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Awards Profile: Ron Howard’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ from Netflix

Amy Adams Glenn Close Hillbilly elegy

Welcome to the 2020 Awards Profile series, where we talk about films coming to a theater near you in the coming year (at least at this time of writing). The series analyzes the films and their awards season potential, most notably for the Academy Awards, based on the talents attached, filmmakers involved, and story and source material. Monday through Friday until mid-May, AwardsCircuit will bring you a new and exciting project and discuss its chances for success. If you have a suggestion for a movie we should cover, include it in the comments section below. If you miss a film covered, click on the tag or category for “Awards Profiles.”

FILM: “Hillbilly Elegy”

DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
PRODUCERS: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Erica Huggins, Karen Lunder
WRITER(S): Vanessa Taylor, based on the novel by J.D. Vance
CAST: Glenn Close, Amy Adams, Gabriel Basso, Haley Bennett, Freida Pinto

SYNOPSIS: A man recalls his life growing up in the Midwest with Appalachian values. (IMDB)



080519 Hillbilly Elegy Filming 23Is there a pair of actors more overdue for Oscar wins than Glenn Close and Amy Adams? The two legendary actresses are as famous for being Oscar also-rans as they are continuously delivering tour de force performances.

Glenn Close was a mainstay during the 1980s at the Oscars, racking up five nominations over the decade. While the first few supporting bids (“The World According to Garp,” “The Big Chill,” “The Natural”) all put her on the map, her lead actress nominations were expected to turn into wins. Her vindictive, yet sad, Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction” lost to Cher for “Moonstruck” in 1987. Just a year later, Close’s work as the calculating Marquise de Merteuil in “Dangerous Liaisons” was passed over for Jodie Foster in “The Accused.”

After two decades of Oscar drought, Close received her sixth and seventh nominations this decade (“Albert Nobbs” in 2011, “The Wife” in 2018). Most people thought “The Wife” would bring Close her career win. She had won the SAG, Critics Choice, and Golden Globe awards, minting herself as the frontrunner. Alas, Olivia Colman swept in at the last minute and won for “The Favourite.” With even more Oscar IOU juice than ever, will Glenn easily win for her Midwestern matriarch in “Hillbilly Elegy?”

Amy Adams has been on a similar Oscar journey, albeit over fewer years. Since her first nomination for the breakout indie “Junebug” in 2005, Adams’ nomination tally stands at six. Five of those six have been in the supporting category. While many believe Adams is overdue for a win, few agree on what performance should have gotten her that win. In fact, arguably her most lauded performance was for Best Picture nominee “Arrival,” where she was snubbed of even a nomination. If Glenn Close goes lead and Amy Adams goes supporting, is there a path for them both to win Oscars this year?


080819 Hillbilly Elegy 38One should never count out an Oscar winning director, no matter how long ago that Oscar win was. For Ron Howard, his Oscar win came in 2001 for “A Beautiful Mind,” the biopic on mathematician John Nash. Since then, he reappeared in the Oscar conversation for “Frost/Nixon” in 2008. That film received five nominations, including Best Picture and Director for Howard. Unfortunately, since then both his Oscar-y films (“Rush”) and popcorn films (“Solo: A Star Wars Story”) have failed to connect with voters and audiences. Will “Hillbilly Elegy” be a return to form or just another high profile miss from the famed actor-turned-director?

It also remains to be seen how well the film will do in craft categories. Memoir adaptations don’t often have the grandest of scale that would cause certain guilds to look up and take note. Other than the inkling of Hans Zimmer in score (alongside David Fleming), most of the artists behind the camera have never been nominated for Oscars before.

The novel reached the top of the New York Times Best Seller list in August 2016 and January 2017. This bookends the very contentious election where Donald J. Trump won the Presidency. While the book received praise from conservatives and liberals alike, the movie will have to walk a fine line to achieve similar success. Opening in November 2020 puts the film up against the 2020 election, where Trump will run for re-election. Will Ron Howard’s look at the white working-class strike the right note during this high-pressure time? This could make or break the film’s Oscar chances, not to mention its financials.


  • Motion Picture (Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Erica Huggins, Karen Lunder)
  • Director (Ron Howard)
  • Actor in a Leading Role (Gabriel Basso)
  • Actress in a Leading Role (Amy Adams)
  • Actress in a Supporting Role (Glenn Close)
  • Adapted Screenplay (Vanessa Taylor)
  • Cinematography (Maryse Alberti)
  • Costume Design (Virginia Johnson)
  • Film Editing (James Wilcox)
  • Makeup (TBD)
  • Original Score (Hans Zimmer, David Fleming)
  • Production Design (Molly Hughes)


  • Best Performance by a Supporting Female (SAG Awards): Glenn has won the SAG Awards before and lost at Oscar. However, Amy Adams has never been a SAG winner, individually. She was part of the Cast Ensemble win for “American Hustle” in 2013. If she pulls off a win here, it could be the greatest predictor for an Oscar win.
  • Best Director (DGA Awards): Ron Howard’s direction will make or break this movie. If his direction falls flat, the movie could still gain some acting nominations (a la “August: Osage County”). Yet, if he starts getting Best Director mentions, particularly from the DGA Awards, it cements the movie as an Oscar powerhouse. All he needs is a nomination here to place the movie in a larger Oscar conversation.

Are you excited or skeptical about Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy?” Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!


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Written by Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman


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