What the Past and Present Say About ‘CODA’ and Its Best Picture Chances

In the two weeks before the Oscars, the best and worst place for awards fans is social media. It is entertaining to talk out scenarios with like-minded folks. But the narratives that emerge can be a confusing mix of wishes and dreams and grasping at the oddest of stats to “prove” theories.

Such is the case with CODA, the Sundance darling that Apple snapped up and released in an uncertain summer. Going into the awards race, many months ago, it looked like Belfast was the film to beat. As the precursors began to choose their nominees, The Power of the Dog emerged as the new and clear frontrunner. But CODA was always there in the background, quietly gaining momentum. When the cast won the SAG Ensemble prize a few weeks ago, that moment ushered in a major boost and triggered a new trajectory in the awards conversation. Suddenly, CODA‘s champions started proclaiming it the Best Picture frontrunner, stats be damned.

The past few years have watched a cascading domino-effect as long-held stats fall. The Shape of Water became the first film since Braveheart to win Best Picture without a SAG Ensemble nomination. This would happen again with Green Book and last year with Nomadland. In this modern age, it looks like that statistic is officially busted. In 2019, Parasite became the first International Feature film to win and it probably won’t be long before we see another.

Stats aren’t the whole story and we’ll come back to the emotional groundswell in a moment. But in order to have a real conversation about CODA and its Best Picture chances, we do have to look at what history says about this possibility. The first and most oft-cited comes with two missing nominations. Since the category of Film Editing was introduced in 1935, no film has won Best Picture without a nomination in Directing or Editing. Occasionally a film will miss one, but none have ever missed both. CODA is not nominated in either category, so it needs to overcome missing out with both of those branches. Especially when it also wasn’t nominated by either of the corresponding guilds.

In addition to those key misses, if CODA were to win, it would be the first Best Picture winner since 1931 with fewer than five total nominations. (In 1928, Wings won both of its 2 nominations. In 1929, The Broadway Melody took home 1 out of 3. And in 1931, Grand Hotel became the only film ever to win Best Picture as its only nomination.) While this is far from a Grand Hotel situation, the reality is that CODA goes into Oscar night with only Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay. Troy Kotsur is almost definitely going to win, but Adapted Screenplay is still a toss up.

But if any film could overcome the statistical challenges, it certainly looks like this one. The jubilation when they won the SAG Award, and the way the industry has embraced Siân Heder and her cast in recent weeks is reminiscent of Parasite‘s run up to its groundbreaking Oscar night. If ever there was a year that we need to celebrate an uncynical, loving, hopeful movie, it’s now, and CODA fits that bill. In many ways it’s the little movie that could, a limited release that lives on a semi-niche streaming service, beloved by cinephiles and critics groups across the country.

And yet, it’s important to remember that Film Twitter doesn’t vote for Oscars. Critics groups don’t vote. And over the past few weeks, while the cast of CODA is getting cheers and ovations at an awards luncheon, The Power of the Dog and Dune and Licorice Pizza and The Lost Daughter are winning awards and giving acceptance speeches in front of rooms full of voters.

Oscar predicting requires looking at a lot of different factors. Statistics and emotions are both essential. And it’s easy to get so caught up in one that you ignore the other. There is no history-based reason to choose CODA. People enjoy it and they love the story around it too, and that’s a fact data can’t account for. Stats only matter until they don’t.

With a preferential ballot, is CODA going to get enough first and second-place votes? Probably not. But stranger things have happened, even if it was 90 years ago.

The 94th Academy Awards will air Sunday, March 27 on ABC.

Written by
Karen Peterson is the Awards Editor for We Live Entertainment. She previously worked as the Assistant Editor at Awards Circuit, now owned by Variety. Her work can also be found at Citizen Dame and at the Watch and Talk podcast. Her non-awards season hobbies include Angels baseball, taking pictures of other peoples' pets, and tweeting about The Bachelor franchise.

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