Screen Actors Guild Awards voters have spoken. The Golden Globes nominations are out. Superior slates from the Los Angeles and New York film critics groups are available for those wanting to dig a bit deeper.
What does this all mean for this year’s acting Oscar races? Let’s take a look at the thinned-out fields and see who’s up, who’s down and who Oscar voters can redeem with acts of kindness (and good taste).
Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”
Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
Christian Bale, “Ford v Ferrari”
On the cusp: Robert De Niro, “The Irishman”; Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”; Taron Egerton, “Rocketman”; Eddie Murphy, “Dolemite Is My Name”
I’ve written reams about this brutally competitive category, and predicting the final five isn’t any easier now than it was three months ago. Phoenix and Driver have been locks all along, and DiCaprio picking up nods from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and SAG voters puts him on solid ground for his emotionally layered turn in “Once Upon a Time.”
Banderas has never earned an Oscar nomination. He won lead actor honors from both the Los Angeles and New York film critics groups and picked up a Golden Globe nomination to boot. He anchors Pedro Almodóvar’s achingly beautiful “Pain and Glory” with a career-best turn. The film has been widely seen since premiering at Cannes, where Banderas won the best actor prize. Quality will win out. In fact, I think Banderas could well go on to win the Oscar.
The last remaining spot could go to De Niro for his subtle lead turn in “The Irishman,” though his shut-out from SAG and Globes voters is worrisome. You can’t appreciate the power of De Niro’s performance if you don’t watch the movie straight through. And, with “The Irishman” clocking in at 3½ hours, that’s going to be an issue with lots of voters.
Pryce is excellent, and his chemistry with co-star Anthony Hopkins is the primary draw for “The Two Popes.” Murphy, like just about every comic actor, has never been given his Oscar due. One of them could make it in. But I’ll go with Bale, a four-time nominee, who picked up SAG and Globes nominations for delivering yet another dynamic, entertaining turn in “Ford v Ferrari.”
Renée Zellweger, “Judy”
Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”
On the cusp: Lupita Nyong’o, “Us”; Awkwafina, “The Farewell”; Alfre Woodard, “Clemency”
Zellweger has been the front-runner for her empathetic portrayal of Judy Garland since September, and there has been no reason to change that perception. Her personal comeback story combined with the strong work will be tough to beat. Theron, Johansson and Erivo all earned noms from SAG and the HFPA and figure to join Zellweger.
If I’m putting this much credence in the precursors, I should be concerned about “Little Women,” which did not do particularly well with the Globes and SAG Awards. But it’s a smart and moving adaptation, and I think any commercial success through the holidays will compel academy members to give it a look. The biggest hindrance to its awards season success thus far hasn’t been its quality. It’s men who can’t be bothered to watch a movie titled “Little Women.” C’mon, Oscar voters. You’re better than that.
Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”
Al Pacino, “The Irishman”
Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Song Kang Ho, “Parasite”
On the cusp: Jamie Foxx, “Just Mercy”; Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”; Willem Dafoe, “The Lighthouse”; Tracy Letts, “Ford v Ferrari”; Sterling K. Brown, “Waves”
There’s plenty of room on the “Parasite” best picture bandwagon, but space will be a bit more cramped after Song scores a nomination for his brilliant turn playing the patriarch in “Parasite.” Song is a superstar in South Korea, and though some voters will be seeing him for the first time in “Parasite,” that shouldn’t be an obstacle for a performance that, like the film, hits its audience right in the heart.
If you think this pick is a stretch, consider: “Parasite” landed a SAG ensemble nod. The L.A. Film Critics gave Song its supporting actor prize, helping put him on the map. And last season, the academy’s acting branch nominated “Roma” actresses Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira. You don’t think they’ll want to have their #BongHive membership cards stamped with at least one nod?
Jennifer Lopez, “Hustlers”
Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell”
Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit”
Zhao Shuzhen, “The Farewell”
On the cusp: Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”; Annette Bening, “The Report”; Florence Pugh, “Little Women”; Nicole Kidman, “Bombshell”; Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “Dolemite Is My Name”
My dream lineup: Dern, J-Lo, Zhao, Pugh and Randolph. Right now from that group, only Dern and Lopez are certain. Along with Robbie (who was much better in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”), they earned love from SAG and the Globes. Zhao didn’t rate with either group, but Oscar voters can fix that. Just remember: She’s Nai Nai, the heart of Lulu Wang’s delicate story of familial love. I’m choking up, just typing this sentence.
Of course, “Jojo Rabbit” cultists have the same response to Johansson’s performance as the loving mother in Taika Waititi’s scattered, tone-shifting satire. Between this and her lead turn in “Marriage Story,” Johansson could become the first actor in 12 years to earn two Oscar nominations in the same year. (It has happened 11 times, with Cate Blanchett being the most recent double nominee for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and “I’m Not There.”) Johansson has made some great movies and a fair number of clunkers. It seems almost fitting that she might earn Oscar nominations for films reflecting the arc of that career spectrum.