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Oscar Season Preview: A Year Like No Other

Netflix
Netflix

Every single awards season seems like a unique one, but this one is a horse of a different color. COVID-19 has completely changed how Hollywood works, both in terms of what is getting releases, as well as how an Oscar campaign will go. To that end, predicting the awards race is going to be different than usual. In many ways, it’s going virtual, which is where things were at years ago, before folks like myself were able to attend events and schmooze with voters in an effort to understand what they might do, and more importantly…why. So, we adjust. The coronavirus pandemic has definitely put a number of things into perspective (while also politicizing things we never thought would be an issue, but I digress there), so I for one will light a candle here instead of cursing the darkness.

In terms of actual contenders here in 2020, the year seems split into three sections. There’s the pre-pandemic releases, the ones that dropped right in the midst of an industry wide (and, really, worldwide) shutdown, and the ones still to come, including during the just beginning fall festival season. Keep in mind that this special season will also allow contenders to be released up until the end of February, adding yet another wrinkle to what we’ll see happen over the coming months.

In that first section, we have things like Eliza Hittman‘s Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Gavin O’Connor‘s The Way Back, Kelly Reichardt‘s First Cow, and even Leigh Whannell‘s The Invisible Man, for example. In a normal year, early releases would struggle, with some notable exceptions, but this season may prove different. These players, with strategic campaigns, can take advantage of a smaller pool of potential nominees than usual, as well as a larger profile than usual, and make an impact.

That second section of titles that hit in the midst of COVID includes primarily Spike Lee‘s Da 5 Bloods, as well as Christopher Nolan‘s just released Tenet, but also longer shots like Judd Apatow‘s The King of Staten Island. Lee’s well regarded Netflix release is going to be an interesting X factor, as it could end up forgotten about, in favor of the streaming giant’s other contenders, or a first half highlight that goes the distance and does some major damage. Likewise, Nolan’s blockbuster (or whatever passes for a blockbuster in 2020) could benefit from industry-wide support for an actual theatrical release. If so, it can be much more than just a below the line player and potentially be another Nolan feature to make the cut in Best Picture.

Warner Bros.

Finally, there’s a whole host of still to be released flicks that likely will determine the makeup of the Oscar race. They include, but are not limited to, Sofia Coppola‘s On the Rocks, David Fincher‘s Mank, Paul GreengrassNews of the World, Ron Howard‘s Hillbilly Elegy, Regina King‘s One Night in Miami…, Shaka King‘s Judas and the Black Messiah, Francis Lee‘s Ammonite, Taylor Sheridan‘s Those Who Wish Me Dead, Aaron Sorkin‘s The Trial of the Chicago 7, Steven Spielberg‘s West Side Story, Denis Villeneuve‘s Dune, George C. Wolfe‘s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Chloe Zhao‘s Nomadland. This doesn’t even include titles that might not even come out this year, like Wes Anderson‘s The French Dispatch, Tom McCarthy‘s Stillwater, and Mike MillsC’mon C’mon. There’s a world where the nominees come exclusively from either this list or other still to be put out titles. Keep in mind, this is hardly all of the late season possibilities, either.

Obviously, the Best Director race ties into how Picture evolves, but the names above represent a whole host of different talents. Will we be looking at someone like David Fincher or Paul Greengrass translating another nomination into their first win? Will we make history with Regina King or Chloe Zhao? What about breaking down a barrier with Spike Lee? Where does Christopher Nolan fit in? And, what of the worthy early contenders like Eliza Hittman? These are just some of the Director possibilities that voters will be considering in the months to come.

Netflix

On the acting front, former winners like Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, and Gary Oldman are some of the early Best Actor contenders, going up against a diverse crop that includes Ben Affleck, Bill Murray, and LaKeith Stanfield, just to name a few. Best Actress is a similar situation, pitting Viola Davis, Frances McDormand, and Kate Winslet in a battle royale with Amy Adams, Sidney Flanigan, Jennifer Hudson, Carey Mulligan, and more. The Supporting fields have a number of contenders who could wind up in the Lead races (while someone like Murray or Stanfield could easily wind up Supporting before all is said and done), led by Delroy Lindo, who may face category fraud accusations if he competes as the frontrunner in Best Supporting Actor as opposed to Best Actor. Sacha Baron Cohen (or really anyone from The Trial of the Chicago 7) and Daniel Kaluuya fit into that situation as well. Plus, will Supporting Actor find a place for the recently departed Chadwick Boseman? In terms of Best Supporting Actress, will overdue ladies in Glenn Close and Saoirse Ronan fight to the finish in search of a first Oscar? Time will tell.

Neon

The fall film festival season is just kicking off, too, with the Toronto International Film Festival and Venice Film Festival already underway. As you’re reading this, the New York Film Festival is gearing up as well. Already, Nomadland and One Night in Miami… have emerged as legitimate Oscar players, while Ammonite is the first prestige movie of 2020 to not get universal acclaim. What does it all mean? In short…it’s far too early to tell.

Look for deeper dives into each of the major categories in the days and weeks to come. For the moment, this is just a set up for the race we’re going to be having. Be sure to check out my initial slate of predictions, and don’t be shy about letting me know what you think. Here’s to a great, albeit wholly unique, awards season!

Here’s to a one of a kind awards season!

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Written by Joey Magidson

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