By Daniel Howat
We may be approaching the strangest Oscar season in history, but that can’t stop the Next Best Picture team from releasing our first Oscar Predictions of the year. With theaters shut down for the foreseeable future, many film releases postponed, and streaming-only films allowed to compete for the first time, this is sure to be a wild season. Nevertheless, our team will still be offering our insights on the contenders. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at our initial predictions and how this season might shape up.
***Please keep in mind that members of the NBP Team update their predictions whenever they want 24/7, so by the time you’re reading this, some of the analysis may be slightly off from the time of its original published date***
Breaking down NBP’s initial Best Picture predictions, one thing is abundantly clear: With theaters out of commission, it’s Netflix’s time to shine. It’s no secret that they’ve been hungry for a Best Picture win after coming so close the past two years. Netflix already has the best infrastructure for releasing and campaigning their films without a significant theatrical release. They’re also one of the only studios who didn’t have to postpone their releases when theaters shut down. After having two Best Picture nominees last year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Netflix show up with a bigger number of nominees next year.
David Fincher’s “Mank” features heavily on the team’s Best Picture predictions, and seems to be the film to beat at the moment. The film ranks first or second on the lists for all eleven members. It’ll be a formidable contender to be sure. We know the Academy loves movies about movies. Would they award Best Picture to a black and white film about moviemaking for the second time within ten years? If anyone can do it, Netflix and David Fincher can get there.
Netflix’s contenders don’t stop there. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is another Netflix project ranked highly on our lists. All but two of us have the film in our top five contenders. Aaron Sorkin’s film will be one of the most timely contenders in the race, which could give it a leg up in campaigning. Ron Howard’s adaptation of “Hillbilly Elegy” is a certain bet in the acting categories, but can it crash into Picture? I’m starting to get “Marriage Story” vibes thinking about the possible path for this film. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Da 5 Bloods” could also compete in Best Picture, though their placement in our initial predictions isn’t very strong.
When we posted our first predictions, “The French Dispatch” was one of the highest-ranking non-Netflix films in our Best Picture predictions, and throughout our other categories as well. Unfortunately, Searchlight removed the film from their release schedule last week. While there’s still the possibility that the place the film in early spring to qualify, this feels like a deliberate move into the next Oscar season. Consequently, we’re removing “The French Dispatch” from our predictions until we hear further news.
Elsewhere, quite a few films place on nearly all of our lists. Searchlight just declared that “Nomadland” will premiere (in some form or fashion) at the fall film festivals, ensuring that they believe they have a contender on their hands. Chloé Zhao’s film appeared on all but one of our lists for Best Picture. “Ammonite,” Francis Lee’s romantic drama, is on all but two lists. Disney’s “Soul,” currently rumored for a fall Disney+ debut, placed on all but three lists. “West Side Story,” “Tenet,” and “News of the World” each found number one placements on three lists, respectively.
Based on NBP’s initial predictions, the safe bets are “Mank,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Nomadland,” and “Ammonite,” with “Hillbilly Elegy,” “Soul,” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” coming up next.
It’s David Fincher’s to lose. Only two of the eleven NBP lists have someone other than Fincher in the winning spot (including yours truly). He’s certainly an overdue and beloved filmmaker. Can Netflix score another director a Best Director win on a small-scale and more intimate project? Personally, I think it sounds too good to be true. While I want Fincher to win as much as the next guy, I worry that “Mank’s” awards run might look more like “The Irishman” than “Roma.” I hope I’m wrong, though.
Though “News of the World” didn’t rank as highly on most Picture lists, Paul Greengrass is in the top five of all but five lists. Greengrass only received one previous Director nomination, but “News of the World” is a departure in style for him which could pay off. Personally speaking, I’ve got a strong feeling about this film. We’ll see how it plays out.
Chloé Zhao and Lila Neugebauer are the two female directors with a consistent presence on these lists. While Zhao’s potential nomination for “Nomadland” doesn’t need much explanation, predicting the nomination of a first-time director sight-unseen might seem odd. Neugebauer is an acclaimed theater director, seemingly in a great position to break out with her feature debut for A24, “Red, White, and Water.” Additionally, the film is a comeback of sorts for Jennifer Lawrence, who hasn’t starred in an Oscar-nominated film since 2015. This is a bit of a wild card prediction, but it’s not unrealistic.
