Every week between now and March 15, 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.
In keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving, Netflix kindly served critics a freshly roasted Hillbilly Elegy and let them carve it up themselves. “The film is like a package of assorted chicken parts that can’t be assembled back into something approximating the shape of an actual animal,” says Vulture’s Alison Wilmore, while A.O. Scott reaches for a different culinary metaphor, calling it a “strange stew of melodrama, didacticism and inadvertent camp.” Becoming a critical punching bag need not be the end of a movie’s Oscar hopes; remember that the backlashes that hit Joker and Green Book ultimately didn’t hurt them much come nomination morning. But those films also inspired plenty of passion in their defenders, and I’m unconvinced Ron Howard’s muddled bildungsroman will be able to spur viewers’ emotions the same way. With Netflix enjoying a wealth of Best Picture contenders this year, it would be all too easy for it to cut its losses on this one.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Speaking of, the embargo on the streamer’s August Wilson adaptation lifted last weekend, and it currently sits at an impressive 98 percent fresh on RottenTomatoes. Critics have singled out the film’s tour de force performances for special praise, and if Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman have as much heat in their respective categories as currently appears, it will be hard to deny Ma Rainey a spot at the big table as well.
Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mank, Minari, Nomadland, One Night in Miami, Soul, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Ron Howard, Hillbilly Elegy
Much of the blame for the Elegy misfire seems to lay at the feet of Howard, a respected studio filmmaker who was nevertheless probably the wrong choice for the material. He sidesteps much of the political baggage that surrounds J.D. Vance’s memoir, but his polite distance lends a certain hollowness to the film’s depiction of working-class Ohio. “Howard & Co. are tourists here,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz, “so it’s understandable that the movie wouldn’t have the nerve to put its foot down on the tonal accelerator … even though the movie occasionally cries out for that approach.” A past Best Director winner, Howard seems unlikely to crack the category this year.
George C. Wolfe, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Among the Ma Rainey reviews, critics like Slate’s Karen Han do note that the film “can’t quite escape feeling stagey at times.” Which makes sense: Wolfe is best known for his theater work. (Though he did direct Nights in Rodanthe.) With Regina King’s One Night in Miami also making the jump from stage to screen, expect the “Is it cinematic enough?” debate to factor heavily in this race.
David Fincher, Mank; Regina King, One Night in Miami; Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods; Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
The raves keep coming for Boseman in Ma Rainey. “The late actor pours every ounce of himself, emotionally and physically, into his final performance,” says THR’s David Rooney, while EW’s Leah Greenblatt calls him “a pointed arrow of hurt, hope, and untapped fury, heartbreakingly alive in every scene.” It still feels too early to anoint a front-runner, but if you were going to …
Colin Firth, Supernova
Harry Macqueen’s “tasteful tearjerker” about a middle-aged gay couple dealing with one partner’s early-onset dementia has been garnering praise for both its leading men, and this week Bleecker Street revealed the all-important matter of which of them will run in which category. (As Robert Hamer writes, one unfortunate by-product of awards-season gamesmanship is that while straight love stories get to campaign both their stars in the big categories, same-sex romances usually have to bump one of their co-leads down to Supporting.) As the healthy half, Firth will run in Best Actor for a performance that Guy Lodge says demonstrates “new cracks and quivers in his stiff-upper-lip persona.”
Kingsley Ben-Adir, One Night in Miami; Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Anthony Hopkins, The Father; Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods; Gary Oldman, Mank
Amy Adams, Hillbilly Elegy
It says something that even Amy Adams’s own fans don’t want the actress to win her long-awaited trophy for his one. As Vance’s volatile mother, Adams turns in a performance where the Oscar ambitions are as obvious as her wig. “There’s no subtlety behind her mania; you see her suffering writ large in big, snotty tears, but you don’t feel it,” writes Stephanie Zacharek. A win here on her seventh nomination would go down in Oscars infamy, but the Adams Hive can probably relax: She currently sits in eighth place in GoldDerby’s expert odds and is dropping fast.
Sophia Loren, The Life Ahead
Her performance as an elderly Holocaust survivor in this Italian drama had pundits pegging Loren as a possible threat in the grande-dame lane of the Best Actress race. But this week, Italy announced it would submit the documentary Notturno in Best International Film instead. As we saw with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, that’s the kind of snag that can derail an Oscar campaign before it even gets going.
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman; Frances McDormand, Nomadland; Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman; Kate Winslet, Ammonite
Best Supporting Actor
Stanley Tucci, Supernova
While Firth runs in lead, Tucci will compete in Supporting as his afflicted lover. Per THR’s Stephen Dalton, the American actor is “in particularly nimble form, eloquently invoking a deep emotional hinterland with a single glance or subtle shift in body language.” A nom this year would undo one of the weirdest pieces of modern Oscar trivia: that Tucci’s sole nomination came for The Lovely Bones.
Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods
An actor with two award-worthy performances in a single year can sometimes be nominated twice. (See Scarlett Johansson.) But it’s more likely that one will get subsumed by the other, and I predict that’s what will happen here. Good as Boseman is in Spike Lee’s Vietnam epic, nominating him for his second-to-last performance just has a little less juice.
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Charles Dance, Mank; Bill Murray, On the Rocks; Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami; David Strathairn, Nomadland
Best Supporting Actress
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
I’m old enough to remember the time Kathy Bates got nominated for Richard Jewell, so I’m by no means writing off Close in this category. As Vance’s heroic Mawmaw, the seven-time nominee doesn’t have much to do but grit her teeth and dispense folksy aphorisms about Terminators, but she does it all with a professional aplomb. Owen Gleiberman calls her “actually quite meticulous,” and I suspect that “actually” will be the operative word in Close’s campaign this year.
Saoirse Ronan, Ammonite
I confess I’m not sure what to make of Ammonite. The Victorian fossil romance premiered at the virtual festivals, where it was damned with muted praise. And in two weeks of limited release, it hasn’t made much of a splash at the box office. But Neon appears to have high hopes for the film, and both actress races are open enough, especially for stars as Oscar-pedigreed as Ronan and Kate Winslet. Plus, if the Academy streaming hub lists films alphabetically, the film may find its audience by default.
Ellen Burstyn, Pieces of a Woman; Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy; Olivia Colman, The Father; Amanda Seyfried, Mank; Yuh-jung Youn, Minari
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