| January 20, 2020
I guess it’s time to drop some pleasure and pain. All the movies that are expected to compete for Top Eight Oscar slots (Picture, Director, Actors, Writers) have been seen. The season is short. The NY Film Critics Circle will announce on Wednesday. LA Film Critics Association will announce next Sunday, as will BFCA. The Globes a day later. SAG, two days after that. That’s pretty much it until 2020 throws us all into madness.
And let me apologize for the delay of a Gurus chart this last week… still working out the functionality of the new site. The charts will post soon.
But I am not a chart. I am me. And I think the season has become a lot less complicated than it felt just a couple weeks ago.
In alphabetical order… The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood seem to be in lockdown for Best Picture slots.
After that, there are five more titles that are in good position, but could use a little help from this week’s voters. In alphabetical order… Bombshell, Ford v Ferrari, Little Women, Parasite, The Two Popes.
After that, there are the Upset Specials that really, really need help from one of the critics groups if they are going to have a chance… (alphabetically) A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood, Dolemite Is My Name, The Farewell, Joker, Just Mercy.
It is not impossible to imagine one or even two of the “middle” titles getting pushed from their berth. Each carries strengths and vulnerabilities. But I would not be remotely surprised if the Top 9 end up being the 9 nominees.
It gets more complicated as you get into the acting categories. In Best Actor, the second most crowded category, six of the “Top Nine” BP films have male leads in pursuit… but only Adam Driver seems truly locked down in that group, along with Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. That doesn’t mean that De Niro and DiCaprio are not highly likely. They are. But it’s a little dicey.
Jonathan Pryce seems highly likely, as The Two Popes quietly builds strength after a relatively late start among the Netflix offerings. Netflix and Eddie Murphy are both pushing the Eddie Murphy button hard. Ford v Ferrari is underrated as a broad consensus Best Picture candidate and along with it, the great performance by Christian Bale. There is an intense constituency for Pain and Glory, which may not get it to Best Picture, but could push Antonio Banderas into a slot. And while 1917 is a “director’s picture,” write off George MacKay at your own risk.
In the most overpopulated category, Supporting Actor, there is a lot of movement available for few open slots. Ask people and they will tell you that one of The Three Ps, Pitt/Pesci/Pacino will win Supporting Actor. Voters seem to feel strongly about one and not the others so much. But that makes it seem awfully likely that all three will get in.
So that leaves two slots for seven or eight serious contenders. (In alphabetical order) Alda, Dafoe, Foxx, Hanks, Hopkins, LaBeouf, Lithgow, Snipes. There is a sincere love for Alan Alda, who also has a great role in Marriage Story, that may well push him ahead of the rest. And the pedigree of Hanks and Hopkins, both playing real people we have a certain intimacy with, seems to push them to the top of the list (though only one can likely get in). But people love Snipes in Dolemite and that would draw a unique segment of voters. Dafoe is loved by The Academy and the movie has got that A24 magic. LaBeouf, who could have been the great comeback story of the season, has probably cut his own awards throat by being too particular and narrow for a guy who is playing his own father in a movie he wrute about his own life. And the dark horse, who could shock the world and win or not get nominated at all, is John Lithgow, who brings a deeply uncomfortable humanity to Roger Ailes in Bombshell, making his performance the one most attached to the moment, as Ailes’ self-perception is more than a little reflective of the bottle-blonde in the White House.
Actresses, as usual, got short shrift in the awards-movie area this year… again. La Streep gives two terrific performances, but one is too cameo and the other is in a movie that isn’t getting traction. It says a lot, to me at least, that the only Best Actress nominee of the last five years who is in position to be nominated in Lead is Saoirse Ronan. Best Actress nominee Margot Robbie is a serious contender in Supporting.
Renee Zellweger seemed a mortal lock for Judy from screening one. Hard to see star/producer/chameleon Charlize Theron not getting a nod for Bombshell. And Saoirse is wonderful in Little Women and profoundly appreciated by the actors’ branch. So that’s three.
Scarlett Johansson’s time for awards seems to be here and Marriage Story seems inevitable as one of those nominations.
And then The Controversial Four. Or are they controversial at all? (alphabetical) Awkwafina, Erivo, Nyong’o, Woodard. Two relative newcomers. One young Oscar winner. And one great acting veteran who has been doing the work for decades.
Or you could position it as first-time dramatic actress in a mostly foreign language film, enormously promising newcomer in a movie that found an audience but not a lot of love for the film, star of a delightful horror movie with a political edge that no one can quite explain, and a veteran actress we all love in a movie that hasn’t been released by its small distributor that has focused enormous energy on another film that is chasing Best Picture, Screenplay, and Director.
