This is the most laid-back Paul Thomas Anderson film ever. Which is to say that you can feel Paul’s willingness to just let it rip. Obviously, there is structure. Obviously, there are clearly considered ideas brought to fruition visually. But there will be no frogs. There will be no surrealism. No milkshakes or powerfully long stretches of silence. No duality. No Phils, no Bill, no cobbler.
This is really Paul’s first movie with a female lead. He came close with Phantom Thread, but ultimately, the woman’s journey there was about learning to help a man come of age. In Licorice Pizza, it’s about the woman and the young man who brings her into her own.
But I am not reviewing the film today. I am writing from the perspective of the award season, still in the process of becoming the throbbing whitehead about to explode all over Hollywood.
Licorice Pizza doesn’t definitively answer the question, “What film is going to win?”
There are 4 contenders left in the starting gate. Being the Ricardos, Don’t Look Up, Nightmare Alley, West Side Story. The Ricardos arrives this next weekend. Nightmare Alley has plunked its arrival on December 1. The other two seem certain to turn up in the 17 days in between. (Added Note: West Side Story just landed on Nov 29.)
Personally, I don’t think there is much question that Licorice Pizza is the most complete film currently on display. But that and a nickel won’t buy you anything.
Today, if I had to bet, I would bet that either West Side Story or Nightmare Alley is your Oscar winner. But I have seen neither. I have seen the original of both. If Nightmare is going to be The Movie, Guillermo & Co will have delivered a big leap forward from the original film noir. West Side Story certainly will be different in certain ways coming out of Tony Kushner’s quill, but the bones - the songs - are going to be pretty much the majestic ones we know.
Many of us have had a love affair with Adam McKay’s output of the last 6 years, starting with The Big Short. And maybe Netflix is cleverly hiding The Winner. I would love that. But everything we have seen about Don’t Look Up - starting with that title - screams that we are going to see a lot of actors we love showing up on camera and looking for the biggest piece of scenery they can to chew. It’s unfair - and dangerous - to judge based on only a one-minute-long trailer, but that is all that has been offered as of this November 11, 2021.
There are some things we have clarified recently. Alana Haim is going to be an Oscar nominee. She will be competing with Lady Gaga. They won’t be competing with Jennifer Hudson. We don’t know if they will be competing with Rachel Zegler, but we do know that Caitriona Balfe cannot sing (so she says) and Jamie Dornan can. And Kristen Stewart makes people hear music in their head even when none is playing.
There will be no Oscar nomination for Bradley Cooper or Sean Penn in Licorice Pizza, though both are terrific… just very small roles. I would love to see Harriet Sansom Harris get nominated for her brief appearance in the film, which is almost as breathtaking as her brief turn in Phantom Thread. It strikes me that she has taken the place that the late great Bob Ridgely filled for Anderson in Boogie Nights as The Colonel James… a magnificent close-up performance filled with emotion and insanity. Sad he didn’t find her for The Master, where she would have fit like a kinky glove.
But I digress…
We know that Warners is concerned that Aunjanue Ellis is going to be left out of the King Richard party and they have turned the publicity effort towards fixing that. We know that House of Gucci has big fans and big detractors. We know that Belfast is feeling its juice and is believing some of its own hype.
We also know that all 3 of these films and Licorice Pizza are being consulted upon by Cynthia Swartz and her Strategy agency.
We know that The Power of the Dog continues to screen and pick up voting fans. That would be Team Taback at Netflix, which also has Don’t Look Up, amongst other slot players.
Terry Press has been enlisted on West Side Story by Mr. Spielberg.
Team Searchlight hires consultants, but leads is own way on its films, led this season by Nightmare Alley and The French Dispatch.
Neon also hires, but plays by its own song, with Spencer leading the way this season.
I see 2 distinct scenarios for the rest of this award season. Either one of the last contenders swoops in as The Movie and just takes over. OR we are back in the Parasite season scenario, where the newcomer just doesn’t have enough juice to win the day and the passions around one of the other movies becomes the season driver.
If the latter scenario happens, look to the director or a singular acting performance to lead the way. At this moment, I don’t see an acting performance that drives a win. But I see four directors who might potentially fill that slot: (alphabetically) Paul Thomas Anderson, Jane Campion, Steven Spielberg, and Guillermo del Toro.
Anderson has never won any Oscar. Campion has only won for writing. Guillermo won Director 3 years ago. And Steven won Director twice, but has not won in 22 years (nominated twice more recently, in 2006 and 2013).
Let me just repeat one thing… Paul Thomas Anderson, nominated 8 times, has never won any Oscar. I personally believe that if Phantom Thread was released this year, it would win all of the 6 categories for which it was nominated back in 2018 plus a few more. But if wishes were fishes and all that...
I don’t know that Licorice Pizza is the movie to finally break him into the Oscar-winner category. It’s remarkably intimate. 40 - 75 seems to be its age range, so that fits The Academy. Paul is not big on press. Hard. Alana Haim has to be seen as a long-shot to win and she kinda overwhelms Cooper Hoffman’s performance so that people leave the theater talking about her (and her dad… HA!). Some will claim the themes are too small.
But as Licorice Pizza teaches us, sometimes it takes a lot of patience to win the day.