Pandemic or no pandemic, the show must go on, and thus the Oscars will be held two months late, on April 25, 2021. Back in January 2020, Sundance launched a few movies, including Lee Isaac Chung’s jury and audience prize-winner “Minari” (A24), starring Steven Yeun, and “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics), starring Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins (“The Silence of the Lambs”), who gives a tour-de-force performance opposite Olivia Colman as his daughter, and earned more kudos at the slimmed-down fall film festivals.
Never nominated for acting, Oscar-winning “Good Will Hunting” co-screenwriter Ben Affleck scored raves early in the year for his performance as an alcoholic coach in “The Way Back” (Warner Bros.), which will need to be brought back into voters’ minds.
While it debuted back at TIFF 2019, Amazon is pushing Darius Marder’s riveting “Sound of Metal” (November 20), about a recovering addict and heavy-metal drummer (Riz Ahmed) who loses his hearing. Like “Whiplash,” look for this film to register across several categories.
Already playing on the Academy screening portal is Spike Lee’s well-reviewed “Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix), starring Delroy Lindo as a traumatized vet who returns to Vietnam; Lindo could land his first Oscar nomination.
The breakout performance from Oscar-and-Emmy winner Regina King’s feature film directing debut “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) is Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, who meets one fateful night in 1964 with three of his pals, Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.,) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) to figure out how to affect change in the segregated South.
Biopics always have an edge in this race. After winning as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” Gary Oldman takes on charming alcoholic “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz in David Fincher’s “Mank” (Netflix) — with no prosthetics.
Chadwick Boseman could land a posthumous Best Actor nomination for his incendiary performance as a trumpeter backing blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) in George C. Wolfe’s movie adaptation of August Wilson’s play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix). It’s timely in the way it shows how anger can simmer and explode. He could win.
In an ordinary year, raunchy comedy “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” would be sidelined in the Oscar race with the possible exception of Best Adapted Screenplay. But this time the comedy’s dead-serious political aims will give it another advantage, as Sacha Baron Cohen is competing for Supporting Actor for period drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” (It’s likely that all the brouhaha around “Borat” will aid their “Chicago 7” awards cause, not hurt it. Voters tend to reward an actor who is having a big year, and to focus on the more serious dramatic performance.)
During this strangely elongated 2021 award season, many higher-profile titles wait for solid release dates and critics are playing an even more crucial role than usual.
Four-time acting nominee George Clooney directs and stars in timely sci-fi thriller “The Midnight Sky” (December 2020, Netflix), as a lonely, ailing Arctic scientist trying to warn a returning space flight of a global catastrophe. Two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks reunites with his “Captain Phillips” director Paul Greengrass in “News of the World” (December 25, Universal). Are these two performances too quiet and subtle for Academy actors? Perhaps.
When Apple Original Films acquired worldwide rights to Anthony and Joe Russo’s “Cherry” (in a deal reportedly worth north of $40 million), the streaming giant added the film (adapted from Nico Walker’s autobiographical novel) to its first Oscar slate. Marvel star Tom Holland (Spiderman) shows his dramatic chops as an Iraq Army medic who survives the war but returns home with PTSD, and becomes addicted to opiates and heroin, bringing his true love (Ciara Bravo) down that road with him. Apple plans an early 2021 release.
Contenders are listed in alphabetical order. No film will be deemed a frontrunner unless I have seen it.
Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”)
Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”)
Delroy Lindo (“Da 5 Bloods”)
Gary Oldman (“Mank”)
Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”)
Kingsley Ben-Adir (“One Night in Miami”)
George Clooney (“The Midnight Sky”)
Tom Hanks (“News of the World”)
Steven Yeun (“Minari”)
Ben Affleck (“The Way Back”)
Colin Firth (“Supernova”)
Tom Holland (“Cherry”)
Stanley Tucci (“Supernova”)
Tahar Rahim (“The Mauritanian”)
Lakeith Stanfield (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)