See who's up and who's down in the hunt for awards this week as EW gauges the state of the Oscars race.
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Who has what it takes to stand out among the 2022 Oscar contenders?

In the shadow of fall festivals and various guild nominations, EW takes stock of the pieces of the awards puzzle after the Academy's Oscar nominations shocked (out with Lady Gaga, Ruth Negga, and Catiríona Balfe, in with Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons) across what many assumed was shaping up to be a predictable race.

After film festivals in Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and New York thrust contenders like Kristen Stewart (Spencer), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Will Smith (King Richard), Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), and Denzel Washington (Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth) into the mix at the tail end of 2021, the commercial arm of awards season took hold; Denis Villeneuve's lauded sci-fi epic Dune generated big buzz with strong ticket sales amid the pandemic, while Apple TV+'s CODA emerged as the dark horse of the season following a healthy run at Sundance and on the streaming service before storming the SAG Awards.

Because early reviews and business muscle often make or break any potential nominee's foundation for success at these all-important cinema events, read on to find out what early festival reactions, critical takes, theatergoer trends, and powerful guilds — like the Directors Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Producers Guild of America — say about these suspected heavyweights' potential paths to gold as they enter the ring, and find out if any new prospective competitors emerged to challenge their standing.

The Oscars will air live on Sunday, March 27 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC.

EW's Oscars heat index will update here throughout the season, as often as the race changes. Check back for more updates as the hunt for awards carries on over the months ahead. See our full Oscar coverage here.

Heat Index Coda
'CODA' takes the Best Picture lead in the 2022 Oscars race.
| Credit: Apple TV +

March 21: Industry sings CODA's praises in the final stretch of Oscars voting

Who's up:

  • PICTURE: CODA — At a key moment during the Academy's final balloting window, Sian Heder's powerful familial drama overtook Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog in the hunt for Best Picture over the weekend thanks to a strong showing at the Producers Guild of America Awards and Writers Guild of America Awards. Whereas Dog hit with the Directors Guild of America and the Critics Choice Awards last week, those honors came with big-picture limitations; the DGA voted for Campion as an individual, and not necessarily for her film, while the Critics Choice Awards are voted on by journalists without Academy credentials, meaning their vote means little when it comes to getting a glimpse inside Oscar's collective thought process. The PGA (which shares crossover membership with AMPAS) uses the same preferential ballot voting system as the Academy, and CODA — a film many have called deeply moving — is proof that passion votes fueled by rousing, emotionally stirring material are the ticket to success on the awards trail.
  • ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: CODA — Several major Adapted Screenplay Oscar nominees were ineligible for inclusion among the 2022 WGA set (Power of the Dog, The Lost Daughter, and Drive My Car sat this round out), but CODA flexed its might with a guild that, again, shares membership with the Academy. On the Original side, Adam McKay's Don't Look Up edged out fellow Oscar nominees King Richard and — more surprisingly — Academy favorite Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza. The WGA win amplifies Sorkin's profile in the Original Screenplay race, but it also points to the industry's sustained interest in Don't Look Up as a powerful message movie the industry wants to uplift right now, meaning it still holds a firm place in the Best Picture bracket, too.
  • CINEMATOGRAPHY: Dune — Largely expected to sweep key technical categories with the most overall victories on Oscar night, Dune made a giant leap in the Best Cinematography race at Sunday's American Society of Cinematographers Awards, where lenser Greig Fraser triumphed at a ceremony that has regularly awarded the eventual Oscar winner in recent years.

On the horizon:

  • Academy voting closes Tuesday. The Oscars are in six days. Six days. Let that sink in.
The Awardist

March 15 — BAFTA, DGA, Critics Choice throw Jane Campion's Dog gold bones; performers sew up acting races

Who's up:

  • PICTURE, DIRECTOR: Jane Campion and The Power of the Dog — After surviving a bizarre verbal barrage from 1883 actor Sam Elliott about her qualifications to helm a tale about the American West, Campion swept a busy pre-Oscars stretch that included wins for Best Picture and/or Best Director trophies at the BAFTAs, the DGA Awards, and the Critics Choice, all but assuring  dominance over close competitors like CODA and King Richard in a key window before final Academy voting opens. Her hilarious response to Elliott's criticism (she called him "a bit of a bitch" on the DGA red carpet) also boosted her profile, though her comments about Venus and Serena Williams at the Critics Choice Awards (which she later apologized for) didn't help.
  • ALL ACTING RACES: Will Smith (King Richard), Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Troy Kotsur (CODA), Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) — Outside of Glenn Close's recent (still shocking) loss for The Wife on the 2018-19 Oscars trail, it would be virtually unprecedented for any of this year's leading contenders to lose their respective categories after amassing the report cards they have thus far. Smith, Kotsur, and DeBose won at SAG, BAFTA, and the Critics Choice Awards, proving universal support across guilds that spill over into the Academy as well as the journalists who've touted their work through the year. While Chastain has SAG and Critics Choice to her credit, she wasn't nominated at the BAFTAs — likely due to the group's altered voting standard, (more on that here) — it's difficult to imagine her losing. The one thing standing in her way is the same thing that derailed Close at the 2019 Oscars, however: Olivia Colman, always a potential spoiler thanks to the industry's unyielding affection for her that manifested three Oscar nominations (including her victory over Close) across the last four years.

