Last week, Vulture published a piece titled “Imagining the Oscars With No Oscar Bait.” It was the introduction of a game that could be played by those of us whose personalities orbit around “going to the movies,” and have no movies to go to.
“Welcome to the weirdest Oscar year ever, a season when voters have only slightly more than two months of films to consider,” wrote Nate Jones in the Vulture piece. Jones continued with a deep-dive into an imaginary awards season that very well may be our reality, concluding with “Emma.” reigning supreme and taking home Best Picture. Respectfully, I disagree. Let’s start.
With theaters shutting down nationwide by mid-March, Academy members have roughly two and a half months of theatrical releases — or planned theatrical releases — to choose from. Notoriously, the first quarter of the year is not known for producing the highest quality films. Studios are aware of the fact that the only people flooding theaters from January to April are those with nothing better to do with their time, and they plan their release schedules accordingly.
That being said, Best Picture is not a particularly strong category in this imaginary scenario, and many films that would commonly be forgotten by the summer end up dominating the conversation early on. “Birds of Prey,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Way Back,” and “Emma.” are the early frontrunners. The former two were moderately successful at the box office and received generally positive reviews from critics. Pundits predict that the traditionalist Academy members will fawn over “The Way Back,” the Ben Affleck-led drama about addiction and also childhood cancer, divorce and basketball (?), while “Emma.” is a Jane Austen adapted period piece told in a modern tone, and the only film released in 2020 that could be spun as Oscar-baity.
“Bad Boys For Life” is automatically in contention for being the final highest-grossing film in the United States before theatrical releases halted. “Sonic the Hedgehog,” the second highest-grossing film of the year, is not.
Passion picks include A24’s only film in contention, “First Cow,” romantic drama “The Photograph” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” a frontrunner out of Sundance. Other films on the backend of the conversation are “The Call of the Wild,” “The Gentleman,” “Downhill,” “Wendy,” “The Hunt” and “The Assistant,” another notable Sundance entry.
With all of their baity films saved for later release dates, Netflix struggles to decide which of their sub-par early offerings to push. They eventually land on “Lost Girls” which premiered on the streamer in January, and “Uncorked,” which holds an impressive 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Since major studios are known to not trust that a film led by a woman can perform at the box office, the Best Actress race isn’t too bleak. Like the films they appeared in, the early frontrunners are Margot Robbie (“Birds of Prey”), Elisabeth Moss (“The Invisible Man”) and Anya Taylor-Joy (“Emma.”).
Issa Rae (“The Photograph”) also shows up in numerous predictions, as does Amy Ryan (“Lost Girls”), though pundits agree that the latter’s turn as a mourning mother scorned by local law enforcement is a little too “Three Billboards” to manage a win.
Julia Garner (“The Assistant”) and Sidney Flanigan (“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”) both fight for the “newcomer in a dramatic role” spot, each racking up multiple critics association wins. Betty Gilpin (“The Hunt”) — though not necessarily a newcomer due to her Emmy-nominated role on “GLOW” — is still pushed as a breakthrough performance.
Bringing up the rear are Alison Brie (“Horse Girl”) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Downhill”), who hopes name recognition alone can carry her to a nomination.
Best Actor, on the other hand, shapes up to be a bit of a travesty. From the get go, Ben Affleck (“The Way Back”) seems like he has it in the bag. Despite being a two-time Oscar winner, he has yet to take home an acting prize — or even be nominated for one. This — paired with the substance abuse aspect of the film which seems to mirror his own struggles — seems like the perfect recipe for a victory come Oscar night.
Everyone else is simply fighting for a nomination. Harrison Ford (“Call of the Wild”) is banking on legacy votes, as are Will Ferrell (“Downhill”) and Will Smith (“Bad Boys for Life”).
As is the case with Best Actress, two fresh faces — John Magaro (“First Cow”) and Mamoudou Athie (“Uncorked”) — are fighting for the same spot. The former is at a clear disadvantage, as A24 decides to suspend their “First Cow” campaign after failing to receive a Golden Globe nomination, opting instead to reallocate the funds to their merchandising department.
Best Supporting Performance
In a truly unprecedented move, the Academy combines the two supporting categories into a single, gender-neutral one. In the official press release announcing the decision, they cite “equality” as their motivation, but the general consensus seems to be that they needed a reason not to nominate Jim Carrey (“Sonic the Hedgehog”), who had been slowly building up momentum after a surprise win at the SAG Awards.
The new category — shockingly — sees women dominating the conversation. Mia Goth (“Emma”), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Birds of Prey”) and Janina Gavankar (“The Way Back”) are deemed frontrunners simply due to their association with the Best Picture leaders. Lakeith Stanfield (“The Photograph”) also comes up quite frequently.
Amazon Studios pushes recent recipient of the award Viola Davis (“Troop Zero”), while another previous Oscar winner — two-time Best Actress Hilary Swank (“The Hunt”) — has her eyes set on a third.
Nominations and Winners
Finally, January roles around and nominees are announced. They are as follows:
- “Birds of Prey”
- “The Invisible Man”
- “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
- “The Photograph”
- “The Way Back”
- Anya Taylor-Joy (“Emma.”)
- Betty Gilpin (“The Hunt”)
- Elisabeth Moss (“The Invisible Man”)
- Margot Robbie (“Birds of Prey”)
- Sidney Flanigan (“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”)
- Ben Affleck (“The Way Back”)
- Harrison Ford (“The Call of the Wild”)
- Mamoudou Athie (“Uncorked”)
- Will Ferrell (“Downhill”)
- Will Smith (“Bad Boys For Life”)
- Lakeith Stanfield (“The Photograph”)
- Hilary Swank (“The Hunt”)
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Birds of Prey”)
- Mia Goth (“Emma.”)
- Viola Davis (“Troop Zero”)
At the ceremony, things go fairly as planned. Laura Dern and Brad Pitt joint-present the inaugural Best Supporting award to Hilary Swank, the biggest surprise of the night. Renée Zellweger lists off the names of three U.S. Presidents, four singers, one activist and two American Idol winners before announcing Ben Affleck as Best Actor, who thanks God, his girlfriend Ana de Armas and his ex Jennifer Garner. Joaquin Phoenix says COVID-19 would have never happened if we all ate plant-based diets, then hands Best Actress to Elisabeth Moss.
Finally, Best Picture is announced, and the trophy goes to “The Invisible Man.” Some consider the film’s victory to be an upset, but most chock it up to a successful viral marketing campaign. As the credits roll, a brief disclaimer assures that the night’s events were NOT canon.