Finally, awards season 2020 is upon us! After a brutal year for cinema, which has felt barren with theaters around the world shut down due to the pandemic, we are finally getting access to some of the biggest and best films that aren’t running away to 2021. All that means is this the perfect opportunity to write up my third edition of Johnny’s Awards Radar!
So far, I’ve done a double feature for “Da 5 Bloods” and “Tenet,” both of which could still earn multiple Oscar nominations at next year’s ceremony. On the flip side, my second edition was a “Dune” special, which will sadly need to be updated sometime next year as it’s been delayed to October 1, 2021.
This time around, I have a trio of critically-acclaimed films that I have watched over the last week: Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” from Netflix, Regina King’s “One Night in Miami” from Amazon Studios and Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” from A24.
As usual, I’ll be breaking things down category-by-category, assessing the film’s chances in each one, based on the cast/crew involved, my personal thoughts on the films and how the rest of the year’s contenders are shaping up. I’ll skip over any categories where I don’t anticipate any of the three films to contend or be eligible for, such as Best Visual Effects or Best Sound and others.
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.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” – This has been one of the safest bets all year for the big prize. While I’ve previously stated that I think this film will be the next Best Picture winner, my confidence is waning a bit. I wasn’t a fan of the film, and other Netflix contenders with later release dates such as “Mank” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” will only gain more steam. “Chicago 7” has several factors that will keep it in contention until the very end, though, including an all-star cast, well-respected director/writer, and a highly relevant political story.
“One Night in Miami” – This flick has been anticipated all year due to it being Regina King’s directorial debut, but it was only at Venice Film Festival in September where it really made waves. The film was the festival’s first-ever selection directed by an African-American woman. Reviews have been excellent so far, and this is my personal favorite of these three films. The strong social commentary, quartet of great performances and ideal January streaming release date will carry this through the season.
“Minari” – Despite premiering at Sundance Film Festival in January, buzz continues to grow around this one, rather than quiet down. It has a secret weapon you won’t exactly notice during your viewing experience, but it could be the decisive factor in earning a Best Picture nom: producer Dede Gardner. The President of Plan B Entertainment has two Best Picture wins to her name (“12 Years a Slave,” “Moonlight”) and four nominations (“The Tree of Life,” “Selma,” “The Big Short” and “Vice”). This isn’t a contender to win the big prize and feels more like a fringe nominee, but not by much.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” – This is a big, politically-charged movie with a lot of editing flourishes and flashy performances from a lot of actors. It’s going to be one of the top contenders for Best Picture and is considered a sizable improvement over Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut from 2017, “Molly’s Game.” The Oscar-winning screenwriter will surely notch his first directing nom this year.
“One Night in Miami” – It’s an absolute disgrace that Black women haven’t been given more opportunities to be nominated for the top prizes at the Oscars, with zero (!!!) being nominated for Best Director in nearly 100 years. King did an outstanding job adapting Kemp Powers’ play and helped deliver some Academy Award-caliber performances in the process. I think this is the year.
“Minari” – Even more than in Best Picture, “Minari” feels like it could be just on the outskirts of a nom here. The film is incredibly quiet and slow, with its powerful performances relying more on subtlety than bursts of energy. With Sorkin and King looking like locks alongside Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) and David Fincher (“Mank”), it seems Lee Isaac Chung might have to contend with newcomer Florian Zeller (“The Father”) and the legendary George C. Wolfe (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) for that fifth and final slot.
“One Night in Miami” – There are two great performances in this film that Amazon is running for Best Actor – Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X and Eli Goree as Cassius Clay. However, one very clearly stands above the other in both quality and importance, and that is Ben-Adir. While he delivers an incredibly nuanced performance and lives up to the amazing work previously done by Denzel Washington in 1992’s “Malcolm X,” the field is loaded with previous Oscar nominees and winners, including the great Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) and Gary Oldman (“Mank”). It’s going to be close.
