As the fall film festival season continues, one movie is standing out amongst the crowd. It’s Chloe Zhao‘s Nomadland, which has established itself as a major contender. Searchlight Pictures has done a masterful job of positioning this one so far. It’s arguably been a perfect launch. Something to keep in mind, however, is that this point in the year is not the normal point in the normal awards season calendar. Normally, we’d know who and what most of the players were. In 2020, we’re essentially still in the summer. Plus, no sooner did Nomadland make its way through the festival season did Aaron Sorkin and Netflix chime in. All this in a cinematic landscape that saw another potential contender move out of this season with Steven Spielberg‘s West Side Story remake. More below (and be sure to check out updated Oscar predictions here).
The decision to move West Side Story to next December takes away another Academy Award hopeful. Was Spielberg’s remake going to be a true player? We won’t know until late 2021, but it does remove one of the few big studio flicks from the equation. A lot remains to be seen, but the Oscars are looking more and more indie every day (not that I’m complaining in the slightest), but the move towards more independent contenders and less mainstream studio efforts is something to take note of.
On to Nomadland, which so far has cleaned up, festival award-wise. The one-two punch of the Golden Lion from the Venice Film Festival and the coveted Audience Award from the Toronto International Film Festival gives Zhao’s movie a ton of winner’s juice. Star Frances McDormand and Zhao have gotten rave after rave, but these wins put it into the realm of likely nominee, much as we saw with many a recent indie Best Picture nominee. Getting an air of legitimacy goes a long way, especially when a race is looking as wide-open as this one.
Where does it factor in, Oscar wise? Nominations in Best Picture, Best Director for Zhao, Best Actress for McDormand, and Best Adapted Screenplay (also for Zhao). How it does below the line, where Zhao could also be nominated for Best Film Editing, will tell the tale. Can it get into Film Editing? What about Best Cinematography? Above the line, will David Strathairn make a play for a Best Supporting Actor nod? The more noms it gets, the better its chances of converting those into wins will be. Obviously, it’s early, but if there’s one film with a ton of upward mobility so far, it’s Nomadland. Just look at our recent rave review out of the New York Film Festival here on the site for evidence of its quality. Mix that with these early prizes and it’s sitting pretty.
Next, there’s the matter of Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. Not only is it damn near a masterpiece, as our four star review here on the site details, it presents an option for voters that will surely be capturing the zeitgeist. It’ll come out before the Presidential election, though obviously voting will begin once Inauguration Day has passed (with, one truly hopes, a new President sworn in), but its ability to speak to the moment can’t be ignored. A few Academy members may get their feathers ruffled over this, but most will want to at least heavily consider something that speaks to our times.
Every bit the player speculated about, there’s a world where this movie could lead the nominations for the Academy Awards. Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay for Sorkin, Best Film Editing, and at least one Best Supporting Actor citation (and likely two) seem presumably safe. Expand out to Best Director for Sorkin, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, plus now Best Original Song, and a double digit nomination total is plausible. That may well be a winning formula, too, even if recent history has suggested otherwise, since this year is hardly a normal one.
What else has made a mark so far on the festival season? Of course, Regina King‘s One Night in Miami… has built some strong festival buzz, representing one of the few new contenders to showcase some big upward mobility. Sofia Coppola‘s On the Rocks has also screened out of NYFF, with largely kind reviews. That movie, however, is unclear in terms of what it can do. Perhaps Coppola in Best Original Screenplay and Bill Murray in Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor? Maybe it’s just a fun lark that won’t go much further than that? Time will tell. One Night in Miami… sure seems like the better bet, with some major category potential, assuming the buzz sustains until its release.
Don’t sleep on Pieces of a Woman, either, which Netflix just recently picked up during its festival run. It may well be a Vanessa Kirby in Best Actress or bust play, but the Academy does love “discovering” new actresses. Of course, we all know Kirby from other movies, but if the Academy looks to a first-timer in this way, she could be not just a threat for a nomination, but a possibility to win Actress, as well.
While One Night and Miami… and Pieces of a Woman have paths towards Academy Award attention, Nomadland already seems like it’s a safe bet. Now, it’s still early, as mentioned above, but this much praise, in such a unique year, counts for a lot. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is taking a different route, counting on critical acclaim, timeliness, and the power of Netflix. How this will change once other contenders come out (or don’t) is a major question mark, but the field is ever so slowly starting to take its initial shape.
Predictions were updated a few days ago, so be sure to check them out (again, found right here on our site), and sit tight for more on this evolving awards season. We’re only just getting started, ladies and gentlemen!