Sunday, April 25, should make for one of the strangest nights in Oscars history as the Steven Soderbergh-produced awards show attempts to document the best films from the lamest movie year of recent memory.
The ceremony will take place about seven weeks later than usual, as the qualifying period was extended an extra seven-ish weeks.
We’re in good hands this year since Steven Soderbergh is one of the smartest, most progressive problem solvers the film industry has ever seen. I’ve been joking for years that the U.S. government should have an entertainment industry czar and it should be Sodey.
By extending the qualifying period, Soderbergh and his crew have allowed the studios an extra few weeks to enter the Oscar race at the last minute. They’ve also allowed movie fans an extra few weeks to see all the movies and discuss the categories.
A few months ago ScreenTime predicted that studios would, at the last minute, push some of their more interesting projects out to video-on-demand at the last minute. And that’s what’s happening!
So what does that mean, exactly? First of all, it means that we can’t yet predict what the Oscar nominees are going to look like this year. It also means that we’re going to get some great flicks between now and the extended qualifying date of February 28.
Here are my picks for the most noteworthy flicks set to come out before the cut-off date:
One Night in Miami
Director: Regina King
It’s the ’60s, the cultural upheaval is full swing, and Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X are hanging out and talking about the state of civil rights. That’s one of the all-time great elevator pitches.
Go watch it online now on Prime. It’s good stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if the flick snags a couple Oscar nominations. (Just released, Prime)
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Casey Affleck, Dakota Johnson, and Jason Segel lead this indie drama that was a hit on the 2019 film festival circuit. Segel supposedly steals the film, with some believing he might also steal a nomination if the film gets some buzz. (Jan. 22, iTunes)
The White Tiger
director: Ramin Bahrani
Ramin Bahrani is, for my money, one of the great American filmmakers of the last 15 years. I’ve liked every movie he’s made and doubt that The White Tiger, a class battle story not unlike last year’s Best Picture winner Parasite, will be the one to break that streak.
Not sure if this flick will capture any breath in the Oscar conversation, but I’d love to see Bahrani get at least a Best Screenplay nomination. (Jan. 22, Netflix)
director: Chloe Zhao
Seeing indie darling Chloe Zhao jump to the top of the mainstream film world is going to be a delight. Her movie is the current frontrunner for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress, and Frances McDormand is pretty much all set to win her third acting Oscar. Can’t wait for that acceptance speech. (Jan. 29, Hulu)
The Little Things
Director: John Lee Hancock
Denzel Washington and Rami Malik clash as two cops hunting a serial killer in this promising thriller with a script Hollywood has been buzzing about for a few years.
I can’t tell if this is an Oscar film or more of an action film. But the fact that Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood were both signed on to direct before Hancock tells me this is a prestige film, and the two leads, as well as Jared Leto, are on the hunt for hardware. (Jan. 29, HBO Max)
Malcolm & Marie
Director: Sam Levinson
The big brain behind Euphoria, Sam Levinson, quickly put together this Covid-era film during lockdown, shooting with Zendaya and John David Washington on the hush-hush.
And now we have this new art film that’s getting a lot of buzz on the podcast circuit. Also, wouldn’t it be fun to see both Denzel and John David nominated for Best Actor? (Feb. 5, Netflix)
director: Lee Isaac Chung
And now here it is, A24’s big entry into the race. A Korean family moves from California to Arkansas in search of their own American dream.
Don’t be surprised if this one swoops in and takes up a lot of the Oscars conversation in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. Can’t wait for this one. (Feb. 12, iTunes)
director: Kevin MacDonald
The ensemble legal thriller is starting to get some buzz. I’m struggling to get too worked up about this one, but could see it getting some Oscar attention for either a performance or two or its screenplay.
Stars Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Shailene Woodley. Wait, I thought Jodie Foster retired? (Feb. 12, theaters)
The United States vs. Billie Holiday
director: Lee Daniels
Biopics are usually, well, bad. I’ve crunched the numbers and I promise it’s true. They’re almost always cheesy and usually focus only on the redeeming qualities of the subject.
I hope that’s not the case with this film, as we all already know that Billie was a bit of a bad girl. Mostly, I’m excited to see another Lee Daniels film. I think he still has some good ones left in him after a bit of a slump. (Feb. 26, Hulu)
Also keep an eye out for Breaking News in Yerba County, Land, The Courier, and Cherry, any of which could perhaps nab an Oscar nomination.
Add another 20 or so films already released in 2020 to that list of 13 prestige releases before the end of the qualifying period and hey, we might actually end up with a good Oscars show.