As we're approaching the 93rd Academy Awards, here's a quick look at what might or might not happen at the biggest film awards ceremony of the year...
You might think that after the year we've just had that the Academy Awards would end up as another casualty of COVID-19. But you would be wrong. The people who decide these things have declared that the show must go on. A short delay to the ceremony (which will now happen on April 25) and a brief tweak of the rules (streaming counts as a proper release) but otherwise it's business as usual. Sort of.
So many changes mean that this is the most interesting Oscar ceremony for years. The usual in-person campaigning isn't an option and the celebrated “buzz” that attaches itself to winners is distinctly muted.
Picking winners is a mug's game but we can at least have a pretty good guess at the runners and riders. While it would be lovely to think some genuinely unexpected titles will be included when the nominations are announced, what follows is a list of the most likely candidates...
Let's start with a film you might actually have heard of (and maybe even seen). Christopher Nolan is so devoted to cinema and the theatrical experience that he refused to let this, his latest baby, be delayed or relegated to (ugh!) streaming.
Not that it actually did him much good, mind. This time-twisting thriller woefully underperformed (by Nolan-sized standards, at any rate). Even so, Hollywood might think he deserves recognition for keeping the faith.
Nominations for Best Director and Best Picture are certainly possible, although unlikely to convert to actual wins. But it's got the technical stuff in the bag: special effects, sound, maybe even editing. In terms of actual statuettes, it could be the big winner of the night. Or not, as the case may be.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
The Trial Of The Chicago Seven
Comedies seldom fare well at the Academy Awards, especially not flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants mockumentaries. But if you needed further proof of what an odd year it's been, consider this: Borat has a chance at the Oscars.
Or rather Borat's daughter does: Maria Bakalova, the Bulgarian actress who threw herself so gamely into proceedings, is being pushed heavily for Best Supporting Actress.
As for Sasha Baron Cohen, the man behind Borat's moustache, he might find himself nominated too, although probably not for that character. His turn as real-life activist Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago Seven is the best chance that upscale courtroom drama has of netting a statuette. Altogether more respectable than Borat, it might be a safe way of thanking him for taking out Rudy Giuliani.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
While COVID has understandably dominated headlines, it isn't the only story of 2020. Issues of racism—historic and contemporary—have rocketed up the agenda. This is uncomfortable for the Academy, whose record isn't quite as exemplary as it might be: you will recall the #OscarsSoWhite campaign.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom—and let's at least try not to snigger at the title—offers a good chance to show some restitution. It's taken from a play (by the later August Wilson) that gives the actors plenty to get their teeth into. Indeed, it's a good bet that it will give us both Best Actress (Viola Davis in the title role) and Best Actor.
The latter would be for Chadwick Boseman. This was the final film he made before his untimely death last year, and it shows exactly why he is so missed. The sympathy vote alone weighs in his favour, but add that to his sheer talent and you have what looks a lot like a near-cert.
News of the World
Netflix has muscled into Oscar consideration in a big way in the past few years, bankrolling big prestige pictures from major “players” to show they mean Hollywood no harm. These are their big offerings for this year—Mank, a semi-fictionalised biography of a Hollywood screenwriter (who, no matter what this film claims, does not deserve sole credit for writing Citizen Kane), and the misleadingly named News of the World, which has nothing to do with the disgraced former Sunday tabloid, but is instead a Western, with Tom Hanks as a sort of frontier town-crier.
These are significant offerings from significant directors (David “The Social Network” Fincher for Mank, Paul “Bourne” Greengrass for News), and the sort of thing Oscar could usually be expected to honour in spades their reception has been oddly muted (although that's more likely because of the environment in which they arrived rather than the quality of the films). The deep pockets of Netflix ensure they'll be nominated but they face an uphill battle getting further than that—not least as there is stiff competition from other Netflix films...
Da 5 Bloods
Oscar season traditionally begins in early September and films released before then usually find themselves locked out of contention. Streaming has changed that, most especially this year. Da 5 Bloods might have “dropped” back in June but that hasn't stopped it finding considerable support.
