Who's up and who's down in the Oscar race? EW's awards experts debate
Ahead of Golden Globe nominations, Da 5 Bloods and Judas and the Black Messiah surge, while warning signs lurk for Mank and others.
THE TREND LINES
DAVID CANFIELD: Awards season suddenly kicked into gear this week, with the National Board of Review, AFI Awards, and Independent Spirit Awards all announcing their picks. Next week, the race will narrow considerably with Golden Globe and SAG noms. Finally! This week's precursors matter less overall, to be sure, but in a wild season like this they still leave a dent.
JOEY NOLFI: I actually think these precursors have far more weight this year than they would in a normal year. When I interviewed the new Academy members last summer, most of them seemed to be unsure of how many offerings their industry would serve up in such a chaotic year, and I get the sense that a lot of them are going to be looking to any and all precursors as cheat sheets for what they should be paying attention to at a time when rollout of awards season films is so hectic and unorthodox compared to recent years. So, visibility is key now more than ever.
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DAVID: So who had a better week than you expected, and who had a worse week than you expected?
JOEY: A worse week? Penguin Bloom, for sure. The snubbery across the board makes me so mad that I can practically taste the, as Naomi Watts eloquently put it, bird "s--- in my mouth."
The biggest upticks, though, are definitely Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman), Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), and Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari). Also, Miss Juneteenth seems to be building considerable steam as well, so I wouldn't rule out seeing someone like Nicole Beharie show up with SAG. They're cleaning up.
DAVID: Best Actress is in an interesting place, isn't it? A month ago we had Mulligan on the bubble for a nomination, but Promising Young Woman has been such a force with audiences and she's been pretty dominant on the precursor circuit that I'd go so far as to say she's really in it for the win. Then you have Beharie, totally under the radar racking up recognition from major indie groups, who could become a legitimate nomination threat with, say, a surprise SAG nod. And on the other side, still a lot of question marks remain around borderline contenders like Zendaya (whose Malcolm & Marie is getting slammed by critics, though she's terrific in it), Andra Day, and even Vanessa Kirby; Netflix had to have higher hopes for the latter with critics' groups and the like.
JOEY: The other big surprise for me (not because of quality, but because of the groups voting) is the surge of Radha Blank and The Forty-Year-Old Version. A brilliant script, lead performance, and direction… this film could be a one-off nominee in Original Screenplay if it keeps up the momentum. But poor Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm), still no major love outside of a few critics groups. Is she slipping, for you?
DAVID: I am not worried there yet. She won several major critics' prizes and has the benefit of starring in one of the most broadly seen contenders of the year. Working against her is that she's in a very un-Academy movie, and likely the only contender from it. Sounds a lot like your great hope from last year, Jennifer Lopez, who of course ultimately missed out at the Oscars. I remain more hopeful for Bakalova, though. This year's supporting race is more unformed, and she'll get a significant boost from a Best Actress in a Comedy nod at the Golden Globes next week; that feels pretty assured to me.
With The Forty Year-Old Version — so good, and so deserving at least of a screenplay nod — you bring up an interesting point about Netflix, too. The NBR took the… extreme step of ignoring all their perceived top contenders — Mank, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 — for an entirely different slate of Version, George Clooney's The Midnight Sky, and declared winner Da 5 Bloods. The streamer really has so many players (also taking up nearly half of AFI's top 10) that they may work against each other. With a surging Spike Lee, for instance, I worry more about David Fincher's Mank by the day, which simply doesn't seem to have clicked with a large body, even as it has fierce advocates.
JOEY: Well, worrying about Mank implies that Mank is a title that should be showing up on all of these lists, and I think this year is totally going to change how we think about Oscar players now and in the future. Mank is, on the surface, a surefire contender, but when it's sort of left in the void of uncertainty on an even playing field where every contender is going the digital route and accessible to many voters, it loses its appeal and ability to stand out, no? Mank is, in pieces, a technical marvel, but it feels hollow. I would've said the same thing about Midnight Sky, however, so that completely shocked me, but I don't think we have too much to worry about in terms of that film crossing over into more precursors. Let that one be a stain on NBR's legacy.
DAVID: So given that, what's your read, broadly, on the state of Netflix's contenders? Who's their brightest hope right now to go all the way?
JOEY: Da 5 Bloods is the safest bet with the most traction in Best Picture, given the type of awards it has received so far and Lee's good standing with awards bodies in general, though most nominations overall still could be Mank, given its technical prowess (sound, which I found annoying, seems like a nod lock; same with cinematography, costumes, hair and makeup, etc.). Trial could also creep up in the acting nominations, especially with its ensemble having good track records with awards bodies (Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Sacha Baron Cohen also building good will and visibility with Borat, etc).
DAVID: Best Supporting Actor is a bloodbath — Baron Cohen feels like the only lock from that film for a nomination, but I'll be curious to see if voters coalesce around a second nominee too. (Though in the case of Spotlight, that did not happen.) Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami) and Paul Raci (Sound of Metal) have been mainstays on the critics' circuit, and at this point look well-positioned, and just as Judas is starting to stake its claim in the Best Picture race (more on that in a moment), I expect Daniel Kaluuya to emerge as at least a co-frontrunner here pretty quickly. His performance in the movie is astonishing and very hard to ignore, particularly if the movie fares well overall. And that's not all! I could easily see industry darling Stanley Tucci showing up at SAG for a really lovely turn in Supernova, say, or Glynn Turman, a longtime character actor who gets a showcase of his own in the showcase-heavy Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. It's nice to see such a deep category.
