MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

23 Weeks To Oscar: Actors!!!

I feel the need to dip my toe in, as I keep seeing elaborate pieces, probably not intended as ad bait, but keep hope alive beyond reason for a lot of distributors/potential advertisers.

(I hate publishing these because no matter how long I research, I miss someone obvious.)

This is a good year for movies. It may be the most boring Oscar race in living memory. Why? Because even though the answers are not 100% clear in any category… the reason no one has taken “absolutely winning” position is not a lack of great performances, but a distinct lack of “must-win” candidates.

As has been the norm in recently, Best Actress is the most intensely populated category.

It’s also the category I’m most comfortable picking a Top 5 today.

Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Francis McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Threatening to knock someone off in that top group are two yet-unseen turns and one we’ve seen and Academy members will love.

Judi Dench – Victoria & Abdul
Michelle Williams – All The Money In The World
Kate Winslet – Wonder Wheel

And there are strong performances that would have to find a big spark to be seriously in play.

Annette Bening – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Jennifer Lawrence – mother!
Carey Mulligan – Mudbound
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Emma Stone – Battle of the Sexes

Ironically, what is great in Lead is weak in Supporting. There is no one who comes to the category without question marks. No one feels close to locked in, except for lack of competition (which is not to diminish the work, but just how few Supporting females roles of note there are this season).

These two seem to be the most likely nominees…

Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Alison Janney – I, Tonya

Here are five yet unseen…

Carrie Coon – The Post
Penélope Cruz – Murder on the Orient Express (Bergman role?)
Rebecca Ferguson – The Greatest Showman
Sarah Paulson – The Post
Juno Temple – Wonder Wheel

And three excellent performances we have seen, that would not normally be expected to make it… but under the circumstances…

Hong Chau – Downsizing
Tatiana Maslany – Stronger
Hannah Murray – Detroit
Zoe Kazan – The Big Sick

Seriously… this category is brutal. I would love if it all became obvious quickly… but that doesn’t seem likely.

Best Actor is not nearly as loaded as Actress.

Gary Oldman is in for Darkest Hour.

Daniel Day Lewis has won the Oscar for 2 of his last 3 films and been nominated for 3 of his last 5 (Nine the only heavily-touted miss). If he isn’t in for his second Paul Thomas Anderson film, it will be a shock.

These two are historic beloveds who have a bit of room.

Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Tom Hanks – The Post

These four all give performances that many love… but all four movies offer a challenge to awards consultants making the argument. Wind River could get as high as $40m domestic, but none of the others are likely to get close.

Timothee Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
James Franco – The Disaster Artist
Jake Gyllenhaal – Stronger
Jeremy Renner – Wind River

These four are in what seem more commercial movies, albeit mid-range grossers, but could be embraced by voters more easily than critics.

Kenneth Branagh – Murder on the Orient Express
Bryan Cranston – The Upside
Kevin Hart – The Upside
Hugh Jackman – The Greatest Showman

And the wild cards… Steve Carrell and Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying. Opening New York is a bad sign. Being Amazon’s first distribution title is anxiety-provoking. But let’s keep hope alive.

And Supporting Actor is loaded with veterans – and relative newcomers – who will be duking it out through the season. I could make an argument for a few of these guys ahead of the rest of the group… well, Mendelson and Rylance… but the rest, all deserving… but who the hell knows?

Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Eddie Izzard – Victoria & Abdul
Jason Mitchell – Mudbound
Dustin Hoffman – The Meyerowitz Stories
Ben Mendelson – Darkest Hour
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Mark Rylance – Dunkirk
Michael Shannon – The Shape of Water
Algee Smith – Detroit
Kevin Spacey – All The Money In The World
Michael Stuhlbarg – Came Me By Your Name
Patrick Stewart – Logan

Is there an explosive supporting role in The Post or The Greatest Showman or the Eastwood or PTA or could Fishburne go Supporting… etc. All possible.

