Why ‘Mank’ will suffer the same Oscar fate as Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’


Images from ‘Mank’ and ‘The Irishman.’ Photos: Netflix

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

When the Academy Award nominations were announced last month, David Fincher’s “Mank” gathered the most of any film at 10, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Gary Oldman) and Best Supporting Actress (Amanda Seyfried). One would think that this would set them up for a big night when the show airs Sunday, April 25, at 7 p.m. locally on ABC—but I am not so sure.

Fincher’s film, which was initially adored by mainstream critics, became more polarizing after its release in December — on Netflix and a small run in theaters — scoring an overall Metacritic score of 79 (100 is perfect). It started drawing extra unwanted attention for its erratic portrayal of the famous screenwriter, Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz (Oldman), with some saying facts were bent and twisted to better improve the story, which revolved around Mank’s attempts to work within the studio system and with the temperamental Orson Wells on writing “Citizen Kane,” which was released in 1941

In my review of Fincher’s film, I raved about Oldman’s portrayal of an enigmatic and addictive yet brilliant man:

“A hero to many for those efforts, but a poisonous leaf to many suits for his recklessness, Mankiewicz was the only man for the job when Orson Welles wanted to make his big splash with ‘Citizen Kane.’ David Fincher’s film, ‘Mank,’ documents the tumultuous journey of an over-the-hill and injury-prone writer writing a script that was a secret at the time due to its subject matter.”

The script for “Mank” was written ages ago by Fincher’s father, Jack. While critics liked the ageless look at the studio process churn that did no favors to writers like Herman, they were disappointed in the Old Hollywood rendition, calling it excessive. Tim Grierson of Mel Magazine said “its heart is in the wrong place,” while Jason Bailey at the Playlist and Mike Ryan at Uproxx both agreed that it wasted its spotlight on the screenwriter instead of the process.

While I enjoyed the film a good deal, others did not. A few years ago, “Green Book” overcame racial-infused backlash to win Best Picture, but I don’t see that happening with Fincher’s film. While “La La Land” celebrated the golden age of Hollywood magic and opportunity, “Mank” just lays waste to the bureaucracy that blocks certain films from seeing the light of day, burning bridges with long-winded dinner party rants about poisoned studio executives and giving us a hero who is hard to root for in Mank.

I can’t see the film having a good chance at any major award. Chloe Zhao is the favorite to win Best Director for “Nomadland,” a much more original and humanistic portrayal of how frail life can be-and the film has a good shot at Best Picture. Seyfried’s chances at winning are a lot better than Oldman’s, whose nomination was more of a “thanks for going there, pal” brand of salute.

Every awards season has a film that gets showered with praise yet walks away from the big Sunday night with zero trophies. Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” had that problem, walking into the Kodiak Theater with 10 nominations and leaving with zip. According to awards pundits, the actor de-aging and the movie length/subject matter came off as boring and pretentious instead of provocative and desirable. Again, I enjoyed Scorsese’s film, especially with repeat viewings, but the Academy doesn’t care to award those films.

“Mank” may have a gifted mind and savvy desires, but it was basically the old man shouting at the old(er) Hollywood machine for 131 minutes. Mankiewicz’s gusto and glory aren’t undesirable traits, just tired ones for award distributors. Unlike the attention-grabbing abruptness of “Seven” or the infinite intrigue or “Mindhunter,” this one didn’t have the legs to win big. Anti-hero screenwriters raging against the machine doesn’t exactly corral the attention of voters.

When directors say they do one for themselves and then one for the studio, “Mank” should be considered one for Fincher. He made his preferred movie, and I think there’s peace with that.

But if you’re an Oscars prognosticator, the fate of “Mank” should match Scorsese’s awards-nomination (not actual awards) darling.