Paul Thomas Anderson is easily one of the most renowned and beloved filmmakers of the past few decades. His latest, Licorice Pizza, a coming-of-age romantic comedy set in 70s L.A., is one of his most charming and sentimental efforts yet. Critics and film lovers have so far been devouring it, and with 8 Oscar nominations under PTA’s belt for Producing, Writing, and Directing, it’s easy to imagine the Academy adding 3 more to that tally.
I feel almost certain that Licorice Pizza will receive nominations in Original Screenplay and Best Picture. Best Director is tight this year, and the branch is known for its unpredictability. But considering his previous two nominations in the category, both of which coupled Best Picture nominations, I expect he’ll show up here as well.
An Original Screenplay win may be within reach. The category is no stranger to comedies, and writer/directors have dominated since 2012. This will be PTA’s fifth screenplay nomination. Its main (dare I say, only) obstacle is Belfast, the “proclaimed” early Best Picture frontrunner. It’s tough to imagine Belfast taking the top prize without Branagh snatching Original Screenplay first. But there’s plenty of room for Belfast’s buzz to burn out. In my view, if Belfast loses Best Picture, to Licorice Pizza, West Side Story, or whatever it might be, that is a clear opportunity for the Academy to give Anderson what he’s owed.
Alana Haim may be the film’s best shot at an acting nomination. Though this is the musician’s first acting endeavor, her performance is full of personality and charm, and voters could take notice. It’s not all that rare for a newcomer to land a lead actress nomination when tied to a Best Picture nominee, after all. However, the performance is more tame than the likes of Andra Day, Yalitza Aparicio, Quvenzhane Wallis, or Gabourey Sidibe. A nomination for her would reflect passion for the film overall, and though I have my doubts about her landing it, I won’t count her out.
The only other performer with a shot at a nomination is Bradley Cooper, whose main obstacle is the character’s very brief screen time. What works in his favor is that he’s an Academy favorite, and his presence is memorable. Still, I’d be surprised if voters viewed the performance as more than simply a fun cameo.
While Licorice Pizza is as gorgeous a vision to behold as nearly anything Anderson has made in the past, I’m uncertain it cracks any technical categories. The production design and costumes aren’t as showy as L.A. period films like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or La La Land. The film’s cinematography is vibrant and beautiful, but it has a looser feel, lacking that more tightly controlled aesthetic the branch usually goes for, reflected in contenders like Dune, Nightmare Alley, West Side Story, or The Tragedy of Macbeth.
If you’re looking for a nomination that could signal a potential Best Picture win for Licorice Pizza, look no further than Best Editing. Since 1981, every Best Picture winner has been nominated in that category, which the exception of Birdman (which had a pretty good excuse). Licorice Pizza’s editing does not draw much attention to itself, which the Oscars typically like to see. If Licorice Pizza did, by some miracle, show up in the category on nomination morning, I’d stare at my TV, mouth agape, slowly lower my sunglasses and exclaim, “My God, they might actually pull this off!”
I do think Licorice Pizza stands a chance to be the sort of unconventional winner that has prevailed recently, but I’d need to see some precursor support before predicting it. It’s tough to imagine a win without a minimum five nominations. An editing nomination and an acting nomination would be convincing. Show me at least one SAG nomination, a DGA nomination, some love from the Golden Globes, and I would believe it were possible. The film could struggle on a preferential ballot, as it may lose some in its meandering structure. But those who love it, really love it. The Oscar race is getting competitive and becoming more unpredictable by the day. Check back here at CinemaBlend for more awards profiles in the coming weeks.