It’s worth noting that only 6 people of color are on this page… Penélope Cruz, Hong Chau, Denzel Washington, Kevin Hart, Jason Mitchell and Algee Smith. Odds are that in the most likely scenario, 1 of these 6 actually gets a nomination. 2 would be a surprise, really… possible, but a surprise.

It is just the way it is. Detroit didn’t take off. Mudbound is a Netflix day-n-date release. The Upside got panned at TIFF. And I am taking a flyer on who might emerge from Murder on the Orient Express.

Denzel is Denzel… but he doesn’t always get nominated either.

Things might get heated after all the joy of inclusion at The Emmys. The Oscar composition is slowly changing, but that doesn’t mean that, overnight, Academy membership is going to embrace race as a political statement. I don’t believe they did that last season and I don’t believe they will this year.

I believe that the evolution of these races will be, 90% of it, the movies and the relationships built by the talent in the next 3 months. Same as it ever was.

(Corrected 9/19 for error in not including Hong Chau on the list of “people of color.”)

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15 Responses to “23 Weeks To Oscar: Actors!!!”

  1. John Rieber says:

    You make a great point that we don’t yet have a big favorite in any of the categories…I wonder if Ray Romano and Holly Hunter will get attention based on the success of “The Big Sick.” Both have their big “moments” in the film.

  2. Chris L. says:

    Forgive my ignorance on this, but why is opening NYFF a sign of trouble? Seems like it would be a sure indicator of quality to me, although some in the critical community do seem to think less of Kent Jones’ judgment than they once did, for reasons I don’t fully grasp. Even so, I look back and see Captain Phillips, The Social Network, The Queen, Good Night and Good Luck, Mystic River…all multiple nominees from that slot. (I’ve seen Oscar watchers refer to the “Centerpiece” as some sort of jinx, but no real theory behind that either.)

    I get why AMPAS doesn’t want to support Netflix, but everything I’ve read about Mudbound makes me wish they could carve out room for it somewhere.

  3. Chris says:

    Hong Chau is a person of color.

  4. Chris says:

    Am I alone in thinking “Stronger” has a very good chance to get past $40 million and to get nominations?

  5. Manliano says:

    You don’t think Michelle Pfeiffer is a lock?

  6. Chris says:

    I have not seen “Shape of Water” but the Oscars seem to love Octavia Spencer.

  7. Bob Burns says:

    not to mention Glenn Close.

  8. hcat says:

    Quite possible that Julia Roberts will have a shot at supporting. She is royalty and depending on the performance of the film this could be seen as a comeback.

    I am of course basing this on nothing but anecdotal evidence but Wonder could be the surprise breakout of the season and be the big gooey crowd pleasing word of mouth hit no one saw coming. If that does come to pass Roberts would be the biggest target to direct the love to.

  9. Logan says:

    Holly Hunter: a virtual lock for The Big Sick, Supporting Actress, and she isn’t even on your Maybe list.

    Sam Rockwell will be in for Three Billboards.

  10. Dusty says:

    I believe Lionsgate is doing the theatrical on Last Flag Flying. I think Wonder Wheel is going to be Amazon’s first in-house release.

  11. chris says:

    Oh, and if the question mark after Cruz’s name means you’re not sure if she’s playing the same role Bergman did, she is (although the ethnicity has been switched from a Swedish missionary to, based on her character name, a Spanish one). I’m not sure there’s anything about the part that would get her a nomination, though — the reason Bergman got one had less to do with the role (which is funny and is mostly dialogue taken pretty much directly from Christie’s novel) than with Bergman’s original, satiric take on it. And the fact that Bergman was in quite a late-career run at that point.

  12. Kat says:

    So what will it take for Netflix to breakthrough? The Irishman?

  13. John E says:

    The panning at TIFF might be why The Upside isn’t opening until March.

  14. Franco says:

    Michelle Pfeiffer, and Bria Vinaite from The Florida Project should be locks,
    Brooklyn Prince, is definitely the lead Actor in that film.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon