It’s been two weeks since my predictions in Supporting Actor and I held off on my Best Picture and Best Director contenders for July until the very last minute. There are a few reasons why but first was a very public sentiment on Twitter that I posted last week saying I think the Oscars should essentially cancel this year and combine 2020 and 2021 into a single competitive year.
Admittedly, this was a moment of weakness on my part, on kind of giving up on this season and what it’s going to bring. It’s not something I want (or wanted), I rely on Oscar season to survive, it’s my livelihood. I just felt like the needle was moving in that direction, with so many studios packing up 2020 and heading for 2021 release dates, hopefully far outside of the scope of the current coronavirus pandemic and closure of US theaters. My comments got a lot of support but also incurred a lot of anger, some from Oscar fans and some from filmmakers themselves. They were right, and I wasn’t clear enough in my original tweet, so I clarified in follow up ones that it was more what I felt was inevitable and not something I was wishing for. But, it did also inspire me to get back on the predictions horse and do what I do. So, here we are.
New announcements, date changes, the cancelation of Telluride and the Toronto International Film Festival lineup have all happened since July 16 to give me a better picture in what is the cloudiest Oscar in memory.
Last week we got our first look of Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, which Netflix scooped up from Paramount, and it was a nice piece of the puzzle of that film, which feels extremely timely as we enter the last 100 days before a presidential election. With its rich bench of an ensemble cast that features Oscar winners (Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance) plus Oscar nominees (Michael Keaton and Sacha Baron Cohen) and newly minted Emmy nominees (Jeremy Strong and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the film and Sorkin should be highly competitive contenders, even with Netflix having a truly stacked year of films once again.
The lineup of the Toronto International Film Festival, which will be working in concert with the Venice, Telluride and the New York Film festivals this year, brought us a handful of titles that breathe some new life into Best Picture and Best Director consideration. Chloé Zhao’s Nomandland, starring two-time Best Actress winner Frances McDormand, was already a high-profile contender but now we know it was set for virtually every festival this fall. It will have a dual world premiere at Venice and TIFF then hit Telluride and was announced as the centerpiece film of NYFF (we still don’t know quite yet how NYFF is handling their festival, but expect a limited virtual one like TIFF) and as one of the very few films that Disney, as the parent company of Searchlight Pictures, hasn’t taken off the 2020 menu it continues to rise.
Regina King is already an Oscar and a multi-Emmy winning actress and now her feature debut, One Night in Miami, will debut at Toronto and just yesterday it was announced that Amazon Studios had picked up her film (in what I’ve heard was a record-high price for the streamer) and is planning on giving it a big awards push. Even though Amazon hasn’t been able to match the success of 2016’s Manchester By the Sea, which was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director and won Best Actor and Original Screenplay, the lack of open theaters may just be what the mega-streamer needs to make a comeback. This announcement also means that August predictions will find a place for King’s stellar lineup of actors including Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown, Leslie Odom Jr. and Sam Cooke and Eli Goree as Cassius Clay in the acting race.
One interesting bit of news this week was Universal entering a deal with the AMC theater chain to close the gap between the theatrical and VOD release. Universal was the guinea pig of taking a major summer tentpole film (Trolls: World Tour) and going directly to VOD with it and by their own terms it was a success. They did it again with The King of Staten Island, all while the other major studios have held back their product for fear of losing too much money on their massive investments. Warner Bros has moved Tenet‘s release date around more than anyone can count now (they’ve been quiet on their December release Dune). Universal has a major contender in News of the World, directed by Oscar nominee Paul Greengrass (United 93) and starring two-time Best Actor winner and celebrity COVID-19 poster boy Tom Hanks. Their early jumping on of the VOD strategy could find them in best place of any major studio this Oscar season. One film Disney/20th Century hasn’t budged on (yet) is Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, still set for late December. Like, Universal, it could find itself one of the few major studios repped for Best Picture.
As previously mentioned, I’m holding off on adding Hamilton and its director Thomas Kail until Disney sends a clear shot over the Academy’s bow and will wait for their return fire.
I’m also doing something a little different than other July predictions (and will do moving forward) and that is going back to an alphabetized list of top contenders and other contenders rather than ranked (as some pundits currently do). I think a ranked list puts a bit too much stock on regurgitating a perceived top 5 or top 10 and those films, actors and directors ranked underneath that become too groupthink. By simply showing the list of contender that I see in the race, the reader can come to conclusions on their own. Is David Fincher ahead or behind Aaron Sorkin? Are Regina King and Chloé Zhao fighting over a spot because we generally accept that if a female director is nominated again that it’s only one? By removing these pre-existing notions in the predictions process I think it will allow the race to unfold a bit more organically than trying to force a narrative. Plus, with so much up in the air (will theaters even be open before the extended Oscars’ eligibility period?) who knows if some of these films will even qualify or be held until next season.
Here are my 2021 Oscar predictions in Best Picture and Best Director for July.
- David Fincher – Mank (Netflix)
- Paul Greengrass – News of the World (Universal)
- Ron Howard – Hillbilly Elegy (Netflix)
- Regina King – One Night in Miami (Amazon)
- Francis Lee – Ammonite (Neon)
- Spike Lee – Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
- Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)
- Steven Spielberg – West Side Story (20th Century)
- Denis Villeneuve – Dune (Warner Bros)
- Chloé Zhao – Nomadland (Searchlight)
- Wes Anderson – The French Dispatch (Searchlight)
- Lee Isaac Chung – Minari (A24)
- George Clooney – The Midnight Sky (Netflix)
- Sofia Coppola – On the Rocks (Apple/A24)
- Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Focus Features)
- Tom McCarthy – Stillwater (Focus Features)
- Christopher Nolan – Tenet (Warner Bros)
- Taika Waititi – Next Goal Wins (Searchlight)
- George C. Wolfe – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
- Florian Zeller – The Father (Sony Pictures)
- Ammonite (Neon)
- Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
- The Father (Sony Classics)
- News of the World (Universal)
- Dune (Warner Bros)
- Mank (Netflix)
- Nomadland (Searchlight)
- One Night in Miami (Amazon)
- The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)
- West Side Story (20th Century)
- The French Dispatch (Searchlight)
- Hillbilly Elegy (Netflix)
- Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
- Minari (A24)
- Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Focus Features)
- Next Goal Wins (Searchlight)
- On the Rocks (Apple/A24)
- Stillwater (Focus Features)
- Tenet (Warner Bros)
- The United States vs Billie Holiday (Paramount)