Sorkin is listed on all eleven lists, though in mixed positions, while Howard is on all but two lists, and I expect both will be strong competitors. George C. Wolfe placed on just a few lists for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Netflix will have to decide which contenders it wants to focus on. Even three Director nominations for the studio would be an incredible feat.
Francis Lee also placed on most lists for “Ammonite,” along with a solid showing for Steven Spielberg for “West Side Story.” Lee Isaac Chung found a few mentions for “Minari,” though, with this extended season, it’s getting harder to imagine 2020 Sundance films lasting through the competition.
Based on NBP’s initial predictions, the safe bets for Best Director are clearly Fincher and Sorkin, followed by Howard, Zhao, Greengrass, and Neugebauer, with Spielberg, Wolfe, and Lee coming up next.
Continuing the trend, actresses from two Netflix projects are clearly out in front of this race. In six out of eleven of our lists, Amy Adams for “Hillbilly Elegy” ranked first. In the other five lists, first place goes to Viola Davis for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” It’s easy to see why these two actresses are highly ranked here. Adams is the second-most nominated living actor without an Oscar win, and the internet will likely be clamoring for her to finally win. Her part in “Elegy” is supposedly pretty awards-baity, so she’s in a good spot. Davis, though she won Best Supporting Actress in 2016, is still seen and undervalued in Hollywood. Both actresses will likely remain at the top of these lists for some time to come.
In third place, Frances McDormand placed in the top five on all eleven lists for her role in “Nomadland.” It’s unlikely she’ll win a third Oscar just three years after her last win, but she’s looking safe for a nomination according to NBP. Kate Winslet in “Ammonite” is clearly next in line, placing on all our lists and in the top five on all but two. It’s been five years since Winslet has been in serious contention, yet she’s still seen as one of our greatest working actresses.
After those four, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. NBP had a strong showing for Jennifer Hudson in “Respect,” where she plays Aretha Franklin. To me, this is the type of role that’s just so obviously aiming for an Oscar that it makes me hesitant to predict it, though it worked well for both Cynthia Erivo and winner Renée Zellweger just last year. Additionally, Jennifer Lawrence could score another nomination for the first time in five years for “Red, White, and Water.”
Michelle Pfeiffer and Sophia Loren are looking for comebacks at the Oscars, and many of us have them on our lists for “The French Exit” and “The Life Ahead,” respectively. On the other end of the spectrum, newcomer Rachel Zegler could be looking at a nomination for her debut film role in Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story.”
Based on NBP’s initial predictions, the safe bets are Adams, Davis, McDormand, and Winslet, with Hudson, Zegler, Pfeiffer, and Lawrence coming up next. Don’t count out Loren though, who would have a great narrative and push from Netflix.
Interestingly, Best Actor seems to also have two clear cut frontrunners according to NBP, but both for films that have already been seen. Anthony Hopkins in “The Father” ranks first on seven of the eleven lists, while Delroy Lindo in “Da 5 Bloods” ranks first on the other four. “The Father” premiered to rave reviews at Sundance, primarily for Hopkins’ performance of a man slipping into dementia. Lindo captured the attention of most critics for his powerful performance in Netflix’s early contender, though category confusion could pose a problem. While “The Father” may be able to premiere at a good time to keep the conversation rolling, “Da 5 Bloods” premiered before the eligibility was extended, and thus might get lost.
In third place, landing in the top five on all but one list is Gary Oldman for “Mank.” Like McDormand, it’s unlikely he’ll win again so soon, but if the film is as big a contender in Picture and Director as NBP believes it will be, it would be surprising to not see Oldman make the final lineup.
Tom Hanks closely follows, placing in the top five on nine of eleven lists for “News of the World.” After numerous major snubs, including for Greengrass’s “Captain Phillips,” Hanks finally returned to the Oscars last year. It’s easy to imagine him breaking in here for the period drama, perhaps even as an apology for the “Captain Phillips” snub.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” suffers from early category confusion. With a large ensemble, it’s tough to figure out who will be going lead or supporting or even who the standouts could be sight unseen. Based on early talk, Netflix hasn’t decided on who is lead yet, but seeing as how he’s the biggest name of the group, Eddie Redmayne could be the true lead of the film. There likely won’t be much clarity until the film premieres in October.