“Minari” – Variety confirmed that A24 will campaign Steven Yeun as a lead actor, positioning him as the potential first Asian-American to ever be nominated for Best Actor. The biggest strike against him, other than his performance’s low-key nature, is once again the sheer amount of big names this year. Along with the ones I’ve previously mentioned, Tom Hanks (“News of the World”) and Colin Firth (“Supernova”) – two more actors who the Academy have shown plenty of favor to over the years – will also be in the mix. I will say that I like Yeun’s chances slightly more than Ben-Adir, because he has been in the industry a bit longer and is more clearly the lead in “Minari” than Ben-Adir is in “One Night in Miami.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” – Netflix have made the decision to campaign every member of this loaded cast – including Mark Rylance, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Frank Lagella, Michael Keaton, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jeremy Strong – as Supporting Actors. Many of these guys get a ton of screen time, which gives them so much scenery to chew that a nomination in this category is basically guaranteed. Mark Rylance delivers the film’s best performance and feels like the true lead, but look for Abdul-Mateen II to sneak in here, as well. His performance as the legendary Bobby Seale steals the show in the first half and feels the most like a true supporting performance. Hell, with the year Sacha Baron Cohen has been having, I wouldn’t even count him out.
“One Night in Miami” – Amazon has split the quartet of actors in half for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. The two who will compete in this category are Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke and Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown. Hodge delivers a great, but reserved performance, while Odom Jr. damn near steals the show from Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X. Odom gets to show off his singing chops, as well, especially during the film’s closing sequence – which is still the best I’ve seen all year. The “Hamilton” alum might just mess around and win this category.
“Minari” – With Yeun going lead, that leaves newcomer Alan S. Kim and Will Patton as the two supporting options. Kim gives a delightful child performance, and Patton offers a great, salt-of-the-earth Arkansan contrast to the Yi family. Unfortunately, the field is loaded with “Chicago 7” contenders, plus the likes of Charles Dance (“Mank”), David Straitharn (“Nomadland”) and Bill Murray (“On the Rocks”).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
“Minari” – In my review, I said Yuh-jung Youn’s performance as Soonja “walks a tightrope between absurdity and sincerity, and she should not be forgotten come awards season.” To date, Youn’s performance is one of the three best I have seen from any female actor this year, right in the mix alongside Frances McDormand in “Nomadland” and Jessie Buckley and Toni Collete in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” Again, Youn will have to face competition from more familiar names, including Saoirse Ronan (“Ammonite”), Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”), Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) and Olivia Colman (“The Father”). Last year, Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” had a lot of steam early in the season and ended up running out before the Oscars, with Zhao Shu-zhen being considered a contender all along and ultimately missing a nomination. Let’s hope for better Asian representation this time around.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” – Phedon Papamichael is no stranger to prestige pics, having previously been nominated for 2013’s “Nebraska” and just barely missing out on a nomination for last year’s for “Ford v Ferrari.” The field is a bit thinner than it would be had “Dune” and “The French Dispatch” not moved to 2021, but Netflix has a slew of movies that will make noise in the category before “Chicago 7” does – including “Mank,” “The Midnight Sky,” “Da 5 Bloods” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
“One Night in Miami” – Since Rachel Morrison became the first woman nominated for this Oscar in 2018 for “Mudbound,” we’ve all been waiting for a second. While Tami Reiker does an effective job of helping translate this story from the stage to the screen, it is not an overtly cinematic-looking picture, even if the blocking and framing of all these characters in one room is well done and kept fresh throughout.
“Minari” – This is the most beautiful of the three films from a purely photographic sensibility, but that doesn’t make it much more likely for a nomination. This is only cinematographer Lachlan Milne’s second feature film, so the future is undoubtedly bright.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“One Night in Miami” – Behind getting nominated for Best Picture, this is the film’s second-safest Oscar bet. The screenplay categories have an embarrassment of riches this year, but Kemp Powers’s adaptation of his stage play is done to perfection, and his words are a big reason why the four main performances are so powerful. Whether the characters are sharing a tender moment of brotherly appreciation or engaging in a heated political debate, it all feels nuanced and real.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” – Aaron Sorkin is a three-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter, winning in 2011 for his impeccable work on “The Social Network.” While his original script for “Chicago 7” doesn’t hold a candle to that masterpiece, he was still far and away the safest bet at a nomination coming into the season. His only real competition at this point is the work of the late Jack Fincher in his son David’s film, “Mank.”
