By Tom O’Brien
This is the kind of article that no potential Oscar nominee wants to read, but let’s face it, every year there are a few favored folks or films that wind up absent from the Academy’s nomination list. In some situations, there are just too many potential nominees in a category to fit everyone into five slots and in a few other scenarios, there’s a contender that voters assume will be nominated, but voters cast their ballot instead for their passion pick, leaving the presumed nominee by the roadside.
Is it too early to predict potential nomination snubs? Of course. But that doesn’t stop us.
Before we get to our Top 5, just a note about the word “snub.” I hate it. It suggests that Academy voters have deliberately turned their back on an actor, artist, or film, when, most of the time, it’s just a matter of some favorites being left off the list for the reasons cited above. No malice is intended, but that’s how this game works. That being said, I’ll still use the word “snub” because everybody knows what that means. Ready? Let’s go!
Ron Howard – “Hillbilly Elegy” (Best Director)
Yes, Howard is in Oscar’s club, having won Best Picture and Director for 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind” and nominated in the same categories for 2008’s “Frost/Nixon.” Still, I’m getting strong rumblings that, despite Howard guiding his actors to potential nominations, “Hillbilly Elegy” will still be seen as an actors’ film with its way overdue stars Amy Adams and Glenn Close on the cusp of winning their first Oscars without credit being given to Howard (the harsh reviews today confirmed this). The book’s author, J.D. Vance, is currently causing backlash on Twitter because of his right-wing views, but hopefully, that will not harm the actresses who, along with the might of Netflix, will do their best to keep this film in the conversation despite the brutal reviews. To my mind, “Hillbilly Elegy” is the biggest question mark in this year’s nominations — it could be a juggernaut and get 3-7 nominations, but it could just as easily wind up with two, for Adams and Close. But if it does tank on nomination morning, I suspect the biggest victim will be Howard.
Sacha Baron Cohen – “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” (Best Supporting Actor)
Netflix has determined that all of the actors in “The Trail of the Chicago 7” will compete in the Supporting Actor category, which I think is the correct decision. But still, some big names are likely to get left out from the final five nominees. Cohen, who right now would have to be considered as one of the favorites for a nomination, could be the victim of what I call the “Norbit” Syndrome, which is when a comic actor will deliver a solid dramatic performance (as Eddie Murphy did in “Dreamgirls”). followed up by a comedy that might derail his Oscar chances. Please note that I’m not equating “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” with “Norbit” (“Borat” is miles better), but when you’re competing with such esteemed Tony Award nominees/winners in your own film as Mark Rylance and Frank Langella, “Borat” doesn’t help Oscar voters in considering you as a serious dramatic actor.
Delroy Lindo – “Da 5 Bloods” (Best Actor)
In June, when “Da 5 Bloods” was released, I thought that Lindo maybe this year’s Oscar winner as Best Actor. However, the enormously respected veteran character actor has since been eclipsed in some circles by Anthony Hopkins (“The Father“), Gary Oldman (“Mank“), Tom Hanks (“News of the World“), Kingsley Ben-Adir (“One Night in Miami“) and most significantly by the late Chadwick Boseman, whose performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was moved by Netflix, the same studio behind Lindo’s “Da 5 Bloods,” into the Best Actor category to rival him. June to the April ceremony is an eternity on the Oscar clock and there may be even more potential rivals who are determined to take him out in the coming months. I still have faith in Lindo but, at least in this category, it’s going to be a dogfight to get one of those five slots.
Kate Winslet – “Ammonite” (Best Actress)
When the Oscar season began, there was enormous speculation that the pairing of Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in this gay period drama would mean Oscar gold for them both. But as “Ammonite” began to be screened at various festivals around the country, critics have been somewhat underwhelmed by the film which does not bode well for the Oscar future of its stars. Ronan, who is still winless after four nominations, may have a better chance at an Oscar nomination than her co-star since Winslet will compete in Best Actress category who must face the Davis/McDormand/Adams/Kirby/Pfeiffer/Loren juggernaut and will likely see a steeper uphill climb. A nomination is not completely out of the question for Winslet, especially if she scores nominations among critics’ groups. But I suspect that, at this point, a snub is in her future.
“Soul” (Best Picture)
This is the one about which I’m most concerned about. Even after the expanded Best Picture line-up, it’s been a decade since an animated feature earned an Oscar nomination as Best Picture. “Soul” planned to have a huge push in theaters later this month where its theatrical release could have made a Best Picture nomination appear as a given. But due to the pandemic, it moved to streaming on Disney+ and this approach may be seen by some Academy voters as a comedown and that it’s not worthy of a Best Picture nomination. (As proof, has anyone even mentioned “Mulan” after its move to Disney+ except perhaps for its price point?) Pete Docter, whom I think made the most complex animated feature in the last decade with “Inside Out,” returns here with the first Pixar film with an African-American character as its lead. Its rave reviews from the BFI London Film Festival notwithstanding, “Soul” still has to get to the nomination level. Once it gets in, then it can really compete.
Just a caveat: as any Oscar fan knows, the race at this point is completely fluid and what might be a potential snub this week may be a sure nominee next week, so these are not carved in stone. Yes, we’ll have to wait until March 15, 2021, to see just who has made the cut, but it’s a reminder that what at one point looked like a barren Oscar field is now filled with potentially great nominees. In the words of Rachel Maddow, “Watch this space.” You can check out our latest Oscar predictions here and let us know your thoughts on the every shifting complexities of the Oscar race on our Twitter account.
You can follow Tom and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @thomaseobrien