Critics Choice Awards Analysis: Maria Bakalova May Have More to Celebrate Than 'Nomadland'

Maria Bakalova
Getty Images/Getty Images for the Critics Choice Association

Maria Bakalova

For the second Sunday in a row, a group of journalists have weighed in on the motion picture awards season (this time with a much more polished virtual ceremony). Last week, it was the increasingly controversial Hollywood Foreign Press Association with its 78th Golden Globe Awards. This week, it was the Critics Choice Association with its — well, our, since I am, full disclosure, a longtime voting member — 26th Critics Choice Awards.

It must be said off the bat that, between the two groups, there is only one person who is also among the nearly 10,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences who will determine the 93rd Academy Awards (nomination voting for which is currently ongoing) — HFPA member Lisa Lu — so these results do not directly suggest what the Academy will do.

But, in a season like this one, when Academy members have not been mingling as they usually do, and are therefore searching, in many cases, for guidance about which films to prioritize, these earlier awards could have a larger than usual influence.

So? CCA voters echoed the choices of the HFPA in several key categores. Nomadland, the winner of the top Globe for dramas (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm won the top Globe for musicals/comedies), was awarded best picture, and its filmmaker Chloe Zhao,who has been the subject of some questionably-timed whispers in recent days, won best director (making her only the second female winner of the prize, after The Hurt Locker's Kathryn Bigelow).

The best picture and best director Critics Choice awards haven't been great predictors of the corresponding Oscars in recent years — the former failed to repeat in four of the last six, whereas the latter repeated in only four of the last six — so The Trial of the Chicago 7 (which won the best acting ensemble prize, a nice consolation ahead of the SAG Awards), Minari (which won prizes best foreign language film, for which it is ineligible at the Oscars, and best young actor/actress, for adorable eight-year-old Alan Kim), et al, should not throw in the towel just yet.

The late Chadwick Boseman again held off strong competition to win best actor for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, as was widely expected. (Boseman had been awarded the drama actor Globe, whereas Borat's Sacha Baron Cohen was awarded the musical/comedy actor prize.) And Daniel Kaluuya won best supporting actor for Judas and the Black Messiah, solidifying his standing as the man to beat in that race.

The other repeat winner: the score of Soul, composed by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste.

Even more interesting, though, are the categories in which the CCA and the HFPA differed. The best actress Globes went to The United States vs. Billie Holiday's Andra Day (drama) and I Care a Lot's Rosamund Pike (musical/comedy); CCA voters nominated the former but not the latter, and opted to instead honor Promising Young Woman's Carey Mulligan, a big boost to her campaign, especially given how much CCA voters liked the Frances McDormand-anchored Nomadland.

Promising Young Woman's Emerald Fennell also won best original screenplay over Trial's Aaron Sorkin, who had won the single screenplay Globe, suggesting that she and her film should not be underestimated.

The other female acting prize, best supporting actress, went to Borat's Bulgarian breakout Maria Bakalova. The 24-year-old had been forced to compete in one of the lead actress categories at the Globes, and lost to Pike; here, she was back in the supporting race, up against formidable vets like Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy), Olivia Colman (The Father) and Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari), and came away the winner. Given that the last 13 recipients of this Critics Choice Award went on to win the corresponding Oscar, she and her supporters have to be feeling a lot better than they did a week ago (when The Mauritanian's Jodie Foster — who was not nominated for the Critics Choice Award — won this category's Globe).

Meanwhile, Zhao's Nomadland script won the best adapted screenplay Critics Choice Award, after losing in the single screenplay category at the Globes. Palm Springs upset Globe winner Borat in the best comedy category. And One Night in Miami got on the board with a best song prize for "Speak Now," which was composed and performed by Leslie Odom, Jr., also a best supporting actor nominee for the film, topping, among other tunes, The Life Ahead's "Io Si," which won the Globe.

"Below the line" categories were all over the place. Nomadland, with its celebrated lengthy tracking shot, won best cinematography. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom won best hair and makeup and best costume design. Mank won best production design. Trial and Sound of Metal tied for best editing. And Tenet prevailed in the VFX category.

Monday morning will bring the 10 nominees for the top Producers Guild of America Award, which should offer much more valuable clues about the thoughts of Academy members, given that 614 Academy members are producers, most of whom presumably belong to the PGA, and that the PGA, like the Academy, employs a preferential ballot to select its nominees and winners.