Oscar Futures: The Weirdest Race Ever Begins

Photo-Illustration: Vulture, Netflix and Searchlight Pictures

Every week between now and March 15, when the Academy Award nominations are announced, Vulture will consult its crystal ball to determine the changing fortunes of this year’s Oscars race. In our “Oscar Futures” column, we’ll let you in on insider gossip, parse brand-new developments, and track industry buzz to figure out who’s up, who’s down, and who’s currently leading the race for a coveted Oscar nomination.

Best Picture

Current Predix

Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mank, Minari, Nomadland, One Night in Miami, Soul, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Director

Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

Over in the undercard, it’s the same matchup. Neorealist gems like The Rider have earned Zhao a small but passionate fan base. Now Nomadland sees her expanding her aesthetic before she moves on to the bright lights of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with next year’s Eternals. Voters sometimes use this category to anoint the Next Great Filmmaker, and a vote for Zhao would be a vote for a rising talent with a singular vision of America.

David Fincher, Mank

Current Predix

David Fincher, Mank; Regina King, One Night in Miami; Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods; Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

Best Actor

Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Some categories may jell quicker than others this year, and one story line that seems likely to pick up steam is the notion of handing Boseman a posthumous award for his final film role. Besides the fact that an Oscar could be a fitting way to honor the legacy of one of our most beloved actors, he’s apparently “brilliant” as an ambitious trumpet player in this August Wilson adaptation.

Current Predix

Kingsley Ben-Adir, One Night in Miami; Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Anthony Hopkins, The Father; Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods; Gary Oldman, Mank

Best Actress

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Speaking of Ma Rainey, Ma Rainey herself is played by Viola Davis, who reportedly makes a meal out of the role of the domineering blues singer. She and Nomadland’s Frances McDormand are considered the strongest threats in Best Actress. Both women are recent Oscar winners, which may put a damper on their candidacies, but Davis might have less to worry about in that regard: While McDormand already has two Best Actress trophies, Davis’s win came in Supporting. Finally winning the big award would mean more.

Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman

Voters who’d prefer a new face may find themselves swayed by Kirby, who came out of nowhere to take home the Best Actress prize at Venice. The Crown star plays a mother in distress in Kornél Mundruczó’s domestic drama, which opens with a showstopper of an unbroken 30-minute shot. The rest of the film apparently struggles to live up to the first act, but in the acting categories, that might not matter.

Current Predix

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman; Frances McDormand, Nomadland; Elisabeth Moss, The Invisible Man; Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7

The entire Chicago 7 cast is submitting in Supporting, and — were you Sork raving mad — you could fill up the whole category with them alone. Gold Derby’s convinced the strongest pick of the bunch is Mark Rylance’s stubborn-yet-idealistic attorney, but as Abbie Hoffman, Cohen has the showier role and the bigger arc. In the same season where the Borat sequel turned out to be more relevant than anyone expected, the comedian may also get a high five from voters impressed by his range.

Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami

Another contender that’s packed with potential acting nominees is Regina King’s directorial debut, an adaptation of a play about Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke hanging out together in 1964. Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Malcolm will run in lead, while the standout supporting player is Odom Jr. as Cooke, who Variety’s Owen Gleiberman hails as “a supreme paradox: smooth as silk on the surface, roiling underneath.” With an Original Song up his sleeve as well, the Hamilton vet could be in line for a double nomination.

Current Predix

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Charles Dance, Mank; Bill Murray, On the Rocks; Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami; David Strathairn, Nomadland

Best Supporting Actress

Amanda Seyfried, Mank

Welcome to the most unpredictable category of them all. With Hillbilly Elegy’s Glenn Close looking something less than an indestructible Terminator — more on that film in weeks to come — focus has turned to Seyfried, who plays Marion Davies, mistress of William Randolph Hearst and a character who’s been ill-served by previous versions of the Citizen Kane story. Mank aims to correct that; per the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, she’s now “the beating heart” of the movie.

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

The Supporting Actress category is so wide open that a Bulgarian unknown may indeed crack it for a role where the big emotional moment is learning she will not be eaten by her own vagine. Bakalova’s commitment certainly merits a nomination, but the film is so closely tied to the 2020 election that it may not have the long tail of some other contenders. The 24-year-old actress also feels like somebody who would have really killed on the traditional awards circuit, where voters could meet the real person behind the makeup. But alas, that’s not happening this year.

Current Predix

Ellen Burstyn, Pieces of a Woman; Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy; Olivia Colman, The Father; Amanda Seyfried, Mank; Yuh-jung Youn, Minari

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