After weeks, months, and in some cases years of anticipation, it looks like we are in the final days of waiting for the first trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune.” While the pandemic remains fluid across the globe, movie theaters and studios are finally setting concrete plans to reopen, and that means that audiences will soon be able to get a look at “Dune” footage on the big screen and online. It’s no secret that this is quite possibly the most excited I’ve ever been for a film. I’ve been tracking it ever since Legendary acquired the production rights in 2016. I remembered when Villeneuve was hired, when Timothée Chalamet got cast and when production started. Much of my excitement revolves around the immense talent involved, both in front of and behind the camera. This makes my second edition of Johnny’s Awards Radar all the more exciting, as I can finally go into detail and go on record as to why I think “Dune” is the biggest sleeper of the upcoming award season.
I’ll be breaking things down category by category, assessing the film’s chances in each one, based on the cast/crew involved, images we’ve seen, and the rest of the year’s contenders. I’ll skip over any categories where I don’t anticipate either film to contend or be eligible for, such as Best Actress or Original Screenplay.
My tiers of assessment are as follows:
DEFINITE: All signs point to yes. I would bet everything in my bank account that the film will be nominated in that category.
PROBABLE: The chances of it being nominated are more likely than not, but I wouldn’t be willing to bet my life on it.
POSSIBLE: The chances of it being nominated are there, but not solid. The category has strong competition or the cast/crew members don’t have a strong awards history.
UNLIKELY: There is the slimmest of chances that it will be nominated, but it can’t be entirely ruled out.
All bets are off for Best Picture at this point, which means “Dune” has a better chance than ever to slide into the race. “Ford v Ferrari” slipped through the cracks this year with just three other nominations (both sound categories and film editing), so even if “Dune” doesn’t rack up nominations across the board, there’s still a chance at the big one. But, to be honest, with such a loaded cast and a highly respected director and crew, it wouldn’t even need nominations in any of the other major categories to secure a nomination here.
Additionally, producer Mary Parent was nominated for “The Revenant” four years ago, and director Denis Villeneuve is producing for the first time ever. If he gets locked out of a nomination for director or screenplay, there might be added incentive to recognize him here. Recent genre films nominated for the big prize like “The Martian,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Villeneuve’s own “Arrival” also help boost the sci-fi pic’s chances.
Denis Villeneuve has produced arguably the most impressive filmography over the last decade of any filmmaker, peaking with his Best Director nomination in 2017 for “Arrival.” He should have been nominated for “Blade Runner 2049,” but wasn’t, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same snub happens with “Dune.” His competition is also heavy, with other recent nominees releasing films this year, like Spike Lee, Christopher Nolan, Tom McCarthy and Wes Anderson. Oh, and Steven Spielberg. And David Fincher. It’s stacked, people.
I have no doubt Timothée Chalamet will deliver a homerun performance as one of the most tragic and dynamic protagonists in literature. The youngest Oscar-nominee in 81 years will carry the film entirely on his shoulders. The only real problem? A few guys named Hanks, Oldman, Hopkins, Damon and Affleck all stand in his way. Plus, if Netflix plays its cards right for “Da 5 Bloods,” Delroy Lindo might find himself in the thick of things, too. But hey, if Matt Damon can get nominated for “The Martian,” who’s to say it can’t be done? Not me.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The male supporting cast of “Dune” rolls deep, with Oscar-nominee Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac, Stellan Skårsgard and Oscar-winner Javier Bardem. Judging by the book, Isaac has the best chance at a nomination in the no-nonsense leadership role of Duke Leto Atreides, the father to Chalamet’s Paul. This category on paper looks wide open this year, but I wouldn’t put any money on Isaac.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica is the most likely candidate here. She’s the female protagonist in the novel and a good amount of the story is through her perspective. The role itself will require a difficult balance of austerity and warmth, as well as a badass action-hero aura that Ferguson should have no problem carrying over from the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. However, big-budget films gain little to no traction in acting categories during awards season, and the field this year is looking pretty competitive.
