Throughout the season, we check in with “frontrunners and challengers.” Here we are in late October, and we haven’t seen everything. Movies are still coming out; nothing has been settled or decided in any way. But there is still Oscar chatter, Oscar punditry, spitballing, assessments, and guesses as to how any of this might go.
Just to show you how hard it is to call right now, last year around October 6, of 2021 these are what I thought were the frontrunners and the challengers:
The Power of the Dog
All were nominated, but the winner was CODA. I had CODA listed as a potential nominee.
Will Smith, King Richard — nominated twice for Best Actor but never won
Peter Dinklage, Cyrano — never been nominated
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog — nominated once for Best Actor in a Best Picture nominee
Denzel Washington, Tragedy of Macbeth — nominated six times for lead, twice in supporting, won once in each category
Of these, only Peter Dinklage was not nominated.
Kristen Stewart, Spencer — never nominated
Jessica Chastain, Eyes of Tammy Faye — twice nominated: once in lead, once in supporting
Jennifer Hudson, Respect — won for Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers — won once in supporting, nominated twice in supporting, once in lead
Despite my constant urging, Hudson was left off, the others were nominated. Chastain won.
Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Kenneth Branagh, Belfast
Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard
Denis Villenueve, Dune
Jane Campion won, Branagh was nominated. By this point, we had not yet seen West Side Story or Licorice Pizza, which were the other nominees, along with Drive My Car.
Best Supporting Actor:
Richard Jenkins, The Humans — twice nominated, once in lead and once in supporting
Ben Affleck, The Tender Bar — never nominated for acting
Kodi Smit-McPhee, Power of the Dog — never nominated
Jesse Plemons, Power of the Dog — never nominated
Troy Kotsur from CODA would be the winner, and was not on my list. The other three nominees would be: Ciarán Hinds from Belfast and JK Simmons from Being the Ricardos.
For Screenplay I had Belfast in the frontrunner’s spot, which did win. For Adapted, I had The Power of the Dog winning, but CODA did.
The piece is here.
I would say there was about a 50% chance of getting it right in October. That is because the Oscar race doesn’t really get going until after December. The buzz drives various films to put them in the hands of Oscar voters. If they hear a film or a performance has been gaining a lot of Oscar buzz, they’re more likely actually to watch that movie. But you can only lead a horse to water. You can’t make him or her drink.
The big things that will impact the race will be which films and performers the critics get behind. We know they’re going to be all over TÁR and Cate Blanchett. We assume they will back an international film, because they always do, like Decision to Leave. Then, the Golden Globes and Critics Choice will ring in.
Then the big guilds announce their picks, and finally, the Oscars.
So here we go with the best I can do for right now in the major categories without the movies we have not yet seen. These are meant to be more about what might win versus predicting nominees.
The major films we have not yet seen are:
Avatar: The Way of Water
The Banshees of Inisherin
Everything Everywhere All at Once
I think these four films have the best chance of winning Best Picture at the moment. I think it’s down to Fabelmans vs. Banshees, but that’s only because what I have seen so far has been limited. These two films feel like the best so far.
I think the next five that could get nominated would be:
Babylon (sight unseen)
Avatar (sight unseen)
On the bubble: Top Gun Maverick, Empire of Light, All Quiet on the Western Front
Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans
Sarah Polley, Women Talking
Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin
The Daniels, Everything Everywhere All At Once
These are the best bets at the moment until we see everything.
Austin Butler, Elvis
Colin Farrell, Banshees of Inisherin
Brendan Fraser, The Whale
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All At Once
Cate Blanchett, TAR
Danielle Deadwyler, Till
Viola Davis, The Woman King
I have Yeoh in the number one spot because the stars are all aligning in her favor at the moment. A long, well-respected career that has yet to be recognized, starring in a movie that might be very popular with voters. That seems to indicate: frontrunner.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Those seem to have the heat now, but this could change with Babylon.
What will determine the winners is something we can’t yet know in October. The momentum for films like CODA and Parasite arrived later in the year, right around the time of the standing ovation at the SAG awards, for instance. But it’s not a bad idea to ask yourself what you think will win at the various award shows, like the Golden Globes, like the Directors Guild, and Producers Guild, like the SAG ensemble.
Then ask yourself why they would win. What’s the main reason? What motivates people to put their votes behind one movie or performance?
Here are some rules that usually hold but sometimes are broken.
- In the era of the preferential ballot, the Best Picture winner usually wins Screenplay. If it’s going to win Director, it won’t win Screenplay (unless they really really really like the movie).
- The Best Actor winner is usually in a Best Picture nominee, but not a Best Picture winner. It happens, but it’s less common.
- The Best Actress winner is often from, but not always, a Best Picture nominee.
Best Actor winners in Best Picture nominees in the era of the preferential ballot:
2009–Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
2010–Colin Firth/The King’s Speech++
2011–Jean DuJardin/The Artist++
2012–Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln*
2013–Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club*
2014–Eddie Redmayne, Theory of Everything*
2015–Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant*
2016–Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea*
2017–Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour*
2018–Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody*
2019–Joaquin Phoenix, Joker*
2020–Anthony Hopkins, The Father*
2021–Will Smith, King Richard*
Only two times did the Best Actor and Best Picture both win. In general, voters like to spread the wealth for the major awards and not give any one movie a bunch of Oscars.
2009–Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side*
2010–Natalie Portman, Black Swan*
2011–Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
2012–Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbooks*
2013–Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
2014–Julianne Moore, Still Alice
2015–Brie Larson, Room*
2016–Emma Stone, La La Land*
2017–Frances McDormand, Three Billboards*
2018–Olivia Colman, The Favourite*
2019–Renee Zellweger, Judy
2020–Frances McDormand, Nomadland++
2021–Jessica Chastain, Eyes of Tammy Faye
As you can see, Best Actor is much more married to Best Picture than Best Actress is. It helps but it isn’t necessary.
We’ll check back in next month to see how this has changed.