Every week between now and January 13, when the Academy Award nominations are announced, Vulture will consult its crystal ball to determine the changing fortunes in this year’s Oscars race. In our Oscar Futures column, we’ll let you in on insider gossip, parse brand-new developments, and track industry buzz to figure out who’s up, who’s down, and who’s currently leading the race for a coveted Oscar nomination.
Jojo Rabbit opens with a montage of Germans dutifully saluting the Führer, but Taika Waititi’s Nazi comedy saw a more polarized reception at its Toronto premiere: It seemed to play great in the room, but afterward some reviewers took aim at what they saw as the movie’s morally simplistic and self-congratulatory tone. Before anyone could pronounce its awards hopes kaput, Jojo wound up winning the festival’s People’s Choice Award, an audience-voted prize that’s a traditional harbinger of Oscar success. (Since the category expanded a decade ago, every Hollywood film that’s taken home the top prize at TIFF has gone on to a Best Picture nomination.) Which side will Academy voters fall on?
Whatever debates Jojo Rabbit may inspire in the future are probably nothing compared to what’s going on with Joker right now. Most movies do not follow up winning the Golden Lion at Venice by becoming the center of a media firestorm around their potential to spark real-life violence, but then, most Golden Lion winners are not Joker. We’ve already entered the phase of the backlash cycle in which director Todd Phillips gives an interview blaming the uproar on “the far left,” and the film doesn’t even come out for another week. How these kinds of controversies play with Oscar voters can be hard to predict, and we’ll probably have to wait until the noise dies down to get a clearer read.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite
Bong Joon-ho, Parasite
Parasite came up third in People’s Choice voting at TIFF, a sign of how well the Korean black comedy is connecting with English-language crowds. Bong’s masterful juggling of audience expectations already earned the film the Palme d’Or, and Parasite is now the presumptive front-runner in the newly renamed Best International Film category. In a directing branch that skews more global than the rest of the Academy, Bong’s chances of sneaking into this lineup seem pretty peachy.
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Still, none of the fall festivals introduced a contender as imposing as Alfonso Cuarón last year — a boon for Tarantino, who’s held the pole position in this race since Cannes. But before the fast-talking filmmaker can start dreaming of his first directing Oscar, he may have to fend off Martin Scorsese, who’s premiering The Irishman at the New York Film Festival while you are reading this post.
Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory; Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story; Bong Joon-ho, Parasite; Martin Scorsese, The Irishman; Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Whatever they think of Joker, critics largely agree that Joaquin Phoenix gives a captivating performance, with Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times writing that Phoenix “delivers the kind of meticulously detailed psychotic breakdown that he does better than just about any American actor now working.” Voters tend to gravitate toward big swings in this category, and Phoenix here is practically Mark McGuire, unleashing streams of raucous laughter and distending his sinewy limbs into unsettling shapes. If this is the movie that finally nabs the three-time nominee his Oscar, Joker will join Vito Corleone as the only characters to earn acting trophies for two different performances, something not even Queen Elizabeth herself has managed.
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Academy members put off by Joker may wind up gravitating toward Adam Driver’s more human-scale performance in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. The 35-year-old Driver has quickly become one of his generation’s most acclaimed actors, and the role of a frustrated, frustrating husband has earned him some of the best reviews of his career. “Driver ferries Baumbauch’s super-cerebral script … to a place beyond thinking, where raw emotion becomes an entropic, hurricane swirl,” says Time’s Stephanie Zacharek. Driver also has Scott Z. Burns’s political thriller The Report coming up, but all signs point to Marriage Story — which took second place in People’s Choice voting at TIFF — being his strongest horse.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; Adam Driver, Marriage Story; Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name; Joaquin Phoenix, Joker; Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes
Renee Zellweger, Judy
Zellweger begins this season as the assumed Best Actress front-runner. Not only did she cover the world’s most influential magazine, she was treated to a “rapturous” two-minute standing ovation at Judy’s Toronto premiere. Her comeback turn as Judy Garland, the self-proclaimed “queen of comebacks,” is an irresistible amalgam of performance and narrative, and while the reception to Rupert Goold’s movie has been somewhat mild, voters have a history of overlooking such things in biopics, especially ones that give their leads as many juicy Oscar-y scenes as Judy does. It’s still early, but as the film makes its way into limited release, Zellweger looks like the one to beat.
Meryl Streep, The Laundromat
Saying The Laundromat “is unlikely to be among Netflix’s top priorities this awards season” is like saying I am unlikely to be the Democrats’ presidential nominee: I think they might have better options. Alongside The Goldfinch, Steven Soderbergh’s madcap Panama Papers exposé was one of the disappointments of festival season, a disjointed procedural that plays like a defrauded man’s Big Short. Most of the chatter around The Laundromat has centered on Meryl Streep, who turns in a typically winning performance in one half of the movie, and, uh, dresses in brownface in the other. We needn’t weep too many tears over her early exit from this race: Streep still has a supporting turn in Little Women coming down the pike, and her absence helps make this one of the most wide-open Actress categories in years. Don’t be surprised if an early-season dark horse like Awkwafina or Lupita Nyong’o winds up storming into the final five.
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet; Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story; Lupita Nyong’o, Us; Saoirse Ronan, Little Women; Renee Zellweger, Judy
Best Supporting Actor
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
As ultra-capable stuntman Cliff Booth, Pitt leaped to the top of the Supporting Actor conversation over the summer, and while the fall festivals saw many standout performances join this race, it doesn’t feel like Pitt’s been knocked off his perch. The actor not only has the advantage of a hefty part in a probable Best Picture nominee, he also happens to a beloved movie star still looking for his first acting Oscar. He’s said he’ll refrain from campaigning, but Pitt’s relaxed charisma in both Once Upon a Time and his recent Ad Astra press tour may be all the salesmanship he needs.
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Pitt’s biggest threat in this category may come from the season’s least-threatening contender. Marielle Heller’s gentle Mister Rogers movie was slightly overshadowed by splashier offerings at TIFF, but reviews were overwhelmingly positive, and I suspect the film’s easy-to-digest portrait of kindness will resonate with voters given … everything else that’s happening in the world. I’ve heard complaints about how the film foregrounds the foibles of Matthew Rhys’s cynical journalist, but that doesn’t seem likely to hamstring Hanks, whose impish Rogers lights up the screen whenever he appears.
Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari; Sterling K. Brown, Waves; Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes; Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
What a month it’s been for Jennifer Lopez. Two weeks ago, she was the buzziest part of the season’s buzziest movie. Last week, she recreated her iconic Versace dress at Milan Fashion Week. And this week, she announced that she’ll be performing alongside Shakira at the Super Bowl halftime show, which just so happens to take place in the middle of Phase II Oscar voting. Pundits are divided on whether the gig will help or hinder Lopez’s chances: It’s a chance to show off the same muscular star power that proved so appealing in Hustlers, but it’s also possible that turning up on the most-watched TV event of the year to do her other job could underline the impression of J.Lo as an Oscars carpetbagger. Still, if she manages a nomination, expect one hell of a closing argument.
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Dern is a riot as Scarlett Johansson’s devilishly effective lawyer in Marriage Story, and she gets a ferocious third-act monologue that opens by deploring sexist double standards, and somehow ends with Dern castigating the Virgin Mary herself. When it was over, my screening at Toronto burst into spontaneous applause. Much of Marriage Story hinges on the New York-L.A. divide, and it would be only too fitting if this race turns into a showdown between the Bronx-born Lopez and Dern, the ultimate Hollywood insider.
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers; Laura Dern, Marriage Story; Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit; Margot Robbie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; Meryl Streep, Little Women