• James Kunovski

Oscar Nomination Predictions: Mank

In David Fincher’s first film in six years, a cynical and self-effacing screenwriter with a grip of booze evaluates his time in Hollywood through a less than glamorous lens, while penning the screenplay for Citizen Kane. While Herman J. Mankiewicz, and the people who inhibit his circle can be rounded up in a few adjectives or more, the film itself, is trickier to tackle. There’s a lot to process, and I was surprised at how inaccessible it would be to most viewers. Fundamentally, it’s a passion project and a dream for film lovers, especially those who adore classic cinema. Sure, I liked the overall goal; the recreation of classic films, even if it goes astray or completely forgot about, was neat and it is also visually rapturous but some of the fleeting historical and political references lost me. Hollywood loves a story about itself, and even if Mank paints the town with damning strokes, filmmakers are likely to respond positively to its craft. The sum of Mank’s parts stand better on their own — and those parts are bound to get Oscar attention.


Only three Netflix releases have garnered nominations for Best Picture: Roma, The Irishman & Marriage Story. Mank is sure to follow, along with enough company to double the number of former entries.


Fincher is great at bringing a seemingly uninteresting topic to fruition. He’s also good at making it persuasive enough for a wide audience — this is the guy that made the creation of Facebook compelling. Whether he succeeds or not is up for debate, but there is still a number of creative decisions to chew on, most notably the quasi-recreation of Citizen Kane’s qualities; others less subtle. His deliberate guiding of Old Hollywood in black-and-white glory feels like a tailor-made director’s film and for that reason alone, Fincher will receive recognition.

BEST ACTOR (Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz) [Lock]

The film’s backbone, his best work yet, or holds the film back? Who knew Oldman’s performance would stir such polarising remarks? I think he’s fine in the role; sometimes unsure or unconfident in his place in the room (Fincher’s theatrical sequencing of lines does no favours for him), but a benevolent figure who reflects sardonic screenwriters. Unlike the film that the real-life Mank created, Oldman’s characterisation feels like it could be capable of much more — although he reflects “screenwriter neurosis” well. Regardless, Oldman is Mank, and his name will surely be swept up in award prospects.

Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz. Still: Netflix

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies) [Lock]

Seyfried pulls in a magnetic turn as Marion Davies, partner to the ruthless Hearst and starlet through his patronage. Though there are certain character notes added to Davies, like her New York-drawl, and others removed, like the stutter she struggled with, Fincher outlines her as a respectable and humorous entertainer, and someone who can draw attention in a room of Hollywood kingpins. Seyfried does well in portraying Davies as a counterweight to her quasi-biographical characterisation of inaptitude in Citizen Kane. Important, considering Welles spent his post-Citizen Kane life defending Davies as a talented performer. Snippets of that sentiment come through in Seyfried’s performance, which is magnified by her recreation of those now-archaic mannerisms and inflections. Hers is the strongest turn in Mank.

Seyfried as Marion Davies. Still: Netflix


Erik Messerschmidt, who has worked with Fincher on Netflix’s Mindhunter brings a crisp and modern approach to Mank’s photography, in a suitable fashion that honours the past. Shooting mainly in deep focus, (one of the many ways Messerschmidt pays tribute to Citizen Kane’s DP Gregg Toland), Mank’s expansive and sometimes noir-ish aesthetic is stunning. Extra points for continuing the trend of black-and-white in the age of colour.

Favourite shot in Mank. Still: Netflix


Probably the first time in decades that the opening credits listed the costume designer as curator of the star’s “gowns,” but I’m not complaining. Trish Summerville (Emmy-nominated for Westworld) had to design the colour palette for black-and-white filming, as opposed to black-and-white post-production. Though there’s a fair share of well-cut men’s suits, her work really shines with the ladies’ wardrobe. Highlights: Marion’s silver lamé gown at Louis B. Mayer’s dinner party and Marion’s “circus attire” outfit later in the film.

Marion Davies' "circus attire" outfit. Still: Netflix


Kirk Baxter did a commendable job at pacing Mank’s non-linear narrative and putting the right amount of emphasis on its pivotal moments. I kept waiting for a “Regatta” segment to show up and the “Election Nightmare” sequence of dread and glibness delivered. Baxter also does well with creating a phantasmic quality with the material. We sometimes feel like we’re watching Mank’s memories through a frosted prism or one of his hangovers. That feeling is most present when we first get a clear view of Orson Welles’ face.


Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross produce some of media’s sharpest genre-bending music. The Social Network was a spell of rock and industrial electronic that befitted that film like a glove, and their recent work for HBO’s Watchmen was just as weighty. The duo is almost guaranteed to snap a nomination for reconstructing a 1930s soundscape into a catalogue of pieces that could comfortably sit alongside cinema’s classic scores. True, it is pastiche but the most sophisticated kind. It’s the best orchestral score by a rockstar since Jonny Greenwood’s Phantom Thread. Highlight: “Scenes from Election Night.”


A last-minute addition because I didn’t even realise there was an original song in Mank. Written by composers Reznor & Ross and performed by Adryon de León, “(If Only You Could) Save Me” is a simple and sometimes operatic jazz ballad that could find itself forgotten by voters because of its semblance to a 1930s hit.


The Academy loves a recreation of Los Angeles. La La Land and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood received attention in this category for their respective fabled and retro takes on the familiar setting. Production designer Donald Graham Burt (Oscar winner for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and set decorator Jan Pascale perfectly build a realistic, era-specific Hollywood that is seeped in wealth, rather than glamour, and is filled to the brim with sharp angles and Venetian blinds.

Irving Thalberg's office. Still: Netflix


David Fincher’s late father Jack penned Mank over the course of the ‘90s before passing in 2003. There are some gold moments of dialogue, “You cannot capture a man's entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one,” and plenty others of equally profound and ostentatious quality (I had to rewind more than once because sometimes the lines are too rich). Fincher’s screenplay would read well on paper which is ultimately how voters will judge it. The allusions to cynicism, filmmaking and politics are brought out by moments that are both funny and tragic; boosted by the bold and stylish non-linear approach.


An award for Best Casting has been proposed over the years and was solemnly rejected by the Board of Governors in 1999. Mank would undoubtedly win if the category was around. There are some inspired choices, even if they don’t share much resemblance to their real-life counterparts. Those that stand out: Charles Dance as Hearst and Bill Nye the Science Guy as Upton Sinclair.

The biggest, but also most probable surprise, considering the small amount of other serious competitors and the potential resonance within the industry, is that Mank garners a nomination in every technical category. Those would include the omitted sound, visual effects and makeup and hairstyling. Fincher’s work is the one film this year that could achieve that feat. The acting branch makes up the most amount of voters, and given Mank is an actor’s drama, driven by a certain method style that invokes deep respect for their predecessors, a fair amount of actors could make it into the mix. Having said that, the nominations tally is now reaching record-matching/breaking territory. As for wins, like most things, time will tell. The visual features have a clear lead — cinematography and production design, while Seyfried could find herself a foreseeable candidate for supporting actress. On the other side of the coin is the man at the helm. Mank could prove Oscar redemption for Fincher, who wrongfully lost in coveted categories almost a decade ago with The Social Network.