Taraji P. Henson And 'Hidden Figures' Make A Timely Case For Oscar Attention

It’s hard to imagine a film like “Hidden Figures” about three trailblazing African American women being even more relevant after Tuesday’s shocking presidential election, but for Academy and guild members that’s exactly the reaction you can expect.  Theodore Melfi’s moving historical drama had its first public screening for SAG and select members of the press on Sunday night and it should absolutely become a priority for an Academy that, like much of America, realized the nation is much more racist than it believed.

The film tells the tale of three female NASA employees who were key, um, figures in making John Glenn become the first American astronaut to orbit the planet. Due to a review embargo there isn’t much more that can be said about the movie itself beyond hat, but it will absolutely resonate with its triumphant storyline about three women of color who overcame misogyny and blatant racism to contribute to one of the most important eras of American history.  That being said, in the context of awards season there are a number of contenders that deserve attention.

First and foremost, Taraji P. Henson, who portrays legendary mathematician Katherine Johnson, is absolutely a contender for a Best Actress nomination. There is some concern Academy members won’t watch “Elle” with Isabelle Huppert (an honest tragedy if its rue) due to its subject matter and that means the fifth slot could open up if you believe Natalie Portman (“Jackie”), Emma Stone (“La La Land”), Ruth Negga (“Loving”) and Annette Bening (“20th Century Women”) are close to locks. Henson’s powerhouse performance will put her up against Amy Adams (“Arrival,” “Nocturnal Animals”), Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”) and the aforementioned Huppert. Even with those rivals she absolutely has a shot (and a deserved one) to make the field.  It would be jaw-dropping if she didn’t get at least a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Drama.

As suspected, both Octavia Spencer and Jonaelle Monae – who play Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – are Supporting Actress nominees players, but gut instinct says the former Academy Award winner has the best shot between the two of them.  Although in completely honesty a second viewing may flip that opinion.

Kevin Costner is impressive as the fictional NASA manager Al Harrison, a composite character, but considering how up in the air the Best Supporting Actor category is he may have as just as good a chance as his “Figures” co-star Mahershala Ali (a potential nominee for “Moonlight”), Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water”) or Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”).

Best Picture is possible, but actor and producers guilds support is crucial. If the film can earn multiple SAG Awards nominations including Best Ensemble and make the PGA cut it’s likely got a fighting chance.

Where the film can surprise is in the music categories. Pharrell Williams, who also produced the picture, has the catchy and wonderfully lyrical “Runnin” that will test strongly with the “in context” scoring by the music branch for Best Original Song (you can listen to it below). Pharrell is also credited with “Music by” which means he, Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer should be up for Original Score (they absolutely have a shot there too).

Wynn Thomas’ Production Design and Renee Ehrlich Kalfus’s Costumes are two other below the line contenders worthy of the Academy’s attention.

“Hidden Figures” opens in limited release on Dec. 25 and nationwide on Jan. 6.

Gregory Ellwood’s Current Oscar Predictions:
Best Picture
Best Actress
Best Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Original Screenplay
Adapted Screenplay
Editing – Coming Soon
Cinematography – Coming Soon
Animated Feature Film – Coming Soon
Foreign Language Film – Coming Soon
Documentary Feature – Coming Soon
Original Score – Coming Soon
Original Song – Coming Soon
Costumes – Coming Soon
Makeup and Hairstyling – Coming Soon
Visual Effects – Coming Soon
Sound Mixing – Coming Soon
Sound Editing – Coming Soon

For more Oscar and industry insight follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @TheGregoryE.