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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.