Who's down:

  • SUPPORTING ACTOR: Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog — Once thought to be a surefire contender for his work in The Power of the Dog, Smit-McPhee has lost steam as the film around him generates even more heat. It's not a discredit to Smit-McPhee's chops, though front-running player Troy Kotsur's turn in CODA is simply a more accessible, emotionally impactful performance that's simply easier for a wider audience to vote for over Smit-McPhee's quieter performance that slow-burns its way to its powerful conclusion.
  • PICTURE: Belfast — It's a bad sign for a film so deeply rooted in Northern Irish history to nearly leave the BAFTAs empty-handed, but Kenneth Branagh's moving semi-autobiographical drama only scored one trophy at Sunday's ceremony, for Best British Film. It lost all other categories — including Best Original Screenplay, where it was expected to have a solid shot at winning.

On the horizon:

  • After the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America cleared a path, the Producers Guild of America Awards will roll out on March 19 as the final union among the mightily influential three-pronged arm of industry guilds who set the tone for the Oscars (the Writers Guild of America has a few too many rule-based exclusions to be included in this group). Unless something earth-shattering happens between now and the ceremony, expect Campion's western masterpiece to stitch up its near spotless run through awards season with another major piece of hardware heading into its virtually inevitable Best Picture victory at the March 27 Oscars.
The Awardist Heat Index Troy Kotsur and Jessica Chastain
SAG Awards cement Troy Kotsur and Jessica Chastain as top Oscar contenders.
| Credit: Apple TV +; Searchlight Pictures

Feb. 28 — SAG Awards victories lift surprise contenders in acting races after Oscar nods

Who's up:

  • ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye The convoluted Best Actress race received a glimpse of clarity at Sunday night's SAG Awards, where Jessica Chastain triumphed over a crowded category populated by fellow Oscar nominees Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos) and Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter) — both of whom forecasters assumed had a better shot at taking the prize over Chastain. With no Best Picture contenders represented among the Oscars' Best Actress nominees, SAG's taste coalescing around Chastain suggests genuine enthusiasm for the performance itself instead of a juggernaut title at large that happens to contain solid work. 
  • SUPPORTING ACTOR: Troy Kotsur in CODA — Making history as the first individual deaf actor to win a SAG Award, Troy Kotsur pulled off a surprising upset in Supporting Actor over presumed frontrunner Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog). Coupled with CODA's ensemble victory, it's looking like Kotsur could ride the wave of emotional support (surely amplified by his headline-making, rousing acceptance speech, given through an ASL interpreter) at a key period before final Oscar voting.
  • PICTURE: CODA — Though SAG has only awarded 12 eventual Best Picture-winning titles with its cast-wide award, CODA now occupies a rare spot in that its tone is both in line with this category's more commercial-leaning tastes while also landing among the prestige crowd (it's currently sitting at a 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes). The film tugs at your heart without feeling emotionally manipulative or sappy in ways that could easily turn off stuffier viewers. Its predominantly deaf cast also gave meaningful acceptance speeches championing an underrepresented group of actors that could resonate with Academy members as they prepare to fill out final ballots. CODA hasn't generated enough momentum to overthrow category frontrunners like Belfast or Power of the Dog at the moment, but SAG afforded it a prime stage of visibility at a key moment in the race.

Who's down:

  • ACTRESS: Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos — After bagging a (far less important, at least in 2022) Golden Globe victory for her performance as Lucille Ball ahead of missing a BAFTA nomination, Kidman needed a win with SAG voters to prove that Ricardos was still top-of-mind when it came to industry taste. Despite earning three acting nods, Oscar clearly didn't like the film as much as pundits anticipated (beloved Academy staple Aaron Sorkin's screenplay sat the Oscar nominations out), and with the actors of SAG seemingly losing interest as well, Chastain forged a clearer (if not assured) path to victory than Kidman after she was able to give an emotional acceptance speech in front of TV cameras at the union's ceremony.

