Can ‘Being the Ricardos,’ ‘Nightmare Alley’ and Other Late Releases Still Make an Oscar Impact?

Whether you’re on the “Belfast” train or believe another film will steal the Oscars’ attention, being the front-runner too early can affect a movie’s awards chances. But playing catch-up can be even more challenging.

Films dropping into the Oscar conversation late have proven effective for past best picture winners like “Million Dollar Baby” (2004). Still, since that time, Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” (2017) has been the only December release that has taken the top prize, with most others releasing within an October time frame.

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With the official phase one awards period less than a month away, several unseen and unknown entities have yet to screen. At the top of the list is del Toro’s remake of the 1947 classic, “Nightmare Alley.” This dark adaptation of the novel, which differs from the original, has a sprawling ensemble led by Bradley Cooper, and there are high hopes for it. Unfortunately, “Knives Out” composer Nathan Johnson is still scoring the Searchlight Pictures film, so it likely won’t be seen until sometime around Thanksgiving, which puts it against the deadlines of Oscars precursors like the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle.

That isn’t the only Cooper-starring vehicle waiting in the wings; many are hyped for his outing with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson on “Licorice Pizza.” But Cooper’s role in that film is said to be a small one. All eyes are expected be on singer Alana Haim and newcomer Cooper Hoffman, the son of the late Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman.

In conversations among awards pundits, many are asking, “Where are the Ricardos?”

Of course, they’re referring to “Being the Ricardos,” Aaron Sorkin’s next directorial outing, which focuses on Ricky Ricardo and Lucille Ball, played by Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman. Little is known about the film outside of the teaser released this week.

Rachel Zegler as Maria in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by Niko Tavernise. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved. - Credit: Niko Tavernise
Rachel Zegler as Maria in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by Niko Tavernise. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved. - Credit: Niko Tavernise

Niko Tavernise

Mum is the word on two-time best director winner Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story,” leading to questions regarding its quality or whether they are trying to create distance between this film and the financial disappointment of the other Latino musical of the year, “In the Heights.” There’s also the controversy surrounding star Ansel Elgort, who has been accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl, which he’s denied.

Two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali is taking his first leading-man role, opposite his “Moonlight” co-star Naomie Harris, in Benjamin Cleary’s “Swan Song,” which is getting wrapped up in time for its bow at AFI before its December release in theaters and on Apple TV Plus. The same goes for Denzel Washington’s next directing venture, “A Journal for Jordan,” which is getting its final [best word? kinks] worked out but isn’t premiering anywhere.

Release dates are a crucial piece of the awards season puzzle that studios try to assemble. The positioning of a film on the calendar can significantly impact its Oscar chances, and there have been trends in this area.

“Don’t Look Up” from Adam McKay focuses on a meteor heading toward Earth. But with a cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, there’s no telling if this film will fall more in line with “The Big Short,” which won adapted screenplay, or if it’s heading for its own catastrophic disaster in the awards landscape.

Always expecting the unexpected, how will a fourth return to the Matrix factor in for critics and voters? Can Lana Wachowski’s solo effort on the sequel “Resurrections” bring back the awe-inspiring visuals that garnered it four Oscars for the 1999 original? We’ll probably need to take the red pill in order to find out.

All Oscar prediction categories have been updated with plenty of movement.

2022 Academy Awards Predictions

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