Recent Flurry of Awards News Could Shape Oscar Race More This Year Than Most

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Netflix; Vertical Entertainment/Courtesy Everett Collection; Hulu

It's only Tuesday, but this week has already brought a flurry of awards announcements — the AFI's top 10 films, the Spirit Awards nominations, the National Board of Review Awards winners and the USC Scripter Awards nominations — which individually might not have much impact on the Oscar race, but collectively might, particularly in this year in which film Academy members feel disconnected from one another and the usual "chatter."

It's not that there is much overlap between the membership of the Academy and the AFI selection committee, the Spirit Awards nominating committees or the fewer than a dozen NBR members empowered with voting on behalf of the others. There decidedly is not.

It's that most Academy members are stuck at home wondering which of the overwhelming number of films on Academy Screening Room, the Academy's members-only streaming app, are actually worth prioritizing. (215 are currently live; more are being added regularly.) Usually interactions with other voters — "word of mouth" — help them to make those decisions. But this year, of course, those aren't happening.

Until this point in the season, there have been only a handful of films that were no-brainers — word has reached everyone, for instance, that Searchlight's Nomadland and Netflix's The Trial of the Chicago 7 are must-sees. But, beyond that, you would be surprised at how all-over-the-map Academy members have been.

Some have told me that they immediately watched the first films that were uploaded to Academy Screening Room even though they had heard nothing about them, such as IFC's Babyteeth and Swallow. Others have mainly focused on their viewing obligations for specific committees, such as international features or documentaries. And still others have opted to check out from movies altogether until the field winnows, and instead have gotten lost in The Queen's Gambit, Your Honor, the Tiger Woods docuseries or any number of other things currently available on TV.

So, how do this week's announcements change that? They concentrate some heat around certain titles, and don't around others.

There is no question that more Academy members will check out Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods, a movie without household names in its cast — save for the late Chadwick Boseman, who appears in what is essentially a cameo — that dropped back in June, now that it has landed on the AFI's top 10 list (one of Netflix's unprecedented four titles that made the list, the others being Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Mank and Trial) and been awarded best film and best director by NBR.

Two low-budget art house titles are no longer just anecdotally popular, but actually have high-profile accolades to add to their screening invitations: Amazon's Sound of Metal and A24's Minari. Both made the AFI's top 10 over the likes of Universal's News of the World, even though AFI generally gravitates towards big studio fare.

Minari also rocked the Spirit Awards with noms for best feature, director and screenplay (Lee Isaac Chung), lead actor (Steven Yeun) and supporting actress (both Yeri Han and Youn Yuh-jung); and NBR, winning best supporting actress (Youn) and best original screenplay (Chung) and landing on its top 10 list. Meanwhile, Sound of Metal won best actor (Riz Ahmed) and best supporting actor (Paul Raci) from NBR, which also included it in its top 10, while the Spirit Awards nominated Ahmed and Raci in their respective acting categories, and Darius Marder for best first feature.

There's no question that more voters will now prioritize Channing Godfrey Peoples' Miss Juneteenth, a tiny indie from a company called Vertical Entertainment, given that its star, Nicole Beharie, followed her best actress Gotham Award win over Nomadland's Frances McDormand with a best actress Spirit Award nom, to go with two Spirit Award noms for Peoples (best first feature and best first screenplay) and one for Alexis Chikaeze (best supporting actress). Peoples also won the NBR's best directorial debut award, while the film earned a spot on the top 10 indies list.

Focus' Never Rarely Sometimes Always missed the AFI top 10, but was a huge player in the Spirit Awards noms — best feature, director and screenplay (Eliza Hittman), actress (Sidney Flanigan), supporting actress (Talia Ryder), cinematography and editing — and got NBR love in the form of a best breakthrough performance prize (Flanigan) and a spot on the top 10 indies list, all hot on the heels of its New York Film Critics Circle wins for best actress (Flanigan) and screenplay (Hittman).

Others gaining traction include A24's First Cow, which added a best feature Spirit Award nom (plus noms for best director Kelly Reichardt and best supporting actress Orion Lee) in the same week in which it collected the best film New York Film Critics Circle Award, and also landed a Scripter nom; Pixar's Soul, the first animated film since 2016's Zootopia to make AFI's top 10; and the list goes on.

Conversely, it was a hit-and-miss week for Focus' Promising Young Woman, which was probably the film most expected to make AFI's top 10 list that did not, and also missed a best feature Spirit Award nom that was seen as a gimme. That being said, it got several other major Spirit Award noms, including best actress for Carey Mulligan and best director and best screenplay for Emerald Fennell. And it did make the top 10 of the NBR, which also chose Mulligan as its best actress.

The showing was even bleaker for Netflix's The Midnight Sky (solely recognized with a mention on NBR's top 10) and Hulu's Palm Springs (no AFI mention, no NBR recognition and only a best first screenplay Spirit Award nom for Andy Siara). And things were even worst of all for Warners' Tenet and The Way Back, Sony Classics' The Father, Netflix's Malcolm & Marie, Amazon's Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Apple TV+'s Cherry, Hulu's The United States vs. Billie Holiday, which got overlooked altogether.

The upside for them, if not me? Plenty of more announcements are just around the corner.