• James Kunovski

In the Heights: The Case For and Against Oscar

Spoilers for In the Heights below*

We are months away from the likes of in-person campaigning, luncheons and snazzy “for your consideration” ads but In the Heights, the vibrant new musical by Crazy Rich Asian’s Jon M. Chu has Oscar pundits serious about the 94th Academy Awards. In the Heights, adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning Broadway musical, was an early frontrunner in last year's hypothetical arena. Delayed, and now finally enjoying a release, awards hype is reprising this year. Though it's only June, and we’re still dozens of conspicuous releases away from voters’ ballots, realistically, what’s the Oscar case for In the Heights.

Somewhat For: Olga Merediz for Supporting Actress

There are already some commentators aligning Merediz with the surprise awards breakout of Youn Yuh-Jung in Minari. Merediz, who plays Abuela Claudia, the barrio’s loving matriarch, was also Tony-nominated. She could be In the Heights only Oscar nominee. Who better to receive the gold than the performer glued to the original Broadway production. Though she stocks the film's tender lining, unfortunately, Merediz’s chances are dampened by the lottery plot's change, especially when that so crucially informs her character’s presence. Add that Abuela gets buried by a wealth of subplots and too many other characters. In the Heights is a tour-de-force ensemble movie. Merediz could still pick up a nomination, or possible win, by way of SAG Ensemble.

Against: Chu’s Award Trajectory

Even if you weren't banking on Crazy Rich Asians Oscar victory, Chu’s glitzy rom-com still brewed award season success. They were nominated for SAG Ensemble, and at the respective Best Picture alternatives at the PGAs and Globes. The Academy, even in one of their most commercial years, completely ignored it. While Crazy Rich Asians had an uphill battle when it came to tried-and-tested Academy taste, don’t be surprised when In the Heights picks up early awards momentum that doesn’t end up anywhere.

For: Critical Acclaim

Most modern Best Picture nominees are critical successes. Even when that rule does not necessarily apply, *ahem* Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Bohemian Rhapsody, that almighty sum can be a reliable forerunner. In the Heights currently holds a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and 84 on Metacritic. The most recent Best Picture musical, La La Land carries 91% and 94, respectively, and before that, Les Misérables offers a more modest 70% and 63. Where In the Heights can’t conquer at the non-existent Globes, it can possibly influence critics circles, including the be-all Critics’ Choice. If Academy voters take clues from prior ceremonies, how many more hints will they need?

Photo: Warner Bros.

Against: No Golden Globes

Well, the Globes sure picked the year to up-and-leave. Knowing we won’t have the ceremony that conveniently divides musicals, in the *year of the musical* stings. Recently redesigned statues aside, 2021's heavy-hitting musicals, and comedies, for that matter, need to apply more work to maintain steam. Let’s be honest here, the Globes, or awards season’s punching bag, varied from unhelpful (like this year’s empty leads) to downright dirty, but the outdated, unintegrated categories finally had a contemporary reason to justify their split. That being said, this should be the final year of the old Globes. Sure, continue to get the actors drunk but if they want to come back with a serious scope, change not only needs to happen in the organisation’s structure but in the ceremony’s too — nice knowing you, comedy/musical categorisation.

Against: June Release

To garner attention at the Oscars, release recency always counts. The late fall/winter release has become synonymous with anticipated films nudging Academy members. Most films that release outside that window do not necessarily aim for the Oscars, think Mad Max: Fury Road, Black Panther and Get Out, but were fairly rewarded. In the Heights' June release may seem like a setup for failure — in the last decade, nine out of the eighty-eight Best Picture nominees were released either in June or before — but with the right passion, the feat is not impossible.

For: Credits Song

Maybe it is more important to focus on attaining picture and the acting categories but a nod for "original song" could prove a gateway for voters. The song in question, the breezy Latin-pop “Home All Summer,” accompanies the end credits (surprise, surprise) — a rite of passage in this category. If category voters prioritise musicals to slim their shortlists, In the Heights could persist, especially if “All the Stars” from non-musical, February-released Black Panther lasted in the conversation.

In the Heights has done its job. It has confidently brought audiences back to the cinemas, validated our attention and given us a reason to, no matter how cheesy, celebrate. After the past season, where dramas won in bulk, voters need only change the dial and give In the Heights its Hollywood ending.