Oscar Watch: Nomadland

Ever since Nomadland was announced, it has been seen as a serious contender for the 2020 Oscars in multiple categories. This is Chloe Zhao’s follow-up to her acclaimed The Rider and it’s premiering all over the festival circuit this weekend (including Toronto and Venice) prior to its planned December 4th release. Based on reviews trickling out this afternoon, it’s living up to the hype.

The pic casts McDormand as a Nevada widow traveling the country in her van and critical reaction indicates it’s a tour de force performance from the two-time Best Actress winner. As you’ll recall, she took the gold statue in 1996 for Fargo and just three years back in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It might seem early for such proclamations, but I’m confident enough to go on record. Frances McDormand is going to get a nomination for this. Obviously, there are plenty more films to be screened as far as her competition. This includes potential nominees like Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Amy Adams (Hillbilly Elegy), Kate Winslet (Ammonite), and Michelle Pfeiffer (French Exit), among others. We shall see how that plays out, but today’s reviews opens the door for a third McDormand victory. If that were to occur, she would be just the second leading lady to win the prize more than twice. Katherine Hepburn did so four times.

David Strathairn is the other notable actor to discuss. The veteran thespian has one nomination to his credit for Best Actor in 2005’s Good Night, and Good Luck. I have had him ranked at #2 (behind the late Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey) in my Supporting Actor estimates for the last two weeks. However, indications are that his role could be smaller than I originally figured. He could still get in, but I’m nowhere near confident. I suspect he won’t be at #2 when I update my projections next Thursday. Whether he’s in the top five remains to be seen (especially with multiple actors vying for spots in Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and One Night in Miami).

Nomadland also seems bound for a Best Picture nod and Zhao is certainly in line for attention with her direction. She would become just the sixth female to compete in that race and she could have company in 2020 with Regina King for Miami. Expect a wider audience to know Zhao’s name shortly as she’s making 2021’s Eternals for Disney/Marvel. Adapted Screenplay appears to be a lock and the movie’s Score and Cinematography and Editing could also be noticed.

Bottom line: Nomadland has stood as a contender for some time. The buzz out today elevates it even more, especially for Zhao and McDormand. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Best Supporting Actress: A Look Back

Today begins a new blog series where I’m looking back at five of the major Oscar categories from 1990 to the present: the four acting races and Best Picture. This is essentially the time period where I’ve closely watched and analyzed. My charge? Picking the three largest upsets in each said category and the three least surprising winners… a film or performer where it truly would have been a shock if they didn’t emerge victorious.

We begin with Best Supporting Actress and this is one in which there have been some genuine upsets over the past quarter century plus. Unlike some other races we’ll get to later, it was not a challenge to pick three unexpected winners.

The other agenda item here is I’m picking my personal selections for strongest and weakest overall field among the five nominees in the acting derby’s and five-ten for Best Picture.

For starters, here’s the list of women that won gold statues in the supporting race from 1990 to now:

1990 – Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost

1991 – Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King

1992 – Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny

1993 – Anna Paquin, The Piano

1994 – Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway

1995 – Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite

1996 – Juliette Binoche, The English Patient

1997 – Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential

1998 – Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love

1999 – Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted

2000 – Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock

2001 – Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind

2002 – Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

2003 – Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain

2004 – Cate Blanchett, The Aviator

2005 – Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardner

2006 – Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

2007 – Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

2008 – Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona

2009 – Mo’Nique, Precious

2010 – Melissa Leo, The Fighter

2011 – Octavia Spencer, The Help

2012 – Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

2013 – Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

2014 – Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

2015 – Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

2016 – Viola Davis, Fences

2017 – Allison Janney, I, Tonya

I’ll begin with the least surprising winners. Truthfully, there are plenty of selections (and will be in each race) to pick from here. It’s normal procedure for the front runner to actually win. Here’s three that did just that:

3. Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway

Of the 28 recipients to choose from, note that 3 of them were under the direction of Woody Allen. None were surprise winners. That’s most evident with Wiest’s showcase work as an aging diva here. Her win here came just eight years following her Oscar winning role in another Allen pic, Hannah and Her Sisters.

2. Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

Fans of the Broadway play this is based upon knew Ms. Hudson could have a legitimate breakthrough part here. She nailed it and her win was never in much doubt.

1. Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Similar to Hudson’s victory, Hathaway’s casting as Fantine and her “I Dreamed a Dream” dramatic solo made her the odds-on favorite from the moment the project was announced. That never changed.

Now we get to the upsets and there were four to choose from. I could easily include Anna Paquin in The Piano, who became the second youngest winner when she beat out favorite Winona Ryder for The Age of Innocence. Here’s 3 I rank as even more surprising:

3. Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock

Harden had won no significant precursors and Kate Hudson was expected to have her name called for Almost Famous. She wasn’t even nominated for a Golden Globe or SAG.

2. Juliette Binoche, The English Patient

While the film itself was the anticipated winner for Picture (which it did), the Oscars were expected to select the legendary Lauren Bacall for her work in Barbra Streisand’s The Mirror Has Two Faces. Yet it was Binoche’s performance that was unexpectedly honored.

1. Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny

For starters, comedic roles are rarely nominated and wins are even more unheard of. Tomei was a newcomer in a picture that wasn’t a factor in any other category. Her competition was a list of venerable actresses: Judy Davis (Husbands and Wives), Joan Plowright (Enchanted April), Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End), and Miranda Richardson (Damages). The victory here was so shocking that conspiracy theories emerged that presenter Jack Palance had accidentally read the wrong name. That’s been debunked, but Tomei’s trip to the stage remains one of Oscar’s largest jaw droppers.

As for the fields, I’m going with 1991 for the weakest link in the chain. I probably would have given the award to Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear. However, the group was not particularly strong:

Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King (Winner)

Diane Ladd, Rambling Rose

Juliette Lewis, Cape Fear

Kate Nelligan, The Prince of Tides

Jessica Tandy, Fried Green Tomatoes

For the strongest field overall, I went with 2004 when Cate Blanchett won for her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. The other nominees:

Laura Linney, Kinsey

Virginia Madsen, Sideways

Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda

Natalie Portman, Closer

And there you have it! I’ll have Supporting Actor up soon…

This Day in Movie History: January 22

32 years ago Today in Movie History – January 22 – On Golden Pond opened wide in theaters on its way to a number of Oscars. It had a limited opening in late 1981 to qualify for Oscar consideration. Pond would be the final film role for legendary actor Henry Fonda and he would win Best Actor for the part. Too sick to accept the award, his daughter and costar Jane spoke for him. Fonda would die just months later. His counterpart in the picture, Katherine Hepburn, would win her fourth Oscar as Best Actress – setting a record that’s yet to be surpassed. Pond would earn a fantastic $119 million domestically and ranked as the second top grosser of 1981 behind Raiders of the Lost Ark.

As for birthdays, two actresses known primarily for their roles in classic horror flicks celebrate today. Piper Laurie is 84. She received an Oscar nomination as the title character’s crazy mother in 1976’s Carrie. She had been nominated 15 years prior as Paul Newman’s girlfriend in the classic The Hustler. Laurie received a third nomination in 1986 for Children of a Lesser God.

And Linda Blair is 55 today. She received an Oscar nomination in 1973 as demonic child Regan in The Exorcist, perhaps the greatest horror title of all time. She would also appear in Airport 1975 and reprise her famous role in the 1977 Exorcist sequel. In more recent history, she had a cameo role in 1996’s Scream.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between the scream queens:

Piper Laurie was in Carrie with John Travolta

John Travolta was in Face/Off with Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage was in The Wicker Man with Ellen Burstyn

Ellen Burstyn was in The Exorcist with Linda Blair

And that’s today – January 22 – in Movie History!