Awards: Will ‘1917’ Win The Best Picture Battle?

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The Academy has a history of embracing late breaking contenders. They also have a tendency to throw Oscar love at war pictures. Both of these factors play heavily in the favor of “1917,” Sam Mendes‘ World War I passion project. This bodes well for a whole host of Academy Award nominations, as well as some potential wins below the line. We’ll get to those in a minute, but one of the central questions worth pondering today is this: what are the chances that the film can actually win Best Picture? Could it be a sneaky threat to win when all is said and done?

As the title indicates, the movie is a war drama, taking place in the height of the first World War. Mendes directs a screenplay he co-wrote with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The official synopsis for the film, via IMDb:

Two young British privates during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldier’s brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.

The film is led by Dean-Charles Chapman and George Mackay as the two soldiers, with supporting parts for bigger names like Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Richard Madden, Andrew Scott, and Mark Strong. Mendes has Lee Smith editing, Thomas Newman composing the score, and Roger Deakins handling the cinematography, making for impeccable technical work up and down.

“1917” debuted on both coasts right before Thanksgiving with special screenings for select press, with raves coming across the board. Clayton and yours truly were in attendance, so it was no exaggeration to say that Mendes stunned the crowd. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone has one of the most enthusiastic takes so far, as you can see below:

In one of the best war films of all time, director Sam Mendes brilliantly delivers a story of two WWI soldiers on a mission that’s a stunning technical accomplishment that unfurls as one single take – and a deeply felt tale of heroism under fire.
War pictures have a strong tradition with Oscar, though we haven’t seen a winner in some time. World War I is an under-served period for cinema anyway, so this is a bit of a unique situation. Look for voters to treat the flick a bit differently than something like “Black Hawk Down” or “Saving Private Ryan,” not to mention “War Horse.” It may wind up with results similar to the Steven Spielberg epic, but the unique one shot visual style, as well as the tight focus, may help members of the Academy look at it less like an epic and more like a prestige drama.
Nomination-wise, this film is poised to threaten for the most citations overall next month. With Best Picture and Best Director nominations almost assured, that’s an excellent starting point, buoyed by presumed frontrunner status in a number of technical categories like Best Cinematography and Best Original Score. Double-digit status is easily attainable, which would be an excellent show of force. If that happens, could a Picture win be within reach?
Best Picture is spoken of currently as a three horse race between “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and “Parasite.” That may be true, but “1917” is nipping at their heels. Can something boost this one up into the pole position? No one thing jumps out, but if the upcoming Directors Guild and Producers Guild not only cite this one, but give it wins, that would make for an intriguing scenario. Having DGA and PGA in a movie’s pocket is often a tough combination to beat. At the very least, if the film does that, it’s going to be contending for the big win, right up until Oscar night in February.
On AwardsCircuit’s December 24th prediction updates, Clayton has “1917” making a big showing at the Academy Awards. Above the line, it’s his number four in Best Picture, Mendes is likewise fourth in Best Director, while Mendes and Wilson-Cairns are in sixth place for Best Original Screenplay. Below the line, the movie is currently predicted to win Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Original Score. The film also scores nominations in Best Film Editing and Best Visual Effects. That would mean five tech category wins (including a first statue for Newman and a second for Deakins), making for nine citations overall. A haul like that would keep it in the thick of the race for Picture, that’s for sure.
“1917” is going to be an interesting candidate during Phase Two of the Oscar season. There’s a day where it leads the nominations in mid January. If so, does that increase its chances of winning Best Picture? It’s possible, but that win does seem a bit out of reach still for the film. Stranger things have happened, but it’s undeniably a level below the three main front-running titles. Watch out for the Guilds though, since they may ultimately be what turns the tides of this race.

Do you think “1917” will win the Best Picture war at the Academy Awards? Let us know in the comments below!