Oscars 2021: The Case of Jesse Plemons

My Case Of posts arrive at the third Supporting Actor contender and it’s Jesse Plemons in The Power of the Dog. The first two write-ups can be found here:

Oscars 2021: The Case of Ciaran Hinds

Oscars 2021: The Case of Troy Kotsur

The Case for Jesse Plemons:

Having appeared in acclaimed TV and cinematic works including Breaking Bad and Fargo on the small screen and The Master, The Irishman, and Judas and the Black Messiah on the big one, Plemons scores his first Academy nod. Dog led all nominees with 13 and that includes Kirsten Dunst (the actor’s real life love interest).

The Case Against Jesse Plemons:

It also includes his costar Kodi Smit-McPhee, who’s nominated in the same category and won the Golden Globe. Despite a BAFTA mention, Plemons didn’t make the SAG, Globe, or Critics Choice shortlists. Smit-McPhee and Troy Kotsur (CODA) are looked at as the potential victors. Woody Harrelson in 2017 lost to his costar Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as did Lakeith Stranfield last year to Daniel Kaluuya for the aforementioned Judas. Plemons could play that role this time around.

Previous Nominations: 

None

The Verdict:

Plemons might be back again next year with Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. Don’t look for an Oscar delivery here.

My Case Of posts will continue with Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s direction of Drive My Car

Oscars 2021: The Case of Jane Campion

The third entry in my Case Of posts for the Best Director nominees belongs to Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog. If you missed the first two, you can find them here:

Oscars 2021: The Case of Paul Thomas Anderson

Oscars 2021: The Case of Kenneth Branagh

The Case for Jane Campion:

After a 12 year absence from filmmaking, New Zealand’s Campion made an acclaimed return with the Netflix drama. It led all movies in terms of nods with an even better than anticipated 13. Already the winner of the Golden Globe, Campion has been the frontrunner ever since Dog‘s release. She would become just the third female to take this race after Kathryn Bigelow with 2009’s The Hurt Locker and Chloe Zhao for last year’s Nomadland. 

The Case Against Jane Campion:

If Dog is simply all nominations and very few wins (similar to The Irishman from two years ago), we could see plenty of upsets and that would include Campion losing here.

Previous Nominations: 1 (for directing only)

The Piano (1993)

The Verdict:

In 1993, Campion was probably runner-up in this category to Steven Spielberg for Schindler’s List. Even though Spielberg is up against her again with West Side Story, Campion comes into this ceremony as the sturdy favorite. Even if Power doesn’t take Best Picture, I’d still likely be forecasting Campion in this competition and in Adapted Screenplay. That would add Oscars two and three to her mantle after an Original Screenplay victory for The Piano. 

My Case Of posts will continue with the third Best Actress hopeful – Penelope Cruz in Parallel Mothers

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Picture Race

I’m closing out my deep dives of the major Oscar races with the granddaddy of them all – Best Picture. If you missed my posts covering Best Director and the four acting categories, you can find them here:

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Director Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actress Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actor Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actress Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actor Race

Unlike the previous several years where the Picture nominees could fluctuate between 5-10 (though 8 and 9 were the magic numbers), 2021 brings fluidity with a set 10 films being honored (I’d like to thank the Academy for that).

As I’ve done with the others, let’s take a look back at how I was performing in the early November time frame from 2019 and 2020. Two years ago, I had 8 of the eventual 9 movies pegged: winner Parasite, 1917, Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Little Women, Marriage Story, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The other – Joker – was mentioned in Other Possibilities.

2020 was trickier at this stage, but I identified 5 of the 8 hopefuls: winner Nomadland along with The Father, Mank, Minari, and The Trial of the Chicago 7. Judas and the Black Messiah was named as a possibility while I didn’t have Promising Young Woman or Sound of Metal yet in the 15 selections.

For 2021 – I feel confident that four already screened entries will make the dance. We begin with Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, the 1960s set coming-of-age drama that could be looked at as the soft frontrunner. It’s been listed at #1 in my estimates for several weeks.

