Oscar Circuit: Have the Acting Winners Already Been Seen?

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Detroit Film Critics Society

With three big festivals behind us, and #NYFF54 fully underway, the acting races are heating up. In the midst of the race unfolding, the Oscar-loving community is desperate for a frontrunner. When Awards Circuit writer Mark Johnson returned from Telluride a few weeks ago, he stated there’s a chance that he saw all four acting winners in Colorado. Johnson was referring to Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams (“Manchester by the Sea“), Emma Stone (“La La Land“) and Aaron Eckhart (“Bleed for This“). Could our acting winners be revealed so early in the awards season?

Last year, only Brie Larson (“Room”) went from Colorado to the Oscar stage. “The Revenant” didn’t premiere until late in the season, with “Bridge of Spies” making a bow at the New York Film Festival, and Alicia Vikander stopping at Venice before heading to Toronto.

If you listened to the latest Circuit Breaker podcast, then you heard our more expanded thoughts on the acting races. Some things are worth noting that weren’t mentioned in the episode.

willsmith_collateralbeautyIn Best Actor, while the lack of major contenders in the race feels like we could be in store for either Affleck, Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”), or Denzel Washington (“Fences”) to win a trophy, we like to hope for the best outcome. Joe Alwyn‘s work in “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” looks like it could be a surprise in the race. Andrew Garfield (“Silence”) could be someone to watch out for on the circuit. Will Smith‘s work in “Collateral Beauty” gave many pause based on the trailer, but he may still have an opportunity to shine.

Perhaps the “thin” nature of the race helps some of the underdogs that would otherwise be ignored. Dave Johns‘ work in “I, Daniel Blake” comes to mind, while Chris Pine has many fans for “Hell or High Water.” Hell, maybe even Colin Farrell can find some wiggle room for his career-defining work in “The Lobster.”

Miss SloaneIn Best Actress, we know we have the most competitive race in years. Secretly, I’m hoping for a race that mirrors the 2002 Best Actor race. This is where we saw a death match between Jack Nicholson and Richard Gere (Golden Globe winners for “About Schmidt” and “Chicago” respectively), Daniel Day-Lewis (SAG winner for “Gangs of New York”) and Adrien Brody (eventual Oscar winner for “The Pianist”).

As AC writer Sam Coffey pointed out early last week, SAG loves giving trophies to people they couldn’t give awards to before their existence or worst yet, “correct” mistakes from years prior. Look at past SAG winners like Judi Dench (“Chocolat”), Christopher Walken (“Catch Me If You Can”) or Meryl Streep (“Doubt”).  In the Lead Actress race, this matters because Viola Davis has three individual statues (two for ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” and the other for “The Help”). Natalie Portman scored for “Black Swan” in 2011 while Annette Bening captured hers for “American Beauty” in 1999. When SAG gets into “make-up” mode or the “we haven’t given you one” game (i.e. Sean Penn for “Milk” or Hilary Swank for “Million Dollar Baby”), the scale tends to tilt in that performer’s direction. Watch out for spinning heads come SAG time.

girlonthetrainThere’s still room for more contenders to flood in.  Jessica Chastain (“Miss Sloane”) is mounting a huge campaign from EuropaCorp, and could be a serious threat. Sony Pictures Classics also feels good about the chances for Isabelle Huppert.  Huppert has two films in play this year with “Elle” and “Things to Come,” both playing the festivals. Taraji P. Henson (“Hidden Figures”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“Passengers”) are also around the corner, as is Emily Blunt (“The Girl on the Train”), who is rumored to be outstanding.

This week at NYFF, we’ll see the opening of “The 13th” from Ava DuVernay.  This is a film that may be able to shake up not only the Documentary Feature race, but possibly even enter the Best Picture race. Early rumblings are substantially positive for the film. Gold Derby has reported that they have received “enough of a confirmation” that “Silence” will hit theaters in December – whatever that means. There are pundits who also feel that Ben Affleck‘s “Live By Night” is headed for a qualifying release.  Distributor Warner Bros. has yet to confirm that will be the case. If I were in consultation with them, I’d put some serious money behind “Sully” and ride that wave. They can also run some of the below-the-line categories with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

Paramount Pictures is still the top dog with a handful of contenders. The aforementioned “Silence” and “Fences” will surely be their main focus but they can also play with “Arrival,” “Florence Foster Jenkins,” and the still unseen “Allied” from Robert Zemeckis.

Director Pablo Larrain on the set of JACKIE. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
Director Pablo Larrain on the set of JACKIE. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Coming from behind and looking to unseat Paramount is Fox Searchlight, who is very confident with “Jackie.” With a big buy at TIFF, they’re hedging their bets and it could pay off.  Two out of the last three Best Picture winners have come from them.

The Weinstein Company had new life breathed into them with “Lion” at TIFF.  The film was second runner-up to the People’s Choice winner “La La Land.”  Stars Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, and newcomer Sunny Pawar are considered to be in the hunt.

Focus Features also looks very strong with both “Loving” and “Nocturnal Animals.”  The former still seems like the safest bet for AMPAS love.  The latter could run the gauntlet with Michael Shannon in Supporting Actor but where else?

Walt Disney Pictures is ready to get in to the thick of it with “The Jungle Book.”  The only first half-serious contender, their prepared to play the “Gravity” card.

And then there’s A24. “Moonlight” could be able to do some serious damage in the race with many winning options on the table.  Naomie Harris seems almost assured a run for Supporting Actress while Mahershala Ali will fight off competition with his own co-stars Trevante Rhodes and André Holland.

You can check out the updates in all the Oscar categories via the sidebar, and by clicking on the categories.

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