Don’t Get Mad at Me When Don’t Look Up Wins Best Picture

Like an asteroid destined to obliterate Earth, Adam McKay’s climate-change satire feels increasingly likely to win at the Oscars (even though it sucks). Photo: Niko Tavernise/Netflix

Don’t Look Up is going to win Best Picture. This is a belief I now stand strong in, though it didn’t come to me all at once, like an asteroid suddenly hitting Earth and obliterating humanity with the exception of Jonah Hill. Instead, like an asteroid slowly hurtling toward Earth over the course of six months, it arrived gradually, bringing with it a sinking sense of inevitability and impending doom. See, I really do not care for Don’t Look Up, a satire from Adam McKay that is an allegory about how climate change is incredibly urgent and people who are not watching Don’t Look Up are really stupid for not doing something about it. But, of course, liking movies has nothing at all to do with predicting the Academy Awards winners! In fact, the longer I work in entertainment journalism and cover awards, the more it seems to me as if it’d be a real advantage to hate movies. That would eliminate the likelihood of something as sentimental as personal taste getting in the way of what’s really at stake, which are the inclinations and whims of the 9,487 eligible voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The ideal Oscar blogger wouldn’t even watch the contenders. They would simply lurk around the corners of post-screening receptions, sustaining themselves entirely on complimentary canapés and small talk, absorbing gossip and using it to form ironclad opinions about the worthiness of different performances sight unseen. Our own awards specialist, Nate Jones, will tell you that Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog has been and remains the Best Picture favorite, perhaps because he is regrettably hampered by his deep fondness for the cinematic arts. He will talk about ebbs and flows in the ongoing race and cite precedent and who received which guild nods, blah, blah, blah. I, on the other hand, am going entirely on my gut feeling, which every once in a while has turned out to be correct! And I have a few reasons to believe I am correct that Don’t Look Up is destined for victory. The first, and maybe most important, is it seems to have actually been seen by a sizable group of people — maybe even by most of the Academy — which isn’t something one can say for certain about every recent Best Picture winner.

And by “sizable,” I mean a genuinely large number, not just the kind of large number Netflix slaps on a press release claiming two-thirds of the global population have watched (asterisk: seen at least five seconds of) an original in which Ryan Reynolds gets turned into a cat and becomes an unlikely member of the world’s most successful K-pop group or something. Don’t Look Up dropped on Netflix the day before Christmas, putting it in prime position to be watched by full households searching for something to do together and reluctant to venture out into the Omicron surge. It may not have been obvious family viewing, but it is a comedy featuring a lot of celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, who not only are two of the biggest movie stars in the world but also have been largely absent from the screen for two years leading up to this. Don’t Look Up lingered in the Netflix Top 10 for weeks and was talked and argued about on social media. For an industry that’s been watching its highest celebration of itself slide into irrelevance for years, that means something. The Academy probably isn’t going to be able to bring itself to toss a nomination to Spider-Man: No Way Home, but it has certainly gotten over the hang-ups it once had about Netflix.

And though it’s not a billion-dollar blockbuster, Don’t Look Up certainly managed to have a larger cultural footprint than, say, 2021 winner Nomadland, a movie that attracted quiet praise followed by an even quieter backlash. The Oscars are desperate for a Best Picture winner whose title is likely to at least ring a bell when mentioned to a passing member of the public. Plus Don’t Look Up is about important issues, albeit in a way that’s calibrated to make sure viewers don’t experience discomfort about them. The qualities that make Don’t Look Up such an inadequate text about climate change are the very same ones that make it such potent awards bait: It calls on existing (and understandable!) feelings of anger and frustration — about environmental destruction as well as our handling of COVID — without requiring its audience to feel any complicity. In Twitter campaigns by Adam McKay and co-writer David Sirota against the media coverage they’ve received, and in ad campaigns by Netflix in newspapers, Don’t Look Up and climate change have been treated as one and the same, as if criticizing the former were dismissing the latter.

To support the film, conversely, might allow an Academy voter to bask in a vague feeling of having accomplished something toward the betterment of the world while also taking a stand against the press — and who doesn’t enjoy that these days? Serious subject matter and showbiz stories are the two things the Oscars love most, and Don’t Look Up offers both by way of a hilarious convergence. In the film, the public is so fixated on a pop star’s romantic travails that they allow the news of the impending apocalypse to pass unnoticed. Celebrities are, in its construction, simply so compelling that they’re indirectly ruining the world, and how better to atone for that distracting fabulousness than by saluting the work that makes this claim with the biggest award Hollywood has to offer.

All of which guarantees a win for Don’t Look Up in my mind, though it’s also worth asking, What else would win? The Power of the Dog is very good — not Jane Campion’s best, but it’s a trudge through the terrors of toxic masculinity. Belfast is a pleasant enough exercise in apolitical nostalgia, but it never caught on. Dune and Licorice Pizza are weirder than the Oscar standard, and West Side Story is tremendous but failed to get traction with audiences. Don’t Look Up, on the other hand, sits at a comfortable intersection of star power, gestures toward timeliness, and some genuine resonance when it comes to evoking the formless rage of our era. It’s the Best Picture we deserve, the kind that, in a few years, people will Google and then grimace, “Wait, that’s what won?”

Don’t Get Mad at Me When Don’t Look Up Wins Best Picture