Belfast displaced The Power of the Dog from Jane Campion in that spot, but I still see the Netflix title having no trouble securing its placement among the contenders.

King Richard should find its way as the inspirational sports flick that will have audiences on its side. Furthermore, Will Smith appears in position to possibly win Best Actor. You have to go back to Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) twelve years ago where the Oscar winning actor didn’t see his movie recognized in Picture.

Then there’s Dune. The sci-fi epic from Denis Villeneuve got the box office and critical kudos it needed to storm the competition. The filmmaker could make a victory play for his direction while the picture itself seems destined for a nod here and tech wins elsewhere.

In past years, the bulk of nominees in Picture were screened at festivals. In 2021, that dynamic could shift as there’s a slew of unscreened material that seems like Oscar bait. That list includes Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tick, Tick… Boom!, and Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up. 

The first four of the six are ones I’ve had in my ten for a bit and I’m not changing it today. That said, this could be altered quickly once their official reviews are up (and that will be soon). Some prognosticators are more confident with Don’t Look Up. I’ll believe it when I see it.

With the pics that have been seen, Pablo Larrain’s Spencer is sure looking like it will garner Kristen Stewart her first ever nod with a solid chance at a victory. I do believe the Princess Diana tale will manage to make the cut, but it could go either way.

This also holds true for Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, which should also manage some tech recognition and for its lead Denzel Washington and maybe Frances McDormand.

I will admit that it seems strange to leave off any titles that screened early at Sundance. After all, last year there were 3 pics from the fest (The Father, Minari, Promising Young Woman) that got in. There’s a trio that could do the same in 2021 and they’re all listed in Other Possibilities: CODA, Flee, and Mass. Of that group, Flee (which I do have predicted in Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, and International Feature Film) may have the strongest chance.

Foreign flicks could factor in and they include A Hero, The Hand of God, Parallel Mothers, and The Worst Person in the World. I wouldn’t completely discount Netflix hopefuls such as The Lost Daughter and Passing. 

Then there’s high profile fare where the luster has been lost either to mixed reviews or poor box office. That list includes Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, and certainly Chloe Zhao’s Eternals. 

The bottom line is this – in 2021, with two months left to go in the calendar, there’s a lot yet to be determined. Here’s my take for now:

Best Picture

Predicted Nominees:

1. Belfast (Previous Ranking: 1)

2. The Power of the Dog (PR: 2)

3. King Richard (PR: 3)

4. Dune (PR: 4)

5. Licorice Pizza (PR: 6)

6. Nightmare Alley (PR: 5)

7. West Side Story (PR: 7)

8. House of Gucci (PR: 8)

9. Spencer (PR: 9)

10. The Tragedy of Macbeth (PR: 10)

Other Possibilities:

11. Flee (PR: 13)

12. Don’t Look Up (PR: 11)

13. Mass (PR: 12)

14. Tick, Tick… Boom! (PR: 15)

15. CODA (PR: 14)

And that wraps the detailed looks, folks! Next weekend I’ll be back with updated estimates…

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Director Race

After four posts focusing on the acting races at the 2021 Oscars, it’s time to turn to Best Director. If you missed those entries on the lead and supporting performer derbies, you can find them here:

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actress Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actor Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actress Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actor Race

With the directing category, I do believe there’s three filmmakers that have likely punched their ticket to a nomination. Before we get there, let’s take a look at how my projections panned out at the same early November time frame in 2019 and 2020.

Two years back, I correctly identified four of the five contenders: winner Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) as well as Sam Mendes (1917), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Todd Phillips (Joker) was mentioned in Other Possibilities. 2020 was more unpredictable with two months left to go and that resulted in only two directors being accurately named: Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), who took the gold, and David Fincher (Mank). Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) was in Other Possibilities while neither Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) or surprise nominee Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) were yet listed in my top ten.

Back to 2021 and the three individuals who I believe stand probable shots at making the cut. They are Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), and Denis Villeneuve (Dune).

It was 28 years ago that Campion was nominated for The Piano. If it hadn’t been for Oscar juggernaut Schindler’s List, she likely would’ve been making a speech. Upon its premiere in Venice, Campion took the Silver Lion (equivalent to this competition) for Dog. I don’t see her being left off the ballot.

