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Oscar Futures: Why the Amazon Debate Won’t Hurt Nomadland’s Chances

Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Searchlight Pictures

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.

Best Picture



Congratulations, Nomadland: You’re the first Best Picture contender to be met with sustained political critique. (I’d say right now the furor level is at “pushback,” and hasn’t yet escalated to “controversy,” much less “backlash.”) At issue is whether the film’s treatment of Amazon fulfillment centers soft-pedals the company’s real-life labor-rights issues — a fair question to ask, certainly, but one I suspect will have a hard time resonating with Academy members, who inhabit an epistemological universe where the corporate giant is far less controversial. Indeed, many in Hollywood can trace their salaries to Jeff Bezos’s pursuit of Oscar gold, so I suspect this narrative is likely to remain a Film Twitter–only thing. Still, it’s a sign that Nomadland bears the traditional mark of a front-runner: a giant target.


The Trial of the Chicago 7

Meanwhile, Nomadland’s biggest competition keeps up its successful run through the precursors. The trial drama earned a surprise nod at this week’s Art Directors Guild nominations, beating out Emma. for a spot in the Period category despite the fact that roughly 73 percent of its run time is spent in a courtroom. After the stunt ensemble nomination at SAG, that’s the second unexpected pickup for Aaron Sorkin’s film, which has shown up at all the guilds so far save Hair & Makeup. (Only Promising Young Woman has done better.) Chicago 7 is gaining steam and has managed to steer clear of any major backlash. We’ll see if both of those are still true after the Golden Globes.

Current Predix

The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mank, Minari, News of the World, NomadlandOne Night in MiamiPromising Young WomanThe Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Director


Lee Daniels, The United States vs. Billie Holiday

It’s Christmas in February! Because the Oscars extended its eligibility window by two months, this weekend brings a rush of last-minute entrants to the race. Daniels’s Billie Holiday biopic is one of them, and while critics have plenty of praise for star Andra Day, they’re mixed on the director’s maximalist melodrama. THR’s David Rooney decries the filmmaker’s “fussy stylistic flourishes — random B&W, slow-mo, jump cuts, shuffled chronology,” dubbing the movie “a mess, albeit an absorbing one.” With plenty of sober dramas in the mix, the directing race could use a little flash, but Daniels seems unlikely to repeat his Precious nomination this year.


Shaka King, Judas and the Black Messiah

Speaking to Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast this week, King expressed frustration with the Oscar buzz around his film, telling host Clayton Davis, “I’m better off when I don’t care about it. They’re not going to give me shit anyway.” What’s more depressing — that he’s right, or that we all continue to psychologically torment him anyway?

Current Predix

Lee Isaac Chung, Minari; David Fincher, Mank; Regina King, One Night in Miami; Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

Best Actor


Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Sony Pictures Classics has chosen to give The Father the slowest of rolls, holding the dementia drama until the last possible moment. Ironically, it was among the first major players to screen, premiering at Sundance last January. Even back then, pundits pegged Hopkins as a surefire Oscar nominee, and considering the Welsh actor is receiving his best notices in decades — Justin Chang hails his “extraordinary psychological cunning and emotional force” — those appear to be the only predictions from early 2020 that will actually come true. A surprise win at the Golden Globes, where Hopkins has somehow never won, would enshrine him as the strongest challenger to Chadwick Boseman.


Tom Holland, Cherry

Oof. Cherry was supposed to be Holland’s big grown-up Oscar play, but the Russo brothers’ PTSD drama is being savaged as a shallow Scorsese pastiche, netting a woeful 36 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. Consider this one popped.

Current Predix

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal; Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Anthony Hopkins, The Father; Gary Oldman, Mank; Steven Yeun, Minari

Best Actress


Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday

The R&B singer gives a fearless performance in her first lead role, and even critics who pan the film are singing her praises. “Though her resemblance to the real Holiday is mostly circumstantial,” says EW’s Leah Greenblatt, “she conjures Billie’s blues not just from her own throat … but the bottom of her soul, too.” Day is unlikely to win the Globe this weekend, and missed the cut with both SAG and the BAFTA longlist, so she’ll have to hope these glowing reviews are enough to keep her on the Academy’s radar when it matters most.


Frances McDormand, Nomadland

The normally press-shy McDormand granted a rare profile to the New York Times this week, a story that paints her as a performer who’s very careful about how much of herself she gives to Hollywood. Those boundaries could be the snag that prevents her from taking home her second Best Actress trophy in four years: Voters like to feel they’re doing winners a life-changing service, and the “I want it” element of awards season has never been McDormand’s vibe.

Current Predix

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


Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7

If you subscribe to the idea that Chicago 7 is a Best Picture front-runner, you probably figure it’s going to take Screenplay as well. But unless we’re in for a Spotlight situation, they usually win something else, too. That’s the strongest argument for a Baron Cohen Supporting Actor win; the second-strongest is that handing him this prize would be a way to also recognize him for Borat. The reaction in the room(s) at the Globes, where the British comedian is nominated for both projects, will be a sign of which way the wind is blowing.


Trevante Rhodes, The United States vs. Billie Holiday

The United States vs. Billie Holiday has a lot in common with Judas and the Black Messiah — two tales of the FBI taking down a charismatic figure by sending a Black double agent to infiltrate their inner circle. Rhodes has the LaKeith Stanfield role here, but the Moonlight star curiously underplays the character’s internal conflict. The most memorable aspect of his performance winds up being his anachronistic abs.

Current Predix

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods; Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah; Jared Leto, The Little Things; Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami

Best Supporting Actress


Olivia Colman, The Father

As Hopkins’s long-suffering daughter, Colman carries an equal share of The Father’s emotional load, with Christy Lemire calling her “tremendous as always.” As with McDormand, the fact that Colman has won so recently likely counts her out with Oscar, but don’t write off a surprise win at the Globes, where the Crown star is batting 1.000 for her career.


Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy

Of course, the woman Colman beat out for that Oscar is also nominated at the Globes. I expect the HFPA will prefer to hand the Supporting Actress prize to their longtime fave — she’s been nominated for 15 Globes, winning thrice — and thus kick-start the Glenn Close Apology Tour.

Current Predix

Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy; Olivia Colman, The Father; Amanda Seyfried, Mank; Yuh-jung Youn, Minari; Helena Zengel, News of the World

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Oscar Futures: Amazon Debate Won’t Hurt Nomadland’s Chances