Kirsten Dunst in The Power of the Dog and Will Smith in King Richard. Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Netflix and Warner Bros.
Every week between now and February 8, when the Academy Award nominations are announced, Vulture will consult its crystal ball to determine the changing fortunes of this year’s Oscars race. In our “Oscar Futures” column, we’ll let you in on insider gossip, parse brand-new developments, and track industry buzz to figure out who’s up, who’s down, and who’s currently leading the race for a coveted Oscar nomination.
Here’s me, wow! Festival audiences ate up Kenneth Branagh’s family dramedy like it was an Ulster fry, and the film cemented its Oscar bona fides by taking home the People’s Choice Award at TIFF, an honor that puts the craic-filled crowd-pleaser in pole position of the Best Picture race. (Past TIFF winners include Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and, um, Green Book.) From the dark end of the street, Branagh has once again found himself on the bright side of the road.
The Power of the Dog
Meanwhile, the best-reviewed movie of festival season was Jane Campion’s meditative Western, a tense study of interfamilial power dynamics in 1920s Montana. It’s tempting to peg Power of the Dog as the cinephile’s pick in the race against the more populist Belfast, but there’s no need to trouble ourselves with that kind of stuff yet. (Remember when we all thought the 2019 season was gonna be The Irishman versus Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?) Still, chances are arf-ully good that Dog will be Netflix’s biggest player this year.
Belfast, Coda, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, The Lost Daughter, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, The Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story
Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
For her first feature since 2009’s Bright Star, Campion got one hell of a welcome back: the Best Director prize at Venice, plus a career tribute at Telluride. Dog feels like a true auteur movie, which is to say that it’s one where seemingly not much happens, very beautifully — until the end, when you realize what it’s been up to the whole time. Consider the Kiwi the one to watch in the season’s early stages.
Julia Ducournau, Titane
Sickos everywhere celebrated this week, as France announced it had chosen Ducournau’s car-fucking, body-horror buddy comedy as its official selection. The move boosts Titane’s Oscar chances from zéro to, let’s say, dix pour cent, but as the man once said: Yes … hahaha … yes!
Pedro Almodóvar, Parallel Mothers; Kenneth Branagh, Belfast; Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog; Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth; Denis Villeneuve, Dune
Will Smith, King Richard
Every year pundits come down from the mountain anointing one performance as a sure-fire Oscar player, and this year it’s Smith, whose turn as renegade tennis patriarch Richard Williams was the toast of Telluride. (And this without him even being in attendance.) King Richard is an Oscar vehicle par excellence, one that makes use of every ounce of Smith’s charisma while also letting the actor show off some genuine ugliness. After two prior nominations and a handful of mawkish misfires, is this finally his year?
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
At the moment, Smith’s greatest competition appears to be Cumberbatch, who butches up his image to play a character who’s essentially toxic masculinity personified. One of the pleasures of Dog is how the movie slowly reveals additional layers underneath his ruff exterior, a subtle shift Cumberbatch handles with aplomb. He’s due a nomination, at the very leashed.
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog; Peter Dinklage, Cyrano; Simon Rex, Red Rocket; Will Smith, King Richard; Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth
Kristen Stewart, Spencer
The early heat in Best Actress belongs to Stewart, who’s earning raves and reappraisals for her royal transformation into Princess Di. She’s dialed up to 11 here, and the film gets an added meta-textual charge from Stewart’s own history as a tabloid target. Like its predecessor Jackie, the question is whether Spencer’s brand of extremely art-house cinema is accessible enough for the Academy at large, but Neon getting the crafts team out early seems a sign the distributor will be making a full-court push.
Frances McDormand, The Tragedy of Macbeth
Macbeth is the most highly pedigreed contender in the race — the director and stars have ten Oscars between them — but the reviews out of New York Film Fest were more respectful than effusive. Bearing much of the brunt was McDormand, whose Lady Macbeth never quite reaches the mad heights one might have hoped. We’ll know more tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, but this nom is no longer the sure thing it may have appeared on paper.
Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye; Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter; Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers; Frances McDormand, The Tragedy of Macbeth; Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Best Supporting Actor
Jamie Dornan, Belfast
Focus revealed this week that all the grown-ups in Belfast will run in the supporting categories, setting off a proper pile-up in Supporting Actor: Does Oscar go for the furrowed brow of Dornan, as a father trying to chart his family’s course through the Troubles, or with the twinkly eyes of Ciarán Hinds, who plays the lovable granddad? The category’s looking unsettled at the moment, and if no heavyweights emerge, both geezers could get in.
Ben Affleck, The Last Duel
Affleck’s medieval fuckboy is one of the highlights of The Last Duel; it’s a treat to see him have fun onscreen for what seems like the first time in years. His performance as an avuncular bartender in George Clooney’s The Tender Bar (which started screening this week) seems likely to take priority this season, but let me issue a challenge of my own: C’mon Disney, give Count Pierre a push, too!
Jamie Dornan, Belfast; Corey Hawkins, The Tragedy of Macbeth; Ciarán Hinds, Belfast; Richard Jenkins, The Humans; Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog
Best Supporting Actress
Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Does Oscar wanna have a Kiki? Dunst is in fine form as one of Cumberbatch’s foils, a widow coming apart at the seams. She should benefit from a meatier role than much of the competition: While running her in Supporting isn’t quite category fraud, she does have the benefit of being the audience POV for large stretches of the movie. The actress has noted how much of her best work is appreciated in retrospect, and with The Power of the Netflix behind her, Dunst could craft a compelling “she’s due” narrative.
Catriona Balfe, Belfast
Tell me ma, when I go home, Judi Dench won’t run in Supporting Actress alone. Just like her onscreen husband, Balfe will join Belfast’s grandparents in the supporting lane. Can Belfast nab the double-up in both categories? While Supporting Actor is more open, the gals’ roles are more Oscar-friendly, with both actresses getting first-rate showcase scenes. I’ve got all four in at the moment, but when the race gets going, I’d sooner bet on Balfe/Dench than Dornan/Hinds.
Catriona Balfe, Belfast; Judi Dench, Belfast; Ann Dowd, Mass; Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog; Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard
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