Steven Spielberg’s new adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story feels like the grand finale to a year packed with great movie musicals. It’s the kind of project that was destined for Oscar gold from its conception. Awards are more in sight than ever, as the film managed to surpass high expectations with its dazzling craftsmanship, sparking conversation about if it’s even better than the 1961 film adaptation, which received 11 nominations. Will West Side Story follow in its footsteps?
A Best Picture nomination is almost certain. In fact, it’s one of the films with a real shot to win. Last decade, Spielberg had four films up for Best Picture (War Horse, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, and The Post), and many consider this one better than them all. It will appeal to the Academy member who feels they don’t make ‘em like they used to, and it updates the film in a way that’s fresh and exciting for a new audience.
I expect Spielberg will easily find his way into Best Director as well. West Side Story is the most visually kinetic, vibrant spectacle he has put on screen in some time. Musicals are a new territory for the filmmaker, and I expect he’ll be rewarded for doing something new.
A huge point of discussion for the film has been Tony Kushner’s script and how skillfully it updates the source material. I’d be shocked if an Adapted Screenplay nomination wasn’t part of the package.
A huge highlight of the film are the excellent performances, especially the magnetic Ariana DeBose as Anita, who is gaining a lot of traction as a Supporting Actress contender, and perhaps even as a frontrunner. Rita Moreno, who played Debose’s role in 1961, could join her in the same category. Her role has more limited screen time but she leaves a big impression in some key scenes towards the end. Moreno scored a Critics Choice nomination but missed the Golden Globe, so whether or not she will show in the category is currently a mystery.
Mike Faist is an unexpected standout as Riff, a role that was not nominated from the 1961 adaptation. He missed those key Globe and Critics Choice nominations in Supporting Actor but has still maintained some buzz. David Alvarez (also excellent) is the film’s other major supporting male role. Although this role won George Chakiris an Oscar for the first adaptation, there seems to be more buzz for Faist in this category.
Rachel Zegler’s acting debut as Maria is sure to launch her career in exciting directions. As a Best Actress contender though, she’ll have to compete with heavyweight contenders like Kristen Stewart, Jessica Chastain, Olivia Colman, Lady Gaga, and Nicole Kidman. A potential Golden Globe win in Comedy/Musical Actress could help, but I would need to see a Screen Actor’s Guild nomination for her to buy her as a real contender. A nomination would also be key if Mike Faist wants to stay in the conversation.
The film will have a field day in the technical categories. Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Editing, and Sound nominations are nearly locked in, and it could be competitive for a win in all of them, with Dune posing as a main threat. Currently, I’m predicting 9 nominations for West Side Story, but after the SAG nominations on January 12, that number could be 10 if Moreno or Faist make it in. Stay tuned for more awards analysis on CinemaBlend.
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