Oscar Watch: Judas and the Black Messiah

I continue with my Oscar Watch posts for pictures sending screeners late in the season and we arrive at one with real potential – Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah. The Warner Bros production hits theaters and HBO Max simultaneously on February 12. It stars Lakeith Stanfield as an undercover FBI informant tasked to take down Black Panther head Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

While the review embargo is still intact, social media reactions are available today. They point to a feeling many had when the first trailer debuted months ago in that Judas could nab several nominations come Oscar morning. In particular, Kaluuya’s performance (being campaigned for in Supporting Actor) is being highly praised. This would be his second nomination behind his lead work in 2017’s Get Out. His inclusion in the supporting field appears not only likely, but he could win. I could foresee a narrative in which Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7) and Kaluuya vie for the prize and this storyline could play out until April.

Stanfield is in the Best Actor mix, but his final five status is much more questionable. Like Best Actress in 2020, lead actor may already have four performances that are “in”. That would be Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Anthony Hopkins (The Father), and Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods). The fifth slot could be a toss-up between several performers including Kingsley Ben-Adir (One Night in Miami), Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round), Gary Oldman (Mank), and Steven Yeun (Minari). Today’s buzz suggests adding Stanfield to that list is warranted.

Same goes for Supporting Actress with Dominique Fishback as several posts are highlighting her work. This year’s lineup appears in flux and there’s room for last minute surprises in that particular field. She will be one to keep an eye on.

As for Best Picture, Judas has been kept out of my predicted nine until word of mouth was available. When my estimates are updated on Thursday, it could well make its initial appearance. King’s direction is also on the table for final five status. Several down the line races are possible including Cinematography (also being mentioned a lot), Editing, Production Design, and Original Song (with a composition by H.E.R.). Warner Bros seems to know it has a real hopeful on its hands as this has been added to the Sundance schedule later this month.

Bottom line: the social media reaction indicates critics aren’t betrayed by Judas and it has officially announced its way into Academy consideration. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Black Bear

Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear premiered long, long ago in something called January 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival and became available for streaming this weekend. The drama casts Aubrey Plaza as a filmmaker looking for inspiration in dangerous places and many critics are calling it her finest performance to date. Costars include Sarah Gadon and Christopher Abbott.

The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at a sturdy 87%. Plaza is having a nice year as reviewers also praised her supporting work in the recent holiday rom com Happiest Season. That said, I have discussed how competitive Best Actress is numerous times here. Black Bear probably isn’t high profile enough to earn its star her first Oscar nod, but she’s certainly earning her critical bonafides as of late. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Time

Garrett Bradley’s documentary Time hit streaming on Amazon Prime this month after winning accolades earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Focused on a wife trying to free her husband from a 60-year prison sentence, the pic earned Bradley the directing prize for its genre at the aforementioned fest in January. She is the first African American female to win the prize.

Time stands at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes with 90 reviews up. As the Documentary Feature category is still taking shape, this joins several others as legit possibilities. It has yet to enter my top ten contenders in my weekly Thursday estimates, but expect that to change in the next write-up. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Nine Days

Nine Days premiered nine months ago at the Sundance Film Festival. It will be available for all viewers this January after Sony Pictures Classics snatched up the rights. The science fiction drama marks the directorial debut of Edson Oda with a cast featuring Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Tony Hale, and Bill Skarsgard. Executive produced by Spike Jonze, the pic has been praised by critics for its originality, the lead performance from Duke, and its screenplay which was penned by the director. The Rotten Tomatoes meter is at 86% currently.

Sony Pictures will need to a mount a major campaign in order for this to gain any traction with awards voters. I’m skeptical for now, but it’s not impossible that Original Screenplay could be in play if Sony plays their cards right. Bottom line: Nine Days could easily be ignored in the Oscar conversation, but it’s at least worth keeping an eye on. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…


Oscar Watch: The Forty-Year-Old Version

After it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival to a Dramatic Competition Directing prize, Radha Blank’s The Forty-Year-Old Version is available on Netflix this weekend. A humorous take on the director/writer/star’s real life experiences, her first feature is being hailed in critical circles with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 99%.

Its title emanating from the 2005 Steve Carell breakthrough The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the pic is certainly generating some buzz now that it’s available for mass consumption. However, I’m not confident that will translate to Oscar voters. Netflix has a mighty full plate of contenders to campaign for and this could fall under the radar. As I see it, Version‘s sole chance for recognition lies in its Original Screenplay. Unless critics groups give it momentum in the months ahead, that’s probably a stretch. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Dick Johnson Is Dead

After a warm reception earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, Kirsten Johnson’s documentary Dick Johnson Is Dead is having its streaming premiere on Netflix today. The director is the daughter of the title subject – a psychiatrist who receives a dementia diagnosis. She also made the well regarded 2016 doc Cameraperson. The picture is said to deal humorously and unconventionally with its subject matter. It received a Special Jury award at Sundance and stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The issue of dementia has been a theme for 2020 features. The most high profile is Florian Zeller’s The Father, which appears headed for multiple nominations including its leads Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman. Less likely titles to contend for consideration are Supernova with Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci and The Artist’s Wife starring Lena Olin and Bruce Dern.

