Oscars 2022: The odds just changed. It’s now a two-horse race for best picture

Once a rank outsider, Coda has won best film from the Producers Guild of America

It is now official (well, semi-official, anyway). Best picture at the Oscars is a two-horse race and neither of those nags is Kenneth Branagh's Belfast. Coming into this weekend, it looked as if Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog had pulled comfortably ahead of the pack.

Sian Heder’s CODA, which began as a rank outsider, had crept up beside Belfast as second favourite, but, winner at the Directors’ Guild, Bafta, The Golden Globes and a dozen critics’ groups, Campion’s neo-western looked to be well ahead.

That changed when CODA won best film at the Producers Guild of America Awards (PGA) on Saturday night. Crucially, like the top Oscar – and unlike almost every other equivalent race – that prize is voted on by a PR system. It matters. It tells us about preferences down the ballot. Might CODA actually be the favourite?

Heder's sweet film, following a largely deaf fishing family in New England, properly registered when it won the ensemble prize at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). That award has, in previous years, alerted pundits to the rising chances of ultimate best picture winners such as Argo, Birdman and Parasite.

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No film since Little Miss Sunshine in 2006 has won those prizes at SAG and PGA without taking the best picture Oscar. By Sunday lunchtime, bookmakers had brought the odds for CODA in from 5/1 to around evens.

This has been one of the more remarkable Oscar journeys. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, the Irish actor who plays the protagonist’s charming crush, has been knocked sideways by the success.

“I’m very proud and delighted for everyone,” he told The Irish Times. “Our cast and crew worked incredibly hard on this film. It was, at the time, a low budget indie film and felt like a passion project for all of us. We never could have foreseen this level of success.” Walsh-Peelo now has, thanks to CODA, a SAG award on his CV.

It is hard to think of a film that took such a slow and steady journey from the margins to the brink of best picture success. Moonlight was a healthy second favourite for weeks before slipping unexpectedly past La La Land. The same could be said of Parasite before it upset 1917.

That trip began back in early 2021 when CODA sold to Apple TV for a record $25 million at the Sundance Film Festival (neatly, Little Miss Sunshine also broke the record at its visit to the Utah event). Starring Emilia Jones, daughter of Welsh singer Aled Jones, as the hearing daughter of deaf parents played by Marlee Martin and Troy Kotsur – the title stands for "child of deaf adults" – the film won a host of prizes at the event, including US Grand Jury, US Dramatic Audience and best director in the US Dramatic section.

In recent years the Grand Jury Prize has led to Oscar success for such films as Minari, Whiplash and Beasts of the Southern Wild, but none of those films was released on a streaming service. Whereas Netflix was able to launch The Power of the Dog and The Lost Daughter into awards season with glossy premieres at the Venice Film Festival, Apple TV "dropped" their film onto the service in August with little attending media kerfuffle. The notices were favourable But word of mouth – the odd Ted Lasso aside – doesn't gather around Apple releases the way it gathers around Netflix projects.

It was then seen as an outsider for even a best picture nomination. By the time that list was finalised it was definitely in the conversation, but was registering maybe seventh or eighth most likely to make the final 10.

Had the Academy still been nominating only five films, as they were until 2009, CODA probably would not have made it in and we would not be having this conversation. Initial odds had it down with Nightmare Alley and Drive My Car among the least likely nominees to win.

All of which demonstrates how audience enthusiasm still counts. CODA received good reviews, but it is not the sort of the film that tops critics’ end-of-year polls - too sentimental, too “heart-warming”. No matter. Voters in those important guild races warmed to it more than the austere Power of the Dog and rewarded it accordingly.

There will be a lot to ponder if CODA does win on Sunday night. For the last five or six years, we have been waiting for a streaming service to break the ancient mould and take best picture. Amazon Studios received a nomination for Manchester by the Sea back in 2016, but almost everyone has assumed Netflix would be the ones to usher in a new aeon. The company threw its weight behind Roma, Marriage Story, The Irishman and The Trial of The Chicago 7. They were defeated every time. How galling it would be for that giant if Apple – much less prominent in the streaming wars – were to get to the statuette first.

A great deal of Oscar history is, however, still working against CODA. It may not much matter that only three films released before September have taken best picture this century. The streaming rearrangements have thrown the table in the air and scattered cutlery all about the room. Those rules do not apply as they once did.

Netflix will, however, take comfort from the awareness that CODA has only three nominations in total: picture, adapted screenplay and, for Troy Kotsur, supporting actor. Kotsur looks likely to win.

It now feels as if CODA, adapted from the French film La Famille Bélier, could slip past Power of the Dog for the screenplay prize. But no film with so few nominations has grabbed best picture since Grand Hotel in 1932. We're talking Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo there.

For that reason, Sian Heder’s film cannot quite be considered the favourite. But it is currently a darn close run thing.