Now that Oscar season has come to an end, let’s look back at the winners and losers of this year’s precursor races.
CODA came into Oscar season as an also-ran. No one thought much of the Sundance release’s chances, but due to some quick thinking on Apple TV+’s part and with a little help from toxic masculinity, it managed to dethrone Jane Campion’s terrific western. Whether it will be remembered as anymore than than that in a decade’s time, we’ll see. It all depends if the Academy keeps going for sentiment over craft.
Jessica Chastain also struggled early in the season, winning little for her performance. Then BAFTA whiffed their nominations and SAG became the de facto determiner of who would emerge as the frontrunner, even though Kristen Stewart wasn’t nominated there. Chastain won and slowly snowballed to an Oscar victory even though others in her category spent time as the frontrunner throughout the season.
Ariana DeBose was the only acting winner who started out strong in precursor season, eventually picking up more than a dozen accolades for her performance. It helped that Ruth Negga, her chief competition, was passed on by the Academy’s actors, which cleared the field of all competition.
Dune may not have secured that coveted Best Directing nomination, but it managed to hold on in several tight races to win six Oscars, tying La La Land and Mad Max: Fury Road for the most Oscars for an individual film since Gravity in 2013. That it could have lost Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, and Production Design, but didn’t, speaks to its strengths and its dominance of the craft categories throughout precursor season.
Big Winners & Losers
Will Smith really should be in the big losers section, not because he should have lost, but for his antics at the Oscars. Needless to say, he started off slow, winning only at the National Board of Review. He was constantly eclipsed by Benedict Cumberbatch. Then, as the season progressed, he put on the charm and ultimately came out on top in Best Actor. Yet, he managed to tarnish his reputation even if he was a precursor winner.
Don’t Look Up got some of the weakest reviews of any of the Best Picture nominees. Even co-host Amy Schumer poked fun at the critical drubbing the film received. Still, in spite of the vitriol spewed at the film, it managed to pull off four nominations, including one for Best Picture. Ultimately, however, it disappointed by winning nothing even though it could have snuck in for Original Screenplay.
Licorice Pizza was Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature and a return to his love affair with the 1970s. It debuted to sterling reviews and played quite well throughout precursor season, but the film stumbled at the Oscars, securing only three nominations, which hastened its downward trend in the lead-up to the Oscars.
The Power of the Dog has to be seen as the biggest loser. Not only was it the most honored film of 2021, it lead the precursor tallies in five categories and only won one of them at the Oscars: Directing. The film, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and the screenplay, all lost and that’s no fault of the masterful film itself, but of the quirks of ranked choice balloting. It will be fondly remembered in years to come and may well be elevated beyond the place it currently holds due to its unfair treatment this year.
Nicole Kidman was the first frontrunner for Best Actress. Some claimed she was unbeatable, but as more and more precursors were handed out, she continuously got snubbed. She won at the organization-non-grata Golden Globes and then at AARP and that was it.
Kristen Stewart was one of the actors who replaced Kidman in the musical chairs race for Best Actress. She did considerably better, winning more individual honors than any other Best Actress nominee in the year. Still, she couldn’t shake the Twilight stench and succumbed quickly after her snub at SAG and then again at BAFTA. The rebound with the Oscar nomination was a positive, but everything that followed wasn’t.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines was the year’s most honored animated film. It faced off against the Disney/Pixar fanbase and lost. The category is hopelessly biased towards Disney and Pixar films, so it was always going to face an uphill battle. Still, it was a fine effort that just didn’t pay off.