Belfast is the current frontrunner for Best Picture and it’s hard to envision  writer/director Branagh not making it in. If so, it would be his first nod in directing since Henry V some 32 years back.

Dune is being heralded for its technical wizardry and it should pick up numerous down the line wins and nominations. Five years after his behind the camera work was recognized for Arrival, Villeneuve should be a factor again.

Interestingly, I don’t feel there’s a clear favorite to win. There are plausible scenarios for any member of this trio to emerge victorious. Campion, Branagh, and Villeneuve constitute my top 3 (in that order), but it’s more of a 1a, 1b, and 1c at press time.

As for the other two slots, there’s a few contenders stemming from unseen product. There’s big names in that bunch: Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley, who won four years ago for The Shape of Water), Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza, a two-time nominee for There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread), Ridley Scott (for House of Gucci and not The Last Duel), Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up, previously nominated for The Big Short), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Tick, Tick… Boom!), and Steven Spielberg (West Side Story,  a two-time winner for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan).

Any of these gentlemen could bubble up to the surface once their pictures are screened. I’m sticking with the two I’ve had in my five recently: del Toro and Anderson.

King Richard has a chance to win Best Picture, but I’m skeptical its maker Reinaldo Marcus Green makes it here. The sports drama seems destined to be recognized more for its performances, but if the Academy really falls for it, Green could be theoretically be swept in. That holds true for Joel Coen (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Pablo Larrain (Spencer) as well.

Lastly, Thomas Vinterberg’s nod in 2020 for Another Round came out of nowhere. While it was pegged to take International Feature Film (which it did), Round was not nominated in Best Picture. There’s a slew of directors who could fill the “surprise” slot this time around (many from foreign features): Pedro Almodovar (Parallel Mothers), Julia Ducournau (Titane), Asghar Farhari (A Hero), Paolo Sorrentino (The Hand of God), Joachim Trier (The Worst Person in the World). I wouldn’t completely count out Rebecca Hall for Passing. Yet none of these upset selections are in my top ten.

The one that is: Jonas Poher Rasmussen for festival darling Flee. While I don’t have it nabbing a Best Pic nom at the moment, I do foresee the Danish doc contending in Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, and International Feature Film. That kind of attention could cause the voters to include him.

Here’s how those rankings look at the start of November:

Best Director

Predicted Nominees:

1. Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog (Previous Ranking: 1)

2. Kenneth Branagh, Belfast (PR: 2)

3. Denis Villeneuve, Dune (PR: 3)

4. Guillermo del Toro, Nightmare Alley (PR: 4)

5. Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Pablo Larrain, Spencer (PR: 6)

7. Steven Spielberg, West Side Story (PR: 7)

8. Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee (PR: Not Ranked)

9. Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard (PR: 9)

10. Ridley Scott, House of Gucci (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Julia Ducournau, Titane

Best Picture is next!

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actor Race

Starting on the blog today, I’m taking a deeper dive into the four acting derbies at the Oscars as well as Picture and Director. It begins with Supporting Actor.

If I could use a couple words to describe this particular race – “very open” immediately comes to mind. With just two months left in the calendar year, I would go as far to say that not I’m not 100% certain on any performer discussed below making the final five. That’s rare.

Before I delve into the many hopefuls, let’s take a look at where my projections were at in 2019 and 2020 during the same time frame. Two years ago, I had already correctly pegged four of the five eventual nominees: winner Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time Hollywood), Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes), and Al Pacino (The Irishman). The other contender was Joe Pesci (also for The Irishman) and I had him listed at #6 in Other Possibilities. In hindsight, Supporting Actor was well on its way to being established with two months remaining in 2019.

Not so much for 2020. Last year was more difficult than perhaps any before it in figuring out who’d make the cut (much of that uncertainty was due to COVID and the constantly shifting release schedule). On November 1, 2020 – my forecasted five contenders yielded just two of the eventual nominees: Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Leslie Odom, Jr. for One Night in Miami. I still had the winner (Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah) listed for the lead Actor competition. Both Lakeith Stanfield (Judas) and Paul Raci (Sound of Metal) were not yet mentioned in Other Possibilities.

