OSCAR CIRCUIT: In a year that continues to throw curveballs in the form of contenders and category placements, another one has solidified in the correct direction.  Confirmed by the awards team behind Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk,” star Stephan James will mount an Oscar campaign in Lead Actor while his co-star Kiki Layne will make a play for Lead Actress.

After weeks of speculating and internal discussions, James’ category placement was up for question given the rapturous response the film received at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals.  In the past days, a source with close knowledge of the awards campaign said that a supporting run was likely in the cards for the 24-year-old actor.  We shared this news via Twitter yesterday.

This past weekend, the awards team surrounding James reached out to say that the category placement was not yet decided and it wasn’t confirmed as of yet.  Today, that has changed.

“If Beale Street Could Talk,” distributed by Annapurna Pictures, tells the story of Fonny (James) and Tish (Layne), a couple whose love runs deep until its disrupted by Fonny’s incarceration for a rape he didn’t commit.

The film is a heavy commentary on family and the criminal justice system’s workings and how it affects people of color.  With a large ensemble that includes standout performances from many of its members including Regina King, Brian Tyree Henry, and Colman Domingo, the film centers heavily on Tish’s experience as we spend much of the time with her.  James’ role, though very present throughout the film, takes a seeming backseat at times, as we encounter Tish’s outside world including work, family, and pregnancy.  Seeming like a “close call,” James will now compete against contenders that include Bradley Cooper (“A Star is Born“), Ryan Gosling (“First Man“), Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), and the still unseen Christian Bale (“Vice”).

With James making his play in Lead Actor, there becomes wiggle room in Supporting Actor for Brian Tyree Henry and Colman Domingo to stake their claim.  Henry, who is having a dynamite year that includes standout performances in Steve McQueen’s “Widows” and Yann Demange’s “White Boy Rick,” he seems to be echoing John C. Reilly in 2002, where he starred in many prominent films that received Oscar attention.  While “White Boy Rick” looks to struggle for awards attention, “Widows” is mounting a big campaign by 20th Century Fox, and Henry himself could land two nominations by the SAG Awards in Cast Ensemble.

Colman Domingo, a character actor who has worked consistently for decades, is a Tony-award nominated performer, who has been sprinkled in some of the best films of the past few years including “Selma” from Ava DuVernay.  In the role of Tish’s father, Domingo is embedded in arguably the best scene of the film, that highlights all the talents in the ensemble, and a campaign that’s framed as a partnership between him and King, the awards season may be kind to reward the still unrecognized thespian and playwright.

This isn’t to say that Stephan James is out of the race in the slightest.  “If Beale Street Could Talk” is going to be a huge player for Oscars this year, likely emulating the same nomination tally as Jenkins’ previous Oscar-winning film “Moonlight,” with an addition of Costume Design.  As it premieres at the Apollo Theater tonight in Harlem, New York, the pride for the film will be plentiful.  If the film is a threat to win the big prize, you can find someone like James and Layne, find wiggle room in their respective races, even with “bigger” names ahead of them.

With all this said, we look ahead for more category placement announcements.  The women in Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” are still “undecided” on where they will campaign.  A source close to the team claims that Rachel Weisz looks set up for a Supporting Actress run while Olivia Colman was leaning heavily towards a Lead Actress push.  Co-star Emma Stone has been the question mark in the equation as her role is a dominant force throughout.  Reaching out to the awards team, they have not confirmed any such placement and say it is still “not known.”  Pundits, critics, and general film enthusiasts have weighed in on social media, believing that the three ladies should campaign together in either category of their choosing.  As shared on one of our episodes of “Circuit Breaker,” our weekly movie podcast where we talk awards and other related entertainment news, I believe Colman and Stone should undoubtedly campaign in the same category, whichever one that ends up being.

The team behind “Stan & Ollie” are gearing up for a big bow at the BFI London Film Festival on Oct. 21.  Already screening the film in secret, with critics under heavy embargo, Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are going to be a force on the awards circuit this year, and will both campaign alongside each other in Lead Actor.  Looking good for love from the Golden Globes in Comedy or Musical, of the two, Reilly probably stands the better chance at recognition, especially paired up with his other Lead Actor push in “The Sisters Brothers.”  The film should also do very well in some of the techs like Makeup & Hairstyling and possibly Costume and Production Design.

There were rumors of possibly changing up the placements for the two leads in “Beautiful Boy” from Amazon Studios.  One of the more egregious examples of category fraud this season stars Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet will mount separate bids for Lead Actor and Supporting Actor respectively.  A source shared that there were internal discussions of switching categories and allowing Carell and Chalamet to switch off in categories, with another idea floating of allowing them both to campaign in Lead, in order to not hurt Carell’s chances for his other Oscar vehicle, “Vice.”  That has seemed to die down at this point.

Green BookThe team behind “Green Book” have been making the rounds explaining the category placements for Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.  A source on the awards team shared that the film is heavily focused on Mortensen’s character, while also written by the real-life son Nick Vallelonga.  The person further shared that Ali’s character doesn’t enter the film until 20 minutes in, and the viewer is not provided with any backstory, while heavily focusing on Mortensen’s family dynamic, while also ending there.

Though a longshot, we are also still awaiting official category placement for Emily Blunt in her husband John Krasinski’s hit “A Quiet Place” from Paramount Pictures.  We believe them to be waiting on how strong her role in “Mary Poppins Returns” from Walt Disney Pictures will be on the circuit before committing to a category.

With that, Oscar Predictions have been updated for your pleasure and information.  Share your own thoughts and predictions in the comments below.

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where THE CONTENDERS rank!