The Force is starting to take its toll on the Oscar race.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens finally opened in theaters, and continues to pack in crowds as you are reading this. (Hopefully you aren’t reading this on your phone during a screening of The Force Awakens, because you might miss an important plot twist.) Lord knows we’ve done our part to cover every aspect of J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi tentpole. In this particular space, however, we focus on awards, and whether or not Star Wars has a chance to contend for some major hardware.
I think the movie has a very good chance at securing some important Oscar nominations.
In an effort to preserve the majority of its secrets, Star Wars: The Force Awakens didn’t screen for regional and national critics ahead of major groups handing out their year-end awards. That allowed admired films like Spotlight and Carol to pick up well-deserved awards momentum. I don’t think you can argue, however, that any one film has gripped the moniker of "Frontrunner" at this stage of the race. Could the door be left ajar for Star Wars to jam a robotic toe in?
On the flip side, we are starting to see major critics are reacting to the buzz created by Star Wars. Earlier today, the Broadcast Film Critics Association polled its membership to see if The Force Awakens should be added to the Bets Picture category. And the New York Times notes that Disney is undergoing a full-court press for Force, hoping to compete against similar genre fare like The Martian or Mad Max: Fury Road.
The Academy has loosened its boundaries on blockbusters, letting movies like Avatar, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Toy Story 3 contend for Best Picture. I believe the same will happen with Star Wars. Below the line categories are a lock. Picture is possible, as is Best Supporting Actor, for Harrison Ford. (For that one scene, alone. You know which one.)
With all of that said, here’s where I think all of the Oscar contenders stand on December 21:
The more I think about Spotlight, the more I realize it doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it. It’s airtight, and its precision – from the script to the performances – can be traced back to Tom McCarthy. I need to see it one more time, but he might be running away with this category. Can Quentin Tarantino or David O. Russell disrupt his flow?
Now that I’ve seen Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, I can tell you that I think he gets in. Not only that, I think he’s the one to beat in this category. Not because he gives the year’s best performance. (In fact, Tom Hardy’s slightly better than DiCaprio in the SAME movie!) However, the narrative that it’s DiCaprio’s time is strong, and I’m not sure that there’s another powerful male performance ready to knock Leo out this year. Depp and Damon are possible. Outside of those three, I’m not seeing it.
We are seeing a lot of the same names in the category, as if the candidates had been established for weeks, and now they are just jockeying for position. Carol boasts two spectacular performances. Saoirse Ronan is brilliant in Brooklyn, and Brie Larson is picking up early critics’ awards for Room. Having seen Joy, I predict Jennifer Lawrence stays firmly in the Best Actress conversation this year. And I’m pulling for Charlotte Rampling, who is devastating in 45 Years. What say you?
Easily this year’s most competitive race, which means several worthy names will be left out when the nominations eventually are announced. How many actors from Spotlight can get in? You could almost give all five slots to members of the outstanding Spotlight ensemble, but in reality, I bet two make the cut. Mark Rylance still feels like a lock for Bridge of Spies. After that, though, there are SO MANY names that deserve consideration. This is the hardest race to narrow down, and I predict it will come down to the wire.
Alicia Vikander long has been the frontrunner in this category, not just for her soul-baring work in The Danish Girl (which should earn her an Oscar win, not just a nomination), but in recognition of the exquisite year she had as a performer. I also finally caught Youth last week, though, and I understand why many believe Jane Fonda’s scant bit of screentime will earn her a nod. It’s a showy, vitriolic turn that drips with the resentment of an older actress – and a Hollywodo legend – leveling bitter (but accurate) criticisms at her industry. Biting the hand that has fed her for years? What better way to get Oscar’s attention? I bet it works in her favor come nomination morning.
Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.
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