On the horizon:

  • PICTURE, DIRECTOR: The upcoming Directors Guild of America Awards (March 12), the BAFTA Awards (March 13), and the Producers Guild of America Awards (March 19) should help streamline contenders in Best Picture and Best Director, though that tricky Best Actress category (Lady Gaga appears to be the BAFTA frontrunner among an entire category of non-Oscar-nominated women) will get no further clarity until the night of the Academy Awards.
The Heat Index Belfast Dune
'Belfast' and 'Dune' rise as Best Picture contenders in the Oscars race.
| Credit: Rob Youngson/Focus Features; Warner Bros.

Feb. 1 — Guilds give Belfast, Dune, and more a final push during Oscars voting

Who's up:

  • PICTURE: Belfast, Dune, The Power of the Dog — Continuing its dominance on the precursor stage, Kenneth Branagh's Belfast became the only contender to secure nods from all of the major guilds it was eligible for: SAG ensemble, DGA, PGA, and the ACE Eddies. Though the film was ineligible for a Writers Guild of America nomination, its strength on the guild trail signifies sweeping industry support at the top of the race. Dune made necessary strides with the PGA and DGA (director Denis Villeneuve hovered on the bubble until the directors lifted him up), as did Jane Campion and her Power of the Dog, which continued its winning streak among Hollywood voters.
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Jennifer Hudson rises as Kristen Stewart takes a hit in the Oscars race after the SAG Awards nominations.

Jan. 12 — Jennifer Hudson rebounds as Screen Actors Guild pays its respects (seemingly at the cost of Kristen Stewart's presumably assured nomination)

Who's up:

  • ACTRESS: Jennifer Hudson in Respect — After sitting most of the major precursor season out (besides a lone award from the Palm Springs International Film Festival), Hudson proved she's not going anywhere when she made a shocking appearance among the SAG Awards' Best Actress set — surpassing presumed heavyweight Kristen Stewart, who will sit the SAG contest out. Hudson's late-breaking rise proves that the industry is watching (and liking) material far beyond the scope of the early, critic-driven portion of the race, and that affection for her performance as Aretha Franklin has deep, respected roots among her Hollywood peers.
  • SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Leto in House of Gucci and Ben Affleck in The Tender Bar — Despite average reviews for both of their films, SAG bestowed star-fueled nods upon Jared Leto and Ben Affleck, the latter of whom skipped virtually all of the precursor circuit before landing among his fellow actors.
  • PICTURE: King Richard and CODA — Both films might've entered the race as contenders many assumed would have to fight for a position among the Best Picture crop, they've consistently ranked high on precursor ballots thanks to their emotionally resonant stories that play to the heart as much as the mind. The SAG union — one of the industry's largest, with membership crossing over into the Academy's biggest and most influential branch — also anointed both titles' respective rises with nominations in its ensemble category.

Who's down:

  • ACTRESS: Kristen Stewart in Spencer — Assumed by many to be a clear frontrunner in the Best Actress race alongside Lady Gaga (House of Gucci) and Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Stewart's bid for an Oscar nomination took a massive hit when she failed to score a nomination at the SAG Awards. The last time an actress won the Oscar without a SAG nomination in the corresponding category was a complicated affair of technicalities, as Kate Winslet, who won Best Actress at the Oscars for 2008's The Reader, received her leading SAG nomination that year for Revolutionary Road and won SAG's supporting race for The Reader. Outside of that, no one has ever won the Best Actress Oscar after missing out on a SAG nod.
Heat Index
The 2022 Golden Globes winners were announced at a social media-focused ceremony.

Jan. 10 — Have the Golden Globes fallen off their gilded axis?

Who's down:

  • Golden Globes — Just when you thought things couldn't get worse than a racial exclusion scandal paired with record-low ratings for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's boozy celebrity spectacle, the Golden Globes cobbled together a remarkably muted presentation on Sunday night, as social media watched (in general befuddlement) as the organization barely clung to relevance across a private (albeit live-tweeted) ceremony that focused more on the HFPA's philanthropic efforts than star-studded fanfare. Still, it's clear that the Globes' output might be out-of-sync with the reason people tuned in to begin with in past years. It was all a far cry from the glitzy, alcohol-fueled NBC telecast that made the Globes one of the most entertaining shows of the year, with Sunday's rollout encompassing HFPA tweets that drew criticism from industry pundits, whether for their drawn-out nature or their disjointed tone in addressing certain projects. Only time will tell if real industry voters (like, say, the 10,000-plus professionals in the Academy versus the 100-plus journalists in the HFPA) actually place stock in the Globes' taste or not. It's unproven whether Academy voters based their choices in the Globes or if the Globes merely voted in an effort to align themselves with pre-gestating Oscar taste. In another universe — one where NBC might've still broadcast the Globes to audiences around the nation — a mid-race surprise (like Best Actress — Drama winner Nicole Kidman upsetting presumed frontrunners Kristen Stewart and Lady Gaga) might've felt more significant, but as the platform shrinks, so must expectations. Still, by Monday morning, the HFPA's posts were a light trending topic on Twitter, and some stars even celebrated their achievements — including Mj Rodriguez, who became the first trans woman to win a Golden Globe for her work in Pose — but even the brightest stars who took surprise trophies at the ceremony acknowledged that the victory wasn't entirely sweet. "There is still work to be done," tweeted supporting actress winner Ariana DeBose, whose performance in West Side Story got a minimal boost in visibility at the Globes. "But when you've worked so hard on a project- infused with blood, sweat, tears and love- having the work seen and acknowledged is always going to be special."
The Awardist Heat Index 12/15/21
Credit: Rob Youngson / Focus Features; Quantrell D. Colbert/MGM