With that context, we arrive in 2021. And I would say this year looks more like the previous one as opposed to 2019. There has been one constant since I began projecting the race back in the summer: Bradley Cooper for Licorice Pizza (known as Soggy Bottom just a couple of months ago). I’ve had him listed at #1 the whole way and it’s a prediction based mostly on gut since no one has seen the picture (that’ll change shortly). Cooper is a four-time acting nominee (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, American Sniper, A Star is Born). He’s yet to take the gold. Pizza looks like it should be a juicy role for him. On the other hand, we do not yet known just how big (or small) his role is. When reviews come out, he could solidify himself as the frontrunner or drop out altogether. There’s also the possibility that one of the other supporting players (Sean Penn or Benny Safdie) could rise. For now, I’m still hangin’ with Mr. Cooper until the word-of-mouth tells me otherwise.

Shifting gears – here’s a fun fact. In three out of the last four years, we’ve seen two actors from the same movie recognized here. In 2017, it was Sam Rockwell (who won) and Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. For 2019 – you had Pacino and Pesci in The Irishman. Last year, it was the victorious Kaluuya and Stanfield for Judas.

Could that happen again? Absolutely and the best chance for that right now appears to be Belfast. A strong contender to win Best Picture, we could also see Jamie Dornan and Ciaran Hinds punch their tickets here. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it happen. Dornan seems likelier to make it in, but Hinds is getting plenty of laudatory chatter as well.

There are other scenarios to make it four out of five years and some lie with pictures still not screened. Don’t Look Up has Jonah Hill, Rob Morgan, and Mark Rylance. Willem Dafoe and David Strathairn are viable for Nightmare Alley. And then there’s Jared Leto and Al Pacino in House of Gucci. The latest trailer features the latter more than the former. That disrupts the consensus that Leto has a better shot. I’m still going with Leto above Pacino, but when Gucci screens that dynamic may shift.

The double nominee situations don’t end there. Yet they both have actors that I believe have a significantly better chance than the other. For Mass, Jason Isaacs has been in my five while Reed Birney hasn’t made the top ten in some time. After The Power of the Dog was unveiled on the festival circuit, the narrative unexpectedly shifted to Kodi Smit-McPhee having a clearer path than Jesse Plemons. The Tragedy of Macbeth buzz solidified Corey Hawkins over Brendan Gleeson (though I’m skeptical either get in).

Now is a good time to point out that it’s been ten years since a Supporting Actor winner didn’t come from a Best Picture nominee (Christopher Plummer in Beginners). That’s why I find it a stretch that Ben Affleck (The Tender Bar), Idris Elba (The Harder They Fall), or Troy Kotsur (CODA) will be making trips to the podium. They could still get in, but their paths are tougher and they will all need heavy critics awards love to make the dance. There’s been some mentions for Jeffrey Wright in The French Dispatch, but (somewhat surprisingly) no Wes Anderson directed performance has been Academy nominated and I don’t see this being the first.

One actor where an exception could occur is Richard Jenkins in The Humans. I doubt it will land a Pic nod, but Jenkins is drawing raves for his work. Twice nominated before for The Visitor and The Shape of Water, I could see the veteran becoming a threat to win if Cooper falls.

Others worthy of mention include Jon Bernthal in King Richard. The attention could be so focused on Will Smith (who appears to be in the driver’s seat to take Actor) that his supporting cast fails to get in (that logic also applies to Supporting Actress hopeful Aunjanue Ellis). It’s also totally feasible that Richard is so popular with the Academy that it sweeps them all in. Andrew Garfield picked up solid notices for The Eyes of Tammy Faye. He might stand a better shot in lead for the upcoming and yet to be screened Tick, Tick… Boom! Timothy Spall for Spencer is doable, but Kristen Stewart is just as likely to be the sole nominee (and maybe the winner in Actress). The work of David Alvarez (West Side Story) and Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos) has yet to be seen and is worth keeping an eye on.

