When it comes to predicting what will win Best Picture, it typically comes down to what film feels important. It can be a film that tackles important subject matter like Spotlight which is about heroic journalists taking down pedophile priests, or 12 Years A Slave which is a harrowing depiction of slavery and racism. Also, it could be a film that Hollywood feels is important to them like Argo which is about American hostages in Iran being saved by Hollywood producers, or Birdman which is a satire depicting the cultural dominance of superheroes in Tinseltown.
This year, we have contenders that are important in a more obvious manner like The Post directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. The Post depicts the importance of the press and free speech which makes it timely in the era of Trump who has repeatedly blasted media publications he views as biased against him and he is going as far as to try and gut net neutrality which would make the Internet less free. It also depicts the story of Kay Graham (Streep), the first female editor of an American news publication, trying to expose the patriarchal U.S. government and their involvement in the Vietnam War. It is a story that provides shades of Hillary Clinton who became the first woman to become a Presidential nominee and ran against the chauvinistic Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Also, a film about a woman exposing the government’s dirty secrets is quite similar to the Harvey Weinstein scandal which involves multiple women coming forward with their experiences of being sexually harassed by the famed Hollywood mogul and other powerful men in the industry as well.
Its timeliness, importance, and even its star power should be enough for people to label The Post as a heavy frontrunner for Best Picture. However, let’s not forget that there are other films in the conversation that not only carry importance but are important in a way that’s more subtle.
For instance, there’s the queer romance Call Me By Your Name which just won the Gotham Award for Best Film. It may be a simple coming-of-age story about a 17 year old in Italy who falls for his father’s 24-year old protégé. But it still manages to possess political importance. When actor Anthony Rapp came forward with his story about being sexually assaulted by Kevin Spacey when he was 14, Spacey cited his homosexuality in his response to the accusations. But Call Me By Your Name, which depicts a loving relationship between two males despite a slight age gap, serves as a reminder that not every gay male who pursues a younger male is predatory. The Kevin Spacey scandal has been painting the gay community in a negative light so a film like Call Me By Your Name proves to be a necessity.
Usually, when Best Picture is awarded to a film that’s timely and important, a film that is presented in a matter of fact, straightforward manner is what typically wins. Get Out is timely with its depiction of modern-day racism but it is presented in a darkly comical manner and has dominated the pop culture landscape more than any other film this year besides Wonder Woman. Ever since its release back in February, people have made Internet GIFs out of film clips from it and even trailer parodies. For example, the website Funny Or Die made a trailer parody reimagining Get Out but with the Trump family. If that were to win Best Picture, it would be historical because it’d be the first film helmed by an African-American male in his directorial debut, the second Best Picture winner in a row helmed by an African-American male (after Barry Jenkins helming Moonlight), and it would also be the first horror comedy to win the top prize.
Then, there’s Lady Bird which has been winning the hearts of everyone. It’s the most well-reviewed movie of all time on Rotten Tomatoes with 185 positive reviews and no negatives. Also, so far, it has made about $12 million domestically in under 800 theaters. Even if it might be seen as a quirky indie, a Best Picture win would be significant because it would be the first female-driven film helmed by a woman to do so. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal which has involved female artists being silenced and even blacklisted, Lady Bird winning Best Picture would serve as a reminder that more female filmmaking voices need to be heard. The plot of Lady Bird may not be topical but that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t have any resonance.
Moonlight, which last won Best Picture, was a simple coming of age story about a black youth discovering his sexuality. But it was still an important film because of what its Best Picture win represents. It’s the first LGBTQ+ film in history to win Best Picture and the first film with an all-black cast to win as well. It was a sign that there are stories about both communities that need to be told and the story didn’t need to be politicized to get that message across.
So, a film that wins Best Picture typically may have to be considered important enough to win and have emotional resonance. But as you can tell, there are different levels of importance. A Best Picture contender can be important because of the subject matter that the story depicts and/or because it captures the cultural zeitgeist. It can also be important because of what its win would mean for the communities that it represents.