Hollywood Brief: What Denzel Washington Is Up to Next; Awards Race (So Far)

Guest columnist Jeff Sneider breaks down the Oscar race standings: Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s not happening?
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Here is a special awards edition of this week’s Hollywood Brief.

Where the Oscar Race Stands Heading Into December, and What Denzel Washington Is Up to Next

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, so you’re either busy battling Black Friday crowds or feeling too bloated to bother, but I suspect some of you are curious where the Oscar race stands heading into December. You remember the Oscars, right? That awards show that seems to matter less each year, at least according to its ratings on ABC? Well it’s still the holy grail of awards shows, and though I haven’t seen every contender yet, I think it’s fair to size up the race based on the tea leaves I’m reading, the conversations I’m having with Academy members, and my own gut instincts, which have long served me well. Guided by my Sneidy-Senses, I’ll examine the top six categories. 

The following is a snapshot of where things stand as of Thanksgiving Day:

Jamie Dornan attends the premiere of “Belfast” at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. (Photo by LISA O’CONNOR / AFP) (Photo by LISA O’CONNOR/AFP via Getty Images)

BEST PICTURE

I just took a gander over at Gold Derby and I’m still trying to process what I saw in terms of the experts’ Best Picture predictions, which basically positioned this year’s race as a duel between Belfast and The Power of the Dog. Granted, I haven’t seen the latter film, but reading between the lines, it doesn’t sound like the kind of movie that wins Best Picture. In fact, it sounds rather unpleasant. I sense that some pundits are looking at No Country for Old Men‘s Oscar win as a bellwether of sorts, but that Coen brothers movie was actually fun — a word that has not been used to describe The Power of the Dog.

Meanwhile, the people who think Belfast is going to win are probably the same people who thought Roma would win as well. The comparison is irresistible, given that both are black-and-white films based on very personal stories from their directors, but the same fate suffered by Alfonso Cuaron soon awaits Kenneth Branagh, whose ode to Ireland was aggressively fine, in my opinion.

The movie with the third-most pundits in its corner was Dune, which is the prediction you’d make if you thought Avatar would beat The Hurt Locker. There’s a reason that so few blockbusters win Best Picture. I know opinions are subjective and all, but I don’t know why quality has become so hard to recognize.

CODA is a great movie that continues to hang around the conversation, even if its awards momentum has cooled since its dazzling debut at Sundance. King Richard is a very good movie with a terrible title. Both are true crowdpleasers that will make anyone with a beating heart cry, and each would make a fine winner. Another movie rising up the ranks is Tick, Tick… Boom!, which is pretty good once you get past the first 30 minutes that cater to every musical theater student I met during my time at NYU. 

I still haven’t seen Being the Ricardos or Licorice Pizza yet, but the former is starting to surge, while the latter seems to have become the season’s sentimental favorite. I’m not quite sure what to make of Nightmare Alley or West Side Story yet, but I suspect that Steven Spielberg‘s musical is more Oscar-friendly than Guillermo del Toro‘s dark noir. We should know more next week when both films start screening for critics. 

What’s Up: King Richard
What’s Down: House of Gucci
What’s Not Happening: In the Heights
Current Predictions: Being the RicardosBelfastCODADuneKing RichardLicorice PizzaNightmare AlleyThe Power of the DogTick, Tick… Boom!West Side Story

BEST DIRECTOR

This feels like a battle between Jane Campion and Paul Thomas Anderson, the latter of whom has never won an Oscar, which is crazy. The Licorice Pizza filmmaker is long overdue, and Campion is said to be working at the top of her game with The Power of the Dog. Meanwhile, I wish the Denis Villeneuve talk would cool down, as he has delivered far better work than Dune, which is half a movie. As pedestrian an effort as I thought it was, Belfast seems bound to bring Kenneth Branagh his first directing nomination in more than 30 years. Pedro AlmodovarPablo Larrain, or del Toro could round out the field, or perhaps it’ll be an industry heavyweight such as Aaron Sorkin or Spielberg. Just don’t overlook CODA director Sian Heder, who had to find a different way to communicate with the deaf actors in her cast, though nothing was lost in translation, as the film turned out beautifully. As for Ridley Scott, despite having two films in the race this year between The Last Duel and House of Gucci, people just can’t seem to agree which one is actually good and which one should be held against him. That doesn’t bode well for his Oscar chances, but he’ll have a shot again next year with his Napoleon movie starring Joaquin Phoenix.

