How Wide Open Is the Best-Picture Oscar Race?


In a year when almost every awards show has been awkward and remote, “Minari” has produced two of the season’s most memorable, heartfelt acceptance speeches: When “Minari” took the Golden Globe for foreign-language film, Chung’s young daughter fell into his arms and exclaimed, “I prayed!”; and when the 8-year-old star Alan Kim won best young actor at the Critics’ Choice Awards, he was so overcome that he broke down in tears. Plenty of Oscar voters may root for “Minari” simply because its win would guarantee a moment as moving as the film itself.

If the Oscars were held today, “Nomadland” could surely make the strongest case for best picture: This Frances McDormand-led drama has already picked up top honors from the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Gotham Awards, to name just a few of its accolades. Might Chloé Zhao also become the first woman of color to win best director? Based on what we’ve seen so far, her chances look awfully good.

But the best-picture race has proved fluid in recent years, and voters may prefer a more overtly political film to represent such a tumultuous year. With a budget under $5 million, “Nomadland” would also be one of the most modest best-picture champs ever made. Can a film this intimate sustain its front-runner position all the way through an awards season elongated by two extra months?

Underestimate “Promising Young Woman” at your own peril. This dark dramedy about sexual assault is the only best-picture nominee aside from “Nomadland” to show across-the-board strength in four key categories — earning a best-director nomination for Emerald Fennell; an acting nod for its lead, Carey Mulligan; and nominations for screenplay and editing. On Oscar night, one or two crucial wins could pave a path to best picture: Mulligan has a strong shot at taking the best-actress Oscar, but an even better omen would be a win for Fennell in the original-screenplay category.

It won’t be easy going up against Aaron Sorkin, an Oscar-winning writer who is nominated again for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” but “Promising Young Woman” is audacious enough to still stand a chance. Even better, a win there would make history: If Fennell takes the original-screenplay Oscar and Zhao triumphs in the adapted-screenplay category, it will be the first time that both screenplay races have been won by women who were the sole credited writers of their films.

The Toronto International Film Festival often catapults major Oscar contenders, but when this Riz Ahmed drama debuted there in the fall of 2019, its awards buzz was all but negligible. The Oscar campaign for “Sound of Metal” required the sort of patience and effort that may not have been possible in any other year, when the film might have been swamped by bigger-budget competition: Instead, in a pared-down awards landscape, this story of a drummer dealing with deafness earned six Oscar nominations. 2021-03-18 00:37:40


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