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From 'Nomadland' to 'One Night In Miami': Here are the early Oscar favourites

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·6-min read

Watch the first trailer for early Oscar-contender Nomadland...

In a normal year, as the calendar flips from September to October, we’re anxiously awaiting the slate of fall films jockeying for Oscar position, with the field narrowing and favorites emerging following the launching grounds of the Toronto, Venice and Telluride film festivals.

But in the pandemic-plagued 2020, we had big questions about whether this year’s Toronto International Film Festival with its hybrid format and abbreviated lineup — and where only local Canadian viewers were allowed to attend events in person and global press had to screen movies online — would provide a bump to would-be contenders.

The answer is a qualified ‘yes’. With a smaller pool of premieres and a much longer runway to the Oscars — which are now seven (seven!) months away since the Motion Picture Academy pushed the awards to late April 2021 — two frontrunners have established themselves: Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland and Regina King’s One Night in Miami. Get ready to hear a lot about those films, and a few others we note below, in the months to come.

Nomadland

Have we mentioned Nomadland yet? Writer-director Chloé Zhao’s gorgeously shot followup to The Rider isn’t quite as quiet or understated as her 2018 indie darling, and by extension feels poised to make a lot of noise on the awards circuit. The touching film, about an ageing widow (Frances McDormand) who works odd jobs as she traverses the American West in her van, debuted simultaneously at both Venice and Toronto, and rocked them both. It won the top Golden Lion prize at Venice, then nabbed the coveted People’s Choice Award from Toronto — the only time both honours have ever gone to the same film, making it the instant Oscar frontrunner.

As pundits like us love to remind you ever year, Toronto’s audience award has a stellar track record, with three of the last 10 recipients (Green Book, 12 Years a Slave and The King’s Speech) ultimately winning Best Picture, and six others earning nominations. The film could potentially earn McDormand her third Oscar after Fargo and Three Billboards. And if Zhao (who has Marvel’s Eternals on deck) earns a Best Director nomination, she’d be the first Asian woman ever nominated in the category.

Nomadland will have its UK premiere at the London Film Festival on 16 October, playing at locations across the UK.

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Zhao), Best Actress (McDormand), Best Supporting Actor (David Strathairn), Best Adapated Screenplay (Zhao)

One Night in Miami

'One Night in Miami' (Amazon)
One Night in Miami (Photo: Amazon)

Regina King’s directorial debut was the runner-up for TIFF’s audience award. Based on the stage play and adapted for the screen by Kemp Powers (who next has Disney-Pixar’s Soul in the pipeline), the slow-building but deeply profound drama provides a fictionalised account of a real meeting between African-American icons Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) as Clay — soon to be Muhammad Ali — wrestles with converting to Islam the night he’s been crowned heavyweight champion in 1964. All four leads are stellar, so any of them could crack the awards race (depending on where Amazon, which bought the film following its Venice premiere, decided to slot the actors). Meanwhile, King, who won yet another Emmy Sunday night for Watchmen, hasn’t had this good a year since… OK, only two years ago, when she won an Emmy for Seven Seconds and an Oscar for If Beale Street Could Talk.

One Night In Miami will have its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on 11 October.

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (King), Best Actor/Supporting Actor (make your best guess, though Ben-Adir and Goree probably drew the biggest buzz), Best Adapted Screenplay (Powers)

The Father

Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins in 'The Father' (Sony Pictures Classics)
Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins in The Father. (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

At 82, Anthony Hopkins shows no signs of slowing down, continuing to deliver one acting masterclass after the next. He’s just playing characters who are slowing down. A year after earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination for playing the soon-to-exit Pope Benedict XVI opposite Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes, Hopkins is absolutely riveting as a Londoner suffering from dementia in Florian Zeller’s disorienting, almost horror-like drama The Father. While the film, which first premiered at Sundance in January, could possibly be a multiple nominee à la Popes, its Oscar hopes are likely pinned on a surefire Hopkins nod.

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Supporting Actress (Olivia Colman), Best Original Screenplay (Zeller and Christopher Hampton)

Ammonite

In the least bit of surprising film nerd news this month, a period romance starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan (who have a combined 60 years and 11 Academy Award nominations between them) is getting Oscar buzz. The seaside drama stars Winslet as a fossil hunter who develops an intense relationship with the unhappily married younger woman Ronan in 1840s England. While Winslet and Ronan are both drawing their customary kudos, some critics have complained that the film, written and directed by Francis Lee (God’s Own Country), feels too “chilly” and “cliché-ridden,” which means the actors might be the film’s best route to Oscar.

Ammonite will receive its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on Saturday, 17 October and will be available to UK audiences at cinemas across the UK who will also enjoy a virtual introduction from Lee and key cast.

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Winslet), Best Supporting Actress (Ronan)

Pieces of a Woman

Shia LaBeouf and Vanessa Kirby in 'Pieces of a Woman' (Netflix)
Shia LaBeouf and Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman. (Photo: Netflix)

We’re all going to need to study on up Vanessa Kirby, stat. The Emmy-nominated star of The Crown, who has had smaller roles in a major blockbusters like Mission: Impossible (2018) and Hobbs & Shaw (2019), is fast becoming an industry force, and now has real Oscar buzz to show for it. The 32-year-old London native won Volpi Cup for Best Actress at Venice (where Pieces of a Woman was acquired by Netflix) for her acclaimed turn as a Boston woman in grieving after a home birth is tragically botched by a midwife.

Kirby stars opposite Shia LaBeouf, whom some critics have called miscast despite some impressive rebounding in recent years. No worries, between this film and the upcoming possible contenders Promising Young Woman and I’m Your Woman, as one pundit pointed out, it’s shaping up to the be the Oscar season of the Woman.

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Kirby)