“Minari” – As far as I’m concerned, there are only three locks for nominations in this category this year: “Chicago 7,” “Mank” and Pixar’s “Soul.” Of course, there are more Oscar-winning writers in the field, like Spike Lee (“Da 5 Bloods”) and Sofia Coppola (“On the Rocks”), but I think Lee Isaac Chung’s wholly original, personal narrative that meshes a decades-old tale of immigration and family with the archetypal American Dream is exactly what the doctor ordered. He probably won’t get in for director, but he deserves to get in here.
BEST FILM EDITING
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” – Editor Alan Baumgarten has one Oscar nomination under his belt for “American Hustle,” and he previously worked with Sorkin on “Molly’s Game.” The editing here is one of the film’s stronger points, doing well to balance the legal proceedings with the protests at the Democratic National Convention from months prior and, of course, keeping Sorkin’s verbal sparring sessions snappy.
“One Night in Miami” – Going from the stage to screen can be a difficult process, trying to make a story that was told in a single location with no cuts into something more dynamic and, naturally, cinematic. Two-time Oscar-nominee Tariq Anwar (“American Beauty,” “The King’s Speech”) did a fine job, and the film moves at a brisk pace, but I suspect it’ll be on the fringe of a nomination behind showier films – including “Tenet,” “The Father” and “Mank.”
“Minari” – Editor Harry Yoon has only recently become a lead feature film editor, with his most notable work being Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit.” As a slower, more streamlined narrative, don’t expect this to stand out against much flashier competition.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” – The chances for a nomination here are about as strong as its chances in Cinematography. Daniel Pemberton has seemingly been on the doorstep of his first Oscar nom for a while now, with three Golden Globe nominations in the last four years. Unfortunately, 2020 is still bringing a field of heavyweights that includes Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (“Mank” and “Soul”), 11-time nominee Alexandre Desplat (“The Midnight Sky”), 10x-time nominee Hans Zimmer (“Wonder Woman 1984”) and eight-time nominee James Newton Howard. Oof.
“One Night in Miami” – Terence Blanchard has been Spike Lee’s ‘ole reliable for almost three decades now, dating back to 1991’s “Jungle Fever,” so it’s easy to see why Regina King sought out the legend to score her historical drama. Despite his impressive résumé, Blanchard’s first nomination came in 2019 for “BlacKkKlansman.” His “One Night in Miami” score is subtle and often lets the conversations between our actors stand on their own. If he gets any recognition this year, count on it being for “Da 5 Bloods.”
“Minari” – Emile Mosseri’s twinkling score went a long way toward building the childlike, almost Malick-ian wonder of Lee Isaac Chung’s film. It stuck out to me the most of these three, and I think could do the same among Academy voters.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” – Period pieces typically get the run of things when it comes to design elements, so while “Chicago 7” isn’t as flashy as “Mulan” or as important to the drama as “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” it can’t be ruled out. Shane Valentino doesn’t have a lot of experience in feature films, but his work on “Nocturnal Animals” earned him a BAFTA nomination in 2017.
“One Night in Miami” – A film set almost entirely in one hotel and based on a stage play doesn’t offer a whole lot in terms of set dressing and art direction. It gets the job done of making it look like the 1960s and not much more than that. This isn’t helped by the fact that production designer Barry Robison has zero Oscar noms to his name.
“Minari” – I expect this film to get five Oscar nominations at the most, and this isn’t going to be one of them.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”
PROJECTED NOMINATION RANGE: Five to seven nominations
JOHNNY’S CURRENT PREDICTION: Five (Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Film Editing)
“One Night In Miami”
PROJECTED NOMINATION RANGE: Four to six nominations
JOHNNY’S CURRENT PREDICTION: Five (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor)
PROJECTED NOMINATION RANGE: Two to five nominations
JOHNNY’S CURRENT PREDICTION: Three (Picture, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay)
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 with Inside the Film Room since August 2019. He was named Senior Writer in January 2020 and co-hosts the Inside the Film Room podcast with Zach Goins. Johnny spends his days job-hunting, watching films and obsessing over every new detail of Denis Villeneuve's "Dune."