Dec. 17 — Belfast takes the lead as Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Hudson (unjustly) lose respect on the trail

Who's up:

  • PICTURE, DIRECTOR, SUPPORTING ACTRESS, SUPPORTING ACTOR: Belfast — Luck is the last thing the Irish need when it comes to Kenneth Branagh's historical family drama; the film is succeeding on its own merits, with audiences (it won the all-important TIFF People's Choice Award) and Hollywood voters alike, as the ensemble film steamrolled the pre-Academy circuit by hitting the National Board of Review, Critics Choice, and Golden Globes in recent days.
  • PICTURE, SUPPORTING ACTOR: CODA — Rising from quirky Sundance breakout to legitimate dark horse contender, Apple TV+'s CODA (about a hearing girl coming into her own as the child of deaf parents) has flexed its emotional might across voters so far, popping up for its overall charms, but generating particular heat for Troy Kotsur's supporting performance. It's the kind of emotionally weighty, gut-punching, cross-demographic drama that will soar up the preferential ballot for anyone who sees it.

Who's down:

  • ACTRESS: Jennifer Hudson in Respect — Jennifer Hudson lives up to the Aretha Franklin biopic's name, earning a wide range of prestigious acclaim for her career-best turn as the late legend. Industry voters, however, haven't responded accordingly, as the film has missed out on nearly every major acting precursor with actual bearing on the race (the People's Choice Awards and regional critics mean little, here). With only one pre-Oscars awards group with significant acting nominees remaining until the Academy unveils its nods, Hudson's last hope lies in the hands of the Screen Actors Guild.
  • ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix in C'mon, C'mon — While Phoenix earned significant critical praise for his turn in Mike Mills' moving black-and-white drama, the industry simply isn't responding the same way they did for his Oscar-winning work in Joker. He's missed out on virtually every acting precursor so far — a trend that's particularly telling of his chances at the Oscars, given that he even missed out on a Independent Spirit Awards nomination, despite Film Independent recognizing the film in its Best Feature, Director, and Screenplay categories.
West Side Story Awardist
'West Side Story' dances into the Best Picture race at the Oscars.
| Credit: 20th Century Studios

Dec. 9 — Reviews singWest Side Story into the race, critics go for seconds as Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza cooks up key victories

Who's up:

  • PICTURE, DIRECTOR, ACTRESS, SUPPORTING ACTRESS: West Side Story — The first reactions to Steven Spielberg's take on a Stephen Sondheim classic indicated the celebrated director not only put his personal stamp on time-tested material, but completely reinvented it with contemporary sensibilities. EW's Leah Greenblatt called the film a "glowing" remake that sees the filmmaker at the top of his game, pulling off a "near-impossible" feat in taking on the story. Other critics hailed stars Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, and returning actress Rita Moreno (who won an Oscar for her role in the 1961 version) as budding Academy Award contenders — projections that legitimized in recent days, as first-time feature star Zegler took the National Board of Review's Best Actress prize, while the film itself earned Best Picture-equivalent notices from the NBR and the AFI Awards.
  • PICTURE, DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza — Critics and industry professionals are eating up whatever perennial awards staple
  • PICTURE, DIRECTOR, ACTRESS, SUPPORTING ACTRESS: West Side Story — The first reactions to Steven Spielberg's take on a Stephen Sondheim classic indicated the celebrated director not only put his personal stamp on time-tested material, but completely reinvented it with contemporary sensibilities. EW's Leah Greenblatt called the film a "glowing" remake that sees the filmmaker at the top of his game, pulling off a "near-impossible" feat in taking on the story. Other critics hailed stars Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, and returning actress Rita Moreno (who won an Oscar for her role in the 1961 version) as budding Academy Award contenders — projections that legitimized in recent days, as first-time feature star Zegler took the National Board of Review's Best Actress prize, while the film itself earned Best Picture-equivalent notices from the NBR and the AFI Awards.
  • PICTURE, DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza — Critics and industry professionals are eating up whatever perennial awards staple Paul Thomas Anderson is serving in the recipe for Licorice Pizza. Early screenings yielded positive notices from critics, which carried over as the film steadily appears on precursor lists (AFI, NBR, NYFCC) as it slowly builds a meatier profile on the trail.
Heat Index
Lady Gaga is a Best Actress contender at the Oscars for 'House of Gucci.'
| Credit: EW

