Seeing Glenn Close grit her teeth and bow her head upon losing Best Actress (again) at last year’s Academy Awards confirmed her cruel fate: resigned to the class of Oscar Bridesmaids. Close is one of those serial losers who never get to walk down the aisle. Her campaign capitalized on the fact that she was the most-nominated living performer without a win. Perhaps voters felt that was an honour itself.
Going 7-0 really sucks. But it highlights the fact that the Oscar Bridesmaids need a mix of momentum and merit to take the stage. Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, Julianne Moore in Still Alice, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, and Roger Deakins with Blade Runner 2049. These are wins by “overdue” stars that came along at the right time with the right work. Close’s overdue campaign, honestly, mostly reminded people of her stronger work. “Better luck next, baby!” voters laughed, tossing the bouquet to Olivia Colman.
The Oscar Bridesmaids of 2020
This year’s race has several Oscar Bridesmaids. Three of them could likely translate their overdue status into wins. (I’m omitting Saoirse Ronan from the list: although she has the same number of acting nominations as Brad Pitt does, there’s little sense that she’s overdue.) Most of them will inevitably put on a brave face for the reaction shot and hope to return next year. Here’s a toast to the serial losers in the class of Oscars 2020.
Nominated for: Best Supporting Actor – Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Previous nominations (for acting): Best Supporting Actor – 12 Monkeys (1995); Best Actor – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Moneyball (2011)
Pitt won an Oscar only six years ago, but he’s this year’s overdue dude. His win was as a producer for Best Picture champ 12 Years a Slave. However, Pitt has yet to win an Oscar for acting even though he’s one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. In all honesty, people don’t afford Pitt the seriousness he deserves. While there’s no denying that he’s a hunk of a leading man, critics and industry peers forget that he also a great actor. Even the charm he exudes in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood risks being dismissed as his natural character. Pitt’s rarely had a chance to combine his strength as well as he does in Tarantino’s film. This performance reminds us why he’s one of Hollywood’s top leading men and an actor who slips so seamlessly into character we forget we’re watching a star.
Odds of walking down the aisle: Strong. The acting races seem locked up. With Pitt competing against four previous winners, it’s hard to separate the overdue status from the merit for the award. He caught the bouquet at both the Globes and the SAG Awards, so he better be wearing white February 9.
Nominated for: Best Actor – Joker
Previous nominations: Best Supporting Actor – Gladiator (2000); Best Actor – Walk the Line (2005), The Master (2012)
Joaquin Phoenix is the anti-Brad Pitt. He’s an asshole and extremely method with his performances. One never forgets that one watches an actor in motion with a Phoenix film. When it works, it really works, and when it doesn’t, it alienates a viewer. That’s especially glaring in the self-conscious showboating in Joker, yet few people seem to mind. His mesmerizing transformation in The Master and last year’s criminally overlooked performance in You Were Never Really Here help lure viewers into his clown faced leader of the incel rebellion. Phoenix is a guy who “goes there” and whether one loves or hates Joker, one can’t deny he takes it to an extreme.
Odds of walking down the aisle: Strong. Everyone drank the Kool-Aid with this one. However, Phoenix winning for Joker feels like Glenn Close winning for The Wife. This performance shouldn’t be the one that keeps him in the history books, especially when Heath Ledger won for a much stronger take on the character.
Nominated for: Best Documentary Feature – American Factory
Previously nominated for: Best Documentary, Short Subjects – The Last Plant: Closing of a GM Plant (2009); Best Documentary Feature – Seeing Red (1983), Union Maids (1978)
The doc crowd stands behind Julia Reichert this year. One could sense the movement rallying behind this rather unsung veteran when American Factory took Sundance by storm. Reichert and her partner Steven Bognar won the directing prize. Then Reichert received the Outstanding Achievement Award at Hot Docs – a fair industry spotlight for a filmmaker unknown to the general public. American Factory revisits the scene of her 2009 nominee The Last Plant as it observes the American dream in crisis. It’s an exceptionally immersive film and grand in scope with fiery socialist spirit. Seeing her return to the topic a decade later reminds doc fans that she’s a talent who cares about her subjects.
