OSCARS: Why ‘Manchester by the Sea’ Is the New Frontrunner in Best Picture

During this holiday break, the cities of Los Angeles and New York may be sleeping in terms of public relations activity, but AMPAS voters are hunkering down to get in as many films as possible before their vote.

Speaking with a few over these last days by the way of text and e-mail, some are sharing some very interesting thoughts on some of their choices thus far.

A male voter shared he was getting ready to watch Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” with his mother and youngest child. If that didn’t feel awkward for him, not many things will. Does star Isabelle Huppert have the support to still make it into a hot Best Actress race despite a SAG snub? That’s the looming question.

A female voter was just taken by the likes of three films so far: “Manchester by the Sea” by Kenneth Lonergan, “Jackie” by Pablo Larrain and “Toni Erdmann” by Maren Ade. She commented that “Natalie Portman was amazing” while she added that “Lucas Hedges and Casey Affleck are my favorite performances of the year.” In regards to “Toni Erdmann,” she says she “hasn’t cried and laughed so hard, at the same time, in a long time.”

If you go through the latest Oscar Predictions then you will see the shift to Lonergan’s film in some key categories including Best Picture and Director. However, it’s a move that doesn’t seem to be the “consensus” at the moment with films like “La La Land” and “Moonlight” leading the charge with pundits and Oscar watchers.

Let’s explain:

La La Land” from Damien Chazelle has remained the undisputed frontrunner since its inception at Venice and Telluride. Critics have adored it from head to toe, and at this writing, is only one win behind “Moonlight” in Best Picture wins on the Precursor Tracker. Then came the SAG Ensemble miss. While I never like to put TOO much stock in a single guild, no film has won Best Picture without a SAG Ensemble nomination except for “Braveheart,” the first year the guild had the award. That doesn’t just translate to Oscar. No film has won the PGA (Producers Guild of America) without a SAG Ensemble nod.

We need to understand that we can often put too much emphasis on certain stats (i.e. “Birdman” missing Editing and “Argo” missing Director) but until proven otherwise, we should continue to watch the trends and what they mean. When “La La Land” missed SAG Ensemble, I preemptively switched to “Moonlight” to take it in the end. The A24 film leads in Picture wins and is one of the single greatest achievements of the year. To be honest, once the switched occurred, a feeling of discomfort overtook. It would not only be one of Oscar’s most unconventional choices, but something that would surprise many who have watched Oscar over the years.

Looking for an alternative, “Manchester by the Sea” was sitting there, making the most sense on paper. A film about grief and loss, on the heels of nabbing itself up to three acting nominations, and a strong contender in Original Screenplay, it looks to be a far “safer” choice. With the #OscarsSoWhite beacon looming hard over the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the Board of Governors instituting some very “harsh” changes for current members, and the media beating on Oscar’s door saying “CHOOSE SOMETHING BLACK,” AMPAS may be moved to do something different.

If this past election cycle taught us anything, when so many people are telling you “it’s over” and there’s no reason for anyone else to show up, the voters will come out in droves to prove otherwise. Let’s be clear, in NO WAY am I saying that “Manchester by the Sea” is the equivalent to Donald J. Trump in terms of demeanor and what supporters think of it, but it’s currently the underdog and Oscar loves the underdog. See: “Crash” for an example.

As we navigate through these next few weeks, the major guilds will begin announcing such as ACE Eddie’s, PGA, DGA and more. These can change on a dime, but at the moment, in the middle of a holiday week, and on the heels of a New Year, we need to be open to anything. There’s still plenty of road left.

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