‘CODA’ Surge Might Prove Oscars Are Looking for Joy During Pandemic and War
Art and Experience:
The final voting for Sunday’s 94th Oscars has closed. What can we expect?
A two-year global pandemic, which is still in progress, changed the mindset of humankind, and the Hollywood industry. The awards season seemed to be back on track but just prior to the holiday break, events were being postponed, and a familiar dark passenger started showing its face once again, under different name variants.
It’s no secret that Oscar voters have been looking for a good mood. After the nominations were announced on Feb. 8, where Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog” led the charge with 12, it looked as though the streaming giant had finally arrived at its golden moment with the Academy after falling short with previous films like “Roma” (2018) and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (2020).
Read more: Variety’s Awards Circuit Predictions Hub
I’ve long believed that the importance of the Academy Awards is its ability to provide a snapshot of the world during a time in history, not only with what they reward, but what they don’t. The 14th annual Oscars in 1942 is significant in history because John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley” bested Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” the movie many consider the best ever made. Taking place three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Ford’s drama that depicts hope and a family seeking a better life hit at the right moment, where the country was in a passionate “Pro-America” mood.
Now the world is gazing upon the atrocities and war crimes happening in Ukraine, where the invasion began on Feb. 24, four days before Apple Original Films’ “CODA” won the SAG Award for cast ensemble. A joyful, loving cast that includes Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Eugenio Derbez and Daniel Durant brought smiles to all of our faces. How could you not see a sense of hope in a dark time with that cast?
This also happened right in the middle of final voting for the Producers Guild of America and BAFTA Awards, which both closed on March 8. Riding high, the goodwill for the $25 million Sundance purchase stayed intact, leading to a win at the PGA Awards this past weekend, and even though “CODA” was not nominated for best film at BAFTA, it won a very telling adapted screenplay prize.
In the world of the Oscars, timing is everything. Even Focus Features’ “Belfast,” which has been thought of as a positive, happier film, has an opening sequence with nine-year-old Buddy (played by Jude Hill) experiencing the outbreak of unrest in Northern Ireland.
“CODA” presented itself at the right time to a world that’s looking for some hope. Although Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” is a gorgeously crafted, and exquisitely directed achievement, the dark, brooding Western doesn’t provide any semblance of hope for generations to latch onto, nor does it have too many lighter moments.
Siân Heder’s family drama that tells the story of a young girl trying to balance her love of music with her family’s economic future packs a wallop in its final 20 minutes, bringing even some critics of its simple approach to a puddle of tears.
In the early 2000s, the Oscars were in a trend of rewarding films with tinges of death, depression, racism and violence, illustrated by best picture winners such as “Million Dollar Baby” (2004), “Crash” (2005), “The Departed” (2006) and “No Country for Old Men” (2007). While taking a break with uplifting material like “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), they slid back into bleaker selections like “The Hurt Locker” (2010), “12 Years a Slave” (2013), “Spotlight” (2015) and arguably “Parasite” and “Nomadland.”
Speaking with multiple AMPAS members over the past six days of voting, one thing is for certain, it’s going to be a photo-finish in many categories, with some surprises lurking in the wings.
Final Oscar predictions will be revealed on Thursday, ahead of Sunday’s ceremony. Warner Bros’ “Dune” is expected to win the most prizes, and we could see some record-breaking moments like Billie Eilish becoming the second youngest original song winner ever (behind Marketa Irglova, the Czech-Icelandic songwriter who co-wrote “Falling Slowly” for “Once”) or Lin-Manuel Miranda becoming our newest EGOT recipient, the “fastest” to ever achieve it.