Despite all the uncertainty 2020 has brought upon us, one thing has not been entirely disrupted: the Oscars. Even though film festivals have been canceled or reformulated online, and theaters brought in fewer viewers as gathering restrictions tightened, we can look forward to watching all the tomfoolery and drama of the season unfold.
However, the rules are a bit different this year. Rather than adhering to the long-established early January cutoff, movies released before Feb. 28 of next year will be eligible for awards, with the ceremony itself being pushed to April 25. This aims to include films whose production was stalled due to the COVID pandemic, which allows for a larger pool of potential nominees, especially important given the disparity in the number of films released this year compared to previous years. Eligibility has also been extended to movies scheduled to be released in theaters that were instead released virtually before theaters reopened. Typically, films need to have a theatrical run to be nominated.
While we're still far from April 25, the reception of films from major festivals (some of which took place online) and movies resuming their wide releases means Oscar season is actually in full swing. Although there are many competitive categories in the Oscars, I've chosen five films that stood out as frontrunners in the major categories.
Mank, directed by David Fincher, follows screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he tries to complete the script for Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. Not much else is known about the plot, but there is quite an all-star cast. The film features Oscar-winner Gary Oldman as Mankiewicz, who won an Oscar for Best Actor in The Darkest Hour in 2019. Mank also stars Lily Collins (Love, Rosie), Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia), Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), and Tom Burke (The Souvenir) as Orson Welles.
The cast is not the only thing to get excited for. Fincher has proven himself to be an incredibly talented director with several high-profile films such as The Social Network and Se7en. He is a two-time Best Director nominee and many think he is overdue for a win. It is extremely likely that Fincher will get a nod for his directorial work in Mank, especially because it evokes the style and glamour of old Hollywood through its black and white visuals and continuous shots. Other possible nominations besides Best Director include Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor for Oldman, and Best Supporting Actress for Amanda Seyfried and Lily Collins, as well as Best Supporting Actor for Charles Dance. Mank will be available to stream on Netflix on December 4.
Another star-studded feature film joining the Oscar race is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, directed by George C. Wolfe. It was unclear if it was going to come out this year until the trailer dropped recently, confirming it would be released. The film, adapted from a play of the same name by August Wilson, looks like a strong addition to this year’s lineup. The film follows famous blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) and the tensions between her, her “ambitious horn player” Levee (Chadwick Boseman), and her “white management” team.
Wolfe is a relatively new film director, but he has a very celebrated and successful background in theater, with two Tony Awards wins and nominations for his directing. Since the Best Director category at the Oscars is stacked this year, Wolfe might not be able to land a nomination for Ma Rainey, but the film has plenty of potential awards. Some likely nominations are Best Picture, Best Actress for Davis, a posthumous Best Actor actor nomination for Boseman, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will be released on Netflix on December 18.
Nomadland, directed by Chloé Zhao, has the most potential for Oscars success. Nomadland tracks the journey of a woman, played by the always masterful Frances McDormand (Fargo, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), who takes off in a van and wanders through the American West after her life falls apart. This drama has already been screened at festivals and the reviews have been nothing but glowing. It's the first film to win the top prizes at both Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF); winning the latter is a sure sign of Oscar glory with past recipients of the award including Green Book, La La Land, and 12 Years a Slave. So yes, Nomadland is a big deal.
Zhao is also a bit of a newbie, with only two other full-length films in her repertoire (The Rider, Songs My Brothers Taught Me), but her latest project is said to be superbly directed and she is likely to receive a Best Director nomination. McDormand supposedly gives a stellar performance and is on track for a nomination (and likely even a win) for Best Actress. Nomadland will probably also rake in nominations in Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for David Straitharn, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film is set to be released in theaters on December 4.
One Night in Miami, directed by Regina King, is another crowd-pleaser coming down the road. In King’s directorial debut, African American icons such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke meet up in a hotel and end up discussing civil rights and contemplating their roles in the movement. This fictional night is based on a stage play by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the screenplay for this film. One Night in Miami, like Nomadland, has been screened at festivals and been praised for its performances and directing. It was awarded first runner up for the top prize at Toronto, and many films who have received that honor have gone on to be nominated for and even win Best Picture.
Regina King is primarily known for her acting abilities, winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2019 for If Beale Street Could Talk and starring in the television show Watchmen. One Night in Miami is her directorial debut and she has already had a successful run. However, what really shines in this film are the performances, particularly Kingsley Ben-Adir (The OA, Peaky Blinders) as Malcolm X and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke. Eli Goree and Aldis Hodge are also said to give notable performances as Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown, respectively. Each has the potential to be nominated, but the odds may be leaning in favor of Ben-Adir for Best Actor and Odom Jr. for Best Supporting Actor. One Night in Miami is also expected to be nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It will have a limited release in theaters on December 25 and be available to stream on Amazon Prime on January 15, 2021.
The final film to mention, and probably the one at the top of most people’s lists, is The Trial of the Chicago 7, directed by Aaron Sorkin. This film depicts “the story of 7 people on trial stemming from various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.” This is the only movie on this list that is available to the public right now and the general audience has expressed primarily positive reactions. Chicago 7 currently sits at an 8/10 on IMDB and a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Sorkin, who also wrote the movie, has a real shot of winning big at the Oscars. He's known for his writing on The West Wing (1999-2006) and has a remarkable track record in Hollywood, winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his work on The Social Network.
Not only are the writing and directing being praised, but the film has themes about social injustice that might strike a chord with viewers today. In what seems to be a running theme this year, the cast is full of standouts. There will definitely be more than one nomination for acting, the real question is, who will actually be nominated? Everyone is currently being campaigned for Best Supporting Actor. Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden could possibly be nominated. Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Rylance seem to be the strongest contenders, but nominations for Yahya Abdul-Mateen or Jeremy Strong wouldn’t be surprising either. Chicago 7 will also likely be nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. It is currently available to stream on Netflix.
It's an exciting year for movies. These are by no means all the movies to look out for, but they are the ones we can expect to come up again and again at the Oscars. We could possibly see two female directors nominated for their work this year and Netflix could finally get an Oscar for Best Picture. As for the Oscar race, it may seem predictable now, but there is a lot more to come, so grab some popcorn and enjoy the show!