By Cameron Lee
Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” premiered as the opening night film of the New York Film Festival back in September to a rapturous response from critics and was seen as potentially one of the year’s biggest Oscar contenders. It then vanished for a few months save for another appearance at the London Film Festival and now is finally playing in theaters and available to stream on Apple TV+. Such a gap has called into question its momentum in the awards season race. Other late breaking contenders such as “Don’t Look Up,” “West Side Story” and “Nightmare Alley” overshadowed whatever buzz “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” was able to build up until that point. We also saw the first wave of critics’ prizes get handed out. Many felt “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” would perform well with the critics, but it has only managed to have a consistently muted presence in the end of year prizes. Apple/A24’s decision for a late release may have backfired, and that is showing in its limited turnout at the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards. Even though the Globes matter way less this year than in years past, Denzel Washington was the only nomination for the film on nomination morning. Several hours later, the Critics’ Choice Awards nominated “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” for only two categories: Best Actor and Best Cinematography, both of which were expected. Besides those nominations, “The Tragedy of Macbeth’s” chances to break into other categories are getting bleaker with every passing week. Unless there’s a late surge of support due to its late release and now being widely available to stream on Apple TV+, “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” will most likely max out with its two nominations., which, to say the least, is a tragedy.
There’s also a big question if voters are willing to go for a Shakespeare adaptation in 2021. Joel Coen may have streamlined his version and cut out all the non-crucial scenes, but it’s still all original Shakespeare dialogue. If voters don’t appreciate Shakespeare’s words, then this movie won’t be for them. They might respect the film and some other aspects of it, but they may not go for it beyond that. That being said, it’s still early; Denzel Washington recently picked up a SAG nomination for Best Actor, and the film was longlisted at the BAFTA awards for Best Film, Best Director, and more. So, anything can still happen, especially for a production with this many respected individuals creatively involved.
There are two categories where “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” is relatively safe for a nomination at the moment. A nomination for its gorgeous and haunting black and white cinematography is almost assured for five-time Academy Award-nominee Bruno Delbonnel. He is a well-respected figure in the cinematographer’s branch of the Academy but has yet to get his first Oscar win. “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” has a lot of tough competition in the category, with the likes of “Dune” and “West Side Story” duking it out for a win. But it’s still in a dark horse position to pose a challenge to these other films and maybe even upset for a win without a corresponding Best Picture nomination. It’s a long shot, but many feel Delboonel is overdue for a win, and this is the perfect way to acknowledge the film and give a long-overdue Oscar to a branch favorite.
The other nearly assured nomination is for Denzel Washington, who will likely get in for Best Actor. If Washington could get in for “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” a film that left everyone’s head the moment they finished watching it, there shouldn’t be any reason for him to miss here. He may even score his first long overdue BAFTA nomination for Best Actor (which is seriously a crime that he has never been nominated there before). His performance in Joel Coen’s adaptation as the power-hungry Scottish lord who takes the throne by murderous force is commanding, with a distinct take on the character rarely seen on film, one that is much older and has a unique ticking time clock embedded into his very being. It’s a grand and outstanding performance that works on every level.
Frances McDormand has just come off winning her third Oscar for Best Actress and a win for producing last year’s Best Picture winner, “Nomadland.” Indeed, she would be a slam dunk for a nomination if she wasn’t being campaigned in Best Actress. That particular category, like always, is very competitive. It doesn’t help that many people consider her performance supporting, even if she has almost the same amount of screen time as Washington. Last year we saw the Academy ignore category placement and, in a shocking turn of events, they nominated Lakeith Stanfield in Best Supporting Actor for his leading performance in “Judas And The Black Messiah,” when he was being campaigned in lead. Something like this could happen again if the movie has a late surge over these next few days (maybe even a BAFTA nomination for McDormand?). If we have learned anything over these past couple of years, it is never to underestimate Frances McDormand.
Even though he and his brother Ethan have had a ton of success in this category in the past, Joel Coen’s screenplay for “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” is just the Shakespeare play with a few cuts and minor adjustments. It will likely not get in, although it would’ve been humorous if William Shakespeare himself was deemed eligible to receive a nomination for the use of his words much like playwright August Wilson was posthumously nominated in Best Adapted Screenplay for a clear cut, copy and paste screenplay for Denzel Washington’s “Fences” (sadly, this will not be happening for the Bard).
The New York Film Critics, in an inspired pick that was much appreciated, picked Kathryn Hunter for Best Supporting Actress for her mesmerizing and transformational role as the three witches. Hunter gives the definitive portrayal of the three witches; the way she contorts her body and speaks in such a menacing and haunting voice will stay with you long after the credits roll. It would have been wonderful if the critics’ groups had continued to prop her up and keep mentioning her, but this, unfortunately, didn’t happen consistently enough to see her in the consensus for Best Supporting Actress. Hence, it’s unlikely she will receive an Oscar nomination, even if she deserves one.
Nominations elsewhere in the other craft categories are not looking great either. Other craft heavyweights like “Dune,” “West Side Story,” “The French Dispatch,” and “Nightmare Alley” are filling up the technical below-the-line categories and leaving very little room for “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” to sneak into a fifth slot. It’s still possible for the film to pick up nominations for its costume and production design, but just like the film itself, it’s fading fast and needs some late support from the guilds and BAFTA to stay competitive in these races.
“The Tragedy Of Macbeth” had an early burst of momentum when it made both the National Board of Review’s and the AFI’s top ten list. But some films that make both lists simply don’t make it all the way to a Best Picture nomination come Oscar time. And without Critics Choice, Golden Globe, or a SAG Ensemble nomination, “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” looks like it will be one of those films unless it somehow manages to score PGA and BAFTA nominations for Best Film. But that does not appear likely at the moment. Due to the late timing, a muted campaign from Apple/A24 and not being an all-out contender like “Don’t Look Up” and “West Side Story,” “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” desperately needs significant guild support to stay in the race. If it doesn’t get that, then it’s done aside from two nominations for Washington and the cinematography. Although, as one final note: watch out for the distinctive director’s branch of the Academy to surprisingly back Joel Coen for his stylized and unique vision for the famous Scottish play. It’s a long shot, but considering their inspiring nominations in recent years for the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread“), Paweł Pawlikowski (“Cold War“), and last year’s Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round“), don’t be shocked to hear Joel Coen’s name mentioned in Best Director.
What do you think of “The Tragedy of Macbeth’s” Oscar chances? Do you think it could get a late-season surge now that more people are seeing the film? What should’ve been a slam-dunk for all involved is looking like one of the biggest fringe contenders of the year. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and be sure to check out the NBP Team’s latest Oscar predictions here.
You can follow Cameron and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @Cameron85913678