The best clues as to what will take Oscar’s best picture come from the past


Every year, The Envelope weighs chances for each of the best picture candidates to win the gold by comparing them to prior Academy Award winners. (“Parasite” — it’s “The Sting” gone horribly wrong! ) To analyze the elements of this season’s eight nominees, we viewed plots, themes, styles — even their comic comfort. Are the resemblances we discovered enough to give the current picture a boost? Yeah, probably not. But we did find that this year’s crop, with it is weightier story lines, frequently had us dipping directly into past documentary winners to get our corollaries.

Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins in "The Father."

Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins inside “The Father. ”

(Sean Gleason and Sony Pictures Classics)

Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in "A Beautiful Mind."

Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly inside “A Beautiful Mind. ”

(Eli Reed / Universal Studios)

“The Father” — “A Beautiful Mind”


Dementia wreaks havoc on its victims’ minds. “The Father” wreaks havoc on our idea of it, by turning the illness into a mystery thriller. May Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) believe what he sees? May we? For such an inventive look at mental decline, all of us turn to 2002’s winner, “A Beautiful Mind, ” and the tricks our mind may play on us when our cognition is modified. 2012’s foreign-language film “Amour” also shares the particular misfortune of this loss.

A group of actors in Black Panther uniforms in "Judas and the Black Messiah"

Darrell Britt-Gibson, Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield in “Judas and the Black Messiah. ”

(Glen Wilson / Warner Bros. )

American politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk

Harvey Whole milk beside his campaign poster during his run for a position on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 1973, in the film “The Moments of Harvey Milk. ”

(Janet Fries / Getty Images)

“Judas and the Black Messiah” — “The Times of Harvey Milk”


The heart-wrenching, infuriating story of Black Panther Fred Hampton’s (Daniel Kaluuya) betrayal by his comrade William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), and his subsequent assassination by the U. S. government, has a number of filmic forebears. Betrayal has a hand in 1985’s winner, “Amadeus, ” 2007’s “The Departed” and each “Godfathers. ” But 1985’s winning documentary feature provides it home, with its story of another great revolutionary shape betrayed and murdered by a close colleague.

Frank Langella as Julius Hoffman in "The Trial of the Chicago 7."

Frank Langella as Julius Hoffman inside “The Trial of the Chicago, il 7. ”

(Niko Tavernise / Netflix)

Robert McNamara in "The Fog of War"

Robert McNamara in “The Fog of War”

(Sony Pictures)

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” — “Fog of War”


If 1957’s nominee “12 Angry Men” had won, it would get this one a lot easier. Eight enraged revolutionaries! But , alas, “The Bridge on the River Kwai” won that year, which does nothing to light up this film’s chances. The film looks at the travesty of a trial against the men who staged a Vietnam War protest at the late 1960s Democratic Convention, which descended into a riot. It is a biting indictment of a government that will try to crush opposition at any cost, not unlike 2004’s documentary winner “Fog of Battle, ” in which former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara dissects his role in the Vietnam War and WWII.

Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz.

Whilst gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz in “Mank. ”


Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront"

Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront. ”

(Columbia Photos via Getty Images)

“Mank” — “On the particular Waterfront”


1941’s “Citizen Kane” would be a ringer with this behind-the-scenes look at that film’s screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), but as “Mank” followers know, that film was the winner only for its screenplay. Instead, we turn to 1955’s “On the Waterfront. ” The stink of corruption permeating New Jersey’s dockworkers partnership in “Waterfront” wafts more than California’s politics in “Mank. ” Both feature a lovely blond heartbroken heartbreaker. Plus behind the scenes on “Waterfront, ” independent producer Sam Spiegel was reported to be because a thorn in the half of legendary screenwriter Budd Schulberg as Mercury Theatre manager John Houseman evidently was to Mankiewicz. In that case let’s throw in a dashboard of the panache of 1937 winner “The Great Ziegfeld. ” Both men shared a home grand lives, gambled carelessly with hearts and cash, and left an marked impression in their wake.

Steven Yeun in "Minari."

Steven Yeun in “Minari. ”

(Melissa Lukenbaugh / A24)

Song Kang Ho in “Parasite.”

Song Kang Ho in “Parasite. ”

(Neon, CJ Entertainment)

“Minari” — “Parasite”/”Terms of Endearment”


In this particular quintessentially American tale of the immigrant experience, Jacob (Steven Yeun) struggles to give his family a better life and nearly destroys everything along the way. Last year’s victor, “Parasite, ” has only the thinnest thematic similarity — downtrodden family hustles to survive against intense economic odds — but it is the only other film with an Asian team and director to have earned the best picture Oscar. Could we throw in “Terms associated with Endearment” for a couple of precocious kids and a live-wire grandmother? We could try.

Frances McDormand in "Nomadland."

Frances McDormand within “Nomadland. ”

(Joshua James Richards / Searchlight Pictures)

 “Down and Out in America”

A scene through “Down and Out in the united states, ” directed by Lee Grant.

(Hope Runs High Films)

“Nomadland” — “Down plus Out in America”


Fern (Frances McDormand) is an unhoused wanderer, assessing the particular challenges and freedom of the nomadic way of life. We are immersed in that world along with the girl and a largely nonprofessional ensemble of real nomads, within a film that straddles narrative and documentary genres. Therefore again we turn to a fantastic documentary for comparison with 1987’s “Down and Out there in America, ” which requires an unsparing look at the raw effects of Reaganomics on the functioning poor and homelessness in the U. S.

Carey Mulligan in "Promising Young Woman."

Carey Mulligan stars in “Promising Young Woman. ”

(Focus Features )

Clint Eastwood in "Unforgiven."

Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven. ”

(Warner Bros. )

“Promising Young Woman” — “Unforgiven”/”American Beauty”


Carey Mulligan stars as the prophetic Cassandra in an elaborately constructed revenge movie that combines comedy, tragedy, romance and any number of genres in between. Best of luck finding a best picture winner starring a female on such a mission. Instead, we offer a mash-up of 1992’s “Unforgiven, ” for its story about exacting retribution for a horrible injustice against a woman, and 1999’s “American Beauty, ” for its stylistic look at the emptiness, violence and unexpected pleasure we are all capable of feeling.

Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke in a scene from "Sound of Metal."

Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke in a scene from “Sound of Metal. ”

( Amazon Studios)

Ray Milland and Jane Wyman

Ray Milland and Jane Wyman in a scene from the movie “The Lost Weekend” from 1945.

(Paramount via Getty Images)

“Sound of Metal” — “The Lost Weekend”


This searing film centers on Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a metal drummer and recovering addict which loses his hearing plus seemingly everything that gives their life meaning. He unwillingly joins a rural deaf rehab community, and even more unwillingly, starts coming to terms along with being deaf. His battles, and his denial, call to mind that classic of the problems of alcoholism, 1945’s “The Lost Weekend. ” Although Ruben doesn’t return to elements as Ray Milland’s personality does, his addictive nature does come into play when he seeks a fix and gives up (or sells) almost anything in the process. And as with that mid-century melodrama, by the end of the movie, he manages to reach the particular grace of acceptance. That is when life can begin.