In long-ago 2011—as David Fincher’s daringly innovative The Social Network was about to be upended in the film awards race by Tom Hooper’s neoclassical The King’s Speech—it was a bit shocking to note that Sony and its Columbia Pictures flagship, alone among the major film conglomerates, had scored no Best Picture Oscar winner since Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor took the prize in 1988. (Even Disney picked up winners through its Miramax unit.)
The Social Network, a Columbia film, seemed poised to end the 23-year drought; but it was not to be. So who could guess that nine seasons later, Columbia—with ambitious contenders in the field virtually every year—would still be waiting for its break?
Even the Chicago Cubs eventually won the Series. That Columbia will eventually break its losing streak seems inevitable. But whether this will be the year is a question for better guessers than yours truly.
Over at the Gold Derby Web site, Columbia’s strongest bet—Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood—has slipped slightly behind Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, from Netflix, among Oscar handicappers. For Columbia, that’s probably a good thing. In the Oscar game, nobody wants to be seen as the frontrunner, only to have the big prize snatched (sometimes literally, as with Moonlight and La La Land), by some “surprise” contender from back in the pack. Much better to be seen as the dark horse, as was Green Book when it overtook Roma earlier this year.
Still, it will be hard to tamp down expectations, given Tarantino’s industry status and a sense that he’s almost as overdue as Columbia for a Best Picture win.
So the folks in Culver City have nowhere to hide. They can only hope, as the pre-season awards fall into place, that 2020 isn’t a replay of 2012, when The Artist powered past Moneyball, or of 2013, when Argo bested Zero Dark Thirty.
In 2014, Columbia’s American Hustle and Captain Phillips were both fine films; but they didn’t stand a chance against 12 Years A Slave. For the next five years, Columbia had no Best Picture nominees, though a corporate cousin, Sony Pictures Classics, cornered nominations for Whiplash and Call Me By Your Name.
This year, Columbia is back with the Tarantino film and possibly Little Women (and the TriStar unit has A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood). But even in an unusually short season, Oscar night—Feb. 9—is a long way off. And it’s too soon to tell whether that 32-year drought will finally end.