Nov. 18 — House of Gucci serves Lady Gaga's Best Actress chances; AFI Fest introduces up new contenders

Who's up:

  • ACTRESS: Lady Gaga in House of Gucci — Reactions out of the London premiere in early November called the Ridley Scott-directed film and its performances a mess, while other awards experts lauded it as an enjoyable romp through pulpy melodrama and celebrity-driven spectacle. Lady Gaga's second leading turn in a major movie received particular praise, with Oscar prognosticators touting her role as Patrizia Reggiani, the Italian "Black Widow" who hired an assassin to kill her Gucci heir husband, Maurizio (Adam Driver), as a contender in the Best Actress race. Jared Leto's wacky supporting performance as the renegade (and balding) family outcast Paolo also earned polarized notices from attendees, as did veteran actor Al Pacino. There's precedent to support potential glory for both stars ahead, as awards season adores Leto (he amassed a wealth of precursor love for The Little Things last year) and the Academy loves older men like Pacino in supporting parts, regardless of the quality of the overall film (Christopher Plummer in Scott's All the Money in the World, Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Robert Duvall in The Judge, etc.). But both performances received their fair share of criticism, with some suggesting an "uneven" consistency in the actors' tone throughout the film. Still, the A-list cast appears to be driving the conversation, so Gucci could end up a crowd-pleasing contender that, in the absence of a highly publicized, star-crazy Globes ceremony amid the HFPA's ongoing controversies, begins its upward trajectory if given a chef's kiss from the Screen Actors Guild.
  • PICTURE, ACTOR: Andrew Garfield and Tick, Tick… Boom! — He'd already worked the pre-Oscars circuit on solid ground with a stellar supporting performance in The Eyes of Tammy Faye earlier this year, but Garfield took the awards season spotlight out of AFI Fest last week. The Oscar nominee earned universal praise for leading Lin-Manuel Miranda's Netflix musical (a semi-autobiographical tale about Rent playwright Jonathan Larson, adapted from his stage), with pundits labeling it "the best musical of the year" and "simply electrifying."
  • ACTOR: Mahershala Ali in Swan Song — The drama/sci-fi hybrid about a man grappling with a terminal diagnosis in a futuristic world has earned solid reviews for the overall product, though Ali's turn has been hailed as career-best work out of AFI Fest. First notices have deemed his performance "shattering" and "one of his finest acting feats," which is no small praise for a two-time Oscar winner. Keep your eyes on Ali to break out once again for a potential third nod, as he's built enough pedigree to transcend the trappings of what some critics have called a decent, if not overwhelmingly spectacular, film built around him.

On the horizon:

  • Steven Spielberg's West Side Story will reportedly begin screening for larger groups in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned for reactions to the long-gestating musical.

Oct. 28 — Dune spices things up with a fast-tracked sequel and big box office numbers

Who's up:

  • PICTURE, DIRECTOR, TECHNICAL AWARDS: Denis Villeneuve's Dune — Like spice on the planet Arrakis, money talks, especially during awards season. And Villeneuve's ensemble sci-fi epic (starring Timotheé Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, and more) made noise at the weekend box office to the tune of $41 million across its three-day debut, which was enough for Legendary to greenlight a sequel shortly after. Business matters, especially during a global pandemic that decimated the film industry, and Dune is proof that movie stars and spectacle (plus familiar source material) sell the best of what the Hollywood machine has to offer. Thanks to its simultaneous debut on HBO Max, the movie became more than just a theatrical blockbuster, it became a cross-channel event on screens big and small that nearly everyone had access to all at once. But Dune registered as more than just Saturday night popcorn fare. Riding a wave of positive reception at the fall festivals into nationwide release, the film received widespread praise for its technical elements, including its costumes, sound design, visual effects, and cinematography, meaning it has inherent cross-branch appeal (think Fury Road's 10 Oscar nods and Return of the King's 11-strong tally) that could add an extra kick to its already spicy awards season sauce.