Who’s Up: Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza
Who’s Down: Ridley Scott, House of Gucci and The Last Duel
Who’s Not Happening: Sean Baker, Red Rocket
Current Predictions: Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Steven Spielberg (West Side Story), Denis Villeneuve (Dune)

Will Smith attends the UK Premiere of “King Richard.” (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)

BEST ACTOR

Right now, this race feels like it’ll come down to Will Smith (King Richard) vs. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), but don’t count out Andrew Garfield, who shines as playwright Jonathan Larson in Tick, Tick… Boom! Denzel Washington doing Shakespeare in The Tragedy of Macbeth also seems like a safe bet, though he’s hardly a lock at this point, as his fellow Oscar winners Joaquin Phoenix (C’mon C’mon), Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos), Mahershala Ali (Swan Song) and even Nicolas Cage (Pig) are expected to give Denzel a run for his money. Bradley Cooper (Nightmare Alley) and Peter Dinklage (Cyrano) are also in contention along with industry veterans Clifton Collins Jr. (Jockey) and Simon Rex (Red Rocket), though both are newcomers to awards season. But one Oscars heavyweight who I don’t expect to see nominated this year is Leonardo DiCaprio, as Don’t Look Up doesn’t really strike me as a major player this year, though I said the same about Adam McKay‘s last film, Vice, and that received eight inexplicable nominations, so what do I know? It’s hard to write off Leo sight unseen, but he was just nominated for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and I suspect that with so many interesting contenders this year, he’ll be the odd man out.

Who’s Up: Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick… Boom!
Who’s Down: Adam Driver, House of Gucci
Who’s Not Happening: Oscar Isaac, The Card Counter
Current Predictions: Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick… Boom!), Will Smith (King Richard), Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth)

Kristen Stewart attends the red carpet of the movie “Spencer” during the 78th Venice International Film Festival. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

BEST ACTRESS

It’s a strong year for this category overall, but there are really only two women with a clear path to winning this year, and their names are Kristen Stewart and Nicole Kidman. When it was first announced that Stewart would play Princess Diana in Spencer and that Kidman would play Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos, the choices were met with skepticism from industry observers, and that includes me. It seemed like the producers of those films were just set on casting stars rather than the best performers for the part. Boy, was I wrong! No stranger to intense media pressure, Stewart was fantastic as Diana, and though I haven’t seen Being the Ricardos yet, Kidman has earned unlikely raves from critics, proving that she remains one of Hollywood’s most talented stars, whether on the big or small screens.

Beyond those two, three-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand (The Tragedy of Macbeth) is always a threat, and the same can be said for Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), whose campaign will surely benefit from the Netflix PR machine. Elsewhere, Penelope Cruz is getting great reviews for Parallel Mothers, her latest collaboration with Almodovar, but I can’t tell if that’s a performance that the Academy will get behind, or if it’s a passion pick for critics eager to prove their superior taste. Singers Lady Gaga (House of Gucci) and Jennifer Hudson (Respect) — both of whom have won Oscars — are back in contention this year, though it’s Emilia Jones who seems even more deserving after singing her heart out in CODA, and we can’t forget about Rachel Zegler, who is rumored to have made quite a first impression in West Side Story. And hey, speaking of singers, Alana Haim is said to have cast quite the spell on critics with her bewitching turn in Licorice Pizza. The wild card in this category is Jessica Chastain, who pulls off a remarkable transformation in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, though the movie itself falls a bit flat. Past Oscar winners such as Sandra Bullock (The Unforgivable), Halle Berry (Bruised) and Jennifer Lawrence (Don’t Look Up), Marion Cotillard (Annette) don’t seem to stand much of a chance this year.

Who’s Up: Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
Who’s Down: Jennifer Lawrence, Don’t Look Up
Who’s Not Happening: Sandra Bullock, The Unforgivable
Current Predictions: Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), Penelope Cruz (Parallel Mothers), Lady Gaga (House of Gucci), Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos), Kristen Stewart (Spencer)

Kodi Smit-McPhee attends the 2021 AFI Fest – Official Screening of Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog.” (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

This is a deep category yet again this year, but there’s no runaway contender as far as I can tell. Kodi Smit-McPhee has earned great reviews for his work in The Power of the Dog, which also boasts a supporting turn from Jesse Plemons. Meanwhile, critics can’t seem to resist Ben Affleck’s charming turn in The Tender Bar or Jared “Fredo” Leto, who fully understood the assignment in House of Gucci. There’s also the boys of Belfast — Jamie Dornan and Ciarin Hinds — as well as the men of Mass — Jason Isaacs and Reed Birney — all of whom do undeniably good work. Licorice Pizza scene-stealer Bradley Cooper will surely see his candidacy bolstered by his leading turn in Nightmare Alley. Some Gold Derbyites think Richard Jenkins will be recognized for The Humans, but I think that movie is D.O.A. this awards season. The same goes for Garfield in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. I also have a hard time buying the buzz regarding Corey Hawkins in The Tragedy of Macbeth, which I haven’t seen yet, and I still have my doubts about Jonah Hill‘s seemingly obnoxious turn in McKay’s satire Don’t Look Up.

