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.
News of the World
The sole remaining big studio movie in this year’s Oscars race started screening this week, and while official reviews are still embargoed, Paul Greengrass’s Western appears to have bona fides. It’s the kind of movie that has disappeared from the cinematic landscape this season: a mainstream, middle-of-the-road epic in the manner of Ford v Ferrari or The Martian. Of course, the reason those films are so rare is that few studios want to risk a wide release, but that’s still the plan here, with Universal sticking to a Christmas date.
Reviews are out for Ryan Murphy’s star-studded Broadway adaptation, and the notices are decidedly mixed. Enthusiasts call it “wondrously entertaining and big-hearted,” while the haters dub it “godawful.” In other words, definitely a Globes play, but it might be a tougher sell for Academy voters who haven’t nominated a musical for the top prize since La La Land.
Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mank, Minari, News of the World, Nomadland, One Night in Miami, Soul, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Paul Greengrass, News of the World
The man whose frenetic cutting inspired a decade of incomprehensible action sequences tones it down on News of the World. But will Greengrass’s solid, unflashy style put him at risk of being overlooked in this category? I suspect it will all come down to whether the film is enough of a contender to get him in on a groundswell.
Ryan Murphy, The Prom
“Unflashy” is not a word you would apply to Murphy’s direction of The Prom, which is cut to death in the style of so many modern movie musicals. “During a musical number that’s a slavish homage to Bob Fosse, Murphy barely even shows the two characters’ legs or feet,” Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson notes, adding, “Somewhere, Gwen Verdon is screaming.”
David Fincher, Mank; Paul Greengrass, News of the World; Regina King, One Night in Miami; Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Tom Hanks, News of the World
You wouldn’t exactly call Hanks’s performance revelatory: He’s giving a variation on the weary, noble hero he’s played many times before. But there’s a comforting familiarity to his presence, and this performance could be a cozy security blanket voters gravitate toward after a difficult year. After being nominated last year, is Hanks’s long Oscar drought a thing of the past?
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
As a drummer struggling with sudden hearing loss, Ahmed is earning major buzz. NPR’s Glen Weldon hails his performance as “raw and real and small — exactly the opposite of the tidy, contrived, and falsely triumphant performances that have taken home Oscars in years past.” That messiness may indeed prove a hindrance, but the Academy loves a transformative role, and Ahmed’s intense preparation (he learned how to both drum and sign for the role) is evident in every frame of the film, which started streaming on Amazon Friday.
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
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
As Nomadland opens in limited digital release this week, let’s talk McDormand. Will the decorated actress get docked for winning for Three Billboards just three years ago? It’s possible, but while there are certainly similarities between the two roles — they’re both grieving women with a tendency to push people away — her Fern in Nomadland is a much more open and expressive character, with a girlish side we don’t often see from McDormand.
Meryl Streep, The Prom
You usually can’t go wrong saving a seat in the Best Actress field for Streep, but The Prom will be a stress test of that principle. Though THR’s David Rooney says Streep is in “delectable form” as an self-obsessed diva who descends upon an Indiana high school, the film itself is lighter and sillier than anything she’s been nominated for before.
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
David Strathairn, Nomadland
Most of the supporting players in Nomadland are nonactors playing versions of themselves. The exception is Strathairn, who pops up as a fellow nomad who takes a shine to McDormand’s Fern. It’s a modest, unassuming performance, so much so that, as Slate’s Dana Stevens writes, “the distinction between the rubber-tramp crowd and the Hollywood A-listers is all but erased.” He’s not a character who makes many waves, but I think Nomadland has enough buzz on its own to secure Strathairn a nom regardless.
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
A hearing actor who was raised by deaf parents, Raci embodies Sound of Metal’s empathetic approach to the deaf community. Playing the leader of a support group that takes in Ahmed’s character, he gives “the kind of unassailable, bone-deep performance that feels less like a piece of acting than a state of being,” says Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times. The Academy sometimes downgrades actors for playing roles too similar to themselves, but Raci’s slowly gaining momentum, taking home the supporting-actor prize at the inaugural Sunset Circle Awards, which style themselves as the West Coast version of the Gothams.
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
Helena Zengel, News of the World
If News of the World is a Mandalorian episode played as a straight Western, Zengel is the Baby Yoda. She more than holds her own opposite Hanks, especially considering her character is nearly wordless for much of the film. Can the German 12-year-old get nominated? Though the Academy certainly has a history of falling for child actors, in recent years moppets like Jacob Tremblay and Brooklynn Prince have struggled to crack the Oscar lineup. Lucky for her, Supporting Actress is looking very crackable this year.
After appearing in the nonfiction book that inspired Nomadland, Swankie turns in a winning performance in the movie version, with IndieWire’s Eric Kohn dubbing her “a total discovery.” Even more so than Raci, she may be dinged for essentially playing herself, but that may undersell her work here: Director Chloé Zhao entrusts her with a surprising amount of emotional weight, including the film’s final beat.
Ellen Burstyn, Pieces of a Woman; Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy; Olivia Colman, The Father; Amanda Seyfried, Mank; Yuh-jung Youn, Minari