Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be the longest Oscar season of our lives

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Oscar race (Part 1)

On Jan. 6, 2020, movie fans woke up to Golden Globe results to launch Oscar season.

This Jan. 6, there are few tea leaves to read, as the pandemic has delayed the Golden Globes until Feb. 28, the SAG Awards until March 14 and the Oscars until April 25.

That’s right, the Oscars will take place nearly a month after the start of Major League Baseball, an eternity for frontrunners to maintain momentum in an endurance race.

Predictions feel premature with four months to go, akin to predicting the Super Bowl winner in September, but here’s where the races stand based on critics associations.

Best Picture: 

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association sent shockwaves through the Oscar race when it bizarrely named Steve McQueen’s anthology TV series “Small Axe” as Best Film. It’s a brilliant collection for sure, but it will likely compete for Emmys not Oscars.

Instead, the Oscar race favors “Nomadland,” which won in Boston, Chicago, Indiana and Greater Western New York after taking top festival prizes at Venice and Toronto, as well as “First Cow,” which quietly picked up wins with New York and Florida critics.

If frontrunner fatigue sets in after four months, a late arrival could upset. “Minari” just won in North Carolina, earning sympathy from recent controversy over its “Foreign Language” status. Likewise, Regina King’s “One Night in Miami” is a strong Best Picture contender as an actor-turned-director similar to Ben Affleck’s “Argo” (2012).

Best Director:

In any other year, David Fincher (“Mank”) and Spike Lee (“Da 5 Bloods”) would be favored to win their overdue Best Director Oscar, but this year will go to a newcomer. In fact, my three favorite films were directed by women this year with Kelly Reichardt (“First Cow”), Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”) and Regina King (“One Night in Miami”).

Zhao is a lock for “Nomadland” after sweeping Boston, Chicago, Florida, Greater Western New York, Indiana and Los Angeles. If this holds, she will make history as the just the second woman ever to win Best Director after Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”), as well as the second Asian in a row after Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”).

Best Actor: 

The late Chadwick Boseman won Chicago and Los Angeles for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” while his “Da 5 Bloods” co-star Delroy Lindo is surging with wins in Boston, New York, Indiana and North Carolina. Expect one of them to join Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker as just the fifth Black winner.

Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins is a formidable opponent with wins in Boston and Florida for “The Father,” while Riz Ahmed is a worthy underdog after winning Greater Western New York for playing a heavy metal drummer losing his hearing in “Sound of Metal.”

Best Actress: 

Frances McDormand is the clear front runner for “Nomadland,” winning in Boston, Chicago, Florida, Greater Western New York, Indiana and North Carolina. A victory would mark her third Best Actress win after “Fargo” (1996) and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017), putting her one shy of the all-time record of four.

There’s also a lot of love for Viola Davis for her diva title role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” having won once before for an August Wilson adaptation in “Fences” (2016). While that victory was for Best Supporting Actress, Davis has shockingly never won for Best Actress, which is crazy considering she’s arguably the best talent working today.

Still, don’t be surprised by a late surge by Carey Mulligan, who won Los Angeles for “Promising Young Woman,” Sidney Flanigan, who won New York and Boston for “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” or Vanessa Kirby, who won at the Venice Film Fest for “Pieces of a Woman.” Pound for pound, this could be the deepest category of all.

Best Supporting Actor: 

Throughout the fall, it was believed that Sacha Baron Cohen was the front runner for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” before odds-makers shifted to Leslie Odom Jr. for “One Night in Miami.” The former’s chances were boosted by winning North Carolina; the latter’s hopes will soar if “Hamilton” is nominated for the Oscars like the Globes.

Personally, I’m rooting for Paul Raci for his sign-language mentorship in “Sound of Metal,” winning in Boston, Chicago and Florida. Also, don’t rule out Boseman, who won New York as an angel in “Da 5 Bloods” — an eerily prescient clip for the telecast — or even Daniel Kaluuya, whose “Judas & The Black Messiah” drops on Feb. 12.

Best Supporting Actress: 

Finally, Supporting Actress is the hardest to predict. The early buzz was for Amanda Seyfried in “Mank” and Olivia Colman in “The Father,” but while both are locks to earn nominations, neither has gone the distance to win with any of the critics associations.

Instead, Maria Bakalova is dominating for her hilarious turn in “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm,” winning in Boston, Chicago, New York, Florida and Indiana, while screen vet Youn Yuh-jung is gaining steam as the show-stealing grandmother in “Minari,” winning in Boston, Greater Western New York, Los Angeles and North Carolina.


What now? The next bellwether comes this weekend with the National Society of Film Critics, who previously chose Zhao’s “The Rider” (2017), a good sign for “Nomadland.”

Locally, the Washington Area Film Critics Association announces our winners Feb. 8.

Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a wild ride between now and April 25. The bad news is that it could get exhausting. The good news is that more people will have time to actually watch the contenders, meaning a rare rooting interest come Oscar night.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Oscar race (Part 2)

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2021 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up