Oscars Spotlight: Is this finally David Fincher’s year?

David Fincher is back in the director’s chair for his first feature film since 2014’s Gone Girl. As someone who is keen on bringing historical events to life, The Social Network and Zodiac, his next project should be right up his wheelhouse.

That project is none other than Mank. Mank follows screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941). (IMDb) This film gives Fincher another chance to bring to life a piece of American Film History to life. The first images were recently released, along with the lines from the script to go along with them (see slideshow below), so it got me thinking, is this finally David Fincher’s year for the gold?

To really dive into Fincher’s chances, I am going to break this up into parts, starting with:

Citizen Kane’s Resume

Citizen Kane is highly regarded as one of the greatest movies to ever be made. This is not a personal opinion, but a universal one. Released in 1942, this film has managed to stand the test of time and holds a whopping 8.3/10 on IMDb (good for 98 all-time), a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 100% on Metacritic, and a 4.2/5 average on Letterboxd. You might just be thinking that the love for this movie is built off nostalgia, but even back in 1942, this movie was loved, at least enough to score 9 Oscar nominations and 1 win. These came in:

  • Picture
  • Leading Actor – Orson Welles
  • Director – Orson Welles
  • Cinematography, Black and White
  • Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White
  • Sound, Recording
  • Film Editing
  • Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture

And that win you ask, well it came in the form of – Best Writing, Original Screenplay

This win was the only Oscar win Orson Welles ever received, and he managed to share this win with none other than… Herman J. Mankiewicz, who happens to be the focal point of Mank.

The screenplay for Mank was written by Jack Fincher, David Fincher’s father, prior to his death in 2003. Jack Fincher was born in 1930 and was growing up during the release of Citizen Kane. The script was written following a claim by Pauline Kael stating that Welles didn’t deserve credit for writing Citizen Kane. A fairly large assumption knowing that this was Welles only Oscar win, but this script was meant to be made into a movie in the 1990s but went un-produced until David managed to give it life again.

These circumstances could mean that Mank might be more of a passion project for David Fincher than we might have realized, which usually means more care is put into the film and is shown when the film is released.

Sorry for getting off track, I say all this to say… Citizen Kane itself has a ton of weight when it comes to Hollywood, and if Mank turns out as good as we hope, the weight Citizen Kane will bring is pretty good. Next, I will take a look at:

David Fincher’s Resume

When it comes to Fincher, this will be his 9th feature film. However, his career doesn’t start, nor will it likely end, with movies. A well-versed director who has done countless amounts of music videos and TV shows to go along with his impressive film resume. When it comes to films, Fincher has had quite the impressive run, making cult classics and critical favorites along the way. Taking his first film Alien3 out of the equation, Fincher has not made a movie that is “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes. He actually has only had one movie not “certified fresh”, and even that film The Game had a 74%, which is one point away from reaching that mark. I don’t mean to use Rotten Tomatoes as the “be all end all”, but it is a good range to show the consistency he has had over his career.

But, let’s turn away from ratings and look at how his films have performed at the Oscars. Fincher himself has only managed two nominations over the course of his career. Both in Best Director, one for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and the other for The Social Network. Now, this may not seem promising, but I don’t think this lack of success is truly a detractor for this year, I think it is actually a positive.

When it comes to The Social Network, Fincher’s loss has been seen as one of the more puzzling ones of the entire decade.

In the weeks leading up to the Oscars, David Fincher seemed all but certain to walk away with the trophy for directing.

Sheila Marikar ABC News

Fincher eventually lost the award to Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech, which hasn’t had too fond a decade; he was recently voted worst win of the decade by twitter in my article covering Best and Worst Wins of the 10s. He was also snubbed in the directing category for Gone Girl which he managed to secure a Golden Globe nomination in directing.

I understand how you could look at Fincher’s resume and see that maybe the Academy, for whatever reason, just isn’t fond of him or his movies. But with each of his films, people have gone back and questioned how they missed out on noms in the first place. Most notably Zodiac when The Academy tweeted this,

but refused to give the movie a single nomination. You could argue that Fincher’s films just don’t get the love they deserve until years after their release, but I feel like now is the time where Fincher catches up with time and can release a movie that is loved by everyone, at the right time it needs to be. Plus, the movie is in black and white, in which voters eat up.

