As if Netflix doesn’t have enough competitors this Oscar season, a new one comes into the fold in the form of Malcolm & Marie. The drama comes from director Sam Levinson, who’s best known for creating the acclaimed HBO series Euphoria. Shot this year in COVID-19 times and hitting Netflix on February 5, the title characters are played by John David Washington and Euphoria star Zendaya (who earned a surprise Emmy last year for the series).
While the official review embargo is not up, social media reactions are out and they’re encouraging. Most of all, the buzz suggests a first Oscar nod could be coming for Zendaya. The general feeling (and one I concur with at press time) is that four slots could be filled already: Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), Frances McDormand (Nomadland), and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman). We now have another strong contender in the mix. I had yet to list her even in my top ten thus far and that will certainly change when my new estimates hit on Monday.
As for Washington, I’m far less certain. It all depends on just how hard Academy voters fall for the picture as a whole. If they do, Picture, Director, and especially Original Screenplay could be possibilities. If they don’t, the attention could focus solely on Zendaya. And there’s time for the chatter to increase with the extra two months before nominations are revealed.
Bottom line: Malcolm & Marie has immediately established itself as a player in Best Actress and maybe more. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Rachel Brosnahan has collected an Emmy and two Golden Globes for her small screen work on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Julia Hart’s 1970s set crime drama I’m Your Woman marks her first starring role in a feature. Prior to its December streaming release from Amazon Studios, the pic screened yesterday at the AFI Fest.
Reviews thus far are of a mixed nature. Some critics are comparing it to the work of John Cassavates while others aren’t near as kind. The current Rotten Tomatoes score is 60%. As has been discussed before on the blog, Best Actress appears to be a crowded field in 2020. While I imagine Amazon will push Brosnahan for attention, I have yet to list her in the top ten possibilities for the race. Based on the varied reaction, I don’t expect that to change and I especially don’t envision a scenario where she approaches the final five. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
On Netflix’s popular series Ozark, the words of Julia Garner’s Ruth often speak louder than her actions. Her boisterous character serves as a de facto assistant to Jason Bateman’s beleaguered money launderer and the performance has earned her Emmys. The Assistant, written and directed by Kitty Green, finds Garner in a much different occupation in terms of duties and with her overall demeanor.
Jane works as a film production assistant to a mostly unseen and unheard big shot. She works long hours steeped in tedium as she cleans up the literal and figurative messes of her boss and his minions. From travel arrangements from their New York office to L.A. to making excuses to the whereabouts of her superior to his wife, this is not the dream job that Jane envisioned. Even her hopes that this is leading to something bigger and better seem to be diminishing.
The camera rarely leaves Jane on the Monday that the proceedings occur. Aspiring actresses flow in and a mysterious and very young new assistant is flown in from Idaho and put up in a fancy hotel. Sitting with her fellow junior staffers (Jon Orsini and Noah Robbins), they develop a strained if well-meaning support system.
Yet our title character knows she’s in a hostile work environment. When Jane approaches the company’s HR head (Matthew MacFayden), it’s made chillingly clear that her complaints are falling on deaf ears. We get the idea that if she just keeps quiet, her mundane existence in this drab office will improve. At what cost? Her words and actions don’t matter.
Like that office, The Assistant is not flashy. The Weinstein type figure feet away from Jane’s desk is left to our imagination. All we have to see is her weary but expressive face to know that he’s dangerous. It is Garner’s performance, wildly different from her Ozark persona, that kept my attention. This is essentially a horror film where the scary incidents are usually hinted at or, more sadly, joked about. They develop over Jane’s long day where it seems the next day will be just as long and with no resolution in sight. That’s pretty frightening.
*** (out of four)
Riz Ahmed has seen his profile rise in recent years with roles in Nightcrawler, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Venom. On the small screen, he is an Emmy winner for his work on HBO’s The Night Of. And now he could receive the attention of Academy voters with Darius Marder’s upcoming Sound of Metal.
The film casts Ahmed as the drummer of a band who begins to lose his hearing. Costars include Olivia Cooke and Mathieu Amalric. Metal first screened at the Toronto Film Festival over a year ago. Critics responded favorably with a 91% Rotten Tomatoes score with most of the reviews heaping praise on its lead.
It was recently announced that Amazon had picked up distribution rights. After a short theatrical run in November, it will be available for streaming in early December. Translation: expect an Oscar push for Ahmed. And it could work. At the moment, Best Actor appears less crowded than Actress. Beyond Anthony Hopkins in The Father (surefire nominee) and Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods (likely nominee), the race looks wide open. Ahmed is an up and comer and with the right campaign, he could find himself in the mix. Two weeks ago, I had him listed 15th of 15 Actor hopefuls. Last week, that rose to 12th. On Thursday, I will whittle my contenders down to ten and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s listed.
Furthermore, the storyline to Metal could lend itself to a Best Sound nomination. This is the first year where Sound Editing and Sound Mixing are being combined into one race. While this category is normally reserved for big budget blockbusters and sci-fi material, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this make a legit play. Bottom line: Ahmed’s work and the sound techs have a shot here. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
My Case of outlines for Oscar contenders brings us to the second post for Supporting Actress players – Laura Dern in Marriage Story. The breakdown:
The Case for Laura Dern
Dern is already an Emmy and SAG winner and five-time Golden Globe recipient, but she has yet to pick up an Oscar. She’s been nominated twice before in 1991 for Rambling Rose and for 2015’s Wild. A well-respected veteran from a Hollywood family, Dern has balanced blockbusters and indies for years. Her role a whip smart and ruthless divorce attorney in Noah Baumbach’s latest drew raves. Yet this is also seen as a career achievement prize given her zero previous wins. Dern has won all major precursors – Globes, SAG, Critics Choice, and a handful of critics groups awards.
The Case Against Laura Dern
There’s not much of one. Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers was seen as her strongest competitor, but she was snubbed on nominations morning. Dern’s Marriage Story costar Scarlett Johansson is a double nominee, recognized in this race for Jojo Rabbit. The Academy could feel obliged to give ScarJo a victory here. Interestingly, Dern’s Little Women costar Florence Pugh is up as well.
Dern is a huge front runner and anyone else winning would be seen as a sizable upset.
My Case of posts will continue with another of Dern’s costars… Adam Driver in Marriage Story!