Oscar Talk: Look Out for a “Promising Young Woman”

By Christian DiMartino

As the immortal Beyoncé once said: Girls, they run the world.

In terms of this year’s Oscars, yeah, they do. It’s rare for a female to get a Best Director nomination- in fact, until this year, only five had been nominated, with only one winner (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker). This year, we have not one female director in the running, but two: Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman, and Chloe Zhao for Nomadland. The latter is poised to win too, making her the second female (she was the first Asian female director to ever be nominated too) to ever win. Talk about groundbreaking.

Zhao’s win for Best Director seems to be a no-brainer, unless the Director’s Guild Awards throw us for a loop (that being said, last year’s DGA went to Sam Mendes for 1917, and in the biggest shocker of the evening, he lost). Nomadland also appears to be the frontrunner for Best Picture, and yet, despite being the critical darling it deserves to be, there is a sense of uncertainty about its Best Picture win. It seems like a strong choice, and it is one, because the way that it captures a way of American life that is rarely discussed, and it does so so beautifully and realistically. The question remains, if not Nomadland, then what? Well, I’ve been thinking it, and I’m just going to say it, and it could be totally wrong, but we’ll just have to see how the other award shows turn out, but… strange of a movie as it might be, I could see Promising Young Woman, maybe, potentially, nabbing Best Picture.

Of the nominees, it is certainly the least… prestigious. Yet think about what an unusual, awesome choice they made last year with Parasite. That film wasn’t my top vote, but it was a work of great, nutty originality, and at the last minute, it came and took us all by storm. Promising Young Woman isn’t a movie that screams Oscar, and from what I gather, some people don’t know what to make of it. Some think it’s tonally all over the place; some are indifferent on the ending. I haven’t written a full length review of it, but I love the film, for those reasons. Its tone is weird, but yet it weirdly makes light, at times, of a subject that is rather dark, and the film is richly entertaining from start to finish, thanks mostly to the duo of Fennell’s writing and Carey Mulligan’s performance.

Which leads me to my next point: if Fennell pulls of a win for Best Original Screenplay, and Mulligan wins Best Actress, the night is over. Green Book didn’t manage to nab a Best Director nomination- never a good sign- and still managed to pick up Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. Tonight, Fennell won the Best Original Screenplay award at the Writer’s Guild Awards. These awards aren’t always the best indicator, since they have specific guidelines and such, but it does make things look promising for Promising Young Woman, and not so good for Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. As for Mulligan, I say we wait and see what the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards have to say. Personally, she could and should win. The Golden Globes went with Andra Day for The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and while it was certainly a great performance, it might be just a little too much of a last minute contender, and the love for the movie just might not be there.

Initially, I believed that if any movie were to take down Nomadland, it would be The Trial of the Chicago 7, for its moving and timely story. It’s an excellent film, and yet the Academy didn’t nominate Sorkin for Best Director. This, in the case of Green Book and Argo, isn’t an impossibility for Best Picture, but besides Best Original Screenplay, what else could the film win? See, typically, it’s kind of an Oscar’s rule of thumb in recent memory that if there is a Best Picture-Director split, the Best Picture winner should have at least 3 Oscars total by the end of the night. Spotlight was the rare exception, winning for only Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, but that film had a huge backing and unanimous love across the board (and, cough, a Best Director nomination). Not quite as sure if the love is as strong for The Trial of the Chicago 7. But if Chicago 7 nabs, say, Best Editing and Best Original Screenplay, the ball is in its court. Typically, with Best Original Screenplay, the Academy chooses either the more original screenplay, or the film they preferred with great writing. Sorkin won the Golden Globe for Chicago 7, Fennell won the WGA, and those are our contenders.

What of the other nominees? My vote, The Father, seems to have a decent amount going for it, but is the nomination the reward? Probably, but I would love it if swooped in at the last second (no Best Director nomination here, but the film is worthy of Best Actor, Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing). David Fincher’s Mank seemed like a movie they should really love, and they do… but also, not enough. Without nominations for Best Original Screenplay or Best Editing, chances are, this film will only be winning technical Oscars (all of which are deserved, mind you). Sound of Metal sort of came from out of nowhere as a Best Picture nominee, so the love must be there, but again, probably technical Oscars only. Judas and the Black Messiah will win Best Supporting Actor for Daniel Kaluuya, but is it more of a contender than we’re being led to believe? I don’t think so, but who knows. But what of Minari? Another film I really love, there is clearly a strong backing surrounding this film, but it doesn’t quite seem to be picking up many wins… but it does have major nominations, such as Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, and Original Screenplay.

So if we’re being frank, I’ll just say this: Promising Young Woman, Nomadland, and Minari all probably have the upper hand. I could be wrong- I like to believe I’m an expert, but I can be dead wrong. Yet I think at the end of the day I’m right, and the reason why is because, whether they like to admit it or not, the Academy still isn’t quite ready to embrace streaming yet. This year, they had no choice but to nominate streaming services out the wazoo, but that doesn’t mean they want to reward them out the wazoo. Roma was close to a Best Picture winner two years ago, but no dice. Last year The Irishman and Marriage Story got their fair share of nomination, but again, nothing. Nomadland is currently streaming on Hulu, but it streamed the same day as it entered the theatre. Promising Young Woman had a proper theatrical release, before hitting VOD, along with Minari. Despite the changing times, I think deep down, the Academy still prefers things the old fashioned way (as do I). With this logic, Judas and the Black Messiah and The Father could easily be more in the conversation than I’m stating, but eh… not sure how strong the backing is. Your safest bet is perhaps Nomadland, but considering its love across the board… you might want to watch out for Promising Young Woman. She could get ya.

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