Oscars Predictions: What should win the Best Picture Oscar

What film will follow in the illustrious footsteps of Crash, The King’s Speech and Green Book?

During last year’s first full-fledged Oscar show under the weight of COVID-19, the naysayers who argued that accessibility was a big problem with the Academy were proved wrong. For the first time in decades, most (if not all) of the films had streamed more or less worldwide on VOD and streaming sites. It drew the lowest ever viewership in the history of the show. 

Late-night talk-show hosts recycled jokes pretending no one has even heard of most of the nominees. This year’s show is making some radical choices to draw in a new and younger audience, including nixing certain categories from the telecast and adding a fan favourite prize. Both decisions have attracted controversy, and it seems optimistic at best to assume it will make a significant difference in viewership. It seems foolhardy at this point to imagine anyone but theatre kids, decadence obsessed millennials and boomers will tune in. Why ignore your core audience to favour one with no genuine interest in awards shows?

For all the griping about the Oscars rewarding mediocrity regularly, over half the Best Picture nominees are at least good to great. The once-controversial decision to allow for 10 nominees has paid off, allowing films like Drive My Car and Dune to share some of the spotlight. Though some people hoped this expansion would mean more attention on Marvel and Disney, the compromise of having space for audacious blockbuster filmmaking like Denis Villeneuve’s Dune should be a happy compromise. Regardless of outcomes, it remains an honour just to be nominated.

Let’s pretend we live in a perfect world, though. What nominated movie should win this year?

It should be no surprise that my choice would be Jane Campion’s dreamy The Power of the Dog. Based on a novel of the same name, Campion twists the screw on an unconventional Western about two brothers who own a ranch and how their world turns upside down when one marries a local innkeeper, and she moves in with her son.

Jane Campion is one of our greatest working filmmakers, and aside from a brief sojourn in TV with Top of the Lake, this is her first film in over a decade. It’s a departure in many ways, as it centres on the lives and passions of men rather than women. Yet, it maintains her erotic charge and conceptual use of character and space that it feels completely at home with The Piano or In the Cut

It’s a movie that rewards repeat viewings. So much of the film’s impact lies on its incredible cast — some of whom will hopefully also be rewarded on Oscar night. What lies on the surface gives way to private moments and grudges that emerge through different points of view. For example, the significance of the opening monologue by Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) about a son’s duty to his mother was far more significant the second time around. It also begs the question of whether or not the narrator of the film is reliable. Were Peter’s actions meant to protect his mother or intended to protect his ego?

The film brims with these tensions and contradictions. Characters are often engaged in various levels of performance, trying to live up to ideals of masculinity or class. Rose Gordon (Dunst) cracks under pressure, unable to thrive in this high-stakes masculine environment. On the other hand, her son affects a certain fragility to upend his rival. Power doesn’t just have to be strong-arming your opponents. It can be quiet and manipulative. Sometimes defying expectations can have a greater impact than fulfilling a preconceived notion of it. The film deals with questions of power on a micro and macro level; it examines the myths of the American West as it ties to the male ego and the destruction of alternative stories and identities. 

Jane Campion’s direction leans into ambiguity. Behind the scenes, she and some of her actors worked with a dream coach to “access the incredible resource of the unconscious through dreams and through work with the body and to use that material to bring authenticity, truth and aliveness up through whatever discipline the artist is working in.” While it’s difficult to measure shot by shot how this approach might impact the film, there’s no doubt its almost tangential quality follows the intuition and logic of dreaming rather than waking life. The movie has a way of burrowing into your subconscious, lingering in your consciousness long after the credits roll.

The Power of the Dog is one of the favourites to win this Sunday, and regardless of whether it does, it will still be one of the best films of last year. Like most of Jane Campion’s films, its legacy will live on beyond this awards season, which is more than can be said for many recent Best Picture winners.

What will probably win? CODA

To read our Best Actor/Supporting Actor Oscar predictions, please click here. To read our Best Actress/Supporting Actress Oscar predictions, please click here.

The Power of the Dog (directed by Jane Campion)

The Academy Awards airs on ABC and CTV on Sunday, March 27, 8 p.m. For more, please visit the Oscars website.

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