So how does that all shake out? Truth be told, the five predicted performers listed below could look quite different a couple months from now. Here’s my best guesstimate for the moment:

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees:

1. Bradley Cooper, Licorice Pizza (Previous Ranking: 1)

2. Richard Jenkins, The Humans (PR: 3)

3. Jamie Dornan, Belfast (PR: 2)

4. Jared Leto, House of Gucci (PR: 5)

5. Ciaran Hinds, Belfast (PR: 8)

Other Possibilities:

6. Jason Isaacs, Mass (PR: 4)

7. Jon Bernthal, King Richard (PR: 6)

8. Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog (PR: 7)

9. Al Pacino, House of Gucci (PR: Not Ranked)

10. Troy Kotsur, CODA (PR: 10)

Dropped Out:

Ben Affleck, The Tender Bar

I’ll have my analysis on the current state of Supporting Actress up next!

The War with Grandpa Box Office Prediction

My box office predictions have been in a dormancy stage as chains struggle to obtain new product in these COVID times. It picks up again next weekend with the release of The War with Grandpa as uncertainty continues with the financial viability for theatrical releases.

This comedy starring Robert De Niro has had a checkered history even before the virus. Shot in 2017, it was originally scheduled for a 2018 debut. However, its original distributor was The Weinstein Company and the release was shelved due to the high profile legal troubles of its founder. 101 Studios eventually picked it up and here we are.

Tim Hill directs and he’s mostly known for kid friendly and animated fare such as Alvin and the Chipmunks and this year’s The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run. Costars include Uma Thurman, Christopher Walken, Rob Riggle, Oakes Fegley, Cheech Marin, and Jane Seymour.

When Tenet underperformed stateside in July, it set off a wave of delays. That includes just this week as No Time to Die experienced another push (this time to Easter 2021). Simply put, audiences have yet to develop a comfort level with a return to multiplexes.

Don’t look for Grandpa to change that. The film’s trailer was greeted with some eye rolling as this looks like a return to De Niro comedic mediocrity (just months after a more acclaimed turn in The Irishman). The Coronavirus questions persist: how many venues will this actually play in? This is even more of an issue now that Regal Cinemas has announced the closure of over 500 theaters. Amidst all of this, I believe Grandpa will struggle to hit $2 million for a quiet start.

The War with Grandpa opening weekend prediction: $1.9 million

Early 2020 Oscar Predictions: Best Picture

My earliest Oscar prediction posts for the 2020 season culminates today with the grand prize… Best Picture! And on a more personal note, this particular writeup marks my 3000th entry on this movie blog of mine. Thanks to all the readers over the past few years!

As I have explained in the acting and directing race estimates, this year has been a challenging one for these initial projections. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many release dates into uncertainty and that looks to continue for some time. That’s why I’m not yet putting Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch in the mix, for instance. Additionally, many of the fall festivals that showcase awards hopefuls have been downsized or canceled altogether. That said, the ones that are moving forward will do so in the coming weeks (so expect plenty of Oscar Watch posts in the near future).

Unlike the five other races already discussed, I’m putting 25 contenders in the Picture race (the others had 15). As you may know, the number of nominees in this category can fluctuate between five and ten. The magic number has been 9 for most years, including 2019. On a side note, the Academy has announced that, beginning next year, the number will move to a finite 10. I am currently going with 8 for the volume of 2020 nominees, but that could certainly change as the weeks roll along.

If you missed my aforementioned predictions on the other major competitions, you can find them right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/08/12/early-2020-oscar-predictions-best-director/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/08/11/early-2020-oscar-predictions-best-actress/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/08/10/early-2020-oscar-predictions-best-actor/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/08/09/early-2020-oscar-predictions-best-supporting-actress/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/08/09/early-2020-oscar-predictions-best-supporting-actor/

Last year, the initial Best Picture forecast in August yielded six out of the nine eventual nominees. These were the winner Parasite, The Irishman, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. In my other possibilities, I identified the three other nominees: Ford v Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit, and Joker.

