Unconventional Oscar-Hopefuls Get Big Boosts From Early Awards Groups

THR's awards columnist argues that this year's Independent Spirit Award nominations and Gotham, National Board of Review and New York Film Critics Circle awards have helped to highlight worthy work that Academy members might otherwise have overlooked.
Michele K. Short/Universal Studios
Tiffany Haddish in 'Girls Trip'

The flurry of awards-season announcements issued over the past week or so — Independent Spirit Awards nominations, Gotham Awards winners, National Board of Review Awards winners and New York Film Critics Circle Awards winners — are noteworthy less for any hints that they offer about what the Academy is currently thinking (there is very little overlap between the voting bodies) than for calling to the attention of Academy members work that might otherwise have slipped under their radar.

Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name, which scored the most Spirit noms and won the top prize at the Gothams, was already a contender that Academy members knew they had to see even before it received that recognition. So was Steven Spielberg's The Post — any film directed by Spielberg or starring Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep is treated as a must-see, let alone one involving all three — even before it became the first movie to win three key prizes — NBR's best picture, best actor (Tom Hanks) and best actress (Meryl Streep) — since A Passage to India 33 years ago. The same also applies to Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, which the NYFCC rewarded with its top prize — after it had already been called "perfect" in its New York Times review and become the most widely reviewed film to maintain a 100 percent score on RottenTomatoes.com.

But, in addition to these high-profile contenders, a lot of unconventional — and, for many Academy members, heretofore under-the-radar — awards hopefuls have also now been recognized.

Girls Trip, a raunchy comedy starring four black women that came out in July, is about as far from what the Academy has typically recognized as anything can be. But virtually every person who saw the film in theaters, including me, was highly impressed by Tiffany Haddish's performance, which was laugh-out-loud funny. Many of us wished — though doubted — that we live in a world in which it would be celebrated by the Academy. Now, though, thanks to the NYFCC — which is made up of critics who see virtually every movie that gets a theatrical release — we might be proven wrong. On Thursday, the NYFCC chose Haddish as its best supporting actress, a high-profile enough honor that some members of the Academy's acting branch who hadn't planned to see the film now will, and it's not such a stretch to think that some of them will be as impressed as the rest of us and remember it when they fill out their nomination ballots.

Meanwhile, jurors for the Gotham Awards shined a big spotlight on James Franco's quirky performance in his dramedy The Disaster Artist — a film that looks like it was made as a hoot, but actually had unusually complex demands — by giving Franco their best actor prize. And the National Board of Review followed by awarding the pic its best adapted screenplay prize. In so doing, these two groups have bestowed an important badge of legitimacy and respect on the A24 release that some were prepared to dismiss as an experimental film — or even stunt.

Spirit Awards nominators, for their part, helped to elevate another A24 title, one from the summer that has been overshadowed by the more recently released Lady Bird and The Florida Project, but which is comparably worthy of attention: Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie's Good Time, which stars Robert Pattinson. Pattinson was nominated for best actor, the Safdie brothers were nominated for best director (over the likes of Lady Bird's Gerwig, The Shape of Water's Guillermo del Toro and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri's Martin McDonagh) and Benny Safdie received two other noms, as well: one for best supporting actor, in recognition of his performance as the special-needs brother of Pattinson's character, and the other, shared with Ronald Bronstein, for best film editing. That's a pretty formidable showing that ought to motivate some Academy members, from multiple branches, to pop in their Good Time screener.

The NYFCC, in awarding its best actor prize to Timothee Chalamet (he becomes the youngest-ever winner of that award), took him out of the "best breakthrough performance" ghetto — he was awarded prizes by those names at the Gothams and from the NBR — and suggested that he deserves to be considered alongside, and perhaps even beat, the full field of lead actors.

By honoring Mudbound's lenser Rachel Morrison with its best cinematography prize, the NYFCC undoubtedly has increased the likelihood that she will become the first female ever nominated for the equivalent Oscar.

By including Baby Driver among its top 10 movies of the year, the NBR has suggested that Edgar Wright's blockbuster deserves to be regarded as more than just a commercial success.

And both the Gothams and the Spirit Awards, with their best supporting actress nominations of Marjorie Prime's Lois Smith alongside the category's presumptive Oscar frontrunners — I, Tonya's Allison Janney, Lady Bird's Laurie Metcalf and The Big Sick's Holly Hunter — sent a loud and clear message to Academy members that the 87-year-old veteran of stage and screen, who made her film debut opposite James Dean in 1955's East of Eden, deserves serious consideration for her first-ever Oscar nom.

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association will vote on Sunday and, if history is any indicator, it, too, may well highlight a few unexpected choices. That, more than rubber-stamping work that the Academy already knows about, is the greatest value of the many groups that piggyback on interest in the Oscars by making their own announcements before the Academy does.

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