Every week between now and February 8, 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.
Don’t Look Up
Adam McKay’s star-studded asteroid comedy has begun to screen, and while holiday obligations prevented your Oscar Futures blogger from attending, early viewers seem convinced McKay has done it again. Scott Feinberg likens the film to a modern-day Dr. Strangelove, calling it “funny, sickening, brilliant,” though Clayton Davis hints that, annoyance-wise, Don’t Look Up may skew closer to Vice than The Big Short. Regardless, McKay’s brand of smartypants satire has proven to be the exception to the Academy’s general aversion to humor. With Nightmare Alley and West Side Story also set to bow in a few weeks, December is going to be a crowded month for Best Picture hopefuls. Is there room for all of them?
Exhibit B in the case of Oscars v. Box Office is King Richard’s underwhelming sub-$6 million opening. (Exhibit A was The Last Duel, which we’ll get to below.) On one hand, it’s not ideal for a purported crowdpleaser when those crowds do not show up. On the other, everything that’s not based on beloved IP has struggled this fall, and a human-scaled drama like King Richard is the kind of movie most liable to see its box office cannibalized by HBO Max. The movie’s A Cinemascore is a sign that those who do see the film are enjoying it, so King Richard may yet rally.
Being the Ricardos, Belfast, Don’t Look Up, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, The Lost Daughter, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, West Side Story
Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up
Were you aware that McKay has more Best Director nominations than Jane Campion, Kenneth Branagh, Denis Villeneuve, Guillermo Del Toro, and Wes Anderson? In other words, while the former Anchorman helmer is up against plenty of big-name auteurs, Oscar history suggests it’s them who should be worried about him — particularly as Davis calls Don’t Look Up the strongest of his recent work.
Ridley Scott, House of Gucci
Ridley Scott is using the promo tour for his new movie to relitigate the failure of his last one. However, considering that last one only came out six weeks ago, we’ll give him a pass. Appearing on Mark Maron’s WTF, Scott blamed the failure of The Last Duel on “the audiences who were brought up on these fucking cell phones,” setting off yet another round of Millennial (or as he put it, “Millennian”) discourse. The micro-controversy was the perfect distraction from House of Gucci’s middling reviews, many of which ding Scott for failing to craft a compelling take on the juicy material.
Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza; Kenneth Branagh, Belfast; Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog; Pablo Larraín, Spencer; Denis Villeneuve, Dune
Leonardo DiCaprio, Don’t Look Up
You have to go back to The Great Gatsby to find the last time Leo starred in a movie and did not get nominated for an Oscar. According to Davis, he delivers “another knockout performance,” though there are suggestions his part is more head of the ensemble than scene-dominating lead. The news that DiCaprio was paid $5 million more than co-star Jennifer Lawrence has the potential to cause a kerfuffle, but Lawrence has done her best to downplay the drama.
Will Smith, King Richard
Last week I noted that, if any actor had the stamina to get through the six-month marathon of self-promotion that is the Oscar race, it was Smith. As if on cue, this week yet another tidbit from his memoir about weird sex stuff went viral. (The phrase “psychosomatic reaction to orgasms” is involved.) I’m not sure how all these headlines will affect his chances, but one thing is certain: By the time the Oscars roll around, we will know what this man’s entire prostate looks like.
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog; Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick … Boom!; Simon Rex, Red Rocket; Will Smith, King Richard; Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth
Jennifer Lawrence, Don’t Look Up
It wasn’t so long ago that J. Law was on one of the great Oscar runs: four nominations in six years, plus one win. Don’t Look Up marks her first film role since X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and now a Vanity Fair cover story goes deep into the actress’s decision to step away from the spotlight. She’s top billed in the new film, though the role might be more of a charisma play than an actorly showcase. Davis notes Lawrence’s TERF-banged grad student is “hands down the most ‘likable’ character but seems to be missing the ‘Oscar clip’ that is needed to break out.” Will the Academy welcome her back into the club anyway?
Tessa Thompson, Passing
It’s roundtable season! Thompson made it into the Hollywood Reporter actress roundtable alongside a quartet of names attached to splashier projects (and also Coda newcomer Emilia Jones). Buzz for her has been building since Passing hit Netflix, and some free facetime is just the thing a modest, minor-key performance needs to build momentum. A win at Monday’s Gotham Awards, where Thompson is one of 10 nominees in the newly gender-neutral Lead Performance category, would be even sweeter.
Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter; Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers; Lady Gaga, House of Gucci; Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos; Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Best Supporting Actor
Jared Leto, House of Gucci
In the words of Lady Sovereign, “Love me or hate me, it’s still an obsession.” As the House of Gucci embargo lifts, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a critic who doesn’t have something to say about Leto’s mozzarella-faced interpretation of Paolo Gucci. “Think Chef Boy-Ar-Dee in a bald wig and latex jowls,” writes Dana Stevens. “You’ve heard of ham?” A.O. Scott asks. “Leto goes full mortadella.” This may not be the best performance in the Supporting Actor race, but it’s certainly the biggest.
Richard Jenkins, The Humans
Like Mass and Coda, The Humans is a tiny, critically acclaimed ensemble piece that could make some noise in the supporting categories — provided, of course, enough voters manage to see it. In the case of The Humans, that may prove difficult: The Broadway adaptation is only playing on Showtime and in extremely limited release. So let me give the pitch! Jenkins is terrific in this existential family dramedy as a Boomer dad traumatized by New York City. Hopefully the A24 cachet and stellar reviews will be enough to get The Humans into the race.
Jamie Dornan, Belfast; Ciarán Hinds, Belfast; Richard Jenkins, The Humans; Jared Leto, House of Gucci; Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog
Best Supporting Actress
Meryl Streep, Don’t Look Up
The rules of journalism state that — no matter the project, no matter the role — if Meryl Streep is in a movie, her performance must be mentioned in Oscar-watch columns. The clips we have seen indicate a broadly comedic Meryl performance in the vein of her Mary Poppins Returns cameo, and the post-screening reports have done little to dispel that notion, with more praise going to Cate Blanchett’s turn as a Botoxed cable-news anchor.
Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Would you look at that: Dunst was the only supporting-actress contender invited to the THR actress roundtable. Consider it a sign of her elevated stature in this race. Though she has plenty of competition from Aujanue Ellis and the Belfast ladies, Dunst also has the benefit of twenty years of movie stardom on her side.
Catríona Balfe, Belfast; Judi Dench, Belfast; Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog; Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard; Ruth Negga, Passing
More From This Series
- Oscar Futures: Our Final Predictions for the Nominees
- Oscar Futures: Who Will Be Our Nomination-Morning Surprise?
- Oscar Futures: Who Got a Boost From the Globes and the Guilds?