Finally, a note on how these Oscar prognostications will move forward. Beginning on Thursday, August 27, I will begin weekly columns where I will rank and forecast the six major categories. In October, that weekly column will expand to all categories covering feature films. That will continue all the way through the announcement of nominations next year.

Let’s get at it!

EARLY OSCAR PREDICTIONS: BEST PICTURE

Ammonite

Da 5 Bloods

Dune

Mank

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Nomadland

Tenet

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Other Possibilities:

C’Mon C’Mon

The Father

First Cow

French Exit

Hillbilly Elegy

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Judas and the Black Messiah

The Midnight Sky

Minari

Mulan

News of the World

Next Goal Wins

On the Rocks

Respect

Soul

Stillwater

West Side Story

And that does it, folks! Two weeks from now… the ranked estimates begin…

Early 2020 Oscar Predictions: Best Director

My first round of Oscar predictions in this topsy turvy time known as 2020 arrives at Best Director. If you missed my initial take on the four acting races, you can find them all here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/08/11/early-2020-oscar-predictions-best-actress/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/08/10/early-2020-oscar-predictions-best-actor/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/08/09/early-2020-oscar-predictions-best-supporting-actress/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/08/09/early-2020-oscar-predictions-best-supporting-actor/

I’ve already discussed the challenges of making these August projections and many of them are the same as any other year. Yet it’s even trickier now due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever shifting release dates that accompany it. This is why I’ve left off Wes Anderson and The French Dispatch as its premiere is especially in flux. If word comes out in the near future to its unveiling, he would almost certainly be in the top 15.

Some of the pictures and their makers listed here will (at least right now) be seen in the next few weeks at festivals. As for Tenet, the latest from Christopher Nolan is expected to be out in limited fashion stateside by month’s end.

2019 was a bit more stable and I correctly identified 4 of the eventual 5 nominees in my first late summer predictions. That includes winner Bong Joon-Ho (Parasite), Sam Mendes (1917), Martin Scorsese, (The Irishman), and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). My only miss was Todd Phillips for Joker and I didn’t even have him in the 10 other possibilities.

Let’s get to it with my introductory look at the players vying for behind the camera accolades!

EARLY OSCAR PREDICTIONS: BEST DIRECTOR

David Fincher, Mank

Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods

Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Denis Villeneuve, Dune

Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Other Possibilities:

Sofia Coppola, On the Rocks

Paul Greengrass, News of the World

Ron Howard, Hillbilly Elegy

Charlie Kaufman, I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Shaka King, Judas and the Black Messiah

Francis Lee, Ammonite

Tom McCarthy, Stillwater

Mike Mills, C’Mon C’Mon

Christopher Nolan, Tenet

Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

I’ll have the big daddy of them all – Best Picture – up in short order! Stay tuned…

Early 2020 Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor

And a new day has dawned on this blog of mine as the 2020 Oscar Predictions begin!

To put it mildly, this is a challenge in 2020. The obvious hindrance is the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut theaters down for the past nearly five months and prevented scores of titles from their release.

It doesn’t stop there. I always do my early prediction posts in the later part of August when significant film festivals are about to get underway. The coronavirus has altered that dynamic as well. The Toronto and Venice festivals will operate in a much different fashion with some releases getting remote screenings and you should expect quite a few Oscar Watch posts in the coming weeks. However, it’s not nearly the volume of previous years. I have chosen to push up these early prediction posts because… well, I don’t have much else to write about!

To add to the mayhem – we have understandably seen a year in which release dates are constantly changing. Some of the pictures mentioned here may not see the light of day by February 2021. That, by the way, is the month the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have extended eligibility to for the upcoming ceremony. A good example: Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (which has seen its date pushed back more than once) is now a TBD release. We’ve grown accustomed to that lately. For this reason, I am not including it in my inaugural round of predictions.

One potential beneficiary to all of this is Netflix. The streaming giant has loaded up on awards contenders for the season. Three of them in particular – David Fincher’s Mank, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, and Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 – boasts multiple performers who could see their work recognized in this particular category. In fact, four of the five early predicted nominees here are for Netflix properties.

