On its face, it seems that the upcoming awards season is built for the streamers to take by storm. Netflix looks to have a minimum of 16 awards players in various categories while Amazon is fielding a half-dozen. Apple TV Plus and Hulu are also bulking up for a big push as well. With Walt Disney’s “Soul” moving to Disney Plus on Christmas, you have to wonder if even more big studio movies will premiere via streaming. And studios have been severely hampered by pandemic theater closures in their ability to release their biggest films.
But it’s not that simple. Speaking with some industry awards voters and insiders, there’s a real conversation about which films will and should be rewarded this year — and it doesn’t always favor the streamers. Which films intended for theatrical release might benefit from an effort either by voters or executive leadership to keep the streamers from dominating?
Searchlight Pictures is going into the fire this year with “The Personal History of David Copperfield” and the already highly-buzzed “Nomadland,” which could very well be one of the best picture frontrunners. The independent studio could bring diversity to the awards conversation if Chloé Zhao becomes the first Asian woman nominated in best director. She could become the most nominated woman at a single ceremony if she scores nominations in directing, producing, adapted screenplay and editing. In the case of “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” it started its run in 2019 at TIFF and could factor heavily in the artisan category, particularly production design and costumes. Former Oscar-nominee Dev Patel may find some headway in best actor, especially if the Golden Globes go heavy for the film, which will be submitted in the comedy/musical race.
Universal Pictures may look down, but it’s definitely not out. “News of the World” from Paul Greengrass has been buzzing for weeks, and the studio is very confident in the Western’s chances, with a Christmas theatrical date currently planned. Tom Hanks was the first celebrity to contract COVID, and is beloved in Hollywood. It could be the classic “old school” Academy player, which will get the attention of the older voters. The studio is also handling “The Invisible Man,” a symbol of the former normalcy as it was likely one of the last films audiences and voters saw in a theater before the lockdowns. Elisabeth Moss delivers a grandiose performance, and even though horror typically gets ignored, a combined year that includes Neon’s “Shirley” may move her close to a nomination. “Shirley” could also get attention for its sound team and composer, which are both worthy.
Sony Pictures Classics may have two strong acting contenders with Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) and Michelle Pfeiffer (“French Exit”), while the division also will be touting one of the only Latinx-themed films this year, “I Carry You With Me.” Other diversity contenders come with Winston Duke and Zazie Beetz, who received awesome notices out of Sundance for “Nine Days.” Both will be getting an awards push, with an eligible release planned.
Warner Bros. has been taking it on the chin as of late with the devastating news of layoffs and a tepid financial return from Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” Despite the narrative, the film could score in several categories. “Tenet” can easily make moves in sound and visual effects, while cinematography, editing and score are well within reach. The jury is still out if we’ll see “Wonder Woman 1984,” despite its current Dec. 25 date, but if it does come, there will be an ardent push to undo the wrong when zero nominations followed for its predecessor after outstanding box office and reception. Ben Affleck is still bubbling for “The Way Back” and could be a dark horse in the actor race. He is, after all, a two-time Oscar-winner. And then there’s “Judas and the Black Messiah” which seems intense and gritty in all the right ways, but still needs a firm date before we start convincing the world that Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield and director Shaka King are total Oscar players.
United Artists Releasing feels ecstatic about “Respect” and what it can bring to the world with Jennifer Hudson at the helm, and a possible standout performance for co-star Marlon Wayans, who has already delivered in “On the Rocks.” First-time director Liesl Tommy will be gunning for attention, and the DGA First Feature race will be a high priority.
Paramount Pictures is walking in with “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” from Lee Daniels, and while still in editing, the early word is very promising especially for Andra Day in the lead role. Trevante Rhodes, who was grossly omitted for “Moonlight,” may also factor into one of acting races, when a category is decided upon.
A24 has the soul with “Minari” and the indie distributor has committed to getting it in front of viewers during the eligibility year. Writer and director Lee Isaac Chung and star Steven Yeun are going to be dangerous (in a good way) on the circuit, and we could see them really blossom as the months roll by. A24 also has “First Cow” and is ensuring voters don’t forget about Kelly Reichardt or stars John Magaro and Orion Lee.
Focus Features finally dated “Promising Young Woman” and the holidays will be grand with Carey Mulligan and writer and director Emerald Fennell on the awards circuit. “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is eyeing an original screenplay slot while “Kajillionaire” is hoping for the same type of love. “Emma” will be competitive in the tech races and there’s still a possibility for one or two more films to enter the fray such as Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter” with Oscar Isaac.
And finally, there’s Neon, which helped give Bong Joon-ho and “Parasite” a moment on the Dolby Theatre stage when it won best picture earlier this year (probably the best moment of 2020). Neon’s possible awards entries include “Ammonite” and its stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, while it shares “Palm Springs” with Hulu.
There are more studios to discuss and many more weeks to go. The glass is half-full and there’s lots left to consider.