On the doc side, I had Johnson listed at #4 for the various hopefuls. This race is obviously quite fluid at the moment, but the acclaim already received puts it as a strong contender. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Boys State

The buzz for Boys State began at the beginning of the year when it won the highest prize at the Sundance Film Festival for documentaries. It follows a Texas event for teenagers who build a representative form of government. The pic comes from directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine. The former is responsible for the acclaimed 2014 doc The Overnighters, which didn’t manage to make the final cut in Documentary Feature at the Oscars.

State, streaming on Apple TV since August, has a strong shot at faring better. With a 94% Rotten Tomatoes score, its subject matter could resonate with voters in this highly charged political year. The documentary competition is just starting to formulate at the Academy level. Projects such as Netflix’s Crip Camp and Dick Johnson Is Dead (look for that Watch post shortly) and John Lewis: Good Trouble from CNN Films are already hopefuls and Boys State can include itself in the mix. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Kajillionaire

Writer/director Miranda July unveiled her comedic heist drama Kajillionaire back in January at the Sundance Film Festival. The pic is headlined by Westworld star Evan Rachel Wood with a supporting cast that includes Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, and Gina Rodriguez.

Slated for a limited theatrical opening in late September with a VOD debut on October 16th, it received positive notices from critics and stands at 92% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. As to whether this receives much attention from awards voters, it could potentially be more of a factor at the Golden Globes if Focus Features places it in the Musical/Comedy competitions.

Even that could be a reach as its studio will need to mount a spirited campaign. Best Picture and Original Screenplay at the Oscars seems highly unlikely. It will, however, be worth watching if any of the actors gain any traction. My suspicion is that it would be Jenkins and Winger. The former could be competing against himself with the upcoming drama The Humans. Winger is a thrice nominated performer who hasn’t been in the mix since Shadowlands back in 1993. In my first round of ranked predictions two weeks ago, I placed her 8th in Supporting Actress, but she fell to 13th last week.

Bottom line: Kajillionaire has a limited path to any legitimate attention at the big show. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Tesla

My second Oscar Watch post over the weekend for a film that has five letters and begins with the letter T is definitely not as high profile as Tenet, but Tesla is worth discussing as it has hit streaming services.

The film casts Ethan Hawke as pioneering inventor Nikola Tesla with a supporting cast featuring Kyle MacLachlan, Eve Hewson, and Jim Gaffigan. It reunites its lead with his Hamlet director Michael Almereyda from that 2000 adaptation. Critics first screened the biographical drama at the Sundance Film Festival way back in January and it is available for viewing at home as of this weekend.

Reviews are decidedly mixed and the Rotten Tomatoes score stands at just 58%. That’s right in range with Hawke and Almereyda’s Shakesperean collaboration at 59%. Reviewers do seem to be appreciating Hawke’s performance. He’s a double nominee in the Supporting Actor field for Training Day in 2001 and Boyhood in 2014. For his contributions to the screenplays of Before Sunset and Before Midnight, he received a pair of Adapted Screenplay nominations. Despite some lauded lead roles in 2007’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and 2018’s First Reformed, Hawke has never managed a Best Actor nod.

I would say that Tesla simply won’t get enough visibility for the actor to make a play in 2020 and the so-so reaction thus far doesn’t help. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Early 2020 Oscar Predictions: Best Actor

My impossibly early first looks at the major Oscar races for 2020 arrives at Best Actor. If you happened to miss my posts concerning the supporting performers, you may find them here:



Unlike nearly all of the potential contenders in Supporting Actor and Actress, there are already two viable possibilities from pictures that have already screened or seen release. The Sundance Film Festival shed light on Anthony Hopkins in the forthcoming The Father while Netflix’s Spike Lee joint Da 5 Bloods showcased career best work from Delroy Lindo. If it not yet known whether Lindo will compete in lead or supporting, but I’m guessing he lands here.

As for other hopefuls, there are many intriguing storylines. On the Rocks finds comedic legend Bill Murray reuniting with director Sofia Coppola. Their 2003 collaboration Lost in Translation marked Mr. Murray’s only nomination thus far. Three years after his win for Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman will headline Netflix’s Mank from David Fincher, which on paper seems like a very awards friendly venture. And the trailer out last week for Judas and the Black Messiah appears to be a bait worthy role for Daniel Kaluuya (though its release date is still up in the air).

There’s plenty more recognizable faces to consider. I nearly put Ben Affleck among the top 15. His spring sports drama The Way Back gave him some of the best critical reaction of his career. Yet he’s likely a long shot.

In 2019, my inaugural August estimates yielded an impressive three of the five eventual nominees: Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and Adam Driver (Marriage Story). In my 10 other possibilities, the other two contenders were also named: Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes and the winner, Joaquin Phoenix as Joker. 

Here’s my first take!


Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods

Bill Murray, On the Rocks

Gary Oldman, Mank

Other Possibilities:

Timothee Chalamet, Dune

George Clooney, The Midnight Sky

Matt Damon, Stillwater

Ansel Elgort, West Side Story

Michael Fassbender, Next Goal Wins

Andrew Garfield, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Tom Hanks, News of the World

Joaquin Phoenix, C’Mon C’Mon

John David Washington, Tenet

Steven Yeun, Minari

Best Actress is up next! Stay tuned…