On the horizon:

  • At long last, House of Gucci will screen in the weeks ahead after skipping the festival circuit, confirming whether the film is campy fun, a dramatic Oscar powerhouse, or both!
The Heat Index The Tender Bar
Ben Affleck generates Best Actor heat for 'The Tender Bar.'
| Credit: Amazon Studios

Oct. 11 — Critics chug down what they're calling Ben Affleck's best performance to date

Who's up:

  • SUPPORTING ACTOR: Ben Affleck in The Tender Bar — If early trade reviews out of the London Film Festival hold weight this year, Affleck's turn in George Clooney's latest directorial effort is worthy of the multi-hyphenate's first-ever acting nomination. Writing for Variety, Peter Debruge indicates that the 49-year-old's appearance as a bar owner doling out fatherly guidance to his nephew (Tye Sheridan) signals the Hollywood vet is "entering a new chapter in his career" thanks to the quality of his recent output, while Pete Hammond of Deadline notes that the film contains Affleck's "best screen performance" in "a part he was born to play." With two prior victories (one for producing Argo, one for co-writing Good Will Hunting), Affleck has primarily made his stamp on the awards race in behind-the-scenes roles after paying his dues on the other side of the camera in commercial blockbusters. Subsequent high-brow attempts at hooking Academy voters as an actor (The Way Back, Live by Night, Gone Girl, etc.) ultimately fell short of expectations, but those roles were arguably grittier parts in, what early reviews indicate, are more complex films than The Tender Bar. The film's general vibe seems to mirror that of Sandra Bullock's in The Blind Side: A celebrity actor doesn't always need to do a Shakespearean dance to fly, sometimes all it takes is a heartwarming character in a film that goes down as smooth as a warm shot to the heart.
The Heat Index
'The Tragedy of Macbeth' reviews boost Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand into the Oscar race at NYFF.
| Credit: EW

Sept. 24 — NYFF conjures The Tragedy of Macbeth

Who's up:

  • PICTURE, ACTOR, ACTRESS: The Tragedy of Macbeth — Something Oscar-worthy this way comes, judging by the first reviews for the New York Film Festival's 2021 opener. Four-time Oscar winner Joel Coen sets four-time Oscar-winner Frances McDormand on the hunt for her fifth statuette at the center of his black-and-white Shakespearean adaptation opposite Denzel Washington, who has a pair of trophies on his own — bringing the total hardware haul between the three to a staggering 10 overall victories. When you hit the ground running with positive reviews out of a major festival, that kind of credibility doesn't go ignored, meaning Macbeth likely has a long, glorious season in store. Since the film won overwhelming praise for its technical elements, like Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography and Mary Zophres' costumes, Macbeth could be an across-the-board contender that stacks its way into the Best Picture race through branch-by-branch support.
Heat Index
Kenneth Branagh's 'Belfast' takes the Best Picture lead in the race for Oscars after taking the TIFF People's Choice Award.

Sept. 19 — TIFF winds down with Belfast out front

Who's up:

  • PICTURE: Belfast — Kenneth Branagh's historical recount of the sectarian conflict in 1960s Ireland built strong buzz as it traveled the festival circuit around the globe, thanks to its charismatic ensemble (Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, etc.), but its first titanic mark on the race came Saturday, as the film won the TIFF People's Choice Award in Toronto. The accolade has gone to 9 eventual Best Picture winners and/or nominees across the last 10 years, so statistics are on Belfast's side. Read EW's full review and check out our Awardist interview with Balfe.

On the horizon:

  • Pundits will pay close attention to the box office performances/streaming numbers of festival standouts like The Eyes of Tammy Faye and The Guilty, but, again, the next major segue into the Oscars conversation will be the New York Film Festival. There awaits Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth (starring Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington) and its world-premiere screening that will set the stage for its performance on the road ahead.
Heat Index
Jessica Chastain lands in the Oscars race for 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye.'
| Credit: EW

Sept. 13 — TIFF turns up for Jessica Chastain

Who's up:

  • ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye — EW's Leah Greenblatt writes that Michael Showalter's Tammy Faye Bakker biopic feels "both sweet and incomplete," capturing the critical sentiment surrounding the movie out of its TIFF premiere. Still, Chastain's turn was largely hailed as a "remarkable transformation" filled with prosthetics, elaborate costumes, and other physical additions that completely make over the Oscar-nominated star. If the Academy loves anything, it's the tradition of an actor giving their physicality over to the art (Charlize Theron in Monster, Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, etc.), and Chastain is checking all the boxes so far. Read EW's full review here.
  • ACTRESS: Penélope Cruz in Parallel Mothers — Three of the last five actresses who've won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress went on to win or be nominated for the Academy's corresponding award: Emma Stone (La La Land), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), and Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman). It's a strong statistic that, coupled with director Pedro Almodovar's recent track record of directing his actors toward well-deserved nominations (Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory comes to mind), signals the Spanish actress' upward rise at the start of the season.
  • ACTOR: Jake Gyllenhaal in The Guilty — Antoine Fuqua's latest thriller hones largely on Gyllenhaal's central performance as a 911 dispatcher harboring a grim secret as he tries to talk a panicked caller out of a crisis. The film — based on a 2018 Danish release of the same name — might skew a tad superficial, but the actor's star power and a brand like Netflix pushing it along could spell significant commercial success around the corner. That, coupled with solid reviews for Gyllenhaal's performance (the film hinges almost entirely on him), is promising at this early stage for an actor who's long overdue for a follow-up nomination 16 years after his recognition for 2005's Brokeback Mountain.