The rest of the contenders that NBP picked are a little all over the map. A few films aren’t confirmed for this season, like Joaquin Phoenix in Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon” or Matt Damon in Tom McCarthy’s “Stillwater.” Should those received release dates, both will be high-profile contenders here. Other names mentioned in some lists are Gabriel Basso for “Hillbilly Elegy,” Steven Yeun for “Minari,” and Benedict Cumberbatch for “The Courier.”
Based on NBP’s initial predictions, the safe bets are Hopkins, Lindo, and Oldman, with Hanks and Redmayne up next. Phoenix, Damon, or Basso could be contenders as well.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
This category looks shockingly similar to Best Actress. While Adams is the second-most nominated living actor without an Oscar, her co-star in “Hillbilly Elegy” is the first. I for one can’t imagine both winning for the same film, as that just seems too easy. My money is on Close for now. NBP agrees, as eight of us have her winning at the moment.
Closely following Close is another overdue actress, though one significantly younger. At 26, Saoirse Ronan has already received four nominations. On the other three NBP lists, Ronan is ranked first for her role in “Ammonite.” It’s easy to picture either Close or Ronan winning, and it’s tough to picture either of them missing a nomination here.
Ten of the eleven lists have Olivia Colman in the top five for her role opposite Hopkins in “The Father.” I’m the only holdout without Colman on my list at all. Still, she’s a recent winner who could easily stand out in a film very much centered on its performances.
After those three, it’s tough to see consistency in the NBP picks. Nine of us have Amanda Seyfried in contention for “Mank,” which, again, is likely if the film is to be a strong contender. All eleven of us have Meryl Streep listed for “The Prom,” though we’re now hearing that Netflix may push her in lead. Ariana Debose is playing Anita in “West Side Story,” a role that won Rita Moreno an Oscar for the 1961 version, so she could very well find herself in contention. Young German actress Helena Zengel could have a meaty role opposite Hanks in “News of the World,” and placed on five of our lists. Abigail Breslin plays Matt Damon’s daughter in “Stillwater,” and is also on five of our lists.
Based on NBP’s initial lists, the safe bets are Close, Ronan, and Colman, with Seyfried, Zengel, Debose, and Breslin up next.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The consensus of the NBP team is that someone from “The Trial of the Chicago 7” will win Best Supporting Actor. The problem is, none of us know who that will be. Five of us predict Jeremy Strong, two predict Mark Rylance, two predict Sacha Baron Cohen. A large ensemble like this is likely to see two nominees in this category, but we don’t know who the likely contenders will be yet.
Next up, Chadwick Boseman made all eleven lists for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and was in the top five on ten of those lists. He’s been a breakout star over the past few years, first known for three major biopics (“42,” “Get On Up,” and “Marshall”) before joining Marvel with “Black Panther.” He’s in a prime spot for a supporting nomination should “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” be a contender. David Strathairn is also in a good position for his role in “Nomadland,” and placed on ten of the eleven lists, all in the top five.
It’s really a free for all after that. Tom Pelphrey could be swept along in the “Mank” love. If “Red, White, and Water” is a success, Brian Tyree Henry could score a nomination. Richard Jenkins could get some love for his role in “The Humans,” the adaptation of the play of the same name. Bill Murray could score the first nomination for Apple TV+ for his role in Sofia Coppola’s “On The Rocks.” If NBP’s lists are any indication, there’s a lot of wiggle room in this category right now.
Based on NBP’s initial lists, the safe bets are anyone from “The Trial Of The Chicago 7,” Boseman, and Strathairn. After that, it’s not clear cut, but consider Jenkins, Pelphrey, Murray, or Henry.
We have a very long way to go before we see how this season will shape up, and it’s more up in the air than ever before. Take these lists with a grain of salt, but hopefully, they’re a good jumping-off point as we enter the race for the 93rd Academy Awards. Are there any major contenders we’ve left off? Or anyone you think we’re very wrong about? Take a look at our predictions and let us know in the comments or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Daniel and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @howatdk