Four of Villeneuve’s last five films have been nominated in this category. When Villeneuve couldn’t get Roger Deakins for “Arrival,” he recruited Bradford Young and aided him to his first Oscar nomination. When Deakins couldn’t film “Dune” because of his commitment to “1917,” Greig Fraser filled the void and will almost certainly earn his second nomination. Fraser was nominated for “Lion” in 2017 and before that wowed Star Wars fans with his work on “Rogue One” in 2016. It also doesn’t hurt that the production filmed on the lush Norwegian coast, endless dunes of Abu Dhabi and otherworldly plains of Wadi Rum, promising an abundance of visual majesty.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Eric Roth is a five-time Oscar-nominee, winning for his adaptation of “Forrest Gump” in 1995 and most recently being nominated for co-writing “A Star Is Born” with Bradley Cooper and Will Fetters in 2019. The category is pretty wide open this year, with the most notable competition being two-time nominee Tony Kushner (“West Side Story”), who was nominated in 2013 for “Lincoln.” The script for “Dune” leaked earlier this year and has been praised by fans of the novel, as well as members of the industry. Finally cracking the code and successfully bringing Frank Herbert’s masterpiece to the big screen is more than worthy of a nomination in my book.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
To bring this space opera to life, Villeneuve brought back special effects supervisor Gerd Nefzer and visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert – the dynamic duo who took home the hardware for their work on “Blade Runner 2049.” I fully expect them to bring the same level of detail and effective mix of practical and digital effects that we saw in “2049.” The only real competition might be Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” although that film may almost be too practical and feature less VFX shots than “Dunkirk,” which wasn’t even nominated in 2018. If “Dune” wins, Lambert will have notched his third Oscar in as many films, with his second win coming for “First Man” in 2019. Oh, and one more thing that boosts this film’s chances: giant sandworms.
BEST FILM EDITING
The Academy usually reads “Best Film Editing” to mean “most” film editing – just look at the egregious win for “Bohemian Rhapsody” in 2019. This makes it difficult to know who’s in the mix until the films are actually released. “Dune” marks two-time Oscar-nominee Joe Walker’s fourth collaboration with Villeneuve. It’s also worth noting this will be the most action-based film Walker has ever edited. Other recent action-based genre films nominated here include “Fury Road,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and “Baby Driver.” If “Dune” goes off without a hitch, Walker will be one of the biggest reasons why.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Hans Zimmer. What else is there to say? The 11-time Oscar-nominee turned down a seventh collaboration with Christopher Nolan on “Tenet” in order to work on Villeneuve’s adaptation. Zimmer told The Playlist last year that the novel is “one of my favorite books from my teenage years.” Zimmer was nominated four times in the last decade, but his sole win came in 1995. Maybe devising the music for this sci-fi magnum opus can help him reclaim the gold.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Production designer Patrice Vermette has the honor of bringing Frank Herbert’s world to life. Vermette is a two-time Oscar-nominee, with one of those nominations being for Villeneuve’s “Arrival.” The scale and scope of this universe is on par with something like “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars,” both of which won Oscars in this category. Complex, enormous sets, vehicles and creatures all need to be realized on the big screen. Other recent genre nominees include “The Hobbit,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049.”
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
“Dune” offers a unique mix of sci-fi, fantasy and medieval aesthetics with costumes ranging from the brutalist armor worn by the Atreides soldiers to the regal attire of the Great Houses, as well as the rugged Fremen stillsuits. However, it is the more traditional costume dramas that dominate this category every year, and the nominees usually consist of a mix of Best Picture nominees and lesser-acclaimed films, which makes the category even harder to forecast. Costume designer Jacqueline West is a three-time Oscar-nominee, which could give her some extra weight against lesser-known designers for other potential Best Picture nominees, such as Paul Tazewell (“West Side Story”) and Trish Summerwell (“Mank”).
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Even when this category was limited to three films, “Dune” would have had a strong chance. With the field expanded to five? It’s a sure thing. The general hair and makeup looks immaculate so far, but their real ace in the hole is Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. The Swedish actor has said the role will require “prosthetics all over.” The film’s prosthetic team includes alumni from “The Witcher,” “Game of Thrones” and “1917.” Other genre films recently nominated in the category include “Joker,” “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” “Suicide Squad” and “Star Trek Beyond.” Donald Mowat is serving as the head of both the makeup and hair departments and was able to hand pick each member of his design team. Mowat’s filmography includes “Prisoners,” “Sicario,” “Blade Runner 2049” and “First Man,” yet he has zero Oscar nominations. He is well overdue.
This category will come down to showdown between “Tenet” and “Dune.” Simple as that. Sound mixer Mac Ruth has been nominated three times in the last five years for “The Martian,” “13 Hours” and Villeneuve’s own “Blade Runner 2049.” Supervising sound editors Mark A. Mangini and Theo Green have six nominations between them, with Mangini winning for “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The soundscape of “2049” was gloriously constructed by these three men and would have won if it weren’t for “Dunkirk.”
PROJECTED NOMINATION RANGE: Seven to 12
JOHNNY’S CURRENT PREDICTION: 11 (Picture, Director, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay, Visual Effects, Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound)
Johnny Sobczak is an entertainment journalist and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in Media and Journalism and minored in Global Cinema. Johnny is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has been writing for Inside the Film Room since August 2019; he was named Senior Writer in January 2020. Johnny spends his days job-hunting, watching films and obsessing over every new detail of Denis Villeneuve's "Dune."