I loved both Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant in CODA, and I’m not sure why Apple isn’t mounting a campaign around Eugenio Derbez, who’s one of several actors of color who deserve more attention this season along with Robin de Jesus, who is really, really good in Tick, Tick… Boom!, where his song “Real Life” is a standout. And don’t forget about Jon Bernthal‘s work in King Richard. He’s normally cast as the intimidating tough guy but I really liked seeing a different side of him as Venus and Serena Williams‘ tennis coach Rick Macci. The category also boasts veterans such as Willem Dafoe (Nightmare Alley) and past winner J.K. Simmons (Being the Ricardos) along with young newcomer Woody Norman (C’mon C’mon).

Who’s Up: Jared Leto, House of Gucci
Who’s Down: Jeffrey Wright, The French Dispatch
Who’s Not Happening: Richard Jenkins, The Humans
Current Predictions: Ben Affleck (The Tender Bar), Jamie Dornan (Belfast), Ciarin Hinds (Belfast), Jared Leto (House of Gucci), Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)

Aunjanue Ellis speaks onstage at the Q&A for “King Richard” during the 24th SCAD Savannah Film Festival. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for SCAD)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

This is another category with no shortage of contenders, but no clear frontrunner, at least until I see Cate Blanchett in Nightmare Alley. The women of Belfast — Caitrona Balfe and Judi Dench — should get some attention this season, as will Mass stars Ann Dowd and Martha Plimpton, but I just don’t see the Academy connecting with that grim chamber piece about the aftermath of a school shooting. As good as Ruth Negga is in Passing, I see voters passing on that screener… unlike King Richard, in which Aunjanue Ellis delivers as Venus and Serena’s mother. Rising star Ariana DeBose will surely merit consideration for West Side Story, and she’ll be competing with Gaby Hoffman (C’mon C’mon), Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter), and Nina Arianda (Being the Ricardos) for a slot, not to mention past Oscar winners such as Meryl Streep (Don’t Look Up) and Marlee Matlin (CODA), though I’m not sensing that the Academy is embracing that Apple movie as I feel it should. I am confident, however, that Kirsten Dunst will pick up a nod for The Power of the Dog.

Who’s Up: Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard
Who’s Down: Naomie Harris, Swan Song
Who’s Not Happening: Rebecca Ferguson, Dune
Current Predictions: Caitrona Balfe (Belfast), Cate Blanchett (Nightmare Alley), Judi Dench (Belfast), Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog), Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard)

And finally, here’s a little scoop heading into the post-holiday weekend…

Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington and his son John David Washington are poised to work together soon, as they’re attached to a new pitch that has attracted attention from studios and deep-pocketed streamers alike, according to sources. I was unable to ascertain any plot details, nor do I know whether the Washingtons will be playing father-and-son, but it would mark the first major pairing between the duo. As a young boy, John David had very minor roles in Malcolm X and Devil in a Blue Dress, and he went on to serve as a co-producer on his father’s post-apocalyptic action movie The Book of Eli, but they have not worked together since that 2010 film.

Not only did John David wish to forge his own identity as an actor, starting with his co-starring role on Ballers alongside Dwayne Johnson, but his father is said to have encouraged that independence, knowing it would serve his career well in the long run. John David broke out in BlacKkKlansman before going on to play the protagonist in Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet.

John David recently wrapped David O. Russell’s new movie starring Christian Bale and Margot Robbie, while Denzel recently directed and produced the upcoming Sony drama A Journal for Jordan starring Michael B. Jordan. Denzel is searching for his next directorial effort, though it’s unclear whether he’s attached to direct this new project, as I’d only heard that he and John David would share the screen together.

Hollywood has a rich history of famous fathers working with their sons, including Lloyd and Jeff Bridges (Blown Away), Martin and Charlie Sheen (Wall Street), Will and Jaden Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness), and Jerry and Ben Stiller (Zoolander). However, a movie starring both Washingtons would feel bigger than all of those films, so stay tuned to see where this mystery movie materializes.

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