Note: Topics of self-harm and abuse are discussed in this piece.
Two years ago, I reflected on how Parasite continued an interesting trend among movies that win Best Picture during presidential election years:
“How it works is this: if the most recent winner of the Best Picture Academy Award is optimistic, hopeful, old-fashioned in its execution, or is otherwise a typical ‘Oscar-bait’ winner, that is a good omen for whichever political party occupies the White House.”
I believe it is worth revisiting in light of what is on the horizon. Superstitious? You bet it is, but I would be lying if I said my capacity for absolute adherence to only the most rational beliefs has remained steadfast as I get older. So. Okay. With, god help us, another presidential election coming up soon that will almost guarantee to be even more tedious and exhausting than the last one, let us consider the possibility of which top contenders for Best Picture should make you nervous, depending on which outcome you are hoping for. Because I assume longtime readers do not need me to spell out which ones would make me nervous, I want to make this about you. To be clear, I’m not pondering this from any sort of aesthetic or critical perspective. In fact, it is likely that your favorite film of 2023 will be entirely at odds with your partisan superstitions. Do you think I was all that jazzed about The Artist winning Best Picture over the likes of the far superior The Tree of Life and the inexcusably un-nominated A Separation? Why, yes I was! For reasons that had nothing to do with the actual quality of a perfectly fine and lighthearted silent film tribute that was nowhere near the best movie of 2011.
If you are someone who, hypothetically, gets really upset at the sight of woke cartoon candy mascots or are willing to die to protect your gas stove from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are certain kinds of movies that should terrify you. Like the biopics coming out: Oppenheimer, Priscilla, Ferrari, and Maestro are all about real people and based (however loosely, in some cases) on true stories, and the Academy loves those. Yes, I am aware that one of those biopics is about the Father Of The Atomic Bomb. Maybe Christopher Nolan will unexpectedly slug us in the gut in a way he hasn’t done since The Dark Knight, but I’m still reasonably certain it will be more along the lines of what the Academy has embraced in the past. If it is, people who really want to stick it to Disney will likely feel a chill down their spine if it is crowned the next Best Picture of the year. Unless the story of the real person is super-dark, but what could…
… oh, well, yeah, those folks should maybe feel at ease if The Iron Claw makes Oscar winners out of Juliette Howell, Angus Lamont, Tessa Ross, and Derrin Schlesinger. Because in case you were not aware, the story of the Von Erich family is a dark one. As is the true story being recounted in the Martin Scorsese crime epic Killers of the Flower Moon, which feels like it’s been in development for twenty years at this point. We’re probably going to be engaged in a lot of Discourse around the ethics of Hollywood depicting the Osage Indian murders regardless of its critical reception, but even if it’s pulled off in the most respectful way and ends up being one of the best films of the year, someone like Ruth Ben-Ghiat should be very afraid if it emerges on top at the next ceremony.
Speaking of sobering historical dramas, we’ll have to wait and see how disturbing or unorthodox Blitz and The Zone of Interest end up being before we can be sure how well a big Oscar haul for them lends to the fortunes of the incumbent party in 2024. On one hand, the Academy loves WWII movies, and the latter film especially has a premise that feels like something David Lean could have directed in the 60’s. On the other hand, Steve McQueen and Jonathan Glazer are very atypical filmmakers who, despite one of them directing a Best Picture winner, are not ones who typically direct movies embraced by the Hollywood mainstream… most of the time.
Now, if malarky and debt ceiling fights are what you are steeling yourself to fight against for the remainder of this decade, you might want to keep a wary eye on El Conde, a fictionalized biopic about Augusto Pinochet… as a centuries-old vampire. Yes, this is a real movie coming out later this year from Pablo Larraín. Or perhaps your bad omen is Poor Things, the new movie from Yorgos Lanthimos about – I swear I’m not making this up – a woman who commits suicide and then has her brain replaced with the brain of her unborn child via her mad scientist father. The last narrative feature film Todd Haynes directed was arguably his most conventional yet, but he appears to be going super-meta and experimental again with May December. All scary possibilities for Best Picture if you want to see an incumbent victory in the next election. Even though he wasn’t entirely sure if it was even a “horror movie” in the strict definition, Joey is looking forward to the still-disturbing-looking-no-matter-what-genre-it-belongs-to epic Beau Is Afraid, and depending on how you want the country to be run in the latter half of the 2020’s, if it becomes a Best Picture threat, that will make it far more scary or way less scary. It’s also not clear how dark or weird The Bikeriders and The Killer will be, or even if they will be serious awards players.
But hey, it’s also possible that Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie will live up to the wild levels of hype surrounding its screenplay, or maybe Dune: Part Two will be an even bigger awards juggernaut and that one ends before the saga takes a turn and we all realize that Paul was absolutely positively not the hero of the story. Maybe Wes Anderson will finally get his long-awaited Academy Award for his already-completed ensemble romantic comedy Asteroid City, or maybe the Academy will love A Good Person as much as Joey did.
Or perhaps you find all of this rather silly. Maybe you think that the presidential election outcomes that occurred right after Parasite and No Country for Old Men are just as purely coincidental as the outcomes that followed after The Artist and The Return of the King emerged triumphant. In this case, you are one of the few in the United States who have still maintained their sanity. I envy you.
Which upcoming releases are you worried about or hopeful for, purely from a political superstition perspective? Let us know in the comments.