Some would say that that last paragraph was a long excuse for racism. I’m not buying. Racism in The Academy is real. The new invites have not removed it. But one of these four actresses of color is pretty sure to get in, regardless of the efforts of other actresses in similarly challenging postures (Moss, Pugh, Turner-Smith).
It’s not The Academy’s tradition of being less interested in actors of color that is in play… It’s the long history of embracing stars who are doing more good work in dramatic roles. Of the four projected locks, two have Oscars, one has multiple nominations, and one is the story of a star turning a corner fully to being accepted as a quality actress.
Yes, Nyong’o has an Oscar too. Yes, an actor in another Jordan Peele thriller got a nomination. But Us doesn’t have the traction that Get Out did… which is why no one thinks it is a likely Best Picture nominee, Peele isn’t being discussed for Director, and the screenplay, which could get in, is not a frontrunner.
In any case, I am just thankful that one of these actresses is pretty surely getting in. And not because of #OscarSoWhite, but because they are all underdogs by traditional Academy standards and one will overcome that.
On the other hand, the lack of top end roles this year for the twenty Best Actress nominees of the last five years is sad, as poor a reflection on Hollywood as the last of dramas being made with black leads who are not already proven stars.
In Supporting Actress, the stats for former nominees is even worse. Twenty-three of the twenty-four nominees (Emma Stone twice) of the last five years are out of play this year. Only Laura Dern repeats, for Marriage Story, and is one of the favorites to win.
Also worse than Lead Actress, the rest of the potential nominees in the category are all soft… soft enough that Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers seems like a lock when in years past, that movie would push her into a fight for the last slot. (Again, not because of the color of her skin, but because of the genre of the film.)
This is not to say, at all, that I don’t value the other female supporting performances this season. I do. But there is a legitimately vague feeling about exactly who is going to land.
I would bet on Margot Robbie for the third slot in Bombshell. She has put together a string of great performances that have also varied quite a bit. (And I am still sad about her performance and Ronan’s in Mary, Queen of Scots getting buried by the discomfort with the film. Both were spectacular.)
It has been my position since Toronto that Scarlett Johansson would be double-nominated, the second for Supporting in Jojo Rabbit. This is being poo-pooed by some. But her turn, along with Thomasin McKenzie, are the emotional centers of the film. And when Johansson pretends the role of the man of the house in one sequence, my heart nearly exploded from all the layers of sadness and pain and love in that moment. One of the great moments of this year in cinema. But who knows whether it will be enough?
It gets even more murky after that. Florence Pugh is great, and great in Little Women, but that nomination does not feel like a lock at all. Shuzhen Zhao in The Farewell gives a beautiful performance, but she seems even further from the gold than Awkwafina, for the same reasons. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is great in Dolemite Is My Name, but I don’t know that the film has that kind of momentum to carry a supporting actress (or actor) in. Julia Butters has a great scene in Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood, but man, does that seem unlikely to score a Judi Dench slot. Taylor Russell steals Waves from all others… but it will be a challenge to push her into the race hard enough to overcome those who have been talked about for months. Richard Jewell and The Report aren’t going to push any actors into slots. And while Nicole Kidman is perfection in a very challenging role in Bombshell, the role feels like the third wheel on that bicycle.
Director is the category most often swayed by a surprise in the DGA voting, though their nominations will be announced on the same day as nomination voting ends for Oscar, so DGA will not likely change much this year. Scorsese, Tarantino, and Mendes seem to be guaranteed slots. And then, again, it gets dicey. Amongst three, Bong, Waititi, and Gerwig seem the most likely to take the last two slots. And then, there are legitimate threats from beyond that group. Almodóvar and Meirelles have been surprise nominees in the past. Todd Phillips flipped the comic book genre and has many admirers. Noah Baumbach made a movie that a lot of people love deeply, though he is a lock for screenplay and perhaps less likely for Director, given the many, many great options this year. And James Mangold has made an absolutely beautiful film that is both intimate and action heavy in Ford v Ferrari, a film the media seems to sleep on for some reason.
I would be truly shocked if the Top Three and at least one of the Next Three doesn’t get nominations. And with Bong in that Next Three, he would be seen by many as an outsider nominee without even pushing to the next group.
But in this shortened season (that should always be this short… it is the right place for The Academy to go, even if they find it inconvenient and uncomfortable) and as many as 10 nominees, there is a lot of room for jostling of candidates just based on how the movies settle in over the next month. Movies and work that seem to be just on the edge could become frontrunners. And frontrunners could fall back farther than we would now imagine.
So… let’s talk in a week and see if anything has really changed.
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