Also, as I previously mentioned, this is a movie written by his late father and is about one of the most important and influential movies in film history. Those two things alone will bring an edge to Fincher’s Mank resume and will be something that will undoubtedly help him along the way. Maybe it is wrong thinking of taking advantage of these facts, but it would be ignorant to not think it would have some sort of effect on the way people, and more importantly voters, view the movie.

Mank‘s (Pre-viewing) Resume

In this section, I will go over behind the scenes of Mank and check out the Awards weight it brings in with it, even before releasing the film. And no better place to start than with the acting, and most importantly Gary Oldman. A Hollywood favorite, who recently won his first-ever Academy Award for portraying another historical figure in Winston Churchill for Darkest Hour was also nominated earlier in the decade for Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy. Oldman brings in love from the Academy that will certainly carry over into this film. As I have stated it also doesn’t hurt that he is playing a real person and an important one from film history.

Aside from him you then have someone who I think will be very important and that is Tom Pelphrey. Pelphrey was just notoriously snubbed at the Emmy’s for Ozark. Maybe this isn’t something I should be putting much weight into, but with such a popular TV show, and such a loved performance, this could be where people see voters “making up” for his Emmy snub. I get it, I am reaching, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Moving away from acting, Fincher brings back the dynamic duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to do the score. Most notably known for their “Nine Inch Nails” rock group, they are frequent collaborators with Fincher and have also won the Academy Award for Original Score (The Social Network). This brings in guys who can be seen as a positive for Fincher and Mank and added to the fact that these two are doing the music for Soul, which I will get into in another Oscars Spotlight, but I think Soul will be a major player across the entire board. The duo will have their name all over awards season, which just means more publicity for Mank.

One interesting point of reference is the cinematographer for Mank. David Fincher is parting ways with his most frequent DP Jeff Cronenweth who is two-time nominated and has worked on projects such as Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl. Fincher instead opted for Erik Messerschmidt, who he recently worked with for the Mindhunter tv show. Messerschmidt was Emmy nominated for his work on the Netflix original, but Mank will be his first feature film DP credit. This could be a disadvantage, but with the film being in black and white, you can almost guarantee him a nomination here. Over the past decade, 5 black and white films have broken into the Best Cinematography category at the Oscars, winning once for Roma. Just over the past two years, there have been 3 nominated black and white films. I realize this might not seem like much, but when you factor in how few black and white films are made a year, the numbers look fairly promising.

So even behind the scenes, it looks as though Mank is shaping up to be a major contender in a number of categories. Having a film do well at the Oscars is a great telling for the person who manages to bring it all together, the director.

Netflix Resume

Here is where everything gets a little dicey. Well actually, maybe not. Over the past two years alone, Netflix has managed to bring in 39 Nominations and 6 wins. Two of those wins happened to be above the line categories as well with Roma winning Best Director and Marriage Story winning Best Supporting Actress. I think there is a thought that there is a stigma out against Netflix, and their mode of releasing a movie, but last year alone in the major categories they managed:

  • 2 Best Picture Noms: Marriage Story, The Irishman
  • Best Director Nom: Martin Scorcese
  • 2 Best Actor Noms: Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce
  • Best Actress Nom: Scarlett Johansson
  • 3 Best Supporting Actor Noms: Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Joe Pesci
  • Best Supporting Actress Win: Laura Dern
  • Best Original Screenplay Nom: Marriage Story
  • 2 Best Adapted Screenplay Nom: The Irishman, The Two Popes

13 of 45 total major nominations in 2020 went to Netflix. One single studio managed a little over 1/4 of all the major categories. Wins might be something else, but when it comes to nominations, Netflix is starting to clean up pretty well.

However, you also have to think about the year we are in and the situation we are in as well. This Oscars will be dominated by Netflix, as for some films that seemed to be the only method of release that was feasible for them (The Trial of The Chicago 7). If there is any year where Netflix starts to bring home wins instead of just nominations, it is going to be this one. Voters likely won’t fell the “pressure” of voting against Netflix, mainly because some of these movies had no other option. Will Netflix win Best Picture? That is still to be determined, but when it comes to Director, I don’t think the Netflix stigma hurts Fincher’s chances in the slightest, especially in a year like this one.

Fincher’s Oscars Stock: Buy it all.

Final Thoughts:

I have Fincher winning the award as of now, and bearing a total flop of a movie, or a truly groundbreaking directorial performance in another movie, look out for Dennis Villeneuve, I don’t see David Fincher losing. Not this year, not this subject, and not this movie. Kenzie rejoice, and Fincher nation rise.

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

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