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In a Year Filled With Hardship, Will Comedies Like ‘Borat 2,’ ‘On the Rocks’ and More Finally Get Some Academy Love?

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Courtesy of Amazon
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Do the Oscars hate comedies? If you look over their 92-year history, with so many infectious films and performances ignored in favor of more “serious” pieces of art, the assumption could be made. This year, faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, and with theaters not being the normal avenue to watch films, moviegoers and industry professionals are viewing releases more differently than ever.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. pushed the Golden Globes to Feb. 28, 2021, the last day of the eligibility window for the Oscars. With their best comedy or musical designation, the Globes can highlight the laughs in a year that’s seen so much tragedy. It’s possible that Oscar voters, with fewer films to consider, will think outside the box when making selections for the Academy Awards, which will be held in April 2021.

Amazon Studios’ “Borat 2” may give star Sacha Baron Cohen, who won the Golden Globe for his initial portrayal of the Kazakhstan journalist in 2006, another bite of the Academy apple. There’s also a good chance for newcomer Maria Bakalova, as his scene-stealing daughter Tutar, to crash the supporting actress race. The controversial on-screen encounter with former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani could have a lasting media effect on the awards season.

Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks” acts as a love letter to New York City, and the hilarious, touching antics of stars Rashida Jones and Bill Murray have established them both in the awards conversation.

Max Barbakow’s “Palm Springs” is a vibrant story about an infinite time loop that co-distributors Hulu and Neon are actively pursuing for awards attention. A movie where Andy Samberg has a romantic moment with Peter Gallagher could start moving to the top of major categories.

“The Personal History of David Copperfield” from Armando Iannucci has the British bent that Academy voters fall for, and Searchlight Pictures is giving it gas, especially for star Dev Patel, who is in the midst of filming his directorial debut, “Monkey Man.” Iannucci’s take on the Dickens classic began its journey at TIFF 2019 and looks to be an early player in categories such as production design, costumes and screenplay.

Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma” is aiming to be a sleeper contender. Focus Features will steer the film, which opened in theaters in February, toward recognition in the artisan categories, as well as Anya Taylor-Joy for best actress. The distributor has no shortage of comedy and musical submissions. The music film “The High Note” hopes for awards love in original song, along with boosts for Tracee Ellis Ross (playing a pop diva) and Dakota Johnson (as an ambitious assistant). Focus also is submitting Steve Carell for “Irresistible” and Evan Rachel Wood for “Kajillionaire” for Globes consideration.

Ryan Murphy’s “The Prom” will try to sweep the Globes’ musical/comedy categories the way musicals like “Chicago” and “La La Land” did. At the Oscars, “The Prom” could be another potential home run for 21-time nominee Meryl Streep, whose official category placement has yet to be confirmed.

The other musical in the mix? Jonathan Butterell’s “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” which surely will strike delicate chords with industry professionals, with its story of a London teenager (played by Max Harwood) who wants to be a drag queen.

The Academy has flirted with Emily Blunt too many times, but she’s never been nominated for an Oscar. The actor has a résumé that includes “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Mary Poppins Returns” and her SAG-winning role in “A Quiet Place” — and “Wild Mountain Thyme” may be the movie that finally turns things. As Blunt hones a perfect Irish accent alongside co-star Jamie Dornan, both actors, and the film, will likely be competitive at least with the HFPA, which loves star power.

Azazel Jacobs’ “French Exit” received positive notices out of the New York Film Festival. Michelle Pfeiffer could be gunning for her long overdue Oscar following three big losses. It’s been 27 years since she was nominated for “Love Field,” and 17 years since she danced around an Oscar prospect in “White Oleander.” Pfeiffer is one of many female actors from the 1980s (e.g., Sigourney Weaver, Glenn Close) who missed the Oscar boat, and the lead category hasn’t typically been kind to veterans in recent years.

Other comedians, on both sides of the camera, are hoping for Oscar attention. Among them: Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson (“The King of Staten Island”), writer-director-actor Radha Blank (“The Forty-Year-Old Version”) and former Oscar host Billy Crystal (supporting actor in “Standing Up, Falling Down”).

In a year full of tears and sadness, maybe the Academy will find its funny bone.

Visit THE AWARDS HUB to see the full list of contenders by category.

Academy Awards Predictions (All Categories)