In this year of COVID, theater closings, new Oscars rules and an extended eligibility period, chaos still rules the day
Here are a few things we know about the lead acting races for the 93rd Academy Awards:
Past Oscars winners Olivia Colman, Viola Davis, Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, Frances McDormand, Gary Oldman and Kate Winslet will likely be in the mix.
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Oscars newcomers like Riz Ahmed, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Vanessa Kirby, Delroy Lindo and Steven Yeun will be looking to break in.
Sophia Loren could have a chance to receive her first Oscar nomination since 1964 or win her first Oscar since 1960.
Amy Adams could end her 0-for-6 Oscar streak (and in the supporting category, Glenn Close could end her 0-for-7 streak for the same movie).
Chadwick Boseman, who died in August, could receive his first nomination posthumously, or he could even land a pair of posthumous nominations.
Sacha Baron Cohen could be nominated for "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," the kind of raucous comedy that would never have been considered an acting Oscar contender in the past.
And a thousand other things could happen -- but in this year of COVID, theater closings, new Oscars rules and an extended eligibility period, chaos still rules the day and it's almost impossible to say these things with any degree of surety.
Voters might be "freed," in a sense, by the relative scarcity of major-studio and high-profile Oscar-bait movies to look at smaller indies or at films that were released early in the year and would ordinarily have been forgotten by now. And with the party circuit essentially defunct, hobnobbing with Brad or Meryl or Renee over post-screening cocktails simply won't be an option, meaning that votes will need to be cast on the basis of viewing, not schmoozing.
But really, we're in uncharted territory here, with a more limited field of typical contenders and a hunt for consensus that could go in baffling directions.
With that in mind, here's a very early take on the Best Actor and Best Actress races. We'll address the supporting categories in a subsequent post.
Among the actors from films that have already been screened at least to some degree, the obvious contenders are Anthony Hopkins for "The Father," Gary Oldman for "Mank" and, assuming that voters think back to last June, Delroy Lindo for "Da 5 Bloods." It's hard to imagine a Best Actor slate that doesn't include those three men -- and based only on the trailer, it's also hard to imagine that Chadwick Boseman won't be represented for his work in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," unless voters decide to instead put him in the Best Supporting Actor category for "Da 5 Bloods."
Another yet-unseen film, Paul Greengrass' "News of the World," promises to give a meaty role to Tom Hanks, who regained favor with Oscars voters last year after being overlooked for almost two decades. Other movie stars potentially in the mix include Ben Affleck, who delivered one of his best (and subtlest) performances in those pre-pandemic days with "The Way Back"; Colin Firth in "Supernova," a movie about dementia whose early film-festival reviews focused on its two main actors, Firth and Stanley Tucci; and George Clooney, who directs and stars in the sci-fi movie "The Midnight Sky."
If the affecting indie "Minari" gets any traction from voters, which lots of people think it will, Steven Yeun could easily slip into the Top 5. And if "Judas the Black Messiah" retains its early 2021 release that would fall within the eligibility period, it may provide a strong showcase for Lakeith Stanfield (lead?) and Daniel Kaluuya (supporting?). Of the two actors who are campaigning in the lead category for "One Night in Miami," Kingsley Ben-Adir's nuanced performance as Malcolm X has the better chance.
Wild cards in a year that may be tailor-made for wild cards include Riz Ahmed, who delivers a powerful turn in a movie, "Sound of Metal," that may not be voters' cup of tea; Tom Holland, with a tour-de-force performance in the Russo brothers' exhausting "Cherry"; Adarsh Gourav in Ramin Bahrani's "The White Tiger"; and the biggest wild card of all Sacha Baron Cohen in "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm." The movie probably wouldn't have registered with Oscar voters in a normal year, but maybe in 2020 it's the right abnormal movie for a very abnormal year.
Top 5: Anthony Hopkins, "The Father" (Sony Classics); Gary Oldman, "Mank" (Netflix); Chadwick Boseman, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (Netflix); Delroy Lindo, "Da 5 Bloods" (Netflix); Tom Hanks, "News of the World" (Universal)
Watch out for: Kingsley Ben-Adir, "One Night in Miami" (Amazon); Steven Yeun, "Minari" (A24); Colin Firth, "Supernova" (Bleecker Street); Riz Ahmed, "Sound of Metal" (Amazon); Ben Affleck, "The Way Back" (Warner Bros)
I'm not predicting, I'm lobbying: In "First Cow," a gentle period piece from art-house auteur Kelly Reichardt, actors John Magaro and Orion Lee make for a transcendently unconventional buddy team.
Two-time winner Frances McDormand was acclaimed as a sure nominee once "Nomadland" played the festivals in September. Michelle Pfeiffer got lots of her own buzz when "French Exit" closed the New York Film Festival in October, but the film won't have nearly as much awards clout so the attention will stick with Pfeiffer's delicious performance. Another festival favorite: British actress Vanessa Kirby, whose raw performance in "Pieces of a Woman" (the first half hour of the movie is an uninterrupted shot of her giving birth) will likely survive another film that probably won't itself be an awards favorite.
You can never rule out Viola Davis and Meryl Streep, and both will be back in music-heavy stage adaptations from Netflix -- Davis in George C. Wolfe's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," in which she feels like a sure nominee, and Streep in Ryan Murphy's "The Prom," which seems far lighter and may struggle to register with more serious-minded voters. Amy Adams is a longtime Oscar favorite when it comes to nominations rather than wins, and she pulls out all the stops in "Hillbilly Elegy," her chances could take a hit if critics pile on the movie.
Other strong contenders include Kate Winslet, restrained but wrenching in "Ammonite"; Carey Mulligan, fierce and damaged in "Promising Young Woman"; Elisabeth Moss, who could get traction for either a major-studio movie, "The Invisible Man," or an indie one, "Shirley"; Rachel Brosnahan, who stars in and produces "I'm Your Woman"; Sienna Miller in the potential sleeper "Wander Darkly"; and Andra Day for the title role in "The United States vs. Billie Holiday."
But the feel-good Best Actress story of 2020 could very well be 86-year-old Sophia Loren, the first actress ever to win in the category for a performance not in English (for "The Women" in 1960) and a formidable contender for her son Eduardo Ponti's "The Life Ahead."
Top 5: Frances McDormand, "Nomadland" (Searchlight); Viola Davis, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (Netflix); Sophia Loren, "The Life Ahead" (Netflix); Michelle Pfeiffer, "French Exit" (Sony Classics); Vanessa Kirby, "Pieces of a Woman" (Netflix)
Watch out for: Andra Day, "The United States vs. Billie Holiday" (Paramount); Kate Winslet, "Ammonite" (Neon); Meryl Streep, "The Prom" (Netflix); Carey Mulligan, "Promising Young Woman" (Focus); Amy Adams, "Hillbilly Elegy" (Netflix)
I'm not predicting, I'm lobbying: Sidney Flanigan, who's worked mostly as a singer-songwriter instead of an actress, is quietly devastating in Eliza Hittman's "Never Rarely Sometimes Always."
Stay tuned for thoughts on the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories.