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‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Defies the Critics, Delroy Lindo’s Getting Robbed and 11 More Lessons From a Wild Awards Week

Some takeaways from a week marked by surprise nominations (and snubs) from Golden Globes and the SAG Awards

AWARDS BEAT

Finally, it’s starting to feel like an actual awards season.

It’s been a protracted and distracted season so far, with every film festival going virtual and every awards show moving its dates back in the hopes that in-person gatherings will be safe at some point. In that context, the awards race has been an afterthought of sorts — something to get to once the social, medical and political madness died down.

Of course none of that has really died down, but an awards picture that felt beside the point in November and December and into January has grabbed our attention in February.

Tuesday brought a small aperitif, the Producers Guild’s documentary nominations. Wednesday, the Golden Globe nominations got Hollywood up bright and early, followed a couple of hours later by the Writers Guild’s TV noms. On Thursday morning, attention briefly turned to London, where the British Academy, BAFTA, unveiled longlists of contenders in all of its categories, and then to the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which announced its own nominations in a charmingly ramshackle Instagram Live event.

So yeah, awards season is here. Critics Choice Awards nominations will be announced on Monday and Oscars shortlists on Tuesday — but before we look ahead to next week, let’s take stock of what we learned this week.

1. “Nomadland” is facing that crucial moment when the critics stop voting and the industry starts.
There’s no question that Chloe Zhao’s lyrical but grounded road movie is the critical favorite of the year. But now it has to make a tricky transition that has eluded several other critical darlings during the past decade. As long as the critics were voting, David Fincher’s “The Social Network” was unstoppable in 2010-11, but the industry didn’t agree and “The King’s Speech” swept the guilds and the Oscars. The same thing happened with “Boyhood” four years later, and “Roma” four years after that. (The former lost to “Birdman,” the latter to “Green Book.”)

“Nomadland” may end up navigating these tricky waters the way “Parasite” did last year, but it didn’t get off to a great start this week. It landed four Golden Globe nominations, including picture and director, but fell short of the five noms for “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and the six for “Mank.” And at the SAG Awards, its only nomination was for lead actress Frances McDormand; while it was a stretch to think that a group of Screen Actors Guild members would give the all-important ensemble nomination to a film filled with non-union nonprofessionals, it’s also true that only three films in 25 years have won the Best Picture Oscar without first receiving a SAG ensemble nomination.

The silver lining to that black cloud: Two of the three exceptions to that rule happened in the last three years, with “The Shape of Water” in 2017 and “Green Book” in 2018.

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Delroy Lindo in “Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix)

2. Delroy Lindo is being robbed.
The star of Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” delivers an outsize, almost Shakespearean performance as he descends into madness over the course of the film. In the early going, he seemed like a lock for a Best Actor nomination — but now Globes and SAG voters have both bypassed him, and it doesn’t really seem right.

Other fine actors have a right to complain, too — we’ll get to them in a minute — but the lack o’ Lindo seems particularly galling.

3. “Promising Young Woman” is getting hot at the right time.
Initially, Emerald Fennell’s provocative look at sexual dynamics seemed to fall into the category of indie gems written and directed by women: Kelly Reichardt’s “First Cow,” Eliza Hittman’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” Kitty Green’s “The Assistant.” But thanks in part to a fierce central performance by Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman” has begun to rack up serious nominations: Not only did Fennell land a surprise directing nomination at the Globes, but her film trailed only “Chicago 7” and “Mank” in BAFTA longlists.

4. “Hillbilly Elegy” might have the last laugh on the critics.
Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy” is only 26% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. It doesn’t show up on Top 10 lists. But Glenn Close landed both Globe and SAG nominations, co-star Amy Adams surprisingly joined her at SAG, and both actresses made the BAFTA longlists. It should be clear by now that voters who aren’t critics can have very different tastes from voters who are critics.

Mank

“Mank” (Netflix)

5. “Mank” is getting very mixed messages from voters.
David Fincher’s stylish period piece led all films in Golden Globe nominations and was second in BAFTA longlist mentions. But at SAG, lead actor Gary Oldman was the only nominee — Amanda Seyfried was inexplicably overlooked for supporting actress, and the impeccably cast film missed out on the crucial ensemble nomination. The film should continue to be a monster in below-the-line nominations, but it’s not as solid as it once seemed elsewhere.

6. “Malcolm and Marie” doesn’t look like Netflix’s February surprise.
Sam Levinson’s COVID project, a two-person film shot quickly inside a single house, built up lots of buzz in advance of its February release. But the drama, which features scorching performances from John David Washington and Zendaya, is beautifully shot but deliberately disconcerting — think of that paint-peeling argument between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson near the end of “Marriage Story,” but stretch it out to 90 minutes.

