Oscar Watch: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

For Oscar prognosticators, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has looked to be a major hopeful for some time. Based on the August Wilson play and directed by George C. Wolfe, the 1920s set musical drama hits Netflix in December. The social media reaction embargo lapsed this weekend and confirmed hunches that it will be such a thing in various races.

When I began my weekly prediction posts in late August, it was assumed that Chadwick Boseman would compete for Supporting Actor here. At first, I had him ranked #2. Just days after my first estimates, the actor passed away. He rose up to #1 in Supporting Actor and stayed there until Netflix confirmed that he would vie for Best Actor. Early buzz suggests that he is unquestionably a lead and this sets up a real battle which I’ll get to momentarily. Critics are also calling it his finest performance and his inclusion in the category is a given now.

As for his costar Viola Davis, word of mouth suggests her part is a little smaller than expected. Yet the general consensus is that she’ll still stay in Best Actress. If Netflix chose to make a switch to Supporting, she would probably be the front runner (she won the race four years ago for Fences). However, by staying in the crowded Actress field, I question whether she remains in first place when I update my picks on Friday. The competition could be steep with the likes of Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman).

Back to Boseman. Not withstanding any unseen performances, Best Actor is shaping up to be a real showdown between Anthony Hopkins (The Father) and Boseman. This appears bound to play out over the next several months. That said, a development could occur to shift the narrative. In Supporting Actor, Boseman is also expected to contend for Da 5 Bloods. If he gains favorite status in that field, it could help Hopkins remain the anticipated victor. As for Rainey‘s own supporting actors (Glynn Turman and Colman Domingo), the pair are long shots due to that category’s packed nature.

Could Rainey get a Best Picture nomination? Yes, but I think it’s far from guaranteed and I don’t expect Wolfe to make it in the final five for his direction. Adapted Screenplay is also a question mark while tech races like Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Production Design are surely on the table.

Bottom line: Boseman has absolutely established himself as a threat to posthumously take Best Actor with Hopkins as the significant competitor. Davis looks mostly safe in Actress, but a win is much more questionable. And my Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: If Beale Street Could Talk

One of the most eagerly awaited titles screening at the Toronto Film Festival has premiered in the form of If Beale Street Could Talk, the third directorial feature from Barry Jenkins. As you may recall, his second film Moonlight took home the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2016 in rather memorable fashion over La La Land.

Beale Street is based on a James Baldwin novel and set in mid 70s Harlem. The pic sports a large ensemble cast led by Stephan James and Kiki Layne alongside Regina Hall, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Pedro Pascal, Diego Luna, Ed Skrein, and Dave Franco. Early reviews suggest this could be a player in multiple categories, including Best Picture and Director. In down the line races, it could be recognized for its score from Nicholas Britell as well as Cinematography, Editing, and Production Design. Jenkins could also contend for his Adapted Screenplay. While most critical reaction is strong, some have said it doesn’t quite match up to Moonlight. That said, we shall see if that particular buzz changes in the coming weeks and I feel pretty secure marking it for Picture consideration.

As for the cast, that’s a little murkier. James and Layne are receiving positive notices, but both the lead acting races seem awfully crowded. Both Hall and Parris could contend in Supporting Actress, but that too is far from guaranteed.

Bottom line: If Beale Street Could Talk likely did what it needed to do to be in the Picture and Director mix, while acting nods are a bit less clear.

The film opens domestically on November 30. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…