Last week, the Oscar race got a shakeup after Sian Heder’s CODA snatched Best Adapted Screenplay from presumptive favorite The Power of the Dog at the BAFTAs. Dog triumphed that weekend, though, winning top honors at the BAFTAs and the Critics’ Choice Awards, clinging to its place atop the leaderboard. But it’s a new week, and we’ve had a couple more precursor awards doled out, this time from the Producers Guild and the Writers Guild, and both broke for CODA. The WGA is not insignificant, but both The Power of the Dog and fellow adapted screenplay competitor The Lost Daughter weren’t eligible, so it was a clear field for CODA. Keep an eye on this category on Oscar night, though. If CODA snags the screenplay Oscar, a Best Picture upset is VERY possible.
The PGA award, meanwhile, is one of the best measures of the state of the Oscar race. While the actors’ branch is the largest in the Academy, the producers also form a significant bloc of membership, and more importantly, they use a preferential ballot for voting, just like the Academy. CODA doesn’t have to be everyone’s #1 pick, enough people just have to put in on their ballot, especially in the top three, for it to rack up enough points to win Best Picture.
But the actors and the producers both went for CODA, which is a pretty big sign of where things stand. It’s not really surprising CODA has come on strong in the last couple months. For one thing, Apple is spending a fortune on their campaign, and for another, CODA is a feel-good, heart-warming movie easily available to stream on Apple TV+ just as the world went to sh-t (again). CODA is a lovely film, but personally, I don’t think it’s punching in the same weight class as The Power of the Dog. Still, I understand its appeal, and I understand how a lot of people could choose this as their best film of the year, because it IS well made, and it leaves you with a positive impression when it’s over, which is what a lot of people will remember as they vote.
I just don’t want to hear any “this is like Crash or Green Book” nonsense. CODA is NOT like Crash or Green Book, it is a far better film than either of those in every regard. And whether it’s CODA or The Power of the Dog, it will be only the third time a film directed by a woman has won Best Picture. And again, either way it will be the first time a film released by a streaming service wins Best Picture. So, it’s historic regardless of which film wins, assuming one of them does.
So, who has the edge now? CODA. The PGA preferential ballot shows how that kind of weighted voting can shake out, and two of the biggest member blocs of the Academy both went for CODA. Jane Campion is still the favorite to win Best Director, but she is now Dog’s best shot at winning major awards. Also, the anti-Netflix bias in the Academy is real. A lot of people in the industry blame Netflix for the decimation of movie theaters over the last decade—not entirely wrong, but also not the whole picture—and there is still a lot of resentment for Netflix forcing everyone into the IP content arms race. They’ll happily take Netflix’s money for their museum, but the Academy will fight giving them Hollywood’s top honor tooth and nail.
Another thing to keep in mind is that with Best Picture nominating ten films, but Best Director nominating only five, there will be more Picture/Director splits in the future. The conventional wisdom that these two categories go in lockstep isn’t really applicable anymore. The way things are now, it allows voters to recognize both artistic achievement, via directing, and the film they like best, via Best Picture. I can see a scenario in which a lot of voters think Jane Campion deserves the directing award for her accomplishment, but they vote for CODA as Best Picture because they just plain like it more than the feel-bad Western about sad angry men. So, brace yourselves for a CODA upset at the Oscars, because it is entirely possible, maybe even probable, that CODA will win Best Picture.