Strap in for the weirdest Oscar race ever.
Like everything else since last March, awards season has been turned upside down by the pandemic: Festivals have gone digital, Q&As are now Zooms, and red carpets have mostly gone the way of the dinosaurs. Awards shows, too, have been perpetually pushed back or reimagined in light of COVID safety concerns.
But (knock on wood) the Academy Awards are sticking to their rescheduled April 25 ceremony, extending the eligibility deadline to Feb. 28 and welcoming streaming movies. At this point, we’ve seen most all of the contenders, and early awards from critics have given us a taste of who’s ahead as we await major precursors such as the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Here’s what you need to know about the current state of the race:
‘Nomadland’ is the one to beat for best picture
There’s still a long road ahead to Oscar night, but “Nomadland” is firmly in the driver’s seat. The quiet character drama coasted through the fall festival circuit and end-of-year critics’ prizes, taking best film at the Gotham and National Society of Film Critics awards this month. But coming off a tumultuous year for politics and social justice, will “Nomadland” be too introspective for voters looking to make a statement with their best picture winner? Watch out for courtroom crowd-pleaser “The Trial of the Chicago 7” as a zeitgeist-capturing spoiler.
Where to watch: “Nomadland” premieres Feb. 19 on Hulu; “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is streaming on Netflix.
David Fincher – and ‘Mank’ – aren’t sure things
On paper, “Mank” has all the makings of an Oscar heavyweight. It’s a star-studded behind-the-scenes look at the legendary “Citizen Kane,” and a passion project for visionary director David Fincher, who’s responsible for modern classics such as “Fight Club” and “The Social Network.” But the long-overdue Fincher may struggle to crack the Oscars’ directing lineup this year, given the chilly reception thus far to his technically astounding “Mank.” Instead, people are rallying behind Chinese-born filmmaker Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”), whose sweep of best director awards including the New York Film Critics Circle could portend a history-making Oscar win.
Where to watch: “Mank” is streaming on Netflix.
Chadwick Boseman is still your best actor frontrunner
Even with screen giants Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) and Delroy Lindo (“Da 5 Bloods”) in the running, there’s just no topping Chadwick Boseman’s commanding, career-best performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Emotional tributes at the Gotham Awards by Boseman’s widow, Taylor Simone Ledward, and actors Riz Ahmed and Andre Holland only crystallized just how much people love and miss the “Black Panther” star, who died of colon cancer last August at 43. Expect the honors to continue this season, for both “Ma Rainey” and Boseman’s supporting work in “Da 5 Bloods.”
Where to watch: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Da 5 Bloods” are streaming on Netflix; “The Father” is in theaters Feb. 26.
Zendaya, Andra Day could shake up best actress
Best actress is gearing up to be one of this year’s most competitive races. Past Oscar winners Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) and Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) are all but guaranteed nominations, while Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) and Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) have surged these last few weeks with their searing new films, each sparking intense conversation on top of rave reviews. That leaves a fifth slot still seemingly up for grabs, with Zendaya (“Malcolm & Marie”) and Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) both threats after earning strong notices from first screenings.
Where to watch:“Malcolm & Marie” premieres Feb. 5 on Netflix; “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” arrives Feb. 26 on Hulu; “Promising Young Woman” is available on demand; “Pieces of a Woman” is streaming on Netflix.
Daniel Kaluuya is ready for launch
Supporting actor is arguably the most wide-open Oscar category, with meaningful campaigns from Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) and Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”), and a slew of critics’ wins for dark horse favorite Paul Raci (“Sound of Metal”). But “Get Out” star Daniel Kaluuya is also a formidable contender for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” playing Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton. The drama makes its world premiere early next month at Sundance Film Festival, which has been the launching pad of other Oscar darlings “Whiplash,” “Call Me By Your Name” and “Manchester by the Sea.”
Where to watch: “Judas and the Black Messiah” streams Feb. 12 on HBO Max; “One Night in Miami” and “Sound of Metal” are streaming on Amazon.
Borat’s daughter is a serious (and funny) contender
Believe it or not, a straight comedy performance hasn’t been Oscar-nominated since Melissa McCarthy’s scene-stealing turn in 2011’s “Bridesmaids.” That could very well change this year with “Borat 2” breakout Maria Bakalova, who brings unexpected pathos to the feral teenage daughter of irreverent journalist Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen). The Bulgarian actress’ go-for-broke performance has already picked up roughly a dozen critics’ awards for best supporting actress since December – well ahead of higher-profile contenders Olivia Colman (“The Father”) and Ellen Burstyn (“Pieces of a Woman”). She’s neck in neck with “Minari” star Yuh-Jung Youn, who’s also racked up many early awards.
Where to watch: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is streaming on Amazon Prime; “Minari” will be available on demand Feb. 26.