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.
Trial of the Chicago 7, News of the World, Judas and the Black Messiah, et al.
I used to wonder if, after the chaos and trauma of the past four years, Joe Biden’s victory might spur voters to symbolically turn the page on Donald Trump’s presidency by rewarding gentler, or even escapist, fare. But Wednesday’s insurrection at the Capitol is a sign that, while we may be through with the Trump era, the Trump era is not through with us. As in every year since 2016, I suspect the campaigns that can best make the case for their films’ political resonance — and there will be a lot of them trying — will have the advantage in Best Picture.
Promising Young Woman
With box-office totals proving less than illuminating this year, I’ve been obsessively scrutinizing the Rotten Tomatoes audience ratings to get a sense of which contenders are resonating with regular audiences. The big surprise? How popular Promising Young Woman has turned out to be. A movie I’d assumed would be one of the more polarizing titles of the season is proving anything but: After two weeks in limited release, Emerald Fennell’s spiky dramedy is tied with Trial of the Chicago 7 and Sound of Metal for the season’s high score. We’ll see if the trend continues once Promising Young Woman hits VOD next week.
The Father, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mank, Minari, News of the World, Nomadland, One Night in Miami, Promising Young Woman, Soul, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Lee Daniels, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
The Billie Holiday biopic started screening this week ahead of its debut on Hulu next month, but official reactions are still embargoed. So I’ll merely quote AwardsAce’s Erick Weber, who notes that the film does not seem likely to be “that last-second game-changing awards drop that many of us were expecting.”
Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods
Pundits have been downgrading Lee’s Vietnam epic since it failed to catch fire last summer, and they’re probably right to. But who do you think voters are going to want to hear more from on the trail this season: French playwright Florian Zeller, say … or Lee, the filmmaker who has best embodied the anger and frustration many in Hollywood have felt over the last few years?
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
Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm
Chicago 7 is Baron Cohen’s best shot at cracking an Oscar lineup, but I get the sense that this nom is the one he’s really gunning for. Accordingly, the British comedian just posed for an ultraserious Variety cover, with the mag giving him the full Gravitas Filter. In the interview, Baron Cohen explained that he was driven to complete the Borat sequel because he “felt democracy was in peril.” After this week, who would disagree?
LaKeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah
Last week, Warners confirmed that Stanfield would run in lead for Black Messiah, while his co-star Daniel Kaluuya competes in supporting. (From what I’ve gleaned, that arrangement suits their relative screen time.) This movie, too, is still under embargo, but whispers have been mixed: Variety’s Clayton Davis crows that it’s Stanfield’s “best performance yet,” but I’ve heard from others who say his part may be too thinly written to offer much threat in this category.
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal; Kingsley Ben-Adir, One Night in Miami; Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Anthony Hopkins, The Father; Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
The Crown alum won the Best Actress prize in Venice for her raw performance as a woman who loses a child during a home birth gone wrong, and as the movie heads to Netflix, critics are raving. “If you didn’t know Kirby before this film, get used to hearing her name a lot,” says the New York Post’s Johnny Oleksinski. “She’ll be nominated for every major acting award this year.” Pieces of a Woman is garnering slightly less praise, but that matters less in Best Actress, where voters have a tendency to compartmentalize their feelings about a performance from the movie it’s in. In a field where both Frances McDormand and Viola Davis already own Oscars, the up-and-coming Kirby could be a compelling alternative.
Zendaya, Malcolm & Marie
Do we have another potential late-season spoiler? Sam Levinson’s film was written and shot in secret during quarantine, and, on Friday, Netflix gave it the awards-friendly release date of February 5, as well as a trailer that promises plenty of meaty romantic drama (plus mac and cheese!) for the recent Emmy winner. Still, Netflix already has two strong competitors in Kirby and Davis; how the streamer prioritizes its leading ladies will be one of this race’s intriguing subplots.
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday; Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman; Frances McDormand, Nomadland; Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Best Supporting Actor
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Running in supporting actor, Kaluuya seems the likeliest nominee in the Black Messiah cast. “His fiery and passionate approach to his role will draw comparisons to Denzel Washington’s work in Malcolm X,” says Davis, “but Oscar voters may see an underlying sensitivity that brought Terrence Howard’s work in Hustle & Flow to a nomination.” In a sign of how open this category is, Kaluuya has already risen to fourth place in GoldDerby’s rankings, sight (mostly) unseen.
Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami
The Disney+ Hamilton is ineligible at the Oscars, but it can compete at the major precursors — and like Aaron Burr for that Senate seat, Team Hamilton is openly campaigning. This eligibility fracas has worked out well for Odom Jr.: Not only does he get to remind voters how much they enjoyed his star-making turn in the musical, since his Hamilton performance is running in lead, he never has to worry about competing against himself at any ceremony.
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods; Bill Murray, On the Rocks; Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami; Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Best Supporting Actress
Ellen Burstyn, Pieces of a Woman
As great as Kirby is in Pieces of a Woman, she’s matched by Burstyn as her devilish mother. (The two actresses are 55 years apart in age, but they’re so good together the gap doesn’t always register.) “Some of [her] lines are of such practiced cruelty that you wonder whether she notices what she’s doing,” notes Anthony Lane, who praises Burstyn’s performance as “an ironclad survivor who retains even less pity for others than she does for herself.” Three years after I, Tonya’s duo of ingenue-and-unsympathetic-mom scored with Oscar, Pieces of a Woman could repeat the feat.
Youn Yuh-jung, Minari
Youn has been splitting critics’ prizes with Borat’s Maria Bakalova, but with wins this week from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists and more regional critics’ groups, she’s begun to get an edge on her rival. Is there room for both to get in, or are the two critical darlings competing for the same spot?
Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm; Ellen Burstyn, Pieces of a Woman; Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy; Amanda Seyfried, Mank; Yuh-jung Youn, Minari
More From This Series
- Oscar Futures: Nomadland Aces the Season’s First Test
- Oscar Futures: Could the Globes Controversy Benefit Minari in the Long Run?
- Oscar Futures: Is It Time to Start Worrying About Mank?