Who's down:

  • PICTURE: The Last Duel — The first of Ridley Scott's two prospective contenders (the other being House of Gucci) landed well below expectations at the tail end of Venice. Though the dramatic retelling of a judicial fight between Knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) is dressed in awards-primed period garb (the medieval costumes and production design look to die for), critics were so-so on the project, with most divided on its merits. It's not in a free fall, but coming out of the gate with a half-raised jousting lance is no way to catch Oscar's attention.
  • ACTRESS: Melissa McCarthy in The Starling — A stellar acting contender (and two-time Oscar nominee) like McCarthy can withstand worse-than-expected reviews for the overall picture, but it's hard to muster the strength to surmount all-around bashing, even if the performance itself is worthy of praise. While I'm looking at Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as a light barometer (he scored a nomination despite the film's 45 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), Theodore Melfi's melodrama — about a woman struggling through grief while a violent bird takes up perch outside her home — likely popped and fizzled its awards chances in Toronto thanks to mostly negative reactions.

On the horizon:

  • The TIFF People's Choice Award — set to be handed out this weekend — has gone to nine eventual Best Picture nominees or winners across the last 10 ceremonies, meaning the movie that wins this year automatically becomes the category frontrunner.
  • After TIFF wraps, attention shifts to the New York Film Festival, where Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth (starring Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington) becomes the next major player to impact the race with a world-premiere screening.
The Heat Index
Olivia Colman stokes Oscars heat for Maggie Gyllenhaal's 'The Lost Daughter.'
| Credit: EW

Sept. 6 — Telluride wraps, Venice sizzles on

Who's up:

  • ACTRESS: Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter — Reality bites when it comes to awards season traditions, and the fact remains that actor-directors (especially women) are rarely rewarded for their first outings as filmmakers (just ask Angelina Jolie). Maggie Gyllenhaal, however, took Venice and Telluride by storm with her thunderous directorial debut, an adaptation of Elena Ferrante's The Lost Daughter. While Gyllenhaal's direction and screenwriting received significant praise out of the festivals, Olivia Colman continued her prestige golden streak (hot off awards runs through Oscars and Emmys ceremonies with The Favourite, The Father, and The Crown) and earned praise for her turn as an unorthodox mother in the Netflix drama.

Who's down:

  • PICTURE: Last Night in Soho — Edgar Wright's 1960s-set fever dream has been hailed as a gloriously stylish blend of high-camp horror and fantastical drama, but the general consensus slightly dings the film for veering too far into absurdist territory. When you're asking Oscar voters to go off course into genre territory they seldom traverse (if you can't get them to respect horror with something like Hereditary, it might be a lost cause), you can't do it with "broad goofiness," as some have noted as plaguing the ghost story's third act. To be clear: These notices aren't out of the ordinary for a solid commercial player, but when it comes to the Academy, Soho might hit just as Wright's past offerings have — at the box office.

On the horizon:

  • With Telluride out of the way and Venice halfway over, two major checkpoints wait ahead: The latter's awards ceremony is poised to thrust potential acting contenders in the race for the long haul (recent Venice winners like Colman, Emma Stone, and Vanessa Kirby all went on to score Oscar wins or nods) on Sept. 11, while the Toronto International Film Festival launches Thursday with a world premiere scheduled for likely contender The Eyes of Tammy Faye. TIFF will also continue the momentum of Venice and Telluride bowers like Spencer, Belfast, Dune, and more, so keep an eye on those films to strengthen their bids when more critics get ahold of them here. The Canadian festival also boasts perhaps the most important pre-Oscars festival award on the circuit, the TIFF People's Choice Award, which has gone to nine Best Picture winners or nominees over the last 10 years.
Heat Index
Kristen Stewart makes Oscars headway for her performance in 'Spencer.'
| Credit: EW

Sept. 3 — Venice and Telluride launch

Who's up:

