This is an important week in the awards race as AFI, the Independent Spirit Awards, and the National Board of Review have all weighed in on the best films of the year. The USC Scripter Awards, which honor adapted screenplays, are also due to arrive sometime today.
The biggest news of the day is the dual announcement of the Spirit Award nominees and the NBR winners. It was a good morning for Spirit Award Best Features First Cow, Minari, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Nomadland, which have all garnered multiple notices from various critics’ organizations since early December. All four were also cited collectively by AFI and the National Board of Review, with First Cow missing at AFI and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom overlooked by NBR. It should be noted, though, that Ma Rainey star and likely Oscar nominee Chadwick Boseman has been recognized by NBR with the Icon Award.
It is tempting to assume all four will find themselves with corresponding Best Picture nominations at the Academy Awards, and they might. But with another month left in the eligibility period, and guilds not yet entering the fray, there is still a lot that can happen between now and March when voters receive their initial ballots.
A few films got much needed boosts, as early release dates drove some titles out of the conversation too soon. With Da 5 Bloods winning Best Feature and Best Director at NBR, the Academy Awards should certainly be sending an invitation to Spike Lee. His Vietnam story was not eligible for Spirit Award consideration because of budget requirements.
Palm Springs scoring a spot in the Spirit Awards lineup for First Screenplay may help push Andy Siara to an Original Screenplay nomination in April. Popular and highly regarded upon its release, the year went in different directions and the film was largely forgotten. This may help launch the sci fi/comedy back into the awards conversation just when it most needs the attention.
Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, also released last summer, has now been nominated by nearly every possible critics’ group, plus the Gotham Awards, the Spirit Awards, and NBR. This is significant news for the director who has long been a favorite of the festival-going cinephile crowd and may very well lead to her first trip to the Dolby this spring.
Amazon is also well placed to push Sound of Metal from indie darling to Academy Award nominee, with Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci showing up time and again. Their Spirit Award nominations paired with NBR wins will shine a spotlight on both actors with SAG Award nominations open until Monday. Recognition from the Screen Actors Guild will go a long way with Academy voters.
It’s important to remember that awards from Film Independent and NBR are not guarantees of Oscar success. But, all news is good news at this stage, and nominations certainly help. This year, that is especially good news for A24 and Searchlight Pictures, each of whom have strong and beloved contenders in Minari and Nomadland. Both films and their writer/directors have done exactly what they need to so far. And with Steven Yeun, Yuh-jung Youn, and Frances McDormand showing up time and again in acting categories, their paths to the Academy Awards is becoming more clear.
Here is our current assessment of the year’s top Oscar contenders. Please note, in each category, the titles are alphabetical, not in ranked order.
Likely Oscar Nominees
- Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
- Judas and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros.)
- Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
- Minari (A24)
- Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures)
- One Night in Miami (Amazon)
- First Cow (A24)
- Mank (Netflix)
- News of the World (Universal)
- Promising Young Woman (Focus Features)
- Soul (Disney)
- Sound of Metal (Amazon)
- The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)
- The Assistant (Bleecker Street)
- The Father (Sony Pictures Classics)
- The Forty-Year-Old Version (Netflix)
- Malcolm & Marie (Netflix)
- The Midnight Sky (Netflix)
- Miss Juneteenth (Vertical Entertainment)
- Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Focus Features)
- Palm Springs (Neon/Hulu)
- Pieces of a Woman (Netflix)