It’s time to have a serious conversation about “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and what it can achieve at the Oscars this year.
Looking at the Oscars shortlists announced on Tuesday, the third chapter in the Tom Holland universe showed up in two categories — sound and visual effects — despite its late release.
Unlike most superhero pics, critical and audience opinion are aligned (at 94% and 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively) about the film. “No Way Home” also joined an elite club of only 91 movies to ever earn an A+ CinemaScore, and became the fourth live-action superhero movie to do so, after “The Avengers” (2012), “Black Panther” (2018) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019).
I’ve never been a pundit who believes in “follow the money” to predict best picture nominees. But, especially in these last two years amid the pandemic, box office “failures” (whatever that means now) are even less of a hindrance for awards campaigns. Still, as exhibited by our favorite web-slinger, a monumental success can provide a significant boost.
Sporting the second-biggest box office opening in history with a $260 million haul — massive even by pre-pandemic standards — the Sony Pictures hit shows no signs of slowing down. The film is expected to generate at least $90 million during the Christmas holiday, up against “The Matrix Resurrections” (which also made the sound and visual effects shortlists).
After nearly two years of headlines about cinemas closing and films “bombing,” seeing a palpable heartbeat for the movie theater industry could move voters. With 10 available spaces for best picture on the ballot, a film like “No Way Home” doesn’t need No. 1 votes like it did in the sliding-scale years, where it required 5% of the Academy to slot it at No. 1. Instead, it can garner enough support with eight, nine or 10 spots. This theory explains a film like “The Blind Side” (2009) making a stunning entry. But this won’t be easy.
It’s no secret that superhero movies are not the Academy’s cup of tea. Unfortunately, critical acclaim didn’t get films like “Iron Man” (2008) or “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) any closer to the top category. So when Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008) was snubbed for best picture, the Academy leadership voted to expand its field of five to 10 nominees in the hopes that more audience-friendly fare could crack the field.
AMPAS has also floated the possibility of a documentary making the lineup, but it has yet to happen.
It took a decade for the Chadwick Boseman star-making vehicle to enter the Dolby Theatre as a nominee in the top category, eventually nabbing three statuettes for production design, costume design and original score. Todd Phillips’ “Joker” (2019) led the tally with 11 during its season, giving Joaquin Phoenix a best actor trophy and Hildur Guðnadóttir one for original score. Guðnadóttir became the first woman to win the category (Rachel Portman for “Emma”  and Anne Dudley for “The Full Monty”  won for original musical or comedy score, when the Academy split the score category by genre, seemingly because composers were tired of losing to Disney films).
Look, this is not to argue that “No Way Home” is about to become our new “Titanic” and sweep the Academy Awards. So how many nominations can it feasibly get?
There’s been a strong correlation between visual effects and production design over the past decade. So you may see the movie as an alternative to “Dune” in that race. Writer Mark Johnson always points to an interesting statistic — 18 out of the last 21 visual effects winners were also nominated for production design. The three exceptions were “Spider-Man 2” (2004), “Ex Machina” (2014) and “The Jungle Book” (2016).
The cinematography by Oscar winner Mauro Fiore (“Avatar”) may face an uphill battle in what seems to be the most competitive race since 2007, which includes Haris Zambarloukos’ monochrome “Belfast” and Ari Wegner’s “The Power of the Dog.”
Editors are kinder to genre films than other artisan branches, as demonstrated by past nominees like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) and “District 9” (2009). A significant hurdle to consider is that an MCU pic has never been recognized in the category. The ACE Eddies, which begin nomination voting on Jan. 11, could help usher that narrative along if it pops up.
Major races like adapted screenplay only have “Logan” (2017) among comic-book nominees. Screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have a better shot than usual because of the thinner list of contenders in play.
The largest branch of the Oscars is the actors. We shouldn’t entertain that Holland or Zendaya (who I believe is the film’s standout performer) could get noms, but “saving movie theaters” is a powerful message that can resonate when filling out the best picture ballot, even if means voting for actors from other films.