The most somber part of the best day of the year — the Oscars — is when the ceremony takes a pause to remember the artists that have left us. This upcoming Academy ceremony will likely be as devastating as ever with the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging our country and industry. One observation as we look ahead to the awards landscape is a larger than usual depth of posthumous artists in the running for an Oscar nomination in several categories. While not all of them may end up coming to fruition, the narrative of the season could surround saying “farewell.”
At this time of writing, it looks as though seven individual artists will be in the running for Academy recognition over several categories. The current record of most posthumous nominations in a single year came in 1991 when Howard Ashman landed three separate song credits for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” while the other came from Carol Sobieski, who landed in adapted screenplay for “Fried Green Tomatoes.”
The most notable is Chadwick Boseman, who will be competing for acting attention for George C. Wolfe’s upcoming “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Distributed by Netflix, the early buzz has been that Boseman is exquisite in his final screen performance. While the streaming platform has yet to confirm his category placement in lead or supporting, a source close to the awards campaign says a supporting actor run is the most likely trajectory. Boseman, who passed away in August after a private battle with colon cancer, will also have another opportunity with a poignant turn as Stormin’ Norman in Spike Lee’s summer hit “Da 5 Bloods,” where his co-star Delroy Lindo will campaign for a best actor nomination.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” also stars Viola Davis and is based on the August Wilson play. Wilson was the last person to receive a posthumous nomination in 2016 for Denzel Washington’s “Fences,” 11 years following his death. The film is set to be released on Dec. 18.
Netflix has three posthumous contenders this year. Along with Boseman, they’ll be sensitively handling the campaign for “Mank” and its late screenwriter Jack Fincher, father of director David Fincher. The late Fincher, who passed away in 2003, wrote his script in the 1990s and was supposed to start filming following David Fincher’s “The Game.” Starring Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, the film which tells the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the writer of “Citizen Kane,” is the type of movie that AMPAS typically loves as it follows old Hollywood. With the added nostalgia of black-and-white cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt, “Mank” is already generating lots of early awards buzz.
If nominated for best original screenplay, Jack Fincher would be the first posthumous nominee in the category since Robert Alan Aurthur for 1979’s “All that Jazz.” If he won, he would be just the second writing posthumous winner ever following Sidney Howard for 1939’s “Gone with the Wind.”
“Mank” currently is undated but is expected this awards eligibility year.
The day before “The Hate U Give” opened in theaters in 2018, the world lost the talented screenwriter Audrey Wells. This past weekend, Netflix unveiled its newest animated venture “Over the Moon,” for which Wells wrote the script. A beautiful and heartbreaking tale, the film has the goods to be competitive in many categories outside of animated feature including original song, sound and even original screenplay. Sure to catch on addictively with children, parents will also fall for its charm and music, which could even put the film in the mix for a best picture spot. If it succeeded there, it would be the first animated film to make the top prize lineup since 2010’s “Toy Story 3.”
“Over the Moon” will be released on streaming Oct. 23.
The late veteran actor Brian Dennehy passed in April 2020 at the age of 81 and has been incredibly respected over his four-decade career. Following his passing, FilmRise released Andrew Ahn’s “Driveways,” and while not widely seen by audiences, the movie currently holds a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes. Uniquely, the film qualified for the Independent Spirit Awards last year, where it was nominated best actress (Hong Chau) and best first screenplay. “Driveways” did not appear on the 344 feature film submission list for 2019.
Over his career, Dennehy won a Golden Globe for the TV adaptation of “Death of a Salesman,” along with a PGA Award for long-form television. He also managed five Emmy nominations in his career, with his most recent in 2005 for the Showtime movie “Our Fathers.”
It’s not all about the actors and writers this year as a few artisans are also looking for recognition. Pixar will double up on paying their respects as their upcoming “Soul” has a song from Curtis Mayfield, that is covered by Jon Batiste. It’s still unclear if it will be submitted or is eligible as the late singer-songwriter died in 1999. Another animated hopeful “Onward,” which focuses brilliantly portrays grief and loss, lost Robb Gibbs, one of its animation artists this year. While Gibbs will not be one of the credited nominees if “Onward” musters Oscar’s attention, he’s a technical artist that can garner attention from other groups like the Annies. Gibbs was one of the credited writers on Disney’s “Pocahantas.”
One of the unsung heroes of films is the makeup and hairstylists who don’t receive the recognition they deserve. Charles Gregory Ross, a pivotal and respected hairstylist had his talents in many projects over his career before her untimely passing in April. One of the few Black artists that actually worked on Black actors and actresses hair, a criticism that has been made often in Hollywood, Gregory has an opportunity to make substantial history with the Academy.
We’ll get to see his work in the upcoming “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” with Andra Day and Trevante Rhodes. Early looks of the Paramount Pictures release suggest he could find himself in contention for the makeup and hairstyling category which would mark two historic feats if he’s cited. Not only would he be the first posthumous nominee of the category in the 92-year history, but he would also be the first Black person to be nominated in the category.
Gregory also worked on Netflix’s “All Day and a Night” earlier this year as a wig hairstylist and is the hair department head on A24’s “Zola,” which premiered at Sundance. The latter, which is directed by Janicza Bravo and stars Taylour Paige, is likely to be pushed to the next awards season, which could put her in the running again for 2022.
“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” is scheduled to be released on Feb. 12.
Today, you’ll find updated awards prediction categories on all the Oscar pages including the first glimpse at the best original song category which is stacked with A-list talent.