It's another Netflix film but more importantly it's a Spike Lee joint. Having boomed back into the mainstream with BlackKkKlansman, this is his biggest movie yet, about four Vietnam veterans who return to the one-time battleground to find a fallen comrade's remains, complete with flashbacks to their time in combat.
Nominations for Lee and some of the cast seem like certainties right now, with Delroy Lindo heavily tipped to get a nomination as Best Actor, even if he does face stiff competition from one of his cast members—Chadwick Boseman is in this film too, and might get a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. No one has won both awards in the same year. It would not be a bad tribute to his talent if he did so.
As former-President Trump noted last year when Parasite picked up Best Film, the Oscars have changed. Gone are the days when something like Gone with the Wind (to use Mr Trump's example) might clean up; the Academy has recently taken steps to broaden its base of voters, making it younger and more international. These new voters are less fond of the traditional prestige picture and are drawn to more artistically adventurous fare.
All this is a longwinded way of saying, don't be surprised if Nomadland wins and wins big. A small-scale, realist film, it follows a woman (Frances McDormand, a serious challenger for Best Actress) who is forced to take to the roads after losing her savings in 2008, and the various ways she scrapes a living.
It won first prize at the Venice film festival and has critics in raptures; it has to be considered front runner, with Chloe Zhou likely to become the second woman to win Best Director Oscar (weirdly, her next gig is a Marvel movie, which probably won't be small scale or realist).
Talking of improbable Oscar contenders... Minari was a big hit at last year's Sundance film festival (in the days before the plague). It's a semi-autobiographical story of a Korean-American family settling in rural Arkansas and offers us a very American story of hearth and home, which means it could do very well come Oscar night, with a very likely winner in Youn Yuh-Jung, who steals the show as a good-hearted/ foul mouthed granny: prime Best Supporting Actress material, if ever there was.
Judas and the Black Messiah
One Night in Miami
If there's one thing that hasn't changed about the Academy Awards, it's that Oscar loves films about real people: seven of the last ten Best Actor gongs have gone to people playing someone who actually lived.
So if it wasn't for Chadwick Boseman, you'd fancy Daniel Kaluuya to take home Best Actor for Judas and the Black Messiah, in which he plays African American activist Fred Hampton, a man betrayed by an informer.
Boseman might scupper One Night in Miami too, but in a different category—this is an ensemble piece which imagines a meeting between the then-Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali to be), singer Sam Cooke, actor Jim Brown and Malcolm X; plenty of scope for Best Supporting Actor nominations and even a win (Chadwick Boseman permitting.)
One Night... was directed by Regina King; she's already got an Oscar (for her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk). She may well find herself in contention again for this, her first turn behind the camera.
Now, there's a lot of “if”s and “maybe”s—in a piece about predictions? Fancy that!—but consider this; if that happens we will have the unprecedented situation of two women being nominated for Best Director (Chloe Zhou being the other). More than that, it is entirely possible that the majority of the acting nominations will be for non-white performers.
No guarantees or anything but the above are the titles that are most likely to be nominated in multiple categories, but there are many more films which are likely to be recognised at least once. Riz Ahmed, for instance, plays a heavy metal drummer losing his hearing in The Sound of Metal: it's an outside bet, but it might well be worth him putting some practice in to his “graceful loser” face (for when Chadwick Boseman beats him to Best Actor). Ditto Anthony Hopkins, who plays a man entering the twilight of dementia in The Father.
There's always at least one classy British costume drama on the radar; this year it's Ammonite, in which Kate Winslet goes fossil hunting and squires Saoirse Ronan, while if you fancy an outside bet, consider Zendaya (from The Greatest Showman). Her performance in Malcolm and Marie is being talked up by enough people to make it a possibility.
Of course, what would be best is if a few totally unexpected films came along and upset the applecart (and these predictions). It seldom, if ever, works out like that. But who knows? After all, stranger things have very definitely happened this year...
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