A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Oscar nominations are upon us, coming up starting at 5:19 a.m. PT on Monday, so finally we can get the answer to the question I posed in this column last week about engagement of Academy voters in this strange Covid-extended season: “Is anybody watching these movies?”
The films nominated we can definitely predict will be movies voters mostly consumed either on laptops, phones, or big-screen TV sets, if they can figure out how to cast them on there. Many probably just watched directly on Netflix or Amazon or on their DVD screeners, the final year AMPAS is allowing those. That makes the annual guessing game of who gets to have their publicists put out humble or shocked reaction statements all the trickier. (I take a stab at some predictions later in this column.) I previously have pointed out several email and phone conversations I’ve had with AMPAS members who are not too excited, whether it be about surfing the flood of movies on the Academy’s digital Screening Room (223 in the Best Picture category at last count), or just the state of a pandemic-exhausted season that has eliminated completely the usual in-person activities associated with the campaigns, turned precursor awards shows into Zoom calls and flatlined enthusiasm for an eight-month (!!) run toward Oscar glory. An Academy source took exception to those complaints, telling me off the record that it did not reflect what they are seeing among most of the membership. Fair. But afterward I still continued to hear some concern from members. Here is one that came in the next day from a veteran member who has worked in different facets of the industry:
Oscars Poster Revealed With This Year's Tagline
“Just finished reading your marathon awards story. You are so right on about the overall apathy of voters. So many of the people I’ve spoken with say they have no interest in the process. One told me yesterday, ‘I can’t vote this year, I’m not an Emmy voter…aren’t all these films on my TV not in a theatre.’ Others just frankly don’t care or feel this year should have been devoid of awards. They feel 2021 winners will always have an asterisk next to them. I agree the season has gone on for far too long and there doesn’t seem to be any momentum building, perhaps with another couple of award shows it might pick up, but l fear that won’t be case. Let’s hope after the nominations the Academy screening room gets a ‘spring’ cleaning and only films with nominations are left. That might help getting a few more members in a voting mood. Thanks for continuing being a voice of reason in this crazy period.”
You’re welcome, but let’s hear some optimistic news as reported to members Thursday via a membership email from CEO Dawn Hudson:
“Dear Members: We can always count on you! Thank you for voting for our Oscar nominees—for taking your voting privilege seriously and for honoring the work of your fellow artists around the world. You all voted from 84 countries and made it clear that the pandemic has not dampened your zeal for both watching movies and voting for them.
“It’s been a very hard year, and yet our film community has persevered,” she continued. “Record numbers of eligible films and outstanding performances were submitted for your consideration in several Oscar categories. Participation in streaming on the Academy Screening Room soared and will continue to grow as we move towards final voting and the 93rd Oscars ceremony on April 25. Movies have helped us so much this past year, and the respect you pay to your fellow filmmakers by watching and voting is something we don’t take for granted.”
She also tells members, “I’ll see you in the theatres soon” — presumably meaning the Academy’s state-of-the-art Samuel Goldwyn Theatre at its Beverly Hills headquarters and the Linwood Dunn Theatre at its Hollywood facility (not to mention the incredible-looking Academy Museum theaters opening in the fall). They have been shuttered, like all Los Angeles theaters, for a year, but things are looking up, exhibition-wise, and it looks like things at the Academy, in that regard at least, can get back to a semblance of “normal” sooner or later with the easing of restrictions by California and LA County that Deadline has reported on this week. AMPAS though has not set any plans or dates for theatre reopenings, but eventually they will. Not being able to see these Oscar contenders in these venues also has depressed enthusiasm of some of the membership, and certainly in the way they have to judge the quality of the films this 14-month-long Oscar eligibility year.
Hudson’s note mentioned streaming participation “soared,” probably to be expected with few other options to see these movies, and for those like the member quoted above who hoped for a “spring cleaning” of the site, your wish will be granted. Like they have done with non-shortlisted International Films, Docus, and Shorts, the Academy Screening Room will be making nominated films prominently available on the site, but will be immediately removing all non-nominated movies (which distributors paid AMPAS $12,500 each for the privilege) to the Extras section, where they will still be available to view until the big show airs on April 25. This will help enormously with the clutter and certainly make it easier for voters to navigate.