After being overlooked by the Globes and SAG voters, “Malcolm and Marie” doesn’t seem to be in a position to be a powerful latecomer in the race.

7. Netflix doesn’t need a February surprise.
When one company gets 42 Golden Globe nominations evenly split between film and television categories, and the second-place company has 10, you’re looking at a serious mismatch. That’s how dominant Netflix was with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, grabbing noms with nine different films; at SAG, it landed three of the five ensemble nods with “Chicago 7,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Da 5 Bloods,” and more than doubled the number of noms of its closest competitor, Amazon Studios. So if “Malcolm and Marie” is underperforming, it’s hardly time to panic.

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Helena Zengel and Tom Hanks in “News of the World” (Universal Pictures)

8. Here’s the new hot couple: Jared Leto and Helena Zengel.
Leto’s performance in “The Little Things” was risky and extreme, and the dark John Lee Hancock drama was one of the last films to screen for voters. Zengel, the cover subject of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine in January, was an unknown 12-year-old German girl who didn’t say much in “News of the World” and had to share the screen with Tom Hanks. But both of them racked up supporting nominations at the Globes and at SAG — and if they’re not sure things at the Oscars, they’re in very good positions.

9. Golden Globe voters can’t help making themselves look bad.
Last year, the complaint was that the HFPA was overlooking female directors. So this year, they nominated three women for best director: Zhao for “Nomadland,” Fennell for “Promising Young Woman” and Regina King for “One Night in Miami.” That would have been a sign of progress if they hadn’t then forgotten to nominate any actors of color in six of the eight TV categories, and if they hadn’t decided to give a couple of major nominations to “Music,” a movie directed by pop star Sia that drew condemnation for its portrayal of autism and caused the Guardian to suggest that many of its principals “would like this film to be washed off their CVs with a high-powered hose.”

10. The season’s big winner may well be a posthumous winner.
If any other actor had received four SAG Awards film nominations — two in individual categories and two for being in nominated ensembles — it would be cause for celebration. But because that quartet of nominations went to the late Chadwick Boseman for “Ma Rainey” and “Da 5 Bloods,” it’s bittersweet. Six months after his unexpected death, Boseman may be the toast of an awards season he didn’t live to see.

11. There’s no way to tell whether BAFTA’s big experiment will amount to anything.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts overhauled its voting procedures last fall in an attempt to counterbalance inherent bias and make its nominations more inclusive and diverse. Part of that remake was the reintroduction of longlists, which hadn’t been used since 2012. These lists were partly chosen by the voters and partly by special juries, and in one case they used quotas: The best-director longlist, for example, is made up of 10 men and 10 women. But at this point, all we’ve got is 24 very long lists — and when a list of 15 or 20 is narrowed down to five or six nominees, there’s no guarantee that those nominees will display the diversity that BAFTA was looking for. It’s too early to say the overhaul won’t work, but it’s also too early to say that it will.

12. A handful of actors have their work cut out for them now.
The bad news for Lindo, Ellen Burstyn (“Pieces of a Woman”), Paul Raci (“Sound of Metal”), Zendaya, Sophia Loren (“The Life Ahead”), Kingsley Ben-Adir (“One Night in Miami”), Tom Hanks, Saoirse Ronan (“Ammonite”), Mark Rylance (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”), Frank Langella (“Chicago 7”) and lots of others is that they weren’t nominated by the Globes or SAG, which makes the path to an Oscar nomination a lot more difficult. The good news is that it doesn’t for a moment make it impossible — in fact, there has never been a year in the past decade in which at least one actor didn’t get an Oscar nom after being shut out at the Globes and SAG.

Florence Pugh did it last year for “Little Women,” Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira did it the year before for “Roma,” and others who’ve done it since 2010 include Bradley Cooper for “American Sniper,” Jonah Hill for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Emmanuelle Riva for “Amour,” Gary Oldman for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and Javier Bardem for “Biutiful,” among others.

Sure, the path will easier for the 16 actors who were nominated by both the Globes and SAG — but the odds suggest that one or two actors from among that group will indeed end up with the nomination they want the most.

13. The movie that had the best week isn’t eligible for Oscars.
Sure, “Promising Young Woman” had a good week. But while awards season was revving up, the Sundance Film Festival was taking place, and one movie there scored an unprecedented grand slam. Sian Heder’s “CODA,” the affecting coming-of-age story of a teenage girl in a family with deaf parents and brother, won the Sundance Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize, added the U.S. Narrative Competition directing award for Heder and also prompted a bidding war that resulted in a $25 million deal with Apple, the largest sale in the history of Sundance.

With a week like that, who needs to worry about the Oscars?