Four days ago The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg posted his first forecast about the Best Picture Oscar race, and he put Reinaldo Marcus Green, Zach Baylin and Will Smith‘s King Richard at the top of the list.
Feinberg was completely correct in doing so for a simple, undeniable reason. Of all the contenders seen so far King Richard is the only one that is (a) exceptionally well made, (b) perfectly acted and (c) makes you feel good in an honest, fully earned, non-pandering way.
There are no other Best Picture hopefuls that have even come close to managing this feat. No other 2021 film so far has delivered this kind of effective emotional pizza. Plus it’s a mostly all-black sports film** (the saga of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams) about a super-competitive family from Compton, and in particular about a thorny, whip-cracking dad (i.e., Smith’s Richard Williams) who was far from perfect.
Smith is a Best Actor lock; ditto Aunjanue Ellis as his combative wife + mother of phenomenal daughters.
King Richard delivers a metaphor that everyone will understand and relate to — if you want to win, you have to be hardcore.
There are several films I haven’t seen, but I can still tell (or make a very good guess about) which ones will meet these three criteria.
Using Feinberg’s list as a template, here are my no-bullshit assessments as things currently stand. The boldfaced titles are the only ones that stand a fraction of a chance of beating King Richard. (I’ve also boldfaced King Richard for emphasis.)
1. King Richard (Warner Bros., 11.19) — The only Best Picture contender right now that looks like a real winner.
2. Belfast (Focus, 11.12) — Sentimental, cloying and manipulative family drama — an Irish Roma with an overly cute central kid character + wall-to-wall Van Morrison.
3. A Hero (Amazon) — Brilliant Asghar Farhadi film that will most likely be slotted in the Best Int’l Feature category.
4. The Power of the Dog (Netflix. 11.17) — Exceptionally well made, skillfully acted period drama about Montana ranchers writhing in denial and misery with a little touch of anthrax — makes you feel really, really bad. All hail Jane Campion, but the only time you feel good about The Power of the Dog is when it ends.
5. Dune (Warner Bros., 10.22) — Torture to sit through for some; delightful for genre geeks. Not a prayer of being nominated for Best Picture.
6. C’mon, Cmon (A24) — Haven’t seen it, but for years my basic motto has been “beware of Mike Mills.”
7. CODA (Apple, 8.13) — Appealing but not good enough — a feel-good sitcom about a hearing-impaired Massachusetts family in the fishing business, and a high-school age daughter who wants to sing.
8. Spencer (Neon/Topic, 11.5) — Not a chance. Agony to sit through. Strictly a platform for Kristen Stewart‘s Best Actress campaign.
9. The Lost Daughter (Netflix, 12.31) — Haven’t seen it but I’m told it’s somewhere between okay and not that great.
10. Cyrano (MGM/UA, 12.31) — Brilliant musical. Joe Wright‘s finest effort since Anna Karenina. Exquisite Best Actor-calibre lead performance by Peter Dinklage.
11. Red Rocket (A24) — Forget it.
12. The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Searchlight, 9.17) — So-so film with exceptional Jessica Chastain performance as titular character.
13. The Hand of God (Netflix, 12.3) — Not good enough.
14. Titane (Neon) — Forget it. Strictly for fetishy weirdo types.
15. In the Heights (Warner Bros., 6.18) — Very well made musical but overshadowed by box-office failure.
16, Respect (MGM/UA, 8.13) — Not good enough, but with a fine lead performance by Jennifer Hudson.
17. Summer of Soul (Searchlight, 7.2) — First-rate, found-footage doc. Best Feature Documentary category.
18. Being the Ricardos (Amazon) — Haven’t seen it. The Lucy-and-Ricky thing will strike a chord with older Academy members.
19. The Card Counter (Focus, 9.10) — A somber, compelling, well-written character drama that doesn’t end all that well.
20. Cry Macho (Warner Bros., 9.17) — Not a chance.
21. Don’t Look Up (Netflix, 12.10) — Haven’t seen it.
22. The Harder They Fall (Netflix, 11.3) — Garbage-level western, to judge by the trailer — not a chance in hell.
23. House of Gucci (MGM/UA, 11.24) — Possibly excellent Ridley Scott melodrama about real-life murder within Gucci family.
24. The Humans (A24) — Experimental single-set drama, based on well-respected play about dysfunctional family. Not a chance.
25. Licorice Pizza (MGM/UA, 11.26) — Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t make Oscar-friendly films as a rule, and he’s been on the downslide for a decade now, or since There Will Be Blood.
26. The Many Saints of Newark (Warner Bros., 10.1) — Not a chance.
27. Nightmare Alley (Searchlight, 12.17) — Guillermo del Toro is a first-rate filmmaker…who knows?
28. No Time to Die (MGM/UA, 10.8) — Nope.
29. Parallel Mothers (Sony Classics, 12.24) — Pedro Almodovar is a masterful filmmaker. Best International Feature category.
30. The Tender Bar (Amazon) — Nope…you can sense the modest intentions.
31. Tick, Tick…Boom! (Netflix) — Haven’t seen it.
32. The Tragedy of Macbeth (A24/Apple, 12.22) — Unlikely, given the real-people reactions.
33. West Side Story (Disney, 12.10) — Odds are against Academy members wanting to give a second Best Picture Oscar to this dated musical tragedy based on Romeo & Juliet. Then again it&s Spielberg, the music is wonderful and the story is immensely moving, or it has seemed that way to me over the decades.
34. Zola (A24, 6/30, trailer) — Actually a great little indie, but probably not.
** Three white actors in strong supporting roles, but no white leads.