Hudson’s email did not mention anything about the exact levels of nomination voting turnout, which some had expected might be lower this year (in some years AMPAS officials have touted “record” turnout in their member missives). An insider source who definitely knows these things put a very upbeat spin on it, telling me, “We had a great turnout on par with last year…despite pandemic! People showed up.” That certainly is good news, as it is clear Oscar has to battle indifference from the public so far to this year’s televised awards shows with the lowest-rated Emmys ever, the much-beleaguered Golden Globes dropping 62% in viewership and last Sunday’s Critics Choice Awards even steeper than that compared with last year’s respective broadcasts. SAG basically has thrown in the towel and will do just an hourlong pre-taped show on April 4. Britain’s BAFTA awards, using a small juried system of undisclosed voters, has a list of acting contenders many viewers likely have never even heard of before, almost certainly guaranteeing dismal ratings for their broadcast a week later. As I mentioned earlier this week, it also doesn’t help their very public quest for diversity that in a year full of great Black-themed films all five of their Best Film nominees largely focus on white characters.
The Academy Awards, though, are in the best of hands with the producing trio of Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher, and Jesse Collins (the latter also involved with Sunday’s Grammys). I have been told from an AMPAS source that, while they can’t share details yet, based on what has internally been presented so far, there is “a reason” these three producers have come along this particular challenging year. In other words, it appears they might be meeting the moment. That certainly gives this lifelong Oscars fan real hope for a show that transcends the current nominees, whoever they turn out to be on Monday, and celebrates what we love about the movies at a time the industry needs it most. The Oscar show has to rise above it all and go where it has never gone before, but no pressure, guys. Deadline’s exclusive about possibly using L.A.’s Union Station as a main venue where nominees can gather in person was a tantalizing peek into what plans are being percolated, but I think the Academy and ABC know it can’t be another Zoom show.
WHO IS HEADED FOR OSCAR GLORY?
As for my predictions of which films we will see nominated come Monday morning, I guess it is an accepted ritual for pundits to weigh in, though it is largely an empty exercise that sheds no light on the actual process itself except to pat yourself on the back if you get the best percentage score. To play that game, you can go to Deadline’s sister site, Gold Derby, which revels in awards show forecasts, and there you can see my just-posted predix (I waited until ballots were in) in all 23 categories. But I promise to keep changing some of them right up to the big reveal. However, for some of the major categories and overall thoughts about what it may look like, here is an analysis:
Overall, due to studios and distribs moving some of their choice prospects to presumed safer harbors for the 94th Oscars next year, the list of true contenders is smaller but ripe with quality, as AMPAS indicates its membership rose to the occasion and watched the movies. Next year Oscar reverts to the system of 10 locked nominees for Best Picture, but this year it remains, as it has been for the past few years, a total that can be from five up to 10 films named. A smaller voter turnout likely would mean a smaller number of nominees in the Academy’s complicated weighted balloting system in this category only, since you might assume fewer different titles could reach the threshold required to get nominated (about 5%, it is thought as a minimum). Since the last time AMPAS had the rigid 10-picture model for the 83rd Oscars, the number nominated has fluctuated back and forth between eight or nine nominees, with nine being the number on last year’s list that ultimately saw Parasite prevail. If my sources are right and the turnout was on a par with that, then we can expect eight or nine nominees again. Netflix inevitably will lead that list in its quest to finally take a Best Picture prize home, but how high can the streamer go?
Although Nomadland, based on its building momentum through all those previous critics prizes and awards shows few people watched, is the clear front-runner at this point. But its Big Mo certainly can be stopped maybe with a PGA victory by Netflix’s strong contender The Trial of the Chicago 7, which has been the one movie consistently making all the key guild lists, without fail so far, and that says a lot about industry sentiment. This makes it a horse race. Add Mank, a movie in a genre Oscar voters have shown great love for — their own business — and David Fincher’s exquisitely filmed Golden Era Hollywood movie likely will lead all with a boatload of nominations above and below the line, another plus for Netflix.
Minari from A24 is the film easiest to love, which means it remains a threat, especially with an ability to collect both No. 1 and No. 2 votes on the final ballot. It should score heavily Monday and carry on the Korean momentum from Parasite’s rout last year. The DGA nominees, all important, indicate that Focus Features’ Promising Young Woman is a real contender here as well. Those are your top five. In a field of nine nominees, there also would be a place for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Father, One Night in Miami and Judas and the Black Messiah. If somehow there is a tenth film named, expect it to be Sound of Metal.