Odds of walking down the aisle: Strong. With Apollo 11 out of the race, American Factory is the clear frontrunner. Anything else would be a surprise.
Nominated for: Best Adapted Screenplay – The Two Popes
Previously nominated for: Best Adapted Screenplay – The Theory of Everything (2014); Best Picture – Darkest Hour (2017), The Theory of Everything (2014)
Anthony McCarten wrote three of the previous five roles that brought Best Actor Oscars. (For Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour, and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything.) His movies are catnip for Oscar voters. While it’s unlikely he’ll write this year’s Best Actor winning performance barring some Glenn Close level upset (fingers crossed), he could presumably win for the safest film in his category. Don’t get me wrong, The Two Popes is one of the best scripts of the year. (It’s my #5 film for 2019.) The talky two-hander could pull a fast one since fellow nominees Jojo Rabbit and Joker are polarizing. Greta Gerwig’s probable win for Little Women‘s screenplay feels like a consolation prize for missing Best Director. (Despite the writing of Little Women being its strength.) History shows that the Academy loves McCarten movies more than the critics do.
Odds of walking down the aisle: Slim. Little Women’s Greta Gerwig and The Irishman’s Steven Zaillian are more likely. This weekend’s BAFTA Awards will show The Two Popes’ viability if it wins (or loses) on home turf. But McCarten already has a secure bridesmaid vibe going on since he keeps helping the leading men win.
Nominated for: Best Animated Feature – Missing Link
Previously nominated for: Best Animated Feature – Corpse Bride (2005), Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), Kubo and the Two Strings (2014)
Missing Link marks the sixth animated feature nominated from stop-motion animation studio Laika. Unfortunately, they’re generally nominated in years with heavy favourites like Up (2009) and Brave (2012) having major studio muscle. While the critical consensus says that Missing Link isn’t Laika’s best film, it nevertheless speaks to its necessity. The big studios all pumped out shoddy sequels this year. Another Frozen. Another How to Train Your Dragon. A fourth (!) Toy Story. Laika is one of few American animation houses doing anything remotely interesting or ambitious. Voters should eventually notice.
Odds of winning: Decent. Some pundits chalked up the surprise omission for Frozen 2 to anti-Disney sentiment. The frontrunner is Disney’s Toy Story 4, while How to Train Your Dragon 3 could give a first win to a popular trilogy, but giving an Oscar to the weakest entries in a franchise makes the category seem frivolous. The other contenders are foreign Netflix films, which have their own hurdles. Is Missing Link the default bride-to-be?
The Sound Guys
Tod A. Maitland – Best Sound Mixing, Joker (4th nomination)
Matthew Wood – Best Sound Editing, Star Wars (5th nomination)
Stuart Wilson – Best Sound Mixing, 1917 (6th nomination)
Wylie Stateman – Best Sound Editing, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (9th nomination)
Gary Rydstrom – Best Sound Mixing, Ad Astra (10 losses since 1998)
Sound guys are the ultimate Oscar Bridesmaids. The sound categories offer one of the few cases in which even voters in the know aren’t aware of the talent behind the titles. (Unlike many people who know they’re voting for Roger Deakins in Best Cinematography even though the ballot just says 1917.) Additionally, many voters outside the sound branch openly don’t know the difference between sound editing (creating and placing sound effects) and sound mixing (layering the overall soundscape). Members might vote for the same film in both categories, vote for their favourite film, or abstain.
The most curious case among the sound designers is that of Gary Rydstrom. He’s on his tenth nomination after a nine-Oscar losing streak since 1999. But he won a whopping seven Oscars in the 1990s for blockbusters like Titanic, Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, and Saving Private Ryan. Where are Steven Spielberg and James Cameron when you need them?
Odds of walking down the aisle: Slim. Hilariously, these bridesmaids are poised to lose to Ford V. Ferrari teams that include one recent winner and nomination newbies. The racing drama is a heavy favourite in both categories. Perhaps Wilson or Stateman will win if 1917 or Hollywood sweeps en route to Best Picture.
