2020 has to be, without a doubt, one of the most difficult years in recent memory to be living through. Where to even start, honestly. We prop up our battered conventions in hopes of things seeming sort of, kind of “normal,” but everyone knows better. Our new reality dictates that nothing is very easy to understand or navigate.
And that includes the Oscar race.
Either which way, there will supposedly be a list of films that will be named as “best” of the year. The Academy will still be implementing the shorter ballot method this year, allowing voters to choose only 5 or more. Next year they will have to put down ten titles. I expect, although I do not know for sure, that this impacts online voting with how many slots voters are required to fill vs. how many they can leave blank. I know there are some voters who refuse to put down more than just one. They pick the one movie they think is best of the year and leave it at that.
But let’s just run down what we know so far this year, what has been seen, what hasn’t, what we expect is coming, etc. At the end I will predict a solid ten that I think, right now, have the best shot.
Early release notables
Some of these are being predicted by pundits and some aren’t. I’m just laying out the films I think made an impact either because I saw them and liked them or because I think they did well somewhere – not just with critics, but with audiences too.
Nomadland – a film that would have gotten the Telluride treatment if Covid hadn’t eaten Telluride and seems to be, right now, the de facto frontrunner to win Best Picture. A dreamy meditation on a nomadic woman (Frances McDormand) who has taken to the road as a way of escaping a life she left behind. Good stuff, top to bottom. Adapted, directed and edited by Chloe Zhao.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Netflix’ Big Oscar Movie at the moment. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, with a large cast of very strong performances involving a most timely subject.
The Father – Seen at Sundance and without a doubt one of the best films of the year. Absolute perfection from start to finish, brilliantly directed and acted, with a strong Best Actor contender in Anthony Hopkins.
One Night in Miami – Regina King’s film about the night several cultural icons gathered as friends to discuss their future, their ideas and themselves. Beautifully made with dazzling performances across the board.
Minari – Also seen at Sundance. From writer/director Lee Isaac Chung and starring Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, and Yuh-Jung Youn.
Tenet – Christopher Nolan’s film did not have a chance to make the kind of theatrical impact his films usually do to launch them into the Best Picture race. Some movies really need the box office to push them through and this is one of them.
Promising Young Woman – Seen at Sundance, made a big impression with those who saw it and especially in Carey Mulligan’s performance.
On the Rocks – Sofia Coppola’s film starring Bill Murray, who is great in the role of the lonely father who mildly disrupts his daughter’s life to spend more time with her.
Da Five Bloods – Spike Lee’s very early-seen film with a strong performance by Delroy Lindo about a group of men who travel back to Vietnam to complete a moral mission, with flashbacks to the war.
The Outpost – Rod Lurie’s exceptional war film of Jake Tapper’s book takes you inside a military operation. The Outpost was supposed to land in theaters but Covid kept it out. It is Lurie’s best film since The Contender and was a film that actually made an impact beyond the confines of the Oscar bubble, which is why I think it’s worth paying attention to.
Spree – I know this film will make my top five by the end of the year. It is a non-traditional Oscar film but it’s one that is smartly written and a dead on satire of the times we’re living through. I would be remiss not to keep pointing it out, regardless of the reviews, which I believe missed the mark.
So those are the films that have already been seen and buzzed. A few of them will make the cut for Oscar. But what other potential gems do we have coming?
Mank – David Fincher’s black and white film about the time Orson Welles asked Herman J. Mankiewicz to write a movie for him and that movie turned out to be Citizen Kane.
News of the World – Paul Greengrass’ post-Civil War western starring Tom Hanks.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday – Lee Daniels’ film about the iconic singer.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Another highly anticipated film about another musical legend, Ma Rainey featuring Viola Davis and the gone-too-soon Chadwick Boseman.
Next Goal Wins – A soccer movie by Jojo Rabbit’s Taika Waititi.
Respect – Jennifer Hudson stars as Aretha Franklin.
The Prom – Ryan Murphy’s musical starring Meryl Streep, among others.
Stillwater – Matt Damon and Abigail Breslin are father and daughter in a Tom McCarthy crime drama.
Judas and the Black Messiah – Directed by Shaka King, starring Daniel Kaluuya about Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party.
Hillbilly Elegy – Ron Howard’s film version of the acclaimed memoir starring Amy Adams and Glenn Close.
Pushed to 2021:
West Side Story
The Tragedy of Macbeth
The French Dispatch
Okay so if I were doing a quick and dirty list of Best Picture contenders, without having seen a large chunk of them, I would likely put it down like this:
One Night in Miami
News of the World
The Trial of the Chicago 7
The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Next Goal Wins
Judas and the Black Messiah
The good news about this list is that it checks off the boxes of what is required of Hollywood and the Oscars at this point in time. The slate overall is a bit slimmer than we’re used to, which will allow for less juggernaut competition and thus, films that might not have a shot otherwise will likely have a better shot to be represented. It’s probably going to be Gen Z’s favorite Oscar year ever.
I would not be surprised to see Rod Lurie’s The Outpost pop up in a few places as it’s one movie that is really not like any of the others and could stand out for that reason. But for now, I think it’s probably too risky to predict for the Academy.