THB #34: 19 Weeks To Oscar, The Pause That Refreshes


We are in full Oscar hysteria at this point.

And yet… we are also in a brief lull.

The final 2 entries, West Side Story and Nightmare Alley, are locked into their rockets and the countdowns have begun.

And we still have a pretty blury season.

A month ago, I wrote:

From the festivals… likely in the 10 Best Picture Oscar nominees.
1. King Richard
2. Belfast
3. The Power of the Dog

And chasing… Spencer, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Cyrano, and Dune.

And still to be shown… in the next 5 weeks…

Best Chances… West Side Story, House of Gucci, Don’t Look Up, Licorice Pizza

And also could still surprise… Being The Ricardos, Nightmare Alley, Tick, Tick… Boom!

What’s changed? Well, regardless of the endless youthful hysteria of some trade writers, not much.

There is a “Belfast is frontrunner” block. And don’t get me wrong. Belfast is a lovely movie. And that Kenny Branagh can, as Mel Brooks once wrote for Slim Pickins, “use (his) tongue prettier than a twenty-dollar whore.” (2021 Note: Sorry… love the classic movie quote… I know it’s regressive… and I don’t think Branagh is whoring himself... it is clearly a work of personal passion... and I personally like the guy, but if you ever want to spend 20 minutes of your life, ask him about the weather.)

But in the end, there is no getting past that the movie is a personal memoir without an edge, even set in the early days of The Troubles.

There is a “King Richard is the frontrunner” clique. But that movie has the very real problems that, 1) it focuses on the father, not the rising stars, 2) the box office heading towards being the lowest grosser of Smith’s career, aside from Six Degrees of Separation in 1993, 3) with due respect to his poor health, the absence of the actual Richard Williams takes away a key plank from the awards trajectory, 4) the HBO Max of it all and the fact that the movie does not feel oversized for streaming.

The isn’t really a “The Power of the Dog is the frontrunner” group… but the film is beginning to solidify as The Default movie of the season, which is to say, it has the weight, the pedigree, the consensus on quality, the highly respected director (whose gender actually helps these days), the well-loved actors, the size that makes it feel like a Movie Movie, and more… which can be agreed on by a majority of Oscar voters.

At the moment, in this season, this is not nothing. There are just 2 more movies that could really become dominators. And if they don’t dominate and none of the current crop accelerates…

Thing is, being the Best Picture winner is a January-March fight. We aren’t there yet. All three of these movies will be nominated and all three will be nominated in at least 4 Oscar categories and two of them could be nominated in more than 8 Oscar categories.

The Then Chasers… None of them is guaranteed a spot, but Spencer seems highly likely and the other 3 are still teetering.

The Best Chancers: House of Gucci, Don’t Look Up, Licorice Pizza have all been seen now. Pizza is in as a nominee. Gucci is likely. And Don’t Look is a very mixed bag, but with 10 assured BP nomination slots, is still a legitimate candidate.

West Side Story will be. All that pedigree, working for and against it.

The Also Could Still Surprisers: Nightmare Alley is still unseen and we will see soon.

Tick, Tick… Boom! is a theater piece, nicely captured. It’s better than The Prom. Andrew Garfield is, as always, a lanky ball of love and energy and passion, and could well end up with a Best Actor nomination. No one will say, “No… he doesn’t deserve the vote.” Aside from that, an unlikely nominee for anything (unless there is a new song in there, somehow).

Being The Ricardos is on the edge of the razor blade. It is mostly a drama and presents the one opportunity for The Golden Globes of Financial Impropriety to have an actual influence on the season. If they put the film in the “Comedy/Musical” category, that could kill its Oscar BP chances. There are some terrific laughs in the film, but it is a drama and the weakest element of the film is the otherwise strong Nicole Kidman trying to hit the Lucy comedy notes.

The strongest performance of the film is Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz. He makes it look effortless. I previously thought this was a supporting role, but it’s a lead. (Doesn’t mean that they won’t try to go Supporting anyway… not 100% clear.)

Nicole Kidman is hard to project. She does the drama - most of the film - beautifully. The make-up is a bit of a disaster and really, they would have been better off just dying the hair and leaving the face alone. None of the 4 actors playing the I Love Lucy 4 actually looks like the real-life actor. She is the only one who looks like they are trying hard to make her face look a certain way. In this era of amazing make-up, I can’t blame them for trying… but it didn’t work. But like Meryl, she is Nicole and she gets nominations. So she might.

