The year just keeps getting stranger and even more unpredictable. This week, we saw the exits of several major awards contenders from this extended eligibility year — most notably “West Side Story” from Steven Spielberg. A large portion of Latinx talent in contention this year came from the 20th Century Studios picture (Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, Rita Moreno) which is disheartening given the overall landscape. Looking at the glass half-full, next year will give the world both Warner Brothers’ “In the Heights” and Spielberg’s musical remake.
Other notable exits included “Black Widow,” which was being considered for a technical play for Marvel and its counterpart “Eternals” from Chloé Zhao, who is a heavy favorite in the directing race for Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland.” Zhao having one of the most critically acclaimed films, along with one of the biggest cinematic openings, would have been a good awards narrative. Nonetheless, the year attempts to move forward, with many other exits coming down the pike, whether we like it or not.
On the bright side, Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” dropped for critics this week, moving to the top of the heap in several key races including best picture. Likely to be very competitive in categories such as original screenplay, sound, director, and especially editing, Netflix will put all its efforts into also ensuring at least one of the actors is nominated at the Oscars. With the social sentiments that have been shared, the conversation seems to coalesce around Sacha Baron Cohen and definitely somebody else, if it’s not clear who just yet. That could bode well for Cohen, who was nominated for adapted screenplay in 2006 for “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (it’s still so much fun to type the full title).
Seemingly not important on its face if a consensus acting pick isn’t realized, only 12 films have won best picture without an acting nomination in Academy history. The most recent movies are last year’s “Parasite,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” While it’s far too early to really start discussing “winning” possibilities, it would be irresponsible to not state that this year, streamers see the opening to nab a statue for best picture of the year. With more movies moving out, there’s a possibility of a lineup where more than half are from streaming platforms including Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV Plus and Hulu.
Netflix has its plate full, to put it mildly. One of the strongest bets is in the best actress category, with Viola Davis for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Sophia Loren for “The Life Ahead” and Vanessa Kirby for “Pieces of a Woman.” In the case of Kirby, if Michelle Pfeiffer’s upcoming turn in “French Exit” doesn’t set the right tone for a coronation year for the veteran actress, I fully expect Kirby to run the gauntlet in this category for the entire season. Her performance and the energy she exudes in Kornél Mundruczó’s powerful drama is a callback to Charlize Theron’s acting arrival in 2003’s “Monster.” It could be one of those “undeniable” races as she brings to mind the young ingénue that this category has typically rewarded over Oscar history.
The New York Film Festival is underway, where Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks” screened to positive notices, most notably Bill Murray. Nominated in 2004 for “Lost in Translation,” another Sofia Coppola picture, co-distributors A24 and Apple TV Plus will campaign Murray in supporting actor and will battle against contenders such as David Strathairn (“Nomadland”) and the large ensemble films hoping for spots.
There are very positive whispers about some contenders that are still forthcoming (assuming the world hasn’t ended by the time the Oscars are held). Word is we should be preparing for Andra Day’s portrayal of singer Billie Holiday in Lee Daniels’ “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” from Paramount Pictures. Already planned for a Feb. 12, 2021 release, when it begins screening will be key to its success. The rumor mill says that the industry and awards year should still expect the currently undated “Judas and the Black Messiah” from Shaka King, with some powerhouse turns from Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield.
A24 still plans on giving us “Minari” this year and the focus will be on all the top categories including Steven Yeun in best actor. United Artists Releasing will pack a double whammy with the next entry in the James Bond franchise, “No Time to Die,” and the very anticipated “Respect,” again said to be a showcase for Jennifer Hudson. Coming just weeks before “Billie Holiday,” in addition to having a best actress category that is becoming increasingly stacked and competitive, it’ll be exciting to see that race evolve.
Amazon Studios is going to go hard this year and ensure Regina King gets the recognition she deserves following her Emmy win last Sunday. “One Night in Miami,” which is also still navigating the category campaign discussion for its four stars, is showing great promise as it begins its regional festival run in the coming weeks.
Universal Pictures could have something substantial with “News of the World” from Paul Greengrass, and unsurprisingly, Hanks is said to be delivering top-level work once again. Being an early “representative” of the COVID-19 virus after Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson were diagnosed back in March, votes from the actor’s branch could create a groundswell of support for him, even as he continues to work, currently shooting Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” movie.