The Academy’s much smaller, and more quirky, Directors branch usually imitates the much larger TV-dominated membership of the DGA with about four of their five nominees. If this year follows suit, you can expect Nomadland’s Chloe Zhao, Mank’s David Fincher, Minari’s Lee Isaac Chung, and The Trial of the Chicago 7’s Aaron Sorkin to be pretty safe bets here. The other DGA slot went to a second woman, Promising Young Woman’s Emerald Fennell, in her debut feature, making history for DGA with two females included for the first time. That certainly could happen with Oscar, but I suspect Fennell could be odd person out as she was at BAFTA, leaving a slot open for another helmer from a Best Picture nominee. My guess for the fifth slot is another new filmmaker, The Father’s Florian Zeller, who landed a First Time Feature Director nom at DGA but might have bigger things in store at Oscar for a remarkably intricate and impressive debut.
Right now this category seems like the late Chadwick Boseman‘s to lose for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Likely to challenge him are definitely veteran Anthony Hopkins of The Father and already much-awarded Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal. I would think his widely praised work in Mank would secure a recent Oscar winner in this category, Gary Oldman, a nomination as well. That leaves a fifth slot that is pretty wide open for either Minari’s Steven Yeun or the late-breaking Tahar Ramin, title character of The Mauritanian. The latter’s chances will depend on how widely seen his film has been among the Actors branch. Minari probably has more viewers at this point. Don’t discount a surprise with the Academy’s ever-growing international membership turning to European Actor winner and BAFTA nominee Mads Mikkelsen in Danish entry Another Round. I went with him in my initial Gold Derby picks but remain undecided on the fifth slot. This could be interesting depending on where the votes are coming from. Where is MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki when you need him?
This is one of the most competitive fields in years, and one of the tightest races overall. Based on momentum, there are four near-certainties: Nomadland’s Frances McDormand, Promising Young Woman’s Carey Mulligan, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’s Viola Davis and Pieces of a Woman’s Vanessa Kirby. Will the fifth slot go to recent Golden Globe winner Andra Day for The United States vs. Billie Holiday, even though it is her film debut she hits it out of the park and seems the safe bet with lots of new buzz? Rosamund Pike is great in Netflix’s late-breaking I Care a Lot and was a surprise Globe winner in the corresponding Comedy/Musical category, but how many voters have caught up with it yet? Amy Adams, a perennial nominee at the Oscars with six noms and no wins got a SAG nomination for Hillbilly Elegy but is an underdog to repeat here. I am rooting for a Hail Mary pass for either Michelle Pfeiffer in French Exit, a longshot, or the iconic Sophia Loren in her triumphant screen return in The Life Ahead. Wouldn’t that be great?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah are locks for nominations here, but in a category ripe for surprises I would say they are the only two you should bet the farm on. Moving down the list, Leslie Odom Jr as Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami makes sense for a category in which playing a real-life person seems to be a prerequisite for nomination. So I am going with those three, and throwing in perhaps a second candidate from the brilliant ensemble of Chicago 7 that could either be veteran Frank Langella’s deliciously evil Judge Julius Hoffman or well respected past winner in the category Mark Rylance. As a reward for a remarkable performance from a journeyman local Los Angeles stage actor, Sound of Metal’s Paul Raci might be a really good bet also to make the cut. But in a category with Bill Murray, Jared Leto, and Nomadland’s David Strathairn also in contention all bets are really off. And if you want to really go out on a limb, Minari’s kid star, Alan Kim, could be irresistible, especially if voters saw his sweetly emotional acceptance speech for Best Young Actor/Actress at Critics Choice. Kids can be a long shot, but you never know, and the movie has a lot of fans.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Veterans are aplenty in the possibilities here. The Father’s Olivia Colman is a lock even with her recent Best Actress win over Glenn Close, whose Mamaw in Hillbilly Elegy should set up a rematch between the pair. The movie is flying under the radar this awards season, but count on Close to land a record eighth career nomination without a win, making her Oscar’s biggest female loser. At 88, Ellen Burstyn is aiming to become the oldest acting nominee ever, for Pieces of a Woman, but might face an uphill climb getting there. I am fairly certain a nomination is going to critics favorite Maria Bakalova for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and for Minari’s wild grandmother Yug-jung Youn. Another two-time Oscar-winning veteran, Jodie Foster, is riding momentum off her surprise Globes win for The Mauritanian, and that could be all she needs to secure a fifth slot if — a big if — the Actors branch has seen the film in significant enough numbers. Earlier in the season, Mank’s Amanda Seyfried was a sure thing for her glorious Marion Davies, and even with a SAG snub and Globe and Critics Choice loss, don’t count her out. She and Burstyn are fighting to break into this crowded group, a category known for not always being predictable.
For further predictions check out my picks over at Gold Derby, and for the real deal check in with Deadline early Monday morning when Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Nick Jonas tell us who is in, and we tell you who is out.
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