JOEY: The two I have my eye on right now are Kaluuya and Turman, for the reasons you've listed above. Well said! But, I wonder if Bill Murray for On the Rocks can sneak in there as well. With Apple throwing a lot of its might into the Oscar race for the first time (with help from A24), I imagine there is some under-the-radar work going on to establish Murray's position in ways that might not show up at the critics groups/industry precursors, but will come together with the groups that traditionally matter, like the HFPA and SAG. On the female side, I'm also interested to see if Netflix can manage to squeak a lone nomination for Hillbilly Elegy out of the mess that was that movie's (unfair) reception with critics. Glenn Close went from a frontrunner to an afterthought, right? Supporting Actress seems like a wild race, but Youn is holding steady across most precursors so far. Surprises to come in that category for sure, but from where?
DAVID: The other person I'm watching in Supporting Actress is Ellen Burstyn. To me she feels like a surer nominee than Vanessa Kirby at this point, and has the kind of scene no other contender really has… except, I suppose, Glenn Close! I don't think the Hillbilly Elegy star is out of the race just yet. But Burstyn stands out in a very scattered field, which I also expect to include Youn (who, bless, appears to be on track for a nom, along with Minari in the Best Picture race). Olivia Colman seemed like a sure thing a month ago, but The Father's campaign apparatus seems to be the weakest of any major contender right now, and visibility is a huge concern for a small movie like this. And while I still think Amanda Seyfried is very safe for a Mank nod, she doesn't quite have the might of a Best Picture frontrunner behind her like we once thought.
Which leads me to her Mank costar. Gary Oldman is, as I see it, not quite safe for a Best Actor nomination right now. Regardless of what happens with The Father, which once upon a time looked like a likely Picture nominee, I can't see Anthony Hopkins missing for a career-best performance. Chadwick Boseman remains our frontrunner. Delroy Lindo can only be helped by the precursor success of Da 5 Bloods. And you mentioned Riz Ahmed, who (excitingly!) is everywhere right now, and looks more and more like a safe bet. Theoretically that leaves one spot. I fully expect Oldman to get in with SAG and the Globes — if he doesn't, that's big trouble ahead — but I am still seeing lots of potential spoilers. For instance, one movie that popped everywhere it needed to this week was Judas and the Black Messiah — unlike other 2021 premiere contenders The United States vs. Billie Holiday and Cherry, it made both AFI and NBR, a significant boost for a movie that hadn't really been able to prove itself with so many precursors maintaining 2020-only eligibility. Is LaKeith Stanfield a sneaky player here? And if not, who do you have your eye on to surprise?
LOOKING AHEAD TO GLOBE AND SAG NOMS
JOEY: For Best Actor, I am interested to see if Tom Holland can pull off a surprise Golden Globe nomination to enter the race in a big way. If he doesn't show up at SAG or the Golden Globes, there's still a path to a nomination for him, but it certainly won't help. Holland is exactly the kind of rising star the HFPA loves to recognize on the way up, especially someone getting their first prestige nod, and they helped boost The Morning Show to great awards heights during the 2019-20 season, so they'll be looking to bless the rise of Apple's original film division in a similar way. Cherry could be the film to do it. Hulu has similarly never had a major Oscar contender, but Andra Day seems to be building quiet buzz (and healthy anticipation), though she hasn't shown up much of anywhere yet. The fact that she's playing a real-life legend, Billie Holiday, won't hurt, but that means the film itself will fall under harsh scrutiny in terms of how it handles an icon's legacy. Soft reaction to Judy didn't hurt Renee Zellweger's chances last year, but Day isn't as well-established in the industry, and is therefore more susceptible.
DAVID: Tom Holland is definitely one to watch at the Globes, and Andra Day another. It's becoming clear their movies are less overall players than Judas, but it's so still so early in the season for them specifically that next week will offer a much better picture of their standing. Best Actress in a Drama is the race I'm intrigued by overall too. Will the HFPA lift Zendaya, maybe? A frequent winner like Kate Winslet? (She won for Steve Jobs!) Or, really, who's more of a Globes pick than an icon like Sophia Loren? And like you, I'm watching to see if Promising Young Woman can assert itself here as an across-the-board contender. I've been tracking Emerald Fennell in the director race, and a Globe nod feels possible and major.
SAG has actually come to be less predictive than the Globes in recent years, but the industry crossover of course is more significant. The ensemble race can go in so many directions, but could particularly give big lifts to the Best Picture campaigns of cast-driven projects like Ma Rainey, One Night in Miami, and Trial. Who do you think really needs to pop there? And bigger picture, to close out, who needs to have a good week next week to stay at the heart of the race?
JOEY: SAG always has outliers. Sarah Silverman for I Smile Back, anyone? That was when they were seeing — and voting — earlier than anyone else. Now they seem to be in the thick of it, side by side with everyone else. We might see more reliable contenders from them this year — especially when nominees are being offered up on a platter by precursors from a much smaller crop than ever before.
Oldman absolutely needs to have a good week. Maria Bakalova as well. Unfortunately, if Glenn Close doesn't show up at both SAG and the Globes, I think she's out. Penguin Bloom also needs to have a stellar week to stay in the race. Ensemble nod for just Naomi Watts, the magpie, and Jacki Weaver's "Thank goodness for Gaye!" line only.
DAVID: I agree with all those. Except Penguin Bloom. I'm afraid I can't engage with you on that one.