But the academy has surprised us before. “Ford v Ferrari” follows American automotive designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and British driver Ken Miles (Bale) as they team up to design a racecar for Ford Motor, whose egotistical chief executive, Henry Ford II, is hellbent on beating Enzo Ferrari’s team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. It’s based on a true story, which the Oscars tend to love. So we ask: Is that enough?
Fasten those seat belts and join us as we take a closer look at the film’s chances.
Total nominations: Four, including best picture, film editing, sound editing and sound mixing.
Synopsis: Ford hires Shelby and Miles to design a car that will help it beat Ferrari at Le Mans. The men bond as they overcome obstacles, of both the mechanical and personal sort, on their journey to the climactic 1966 race.
Directed by: James Mangold, working with a script by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller.
Starring: Bale and Damon, with Tracy Letts and Jon Bernthal in supporting roles as Ford and Ford executive Lee Iacocca, respectively.
Why it could win: “Ford v Ferrari” isn’t just a thrilling movie. It’s also a sports drama that aims to go further by focusing on the heart and drive of its characters, particularly the friendship between Miles and Shelby. After seeing it at the Telluride Film Festival, Variety’s Peter Debruge noted that the genre’s best movies “aren’t so much about the sport as they are the personalities, and these two go big with their performances."
Why it might not win: Though some best picture winners — “Spotlight,” “Moonlight” and “The Shape of Water,” to name a few — have played at Telluride in recent years, “Ford v Ferrari” isn’t poised to join that list.
Whereas this might have been the sort of film to win best picture years ago, the academy seems more likely to go with Producers Guild Award winner “1917” or Golden Globe winner “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” this year. (The surprise win would be Screen Actors Guild Award winner “Parasite.”) “Ford v Ferrari” doesn’t have much to say about war, or about Hollywood in 1969. It does have a little to say about the evils of capitalism — Letts’s character is more of a Big Bad than anyone at Ferrari — but, on the whole, “Ford v Ferrari” is just fun.