I last considered 2020’s Best Picture contenders on 2.28.20 — pre-coronavirus, pre-shutdown, pre-widespread depression. A world that no longer exists and which may, at best, not be fully reconstituted for another year or so.
Exactly what films will actually open this year is anyone’s guess, but it’s probably safe to assume that many of the following will be “released” in some format by 12.31.20. It also seems as if Netflix is poised to finally win the Big One.
My top ten (or at least titles that smelled like hotties two months ago) are as follows: David Fincher‘s Mank, Aaron Sorkin‘s Trial of the Chicago 7, Ridley Scott‘s The Last Duel, Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater, Steven Spielberg‘s West Side Story, Joel Coen‘s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Andrew Dominik‘s Blonde, Leos Carax’s Annette, Paul Greengrass’s News of the World and Terrence Malick‘s The Last Planet.
I was also touched and throttled by Rod Lurie‘s The Outpost, which may open sometime this summer.
Two days ago L.A. Times handicapper Glenn Whipp offered his own spitball projections. Here are 13 that I didn’t include among my top ten, for a grand total of 23. Each of the following quickies contain my own two cents:
Francis Lee‘s Ammonite (period seaside sappho — a return to Portrait of a Lady on Fire territory — Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan / Neon). HE sez: Didn’t we all just do this? Performance noms, maybe, but the film itself?
Spike Lee‘s Da 5 Bloods (Four black veterans return to Vietnam searching for remains of a fallen comrade, and for buried treasure / Netflix). HE sez: Yeah, maybe.
Denis Villeneuve and Timothee Chalamet‘s ‘s Dune (another adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi fantasy, the idea being to elbow aside the 1984 David Lynch version / Warner Bros., due on 12.18). HE sez: Sprawling geek-friendly genre fantasies generally don’t register with Academy members.
Michael Showalter‘s The Eyes of Tammy Faye. (Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield as televangelist hucksters Jim and Tammy Faye Baker / Searchlight.) HE sez: Icky subject matter. Possible acting nomination for Chastain?
Florian Zeller‘s The Father. (Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins in Sundance Alzheimer relationship drama / Sony Pictures Classics, 11.20). HE sez: Acting noms.
Ron Howard‘s Hillbilly Elegy. (Glenn Close‘s performance as Ma Bumblefuck is a guaranteed lock for a Best Actress nom. Adaptation of J.D. Vance’s best-selling memoir of Appalachian upbringing and despairing red-state mindsets / Netflix.) HE sez: Locked for Best Picture nom and, as mentioned, Close for Best Actress.
Charlie Kaufman‘s I’m Thinking of Ending Things. (Boilerplate: “A man takes his girlfriend to meet with his parents, but they find themselves going on a terrifying detour.” Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis / Netflix). HE sez: Kaufman is the most melancholy-minded, auteur-level filmmaker on the North American continent and perhaps in the whole world.
Edoardo Ponti‘s The Life Ahead. (Italian-language drama, directed and co-written by Sophia Loren‘s son. Based on 1975 Romain Gary novel. The legendary 85 year-old Loren plays a Holocaust survivor bonding with a 12-year-old Senegalese immigrant kid / Netflix). HE sez: Sounds classy. Everyone loves Sophia Loren, wants to see her back in the swing of it.
George C. Wolfe‘s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. (Adaptation of August Wilson ’20s-era play about exploitation of blues musicians by white-owned record company. Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman costar, produced by Denzel Washington / Netflix) HE sez: Almost guaranteed to land a Best Picture nom on guilt-trip aspect alone. Not to mention likely acting nominations.
Lee Isaac Chung‘s Minari. (Poor Korean family trying to slug it out on Arkansas farm. Costarring Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton, Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho / A24) HE sez: Excellent Sundance buzz, likely nomination talk. A24 will absolutely refuse to run FYC ads on Hollywood Elsewhere or anywhere else.
Chloé Zhao‘s Nomadland (Frances McDormand road-tripping across American West after losing her shirt after the 2008 recession / Searchlight). HE sez: Has the right pedigree, right chops. Whipp says the film’s “current condition is a bit…mysterious.”
Sofia Coppola‘s On the Rocks. Coppola reuintes with Bill Murray, directs and writes a father-daughter drama. Boilerplate: “A young mother who reconnects with her larger-than life playboy father on an adventure through New York.” Rashida Jones, Murray, Marlon Wayans / A24). HE sez: Sure!
Ryan Murphy‘s The Prom (adaptation of Broadway musical of the same name, “a quartet of Broadway actors traveling to Indiana to help a high school lesbian bring her girlfriend to prom,” etc. Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, Keegan-Michael Key / Netflix). HE sez: Meh.
Here’s the remainder of what I posted on 2.28.20. There are some repeats among these:
I know that Carax’s film…actually I know nothing except it’s a musical and Carax is crazy in a good way. I’m sensing that post-Parasite things suddenly feel a lot less constrained as far as Best Picture criteria are concerned. I know that Malick doesn’t do Oscar-aspiring films, but Planet is some kind of Jesus of Nazareth saga. (Almost certainly not geared for the Mel Gibson crowd.) I have a 12-year-old draft of Sorkin’s film — just received it today. I’ve read Mank, but I’d also love to read Blonde, Stillwater and News of the World.
The somewhat-less-likelies include Chris Nolan‘s Tenet, Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley, Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks, Denis Villenueve’s Dune, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho, Steven Soderbergh’s Let Them All Talk, Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water. Ben Wheatley‘s Rebecca remake, Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon and Liesl Tommy‘s Respect. (13)
Not to mention Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria, Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland and Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island. (4)
Ana de Armas in Andrew Dominik‘s Blonde.