As Oscar Voting Closes, Members Indicate ‘Father’ Upsets, Actress Race Down to Viola Davis and Frances McDormand

The final voting for the Academy Awards officially closed at 5 p.m. PT today. Speaking with multiple Academy voters, there’s something that needs to be stressed: this upcoming Oscars is a nail-biter and very close in multiple categories. With voting open for six days, it’s estimated and believed that anywhere from 20% to 30% of the Academy submitted their final ballots today, based on conversations with multiple voters and awards publicists.

AMPAS houses nearly 10,000 industry professionals from all over the world, and it’s nearly impossible to reach them all and gauge their tastes or know what they ultimately voted for. But based on a small sampling of voters, this awards race isn’t as “easy” to predict as many believe.

Based on multiple conversations with voters, there was a palpable surge for Florian Zeller’s “The Father” from Sony Pictures Classics. The film had been assumed to be teetering before the nominations announcement, but garnered six nominations, including in unexpected categories like production design and editing. The BAFTA Awards gave the film two wins — best actor for Anthony Hopkins and adapted screenplay. For most of the season, it’s been assumed that the Oscar for best actor was the late Chadwick Boseman’s (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) awards to lose. It may not be as clear as it once seemed.

Chadwick Boseman in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix) and Anthony Hopkins in “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Courtesy of NETFLIX / SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

“I think Chadwick Boseman is going to win, but I voted for Anthony Hopkins,” says one voting member of the acting branch. But, I heard that phrase or some variation from multiple voters over the past few days. After winning BAFTA, many dismissed British-born Hopkins’ win as a “home-field advantage.”

One theory that may be making the margins even more narrow is Riz Ahmed, nominated for his turn in “Sound of Metal.” While not expected to be a spoiler, I think he and Boseman appeal to the same Academy demographic, and he could be siphoning votes.

While not bold enough to predict a Hopkins upset officially, let’s consider this a signal that before you submit your Oscar pool, take a few facts into account. Zeller’s French play “Le Père” is immensely popular in Europe, where many AMPAS members are. Co-adapting the film with scribe Christopher Hampton, the Oscar-winning writer of “Dangerous Liaisons” (1989), his legacy and respect for the 75-year-old runs deep. Adapted screenplay is a category that the film can easily pick up with what I call the “too much love as I go down the ballot” method. This means that a voter who checked off “Nomadland,” Zhao and perhaps even its star Frances McDormand in best actress, gets to the adapted screenplay category and says something similar to what one member of the writer’s branch states: “I voted for Chloe twice, and I want to spread the wealth a bit, especially in this year.” That way of thinking could be a tipping point that benefits Hampton and Zeller.

Zhao’s moving drama is expected to win best picture and director, something I’ve felt more confident about in these final hours of voting. Obviously this can’t be proven, as the Academy doesn’t release final vote tallies, but I believe that Zhao is winning director by a substantial margin. I estimate by double-digit percentages. It’s hard to believe that she would be the winning director and her film wouldn’t be in the top three of those same ballots. An awards publicist not working on “Nomadland” shares, “I know it’s over. It was over in February.”

In the supporting actress race — where Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”) is expected to become the second Asian actress to win an acting Oscar since Miyoshi Umeki (“Sayonara”) in 1957 — there may also be a surprise. After BAFTA and SAG wins, Youn has had all the momentum going into voting, which has one makeup branch voter stating: “She’s phenomenal. I don’t know how anyone doesn’t vote for her.”

In other circles, Youn wasn’t getting all the votes, based on what members shared. Olivia Colman’s turn in “The Father” was a common name in multiple conversations, with one artisan branch member claiming, “every actor I’ve voted for in the last eight or nine years has won.” That member voted for Colman.

Amanda Seyfried’s turn as Marion Davies in “Mank,” which doesn’t pose any real threat outside of production design and maybe even costumes, is the bright spot of David Fincher’s take on old Hollywood.

When it comes to eight-time nominee Glenn Close for her performance in the critically-panned “Hillbilly Elegy,” one voting member of the director’s branch shares, “I really want Glenn to win finally, but God, that fucking movie is awful.” Could Close finally clinch her long-awaited Oscar? I wouldn’t rule it out, but there doesn’t seem to be any strong indicators that an upset is brewing.

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THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 – YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II as BOBBY SEALE, BEN SHENKMAN as LEONARD WEINGLASS, MARK RYLANCE as WILLIAM KUNSTLER, EDDIE REDMAYNE as TOM HAYDEN, ALEX SHARP as RENNIE DAVIS.
Courtesy of Niko Tavernise/Netflix

And then there are the two neck-and-neck races – best actress and original screenplay. Despite a wide-open race, where different women have won at every televised award show, this has seemed to narrow down to three – Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) and Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”). I’m not completely dismissing Carey Mulligan and Vanessa Kirby’s chances, but it’s not looking likely for either of the Brits. The three presumed frontrunners seem to have varying levels of support. Day’s hurdle has seemed to be getting enough of the membership to watch her movie, as she is the only nomination for it.

With Davis having SAG and McDormand snatching BAFTA (which didn’t have Davis, Day or Mulligan nominated), it could be a razor-thin margin on who is triumphant. With this year going the way it has, no prediction is the wrong answer in this category.

When it comes to original screenplay, it’s honestly too close to call, even with “Promising Young Woman” walking into Sunday night’s ceremony with big prizes from BAFTA and WGA. Aaron Sorkin’s court drama is well-liked in the Academy, and many voted for him and the film in categories like editing. I think you may have to flip a coin, because it’s a hard one to know where it will land.

At the SAG Awards, we saw four POC win the acting categories, which many have thought would translate to AMPAS. Looking at the field, and if the conversations are believed, that outcome may not be what unfolds on the ceremony. Although it should be noted, supporting actor frontrunner Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) seems the most secure of any acting race.

With eight best picture nominees, there’s a possibility that each film could walk away with a statue, which has only happened twice in the expanded picture era (The year of 2014’s “Birdman” and 2018’s “Green Book”). In a year of tragedy, voters are looking to “spread the love.”

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