And both JK Simmons and Nina Arianda hit every note they are asked to hit like the consummate pros that they are or better. (They also both play consummate pros.) JK has Oscar history. Nina doesn’t. But they could both end up nominated.

So how can one suggest that the film won’t be nominated for Best Picture?

One cannot.

That leaves my list at 9 legitimately-likely BP nominees and 1 to go. One or two of those 9 could fall… no question.

But of all the rest, I see Spencer, The French Dispatch, Dune, and in a superlong shot, C’Mon C’Mon as the films will a potential of squeaking in.

So… my current guess of Best Picture nominees (alphabetical):
Being the Ricardos
Don’t Look Up
House of Gucci
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
Nightmare Alley
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story

And still strong in the hunt: Spencer, The French Dispatch, Dune

And still showing potential to squeak in: C'mon C'mon, CODA, The Lost Daughter,
The Tragedy of Macbeth

And I should note… my Top 9 is a wide spread across the industry. 2 Netflix, 2 MGM/UA, 2 Disney (1 Searchlight, 1 Ye Olde Dead Fox), 1 Universal (via Focus), 1 Warner Bros, and 1 Amazon.

Also worth noting… Taback, Swartz or Team Searchlight is working on all but one of these movies. There are a lot of good publicists and a lot of good consultants out there… but these 3 are consistently the ones lining up on the slot machine of Oscar season for well over a decade now.

Neon did win an Oscar without them. So did Universal. But the other 9 since the expansion have the clear mark of these 3 entities (who all have teams).


Actress - The fight between Gaga, Alana Haim, and K-Stew is already well underway. For now, could go any way. And the lead actresses of the last 2 films (Rooney Mara and Rachel Zegler) could change the trajectory.

Also… Nicole Kidman, with longer shots from Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Frances McDormand, and Olivia Colman.

Actor - This one is way up in the air. Still Will Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch out front. Andrew Garfield has probably sung his way into a slot. Javier Bardem is facing some hyper-PC backlash, but should be in. After that, a bit of a crap shoot, with Bradley Cooper looming large.

Chasing… Denzel and Dinklage… and Clifton Collins, Jr. deserves to be in the conversation, but the percentage of voters who have seen Jockey will have to grow a lot.

Supporting Actress - Caitriona Balfe has been relegated to this slot, even though she is really the lead in Belfast, but she should be in easily. Ariana DeBose has the money role in West Side Story and she is amazingly talented, so not betting against her.

It’s hard to imagine that Kirsten Dunst and Aunjanue Ellis won’t get in. I think Ms. Ellis is terrific in the film, but it’s not a role that really surprises, so of these 2, I think she is the more vulnerable to being left out.

Meryl Streep is working at a Death Becomes Her level of farce performance in Don’t Look Up and for The Meryl, that will likely be enough. But it was brain damage that she wasn’t nominated for Let Them All Talk… so you never know.

Dame Judi is beautiful to watch in tight close-ups in Belfast. But that is the only element of the performance that really surprises.

Love Alia Shawkat in Being The Ricardos, but the money supporting performance there is Nina Arianda, who has to play the target of Bill Frawley and the focus of minimization by Lucy and the whole production team.

Cate Blanchett’s make-up in Don’t Look Up almost mocks Nicole Kidman’s make-up in Ricardos and she knows how to work it and no… not a nomination. But Nightmare Alley looms.

And I’m not sleeping on Toni Collette, also in Nightmare Alley. The role doesn’t seem to be The One… but you never know with Collette.

Supporting Actor - This could be the most actively competitive category of the season. (Unless one film takes over, Best Picture will be passively competitive.)

Jared Leto remains the only lock in this category. After that, it gets blurry. Jesse Plemons seems a very likely bet.

The “brevity is the soul of nomination” box is filled with Mark Rylance and Bradley Cooper (in Licorice Pizza).

The “we like them, we always like them” box has JK Simmons, Jeffrey Wright, Ciaran Hinds, and Al Pacino in it.

Kodi Smit-McPhee is a fine, interesting actor and he could surprise.

George Chakiris won Best Supporting Actor for the role that David Alvarez plays in the Spielberg version.

Nightmare Alley includes, in support, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Tim Blake Nelson, David Strathairn, and Clifton Collins, Jr.. Step right up and spin the wheel1 Or we’ll guess your weight!

“Jerry, do you know the human head weighs 8 pounds?” An Oscar weights 8.5 pounds.

Until tomorrow…