Now that the strikes are over, awards season can be completely about the awards again – especially now that the actual first major awards of the season will be announced soon. As always, the most significant early prizes in critic awards season’s first few weeks will come from the New York Film Critics Circle on November 30th, the National Board of Review on December 6th, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association on December 10th. While they may not always be bellwethers for the Oscar results, they can and often do award under-the-radar actors who just need an extra boost for the longer gauntlet ahead.
This year, there is no shortage of actors who could use the NBR, NYFCC, and LAFCA’s launching pad in these early stages. Below are ten such examples of contenders who can see their campaigns spring to life or just have their Oscar nomination chances revived in the nick of time with one big win among these three important voting groups.
Greta Lee, Teo Yoo and John Magaro – “Past Lives”
In general, “Past Lives” needs critics on its side now more than ever, after they spent the first six months of the year hailing it as the year’s best movie. But while it is now merely on the Best Picture bubble, it would really help its resume if Lee had a more secure place on the Best Actress bubble and if Yoo and Magaro found their way back on the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor bubble.
The NBR is more likely to go for splashier performances in bigger movies, yet the NYFCC or LAFCA may be more inclined to dig deeper for someone like Lee or Yoo and Magaro. Now that the LAFCA has two winners and two runners-up for Best Leading and Best Supporting Performance, there could be enough of a springboard since five out of the eight Leading and Supporting actors cited by the LAFCA were Oscar-nominated last year.
Koji Yakusho – “Perfect Days”
Someone else who made a big early splash in the first half of 2023 was Koji Yakusho, who won Cannes’ Best Actor way back in May for his performance in Wim Wenders’ “Perfect Days.” Given that the Best Actor Oscar field has filled up since then, Yakusho could use another boost pretty soon. Yet since there are only eight or nine actors realistically fighting for five spots right now, one more noteworthy win from the NBR, New York, or Los Angeles may be exactly what Yakusho needs to stay in for the long haul.
Trace Lysette – “Monica”
After Andrea Riseborough’s out-of-nowhere nomination for “To Leslie” last year, everyone is searching for the next performer from a very small movie that could be pushed all the way – or waiting for Riseborough’s big-name supporters to show their hypocrisy in not boosting someone completely different this year.
If anyone can pull a Riseborough in the Best Actress field this year, it might be either Teyana Taylor for “A Thousand and One” or groundbreaking trans lead Lysette for “Monica.” But since Taylor already got recognized with a Gotham Award nomination and Lysette didn’t, it likely puts her ahead for a Riseborough-like surge from critics. However, that can change or at least expand if the NBR, NYFCC, or LAFCA recognize Lysette in a way the Gothams couldn’t.
Margot Robbie – “Barbie”
It is now a trademark for the NYFCC to choose one seemingly wacky, or at least eyebrow-raising, winner in an actress category – be it Keke Palmer for “Nope” last year, Lady Gaga for “House of Gucci” in 2021, Maria Bakalova for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” in 2020, Lupita Nyong’o’s first critics win for “Us” in 2019, Regina Hall for “Support the Girls” in 2018, or Tiffany Haddish for “Girls Trip” in 2017.
If that tradition continues, there might be no better choice than Robbie and no bigger sign that “Barbie” is indeed something to take very seriously. Its billion-dollar gross alone will keep Robbie as a distinct Best Actress nominee possibility, just like how last summer’s champion “Top Gun: Maverick” kept Tom Cruise on the bubble for a long time before it popped. Yet if Robbie can get the prominent critics’ group win that Cruise never did, her bubble may be made of far stronger stuff.
Milo Machado-Graner – “Anatomy Of A Fall”
Sandra Hüller is “Anatomy of a Fall’s” major acting contender, whose Best Actress campaign might help determine if the film itself makes the Best Picture cut. Yet as acclaimed as Hüller has been, her young on-screen son has often been cited as the film’s real secret weapon and the center of its deepest themes about personal narratives and truths.
Machado-Graner may be a longshot for Best Supporting Actor Oscar recognition, yet critics groups are not the industry. Still, no one as young as Machado-Graner has won with the LAFCA since Anna Paquin tied for Best Supporting Actress in 1993, though the NYFCC did give recent Best Actress wins to Saoirse Ronan and Sidney Flanigan when they were in their early 20s. If New York, Los Angeles, or the NBR makes history with Machado-Graner, “Anatomy of a Fall” as a whole can make the early statement it needs to with the Academy.
Dominic Sessa – “The Holdovers”
An older but still relatively young breakout Supporting Actor from a Best Picture challenger is Sessa for “The Holdovers.” Like Machado-Graner, he may be in the shadow of older co-stars seeking their own Oscar nominations, in this case Paul Giamatti and Da’Vine Joy Randolph. But by the end, he, too, is at the center of his film’s most moving moments and crystalizes its most meaningful themes.
If Giamatti and Randolph both get nominated, it would be more glaring and off-putting if Sessa didn’t join them to round out the trio. Yet since many see Robert Downey Jr, Ryan Gosling, Robert De Niro, Mark Ruffalo, and Willem Dafoe as the Best Supporting Actor five, it looks fairly daunting for anyone to break that logjam. But a statement win for Sessa from the NBR, NYFCC, or LAFCA can go a long way towards breaking that stranglehold – or at least put him ahead of everyone else trying to do so.
Sandra Hüller – “The Zone Of Interest”
Hüller may be the star of “Anatomy of a Fall” – Machado-Graner and a blind dog aside – yet it isn’t her only performance in a potential Best Picture nominee that started at Cannes. Still, her mere supporting performance in “The Zone of Interest” is a bigger longshot for Oscar consideration, whether or not it would make her a double nominee.
Nonetheless, at least a few critics groups will likely give Hüller a collective award for both movies. But an individual win in one of the big groups for “The Zone of Interest” alone can make a larger statement, especially in a Best Supporting Actress field that looks to be more fluid than Best Actress. For that matter, a movie as bleak and horrifying as “The Zone of Interest” will need any extra edge it can get amongst traditional industry voters – and Hüller may be the biggest x-factor it has to lean on.
Rachel McAdams – “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
If the NYFCC doesn’t go with Robbie as an eye-opening winner from a female-driven, coming-of-age movie based on decades-old intellectual property, McAdams can fit the bill instead in Best Supporting Actress.
While “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” was far less of a box office behemoth before summer, it received even higher rave reviews for its own take on the growing pains of womanhood in all ages. Part of that was due to McAdams, in perhaps her most acclaimed part since her Oscar nomination for “Spotlight” in 2015. A surprise win at New York, or maybe even recognition from Los Angeles or the NBR, can put McAdams squarely on a fairly wide-open bubble for the last Supporting Actress spots.
Depending on how dozens of other critics groups weigh in these next several weeks, the bubble for all the acting fields could get too crowded or locked in very quickly. But this is the most fluid part of Oscar season, where critics have their best chance to make a major statement for industry voters to consider later. However, the NBR, NYFCC, and LAFCA members now have the opportunity to make an impact for their fellow critical voters to consider later.
Who do you think will receive a boost in the Oscar race from wins at NYFCC, NBR and LAFCA? Any other predictions you have for those critics groups you’d like to share? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account and check out their latest Oscar predictions here.
You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @Robertdoc1984