This last weekend before the start of the final round of Oscars voting March 17 was packed with important Oscar “precursors” on both sides of the Atlantic — the Directors Guild of America Awards in Los Angeles on Saturday and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards in London and the Critics Choice Awards in both places Sunday — and if one thing is clear after all of it, it’s that The Power of the Dog is now the film to beat for best picture.
Jane Campion’s psychological Western may not be Sam Elliott’s favorite outing of 2021, but it clearly is the preferred choice of many others, having claimed the top prizes of all three groups. And while the Oscars’ top prize is, unlike these groups’, determined by a preferential ballot of the sort employed by only one other precursor — the Producers Guild of America, which will weigh in next weekend — it is impossible to argue that any other film is better positioned for Oscar glory at this time.
To be sure, it is noteworthy that CODA won the SAG Awards’ best ensemble prize two weekends ago (that honor has predicted best picture Oscar upsets in years past) and that Belfast won the equivalent Critics Choice Award on Sunday night. And indeed, both of those films strike me as less polarizing than The Power of the Dog, which means they could get a boost from the Oscars’ preferential ballot. But when three constituencies as different as the DGA, BAFTA and CCA all wind up with the same verdict, attention must be paid, particularly given that Academy members are generally reluctant to split their top two prizes — best picture and best director — and the industry is uniformly behind Campion for the latter.
On Sunday night, some suggested that Campion instigated beef with King Richard subjects/executive producers Serena Williams and Venus Williams, having said in her best director acceptance speech that she marveled at the tennis greats but that she, unlike they, had to compete against men. But this journalist can assure you that no hard feelings were evident after the show, when the Williams sisters attended Netflix’s afterparty, danced and socialized with Campion and generally seemed to be having a blast. If anything, Campion is riding higher than ever, having aggressively pushed back against Elliott’s criticisms of The Power of the Dog to Variety on the red carpet of the DGA Awards, and to THR the day before for a podcast set to debut Monday.
Meanwhile, with both BAFTA and Critics Choice agreeing on best actor, best supporting actor and best supporting actress honors for Will Smith (King Richard), Troy Kotsur (CODA) and Ariana DeBose (West Side Story), respectively, that trio has cemented their status as Oscar frontrunners.
As for the best actress race? BAFTA opted not to nominate any of the same people that the Academy did, so the fact that it awarded its top prize to Joanna Scanlan (After Love) is less relevant to the Oscar race than the fact that Critics Choice voters picked the same winner that SAG-AFTRA voters did, Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), over fellow Oscar nominees Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos) and Kristen Stewart (Spencer), among others. This was the last opportunity for someone to stunt Chastain’s momentum en route to the Oscars, and it didn’t happen.
Other noteworthy results from the weekend: CODA threw a wrench into the best adapted screenplay Oscar race, toppling presumptive Oscar favorite The Power of the Dog with BAFTA, although The Power of the Dog won at Critics Choice. Stanley Nelson’s Attica upset Questlove’s Summer of Soul to win the best documentary DGA Award, but Summer of Soul rebounded with a Critics Choice win. Japan’s Drive My Car won both BAFTA and Critics Choice’s best international feature prize, a blow to the hopes of Flee and The Worst Person in the World. The Mitchells vs. the Machines toppled presumptive Oscar frontrunner Encanto to win the best animated feature Critics Choice Award. Dune generally dominated both BAFTA and Critics Choice’s below-the-line categories. And West Side Story, which is not even nominated for the best film editing Oscar, won that category’s Critics Choice Award; the best drama American Cinema Editors Award winner King Richard is probably the category’s new Oscar frontrunner.