up
King Richard
Nightmare Alley
Soggy Bottom
Spencer
The Power of the Dog
The Tragedy of Macbeth
West Side Story

LOOK OUT FOR
Last Night in Soho (just on the edgeeee)
The Lost Daughter
Tick Tick Boom
Being the Ricardos

The Hand of God
House of Gucci
Cyrano
Flee
C’mon C’mon
The Humans

Analysis:

Rumor has it that Belfast is being targeted as Focus Features’ big awards season push. This could be a welcome return for Kenneth Branagh, whose black-and-white coming-of-age tale set against 1960s Northern Ireland is one of the fall season’s must-see titles. After all, it is World Premiering at TIFF, and Focus Features seems to have its eyes set on the title gunning most for the infamous TIFF Audience Award prize. Early buzz on Don’t Look Up suggests it’ll be a less critically divisive follow-up to Adam McKay’s previous awards picture Vice. Coming out on the eve of when global warming is flaunting the front-page headlines again, McKay’s A-list climate change allegorical comedy couldn’t be coming out at a better time and will be one of the year’s most definite Best Picture contenders.

World premiering as Opening Night at the New York Film Festival, The Tragedy of Macbeth could draw a polarizing reception from audiences. Still, no doubt the film will draw a positive critical reception and a slew of Oscar nominations. Like last year’s Mank, it’ll succeed on the passion for its technical merit, the larger-than-life performances, and the industry respect for the auteur behind the camera.

Denis Villeneuve impressed audiences left and right with the preview footage of his highly-anticipated motion picture and early word is Villeneuve delivers. Dune is undoubtably destined to be one of the year’s biggest passion-based success stories. It’s one of the few movies this year that’s showing up at every film festival and it could end up being the big movie to beat come awards season.

Spencer is drawing positive buzz and is also taking the fall festival circuit by storm. The appeal should be drawn by recent world interest in the royal family and its aptitude to play overseas. Your first major clue for the legitimacy of its quality, though, is its implied premiere status at Telluride. Pablo Larrain has been inching toward his Best Picture breakout film, and with Kristen Stewart eyeing the Best Actress prize, he may finally do it.

The Power of the Dog is also premiering at just about every high-profile Fall Festival this season. The early word is strong, particularly pointing out Benedict Cumberbatch channeling his inner-Daniel Plainview combined with rage and incest overtones in Jane Campion’s period epic. Also, watch out for Kirsten Dunst’s performance that’ll likely juggle predictions between Lead and Supporting. It may end up dividing audiences due to Campion’s calculated style of filmmaking, but it’s bound to be one of the year’s biggest critical juggernauts.

Things are lining up smoothly for ever-reliable Paul Thomas Anderson for his technically Untitled Soggy Bottom. From the few that have seen a cut, early word is strong for Anderson’s first ensemble driven-picture since 2000’s Magnolia. Fun tidbits I hear is that its humor is more in the vein of Boogie Nights, it’s rumored to possibly co-star the still unannounced Sean Penn, and off gut-alone, you should expect big things for Benny Safdie’s co-lead role as Joel Wachs, who was a closeted gay politician in the 70s

As Nightmare Alley races to the finish line, the question remains where it will premiere, but with an A-list ensemble including Bradley Cooper, Toni Collette, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara (the list goes on and on), it might not even be necessary and go straight through awards season exclusively to your local multiplex.

King Richard is already being described as this year’s A+ Cinemascore crowd-pleaser in the vein of The Blind Side and Bohemian Rhapsody. What those two films have in common is the lead wins Best Actor. Will Smith has the entirety of Hollywood rooting for him, and the narrative of the award sells itself. If the rumored Telluride birth comes to fruition, expect it to be an across-the-board Best Picture contender this awards season.

Just from watching the trailer, West Side Story already seems to be the most passionate Steven Spielberg’s been behind the camera since Munich, and I have no doubt it’s going to be one of 2021’s cinematic treats. This cinematic reimagining will be one of the final films to unveil themselves but combined with frequent Spielberg collaborators Tony Kushner and Janusz Kamiński; expectations will run high. Expect performances by Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose to be singled out.

Also possibly gunning for a Best Picture spot is the recently buzzed, The Lost Daughter, that’ll undoubtedly land when it premieres at Venice and Telluride. Will it go beyond acting for Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson, screenplay, and directorial debut prizes for Maggie Gyllenhaal is anyone’s guess. Unlike The Lost Daughter, Tick Tick Boom was on everyone’s radar after a boost of strong early word from the industry. Yet, Netflix did the unthinkable and moved it straight out of the fall season focus by pushing an AFI World Premiere, which is pretty risky considering it’s a debut film by the untested Lin-Manuel Miranda and eyes to be landed on it early to gain heavy momentum. My gut hesitation now is it could mean Netflix is expecting a divisive critical reception, but regardless it seems like the type of movie that should play strongly to audiences. 

Last Night in Soho has a real shot at breaking out in ways Edgar Wright has never had the chance before. Will it is like Knives Out and only land Screenplay, or could it go all the way? One of my main worries is Focus is placing stronger precedence on Belfast and that the movie is missing a likely acting contender in it to transcend it to the top. Venice putting it Out of Competition could be a clue it’s not as strong of a motion picture as originally hoped. The Best Picture nomination seems possible, though, as Wright never disappoints, and it feels like one of 2021’s movies that’ll inspire a wave of passion besides Dune and should play kindly to the below-the-line categories. 

The Hand of God feels more like the Best Director play than Best Picture, and concerning it’s missing from both TIFF and NYFF lineups. House of Gucci seems like a hot mess waiting to be seen. From the trailer alone, Ridley Scott feels like the wrong choice for director and seems mismatched for tackling campy material. I would’ve gone with a Craig Gillespie-type instead. I’m not expecting it to be a player outside of techs and Jared Leto. Cyrano stars Peter Dinklage and the adaptation was written by his wife and directed by Joe Wright and co-starring Haley Bennett, and who knows what kind of romantic passion will stir. No premiere has been announced, but there are rumblings of a Telluride World Premiere which is a promising sign if true. Buzz is rather tepid on Being the Ricardos, and my gut instinct is it’ll be an acting play like Trumbo and Bombshell, than a full-blown Academy movie. Nicole Kidman should be reliably good, but watch out for Javier Bardem, who supposedly has the best role in the bunch. Finally, is C’mon C’mon a critics movie or an Academy movie? We shall soon find out. While The Humans premiering solely at TIFF is not a very good sign, and I’m very close to fully writing off. Also, keep an eye on Neon’s Flee that has a path as it’s already looking likely to dominate critic circles later this year and land nominations (and possible wins) in Documentary, Animation and Foreign Language film.

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