  • PICTURE, DIRECTOR, ACTOR, ACTRESS: The Power of the Dog — First-round critic reviews are the first benchmark for a film's potential on the Oscar circuit. And, as expected, Jane Campion's first film in 12 years was universally lauded for the filmmaker's direction and Benedict Cumberbatch's lead performance. It's Kirsten Dunst's turn, however, that hit even bigger at the film's Venice premiere, laying the groundwork on the road to her first-ever Oscar nomination.
  • PICTURE, ACTRESS: Belfast — Kenneth Branagh's semi-autobiographical drama about a family struggling to adapt to social upheaval in 1960s Ireland appears to be generating one muted response (such as EW's Leah Greenblatt's initial reaction) for every three unshakable raves. A potentially divisive run through the season can be a good thing: It generates interest and keeps an early frontrunner target off the film's back. Most seem to agree that Outlander star Caitriona Balfe's anchoring performance as the central family's maternal guiding light could be a major threat in the Best Actress race. Read EW's full review here.
  • PICTURE, ACTOR: CyranoPeter Dinklage's musical turn as the titular romantic signaled a strong start at the head of the race for the Game of Thrones actor, who makes a rare leading turn in a film that longtime Oscar pundit Sasha Stone called the "Best Actor frontrunner at the moment." Other notices from the Joe Wright-directed film's Telluride world premiere echo the sentiment — and even heap further praise on supporting actor Kelvin Harrison, Jr., another overdue performer on the prowl for awards glory.
  • ACTOR: Will Smith in King Richard — Though critics are floating between moderately enthused or intensely overwhelmed by the overall package of the story behind Venus and Serena Williams father-slash-coach, Smith is being universally hailed as operating "at his best" in the film. Read EW's full review here.
  • ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix in C'Mon C'Mon — Praise is coalescing around Phoenix's first big-screen turn since Joker in Mike Mills' road movie, which EW's Greenblatt calls the actor's best work since Her. Read EW's full review here.
  • ACTOR: Riz Ahmed in Encounter — Greenblatt felt the film's tone was uneven, but, like many of her peers at Telluride, still hailed Ahmed as a standout. Read EW's full review here.
  • ACTOR: Simon Rex in Red RocketFlorida Project helmer Sean Baker's latest film (about a washed-up porn star played by MTV-VJ-turned-porn-star-turned-actor) Rex is being called "icky," "uncomfortable," and "hilariously inappropriate," all in the best way possible.
  • ACTRESS: Kristen Stewart in Spencer — The 31-year-old earned some of the best reviews of her career out of Venice in Pablo Larraín's exaggerated reimagining of the dissolution of Princess Diana's marriage. Early reactions collectively called Stewart an early frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar, giving her a sturdy platform to stand on as she heads to Toronto.
  • ACTRESS: Penélope Cruz in Parallel Mothers — Pedro Almodovar recently directed Antonio Banderas to a slow-burning Oscar nod for Pain and Glory, and enthusiastic reviews for Cruz's latest performance in his new movie indicate a similar trajectory could be imminent for the Spanish star.

Who's down:

  • PICTURE: Dune — Coming out of the gate with strong showings at the fall festivals is paramount for any major contender, especially for a commercial-leaning blockbuster. Given Denis Villeneuve's Oscar track record (Sicario, Arrival, etc.), Dune was expected to continue the momentum, but the film is notching hit-or-miss reviews out of Venice and Telluride. Most agree that the visuals epitomize "lush, lofty" filmmaking excellence (as Greenblatt wrote in her B-grade review), but others, like IndieWire's David Ehrlich, called the overall product "a massive disappointment" when it comes to storytelling. The consensus is a positive one, but hardly the universal acclaim many expected. Hopes are high for the movie to make up some ground with audience in Toronto next week. Read EW's full review here.
  • PICTURE: Festival no-shows like House of Gucci and West Side Story — Before anyone gets upset, hear me out: There's one giant omission from the fall festival circuit thus far, and that's Ridley Scott's highly anticipated House of Gucci starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver. The film isn't "down" on this list as a knock against its quality (no one has seen it!), but the fact that it isn't hitting its stride at the major festivals with showings in Venice, Telluride, Toronto, or New York feels peculiar given the star power behind this one. There's always AFI, which gave us American Sniper, Selma, and more eventual contenders in the past, but for now, the lights are on, but no one's home inside the House of Gucci! Similar to Gucci's state in the race, Steven Spielberg's heavily touted musical West Side Story is thus far absent from any major fall festivals. Traveling the circuit isn't a surefire bet at gaining Oscar traction (especially after such an unorthodox year), but movies not making headway at these events need to make up ground in other ways.

On the horizon:

  • Toronto kicks off on Sept. 9 with a large slate of titles, including world premieres (all, well, eyes will be on Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and carried-over screenings of films hitting Venice and/or Telluride (Spencer, Dune, Belfast). A few more Venice pictures have yet to debut (Last Night in Soho seems poised to make noise), so expect some late-breaking surprises.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring Oscars analysis, exclusive interviews, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's movies and performances.

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