As with any other year, these first projections are done with another degree of uncertainty and that’s category placement. It is inevitable that some performances in the supporting field could move to lead and vice versa. These decisions will become clearer as time goes along and will certainly shift my predictions in the future. For instance, Delroy Lindo seems bound for a nod in Da 5 Bloods. The smart money is that he’ll be campaigned for in Best Actor, but it’s in the realm of possibility that he could be a Supporting Actor contender.

Looking back at my early 2019 predictions in this category nearly a year ago, only one of my five projected nominees got through the process. It was, however, the winner with Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. For context, I predict my top 5 and then list ten other possibilities. All four other eventual nominees (Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci for The Irishman), were all listed as possibilities.

So… let’s get to it with my very speculative first look at which gentlemen could contend in the supporting field!

EARLY OSCAR PREDICTIONS: BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Tom Burke, Mank

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7

David Strathairn, Nomadland

Other Possibilities:

David Alvarez, West Side Story

Charles Dance, Mank

Lucas Hedges, French Exit

Jonathan Majors, Da 5 Bloods

Clarke Peters, Da 5 Bloods

Jesse Plemons, I’m Thinking of Ending Things 

Eddie Redmayne, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Mark Rylance, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah

Forest Whitaker, Respect 

I’ll have Supporting Actress up next! Until then…

Da 5 Bloods Movie Review

Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods shows the filmmaker in peak form with a sprawling and powerful story of war and the residual results on its soldiers. The title characters are a quartet of African-American Vietnam vets and one who didn’t make it out of the jungle. This is a mix of numerous genres – traditional war movie, treasure hunt, and exploration of racial themes to name three. Throughout his career spanning five decades, Lee has never lacked in grand ambition. When he’s in his element, the end product is something to behold. For the majority of the running time here, that holds true.

Following a prologue showing significant moments in the civil rights Vietnam eras, we meet the four soldiers reuniting in Ho Chi Minh City half a century later. They are Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), and Eddie (Norm Lewis). The reasoning for the reunion is two-fold. Norman (played in flashback by Chadwick Boseman) was their squad leader who perished in battle. He was not just their leader in rank, but a mentor who tremendously shaped their overseas experience and beyond. The four remaining Bloods are there to retrieve his remains, but they are also looking to gather a large quantity of gold buried with him.

Da 5 Bloods is in many ways a concentration about what the group left behind. For Otis, this includes a girlfriend and child. For Paul, it’s no less than his sanity. His PTSD is severe and his character is quite a creation. Sporting a MAGA hat and a host of unresolved issues, his son David (Jonathan Majors) unexpectedly makes the trek to the former Saigon to join his unpredictable dad. The part of Paul is a well-constructed character. Yet much credit is due to Lindo, a veteran actor in the role of his career. Lindo delivers a couple of direct to camera monologues as the gold hunt takes unanticipated turns that are potent and riveting. Those moments will likely garner awards buzz for the performer and it’s deserved.

The supporting cast is impressive with Peters and Majors getting the most fleshed out characters behind Lindo’s. Jean Reno turns up as a Frenchman getting his cut of the gold and Melanie Thierry plays an activist dedicated to ridding the Vietnamese landscape of decades old landmines.

As mentioned, the use of flashback is employed and Lee makes a fascinating narrative decision here. While Norm is shown as his younger self, the four other actors are shown as is in the callbacks to wartime. This is a bit jarring at first, but it turns out to be a wise choice. As the story unfolds, we realize that it’s through the lens of their recollections of their hero Norm. The utilization of Irishman style de-aging or younger actors isn’t necessary.

Lee’s previous pic BlacKkKlansman told a tale from decades ago that resonates in 2020 (perhaps slightly more effectively). Same goes for Da 5 Bloods. Lee is an urgent director and we feel it throughout. With a commanding lead performance from Lindo, a fine score from Terence Blanchard, and a fresh take on the genre (s), Bloods is a vital watch.

***1/2 (out of four)