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 of 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.
Ford v Ferrari
As Charli XCX once said, vroom vroom! The thrilling race sequences in James Mangold’s ’60s automotive drama are earning cheers even from critics who don’t self-identify as car guys, which should help Ford v Ferrari place strong in the craft categories. If audiences get onboard (the movie’s projected to lead the weekend box office, albeit with only $20 million), there could be reason for optimism: I’m reminded of The Martian, a similarly skillful mainstream effort that proved an all-around contender a few years back. With The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and 1917, the dad-movie lane in this year’s Best Picture race is awfully crowded, but with an Academy that remains 68 percent male, there may be room on the track for everyone.
The perils of digital fur technology: Last week Anne Thompson reported that Cats may not be ready to screen until mid-December, which would blow it past the cutoff dates for the New York Film Critics Circle (fine), the National Board of Review (hmm), SAG (uh-oh), and the Golden Globes (gasp!). However, the well-connected Pete Hammond notes that Universal is still planning to give the musical “a big push for Globes love,” so you have to figure the studio will do everything in its power — up to and including training Taylor Swift and Jason Derulo in AfterEffects — to make that deadline.
Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite, The Two Popes
James Mangold, Ford v Ferrari
“There’s no defense against Mangold’s hyperkinetic style, but, fortunately, there doesn’t need to be,” our own David Edelstein writes of the filmmaker’s work in Ford v Ferrari. The directors’ branch will surely appreciate Mangold’s technical prowess in the racing scenes, as well as the film’s central metaphor (it turns out to be a parable about the possibility of making great art under capitalism), though I think FvF will have to raise its profile in the Best Picture race before he can start gaining traction here.
Todd Haynes, Dark Waters
Why has Todd Haynes, poster child for indie auteurs, made what looks like a bog-standard whistle-blower flick? As producer-star Mark Ruffalo explained at a recent industry screening, he brought the Carol director aboard to make this environmental docudrama a little less standard. Haynes does an admirable job bringing his unique sense of texture to the film’s Cincinnati setting, but with the embargo lifting this week, reviews are decidedly mixed.
Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story; Bong Joon-ho, Parasite; Greta Gerwig, Little Women; Martin Scorsese, The Irishman; Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari
As persnickety race-car driver Ken Miles, Bale finally gets to speak in something close to his real voice onscreen, and critics are charmed. “Bale is a cussed and calculating actor, yet he’s never been more likable than he is here — an irony to relish, since the character he plays makes so little effort to be liked,” writes Anthony Lane. Will his progress in the packed Best Actor race be a bellwether for the film’s own chances, or is Ford v Ferrari enough of a technical marvel to score a Best Picture nomination without a corresponding acting nod?
Mark Ruffalo, Dark Waters
Ruffalo de-glams himself as a dogged environmental lawyer in Dark Waters, and Leah Greenblatt notes he “leads with a sort of unflagging anti-charisma, his chin thrust forward in a perpetual bulldog frown and his hair plastered into a corporate-dad side part.” The film’s campaign has been playing up the movie’s political resonance, a set of talking points firmly in Ruffalo’s environmentalist comfort zone, though this kind of role has been spoofed so many times I wonder how his straight interpretation will be able to catch on.
Robert De Niro, The Irishman; Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; Adam Driver, Marriage Story; Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name; Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Lupita Nyong’o, Us
It’s roundtable season, baby, and look who made it into THR’s actress lineup! As this year’s race began, pundits told me to watch for a late push for Lupita, and if it’s going to happen for this March performance, it’s probably going to have to start happening now.
Alfre Woodard, Clemency
Conversely, of all the actresses who didn’t make the cut, no absence stings like Woodard, who could have used the boost of visibility for her intimate character study. She’ll have to cross her fingers and hope love from the Gothams and critics’ groups can get her on the map.
Awkwafina, The Farewell; Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story; Saoirse Ronan, Little Women; Charlize Theron, Bombshell; Renée Zellweger, Judy
Best Supporting Actor
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
A week after I wondered where the buzz was for this Mr. Rogers movie, here comes Hanks with the Taffy treatment in the New York Times. Bradley Cooper’s sitdown with the NYT’s star profiler was widely credited with derailing his campaign last year, but Hanks can probably sleep soundly: Much like the Esquire story Beautiful Day is based on, the piece is all about how the actor is every inch the swell guy he appears.
Sterling K. Brown, Waves
Trey Edward Shults’s family melodrama has been on a fittingly oscillating journey this season: a Telluride reaction effusive enough to earn American Graffiti comparisons, followed almost immediately by a more measured response at TIFF. Youngsters Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell are the two breakouts, but it’s Brown as their martinet father who has the type of teeth-baring role voters love to rally around. Though Manohla Dargis notes the actor’s big character-defining speech “sounds as if it might have been written for the benefit of white viewers,” she calls Brown “an intensely empathetic performer [who] fills these words up with feeling.”
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes; Al Pacino, The Irishman; Joe Pesci, The Irishman; Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Supporting Actress
Annette Bening, The Report
Though I dug Bening’s steely performance as Dianne Feinstein when I saw it at Sundance, it hasn’t felt right slotting it in my top five — I just haven’t met enough industry types who feel the fire for this somber political procedural. On the bright side, critics seem to be enjoying her transformation into the California senator, with Peter Travers hailing Bening as “magnificent.”
Anne Hathaway, Dark Waters
You can feel Haynes and Hathaway straining to add more layers to the character of Ruffalo’s concerned wife, investing her with all the Middle-Class Ohio Mom energy they can muster. Despite all their work, the role rarely ventures beyond Natalie Walker territory.
Laura Dern, Marriage Story; Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit; Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers; Florence Pugh, Little Women; Margot Robbie, Bombshell