Nomination for: Best Picture – Joker
Previously nominated for: Best Picture – A Star Is Born (2018), American Sniper (2014); Actor – A Star Is Born, American Sniper, Silver Linings Playbook (2012); Supporting Actor – American Hustle (2013); Adapted Screenplay – A Star Is Born
As much as I loathe Joker, I won’t complain if it nets Bradley Cooper one of the Oscars he should have won last year. Surprisingly little noise is being made of the fact that Cooper is on his eighth nomination with Joker. In addition to being a great actor, he’s making a splash on the other side of the camera. And if there’s one thing to admire about Joker, it’s the team’s rollout of the film that convinced the world to take this comic book movie seriously. However, Cooper’s been letting director/producer/writer Todd Phillips enjoy the spotlight. So, any love Cooper might have garnered last year as a triple nominee who missed Best Director and then got crushed by Green Book isn’t likely to factor in.
Odds of walking down the aisle: Zip. Joker might lead the nominations tally, but there’s no way it will win on the preferential ballot. In the unlikely event it does, Cooper will probably cede the microphone to Phillips.
Nominated for: Best Original Song – “I’m Standing with You” from Breakthrough
Previously nominated for: Best Original Song: “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from Mannequin (1987), “Because You Loved Me” from Up Close & Personal (1996), “How Do I Live” from Con Air (1997), “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” from Armageddon (1998), “Music of the Heart” from Music of the Heart (1999), “There You’ll Be” from Pearl Harbour (2001), “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights (2014), “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground (2015), “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall (2017), “I’ll Fight” from RBG (2018)
It is flat-out insane that Diane Warren has not won an Oscar. She is the queen of the power ballad. Her music provides countless movie anthems. They pull on the heartstrings and make people feel great.
Yes, despite having all the secret ingredients to her work, Warren is on her eleventh nomination with no wins. She was close with songs like the Céline Dion power ballad “Because You Loved Me,” the Aerosmith smash “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” and “Til It Happens to You,” the Lady Gaga anthem for the doc The Hunting Ground. Warren also had a tough loss in 1997 when Céline Dion and the pennywhistle from Titanic crushed Con Air’s “How Do I Live.” That song, performed by Trisha Yearwood for the film but also released by LeAnn Rimes, went on to be one of the best-selling singles of all time.
Warren clearly wants this prize. She deserves an Oscar and is working hard to get it. The nominations for fairly under-the-radar films like The Hunting Ground, Beyond the Lights, and Marshall speak to her effective campaigning and the quality of her work. So too does her fairly random nomination for Breakthrough. How many people had even heard of this movie?
Odds of walking down the aisle: Low. Warren is excellent and obviously well respected, but this song might be the weakest of her nominated work. There’s no push for the film to win, either, despite the category being relatively weak this year. If she wins, it will be a clear case of the Oscar Bridesmaid winning a legacy prize. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I want Warren to win, but not for this song, as lovely as it is.
Nominated for: Best Original Score – 1917
Previously nominated for: Best Original Score – Little Women (1994), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Unstrung Heroes (1995), American Beauty (1999), Road to Perdition (2002), Finding Nemo (2003), A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), The Good German (2006), Wall-E [also for Best Song] (2008), Skyfall (2012), Saving Mr. Banks (2013), Bridge of Spies (2015), Passengers (2016)
Could 15 be the charm for Thomas Newman? The great composer has never bagged an Oscar despite creating memorable themes for films like The Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty. His music has a unique signature, but he’s also one of the grandest experimenters in studio films. Newman’s scores are often risks that reward. In some cases, like The Good German, they’re highlights of fairly bad or forgettable films. In my books, he should have won for his enchanting music for Finding Nemo. (I also have a soft spot for Road to Perdition, but would have given it to John Williams that year for his jazzy work in Catch Me If You Can.) His score stands alongside Roger Deakins’ cinematography as one of the true stars of 1917 though. Can he finally win if the film sweeps the Oscars?
Odds of walking down the aisle: A coin toss. It’s a tough call between 1917 and Joker for Best Score. Joker composer Hildur Guðnadóttir arguably stole Newman’s thunder when she beat him at the Golden Globes even as 1917 took Best Picture. Her win also underscored the fact that only one woman (Rachel Portman) has won the Oscar in this category. That, however, is a whole other field of Oscar Bridesmaids.