By David Canfield
December 04, 2019 at 07:51 PM EST

Welcome to EW’s The Awardist: a weekly column offering in-depth analysis of the 2020 awards season. Check out last week’s deep dive, and be sure to read through our Oscar predictions.

Oscar season got going in a hurry this week with the Gotham Awards, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics’ Circle, and AFI all announcing their prizes for the best of the year in movies. All are imperfect precursors when it comes to how they’ll predict the big one, but taken together for a packed first week, they offer our first real glimpse into the state of the race. We’ll be updating our predictions shortly. In the meantime, let’s break down how this week’s winners have impacted things.

Claire Folger/Lionsgate; Hilary B. Gayle/Lionsgate; Claudette Barius/Universal

The Irishman is your frontrunner

Winning NBR and NYFCC back-to-back is pretty rare, and while it doesn’t always translate to an equivalent Best Picture victory at the Academy Awards — see The Social Network or Zero Dark Thirty — it does herald a frontrunner. And with Martin Scorsese’s three-and-a-half-hour epic The Irishman riding high after strong buzz, it’s pretty clearly in the driver’s seat for now. But things are hardly locked: Arguably its biggest competition, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, won NYFCC’s screenplay prize and NBR’s director prize, and other heavyweights like 1917 and Marriage Story are showing up where they need to.

Uncut Gems and Adam Sandler are real players

The Safdie Brothers (Good Time) haven’t really been in the awards conversation before, beyond nominations success with groups like the Independent Spirit Awards, but with their kinetic thriller Uncut Gems, they’re clearly reaching a new audience. As backed powerfully by A24, the film won multiple major prizes from the NBR as well as the highly competitive Best Director award from NYFCC. It’s also coming off a huge Spirit Awards nominations haul. Taken in isolation, these might not mean a ton. But Adam Sandler, jockeying for his first Oscar nod, stands a real shot given the evident support behind the film — it’s still an uphill battle due to the depth of the category — and don’t be shocked if the Safdies pop up in the Original Screenplay conversation. These are respected, highly acclaimed filmmakers finally reaching a more mainstream audience.

Bombshell and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood can start panicking…

One a star-studded studio play, the other an acclaimed festival breakout — both looking like longer shots for Best Picture Oscar nominations by the day. The pair were totally absent from this week’s precursor deluge, despite hefty campaigns behind both. Both will stick around in voters’ minds for their acting contenders — Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie are near-certain nominees for Bombshell, while Tom Hanks is a compelling supporting candidate for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — but only a couple of films tend to make it through to Oscar after getting passed over by AFI, NBR, and NYFCC alike. And with the sometimes-ineligible and well-positioned Parasite and The Two Popes (AFI only recognizes American-made movies) among that group, their paths appear increasingly narrow.

…but Knives Out and Richard Jewell can start getting excited

NBR loves them some Clint Eastwood, so seeing Richard Jewell make their top 10 and bubble supporting contender Kathy Bates score major recognition wasn’t a huge surprise, or hugely telling for its Oscar status. But then to get in at AFI? At minimum, it’s on the radar in a significant way, and with several potential acting nominees, gives voters several points of entry. Knives Out, meanwhile, is one of those beloved popcorn movies that appears to have been misrepresented as not quite an awards movie. It’s found a way into the Best Picture discussion as one of the more enjoyable, escapist options on the long list. Of course, for both’s sake, many films make AFI and NBR only to get dismissed by the Academy — just last year, look at Eighth Grade, First Reformed, and Mary Poppins Returns — but given that their likelihood to be in the thick of it was so up in the air, this is a positive sign.

The acting races have their frontrunners

If you’ve been predicting Renée Zellweger, Adam Driver, Brad Pitt, and Laura Dern to win their respective categories for a while now, like most, this week delivered good fortune: Each won at least one significant precursor prize, and little has indicated they should be removed from their perch. We still think Jennifer Lopez is in it to win it for Hustlers, which had an unnervingly quiet week, but next week’s Golden Globe nominations should have her front and center. And what of NYFCC winners Antonio Banderas, Lupita Nyong’o, and Joe Pesci? All richly deserved, and all considered on the bubble for nominations. Consider this major early recognition a big step in the right direction.

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