Movies

Oscar predictions: Director, screenplay races could be historic



We’re probably looking at a historic set of Oscar nominees for director this year, and the news could go several different ways.

There could be two women — or possibly three. There could be two nominees of Asian descent. The slate could have a majority of nonwhite nominees.

Any one of these outcomes would be groundbreaking and a possible sign of progress or, since this is the Oscars, it could be an anomaly and we’re back to business as usual in 2022. And not in the way we want to be back to business as usual in 2022: watching movies in theaters, without masks and without worrying about why the dude behind us keeps coughing.

We’re less than a month away from the March 15 nominations announcement, so let’s take a look at the races for the director and screenplay categories.

DIRECTOR

Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”Regina King, “One Night in Miami”Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7″David Fincher, “Mank”

On the cusp: Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”; Spike Lee, “Da 5 Bloods”; Paul Greengrass, “News of the World”; Florian Zeller, “The Father”; Shaka King, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

If my prediction holds, three historic firsts would come to pass — nominating a pair of directors of Asian descent (Zhao and Chung), nominating two women (Zhao and King) and putting forward a slate featuring a majority of nonwhite filmmakers (Zhao, Chung and King).

Yes, there would be much to discuss.

I think it’s also possible that any of the 10 directors listed here could secure a nomination, as voters are still sifting through these movies. Most have been on the academy’s streaming platform for some time. Some are finally finding their way into the public — “Minari,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Nomadland” all recently dropped on streaming platforms — and the Anthony Hopkins Alzheimer’s drama, “The Father,” which premiered more than a year ago at Sundance, finally arrives this week.

Half of these filmmakers — Zhao, Sorkin, Chung, Fennell and Zeller — figure to earn Oscar nominations for writing. Once we have a look at the Directors Guild’s slate on March 9, we’ll have a better idea about who has a strong shot at earning multiple nods, as the DGA and academy typically align on at least four of the five nominees. Last year, the academy swapped in “Joker” director Todd Phillips for DGA nominee Taika Waititi. On Oscar night, Waititi was the one celebrating though, winning the adapted screenplay honor for “Jojo Rabbit.”

Kemp Powers, screenwriter for “Soul” and “One Night in Miami.”

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Kemp Powers, “One Night in Miami”Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton, “The Father”Ruben Santiago-Hudson, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies, “News of the World”

On the cusp: Charlie Kaufman, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”; Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern & Nina Pedrad, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”; Ramin Bahrani, “The White Tiger”; Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond, “First Cow”

If Powers earns a nomination here for his sterling adaptation of his own 2013 play and picks up a nod for cowriting “Soul,” he will become just the second person to pull off that feat. The other? Francis Ford Coppola, nominated for his 1974 films “The Godfather Part II” and “The Conversation.” (Coppola won for “The Godfather Part II” but lost the original screenplay Oscar to Robert Towne’s work on “Chinatown.” It was a very good year.)

It’d be nice if voters found some room to honor “First Cow” and “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” daring, evocative adaptations that topped critics lists. Remember when Steven Soderbergh came on board to produce the Oscars and mused that it might be an “indie-cinephile” year? Well, writers branch, here’s your chance to contribute to the cause. Also: Don’t let all those credits on the “Borat” movie prevent you from honoring its discomforting look at the dark side of America, circa 2020. Its satire skewered ignorance and also offered a dash of sweet humanity with its father-daughter story. Hopefully, one of these movies makes the cut.

“Minari” writer-director Lee Isaac Chung.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, “Soul”Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”Jack Fincher, “Mank”Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7″

On the cusp: Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas and Keith Lucas, “Judas and the Black Messiah”; Andy Siara & Max Barbakow, “Palm Springs”; Darius Marder & Abraham Marder & Derek Cianfrance, “Sound of Metal”; Danny Bilson & Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee, “Da 5 Bloods”; Eliza Hittman, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”

When it comes to Pixar movies and the original screenplay category, writers branch voters have mostly done right by the animation studio over the years, with the notable exceptions of the second and third “Toy Story” movies and maybe “Monsters, Inc.” (Did some academy members mark “Monster’s Ball” by accident that year, elevating that actor-driven film?) However, Pixar has never won the original screenplay Oscar, going 0 for 7. I could do a year-by-year deep dive, explaining why, say, the romantic, prescient “Wall-E” should have won over “Milk,” but I suspect most of you don’t need convincing. It comes down to Oscar voters’ blindness (dumbness?) to the timeless art of animation.

Which brings us to this year and Pixar’s latest exceptional offering, “Soul,” a richly engaging movie that ponders all sorts of existential questions in ways both profound and silly, asking us to consider what’s meaningful in life and how we might look back on our time spent on earth when we’ve reached the end of our days. Due respect to the other expected nominees in this category, but it’s way past time for a Pixar movie to take home the prize for writing — not to mention directing and (yes!) motion picture. Oscar voters need to stop with the congratulatory pat on the head that comes with a nomination and commit to truly honoring animation.