I’ve likely written too many stories over the past few months using a creative motif that references our current state of affairs to that of the darkest timeline or an alternate world where the sun is shining and popcorn is still popping. But, to be honest, it’s the starkest means to demonstrate how far we are into uncharted waters. And, yes, we’re not just talking about a raging nationwide pandemic, social justice protests and the most important presidential election since, well, the last one. We’re talking about the most inconsequential of matters, the Oscars.
Granted, we could spend multiple paragraphs explaining once gain how awards season is a mechanism to get the public to see films at a certain time of year, that often those moviegoers only go a few times a year anyway and, first and foremost, it makes the industry money. But if you’re reading this you probably already know that. You probably also know that if the COVID-19 had not popped up on this planet when it did the movie business would be in a much different place. Imagine a world where “The French Dispatch” won the Palme d’Or, “Promising Young Woman” was the art-house hit of the early summer, “Palm Springs” was a word-of-mouth crossover hit, there is already a slew of Internationational Film contenders to stew over and, oh yeah, “Artemis Fowl” is still the worst-reviewed studio release of the year.
But the Oscars are going to be handed out almost 10 months from now on April 25, 2021. So, just for kicks, let’s look at the Best Picture contenders that have screened publicly or been released to the public either in theaters or streaming so far. Think of this as an “If the Oscar deadline was next week” list. Let’s indulge ourselves a little, shall we?
A frontrunner for Best Picture in any context of the season. Just you wait.
“Da 5 Bloods”
Spike Lee‘s Netflix hit has its fans and Delroy Lindo is probably a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nod.
Could get some genuine love if Academy members see it. Oh, look. It’s the first physical screener sent to AMPAS members.
Great gowns, beautiful gowns. Pretty fields, scrumptious cakes.
A messy third act, but those tears start welling up at the end, don’t they?
Elisabeth Moss deserves an Oscar nod, pt. 1.
“The King of Staten Island”
Some strong performances. Solid script. Judd’s most cinematic movie to date.
“The Invisible Man”
Elisabeth Moss deserves an Oscar nod, pt. 2.
An Original Screenplay player in any year.
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
At worst, a major Gotham Awards and Spirit Awards player.
Hey, we get it. There are some major stretches for a Best Picture nod on that list if it was any other year. And we’re making a gigantic assumption that if the deadline was fast approaching A24 would throw “Minari” on PVOD, because, um, it would win. And, sure, you could also assume Netflix would do the same with a number of films, but considering “Minari” likely would have come out in the summer anyway, and it’s the best film anyone has screened this year so far, why not?
(Glad you went with me on that one.)
And now, what you really want to dissect, the laundry list of potential contenders that will arrive sometime this fall or winter that no one has publicly seen.
Kate Winslet. Saoirse Ronan. A romance for the ages. Hyped for months. Supposed to live up to it.
“The French Dispatch” (Searchlight)
Wes Anderson‘s great Best Picture hope.
Frances McDormand and Chloe Zhao. Need we say more?
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Searchlight)
Jessica Chastain‘s chance to show she has the range.
“Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight)*
Can Guillermo finish it by the deadline or does Searchlight hold for next year?
Has the “it’s time” campaign started for David Fincher yet?
“Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)
A SAG delight, no doubt.
“Hillbilly Elegy” (Netflix)
Glenn Close has entered the chat.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”(Netflix)
Viola Davis. That’s it. Just Viola Davis.
“The Card Counter” (Focus Features)**
Paul Schrader returns to awards season. Fasten your seatbelts, everyone.
“Let Him Go” (Focus Features)
Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Lesley Manville. Are you intrigued yet?
“Stillwater” (Focus Features)
Tom McCarthy behind the camera as Matt Damon steps into the serious spotlight once more.
“Untitled Mike Mills” (A24)*
Can Mills get it done in time?
“News of the World” (Universal Pictures)
Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks reunite for a period Western based on Paulette Jiles’ acclaimed novel. Check.
“Louis Wain” (Amazon Studios)
Benedict Cumberbatch in a period piece? No! You don’t say!
“Annette” (Amazon Studios)
Leos Carax’s first English language film is a musical starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg. In a perfect world that “should” scream Oscar.
“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (Paramount Pictures)
Watch out for Andra Day in this one.
“Tenet” (Warner Bros)
Just a little thriller from Christopher Nolan you might have heard of.
“Those Who Wish Me Dead” (Warner Bros)
Taylor Sheridan and Angelina Jolie? Our interest is beyond piqued.
“Dune” (Warner Bros)
Never count out Denis Villeneuve.
“Deep Water” (20th Century Studios/Walt Disney)
Adrian Lyne’s first movie since 2002’s “Unfaithful.” Every member of the Academy is going to want to see this one.
“West Side Story” (20th Century Studios/Walt Disney)
Pretending to be excited.
“Soul” (Pixar/Walt Disney)
Your mom will love it.
“Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project” (MGM)
Michael De Luca making movies with his old buddy PTA for the roaring lion. Find that on your 2020 bingo card.
*Unclear if it can finish shooting and/or post-production in time even with the extended date.
**Believed finished, but possible push to 2021 Oscar season.
Films that are likely not Best Picture players, but have major nomination potential:
“The Father” (SPC)
It’s pretty much a filmed play, but Anthony Hopkins is unquestionably fantastic and SPC will make sure you don’t forget it.
“The Green Knight” (A24)
Did “Midsommar” walk so “The Green Knight” could run?
Apichatpong Weerasethakul plus Tilda Swinton plus the studio that released “Parasite” domestically? No, we’re not discounting this one’s prospects whatsoever.
“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
Carey Mulligan gets her second Oscar nod for this one, but what a competitive field already.
Now, for the depressing part of this discussion.
With the current state of theatrical distribution and the two largest markets in the country, Southern California and the New York Metro area, not even close to re-opening cinemas there’s a better than 50/50 chance a number of these titles will not release in time to qualify. Moreover, there are other films without distribution that may actually find homes after debuting at the still on track Toronto or Venice Film Festivals where an actual film market is supposed to happen (those two additional months are a godsend for marketing and distribution teams). It honestly could be an even more competitive landscape. But there’s a ticking clock of almost seven months till the Academy’s revised qualifying deadline of February 28, 2021.
We’ve already had seven months of releases in theaters, via PVOD and on various streaming channels thanks to the Academy’s modified rules when the pandemic hit. Hollywood is trying to get up and running again. There’s not necessarily hope, but there’s a glimmer of something. Somewhere. And it doesn’t hurt to just take a moment to step back and dream a little, does it?
Oh, and if you live in the United States and really want your local movie theater to open please tell all your friends and family to wear a freakin’ mask.
[Note: We won’t be publishing prediction pages for the 2020-21 season until studios begin releasing new films nationwide again in earnest. We love SEO, but we have some self respect.]