Why ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ could do even better at the Oscars than it has at precursors so far

Judas and the Black Messiah” has been cleaning up this awards season … at least, parts of it has. Daniel Kaluuya received the all-important trifecta of nominations from the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and SAG Awards for his role as Black Panthers Chairman Fred Hampton. It’s original song “Fight for You” also received Globe and Critics Choice noms. And it was named one of the 10 best films of the year by the American Film Institute. But are a couple of categories the most it can hope for at the Oscars? Not necessarily. The Warner Bros. release could be peaking at just the right time.

I’m reminded of “American Sniper,” which was a sleeping giant a few years ago, receiving a smattering of recognition from awards groups before exploding at the Oscars with six nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor (Bradley Cooper). That film was a late release helped by its blockbuster success at the box office after it opened wide in January 2015 (it had its Oscar-qualifying limited release in December 2014). It ended up making more than half a billion dollars worldwide.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “Judas and the Black Messiah” won’t rack up numbers like that, but it did pull in almost $2.5 million over the Presidents’ Day weekend as it premiered simultaneously on HBO Max. And with a MetaCritic score of 86 and a Rotten Tomatoes freshness rating of 96% as of this writing, it has emerged as one of the most acclaimed films of this entire awards season. With so much awards voting happening this month (including for Golden Globe winners as well as Producers Guild, American Cinema Editors and Cinema Audio Society nominees), that surge in buzz could accumulate into major windfalls by the time Oscar voting starts on March 5.

So where could we potentially find “Judas” in the Oscar nominations besides Best Supporting Actor for Kaluuya and Best Original Song for “Fight for You”? Well, Best Picture is certainly in play, especially given its top-10 recognition from the AFI. It also received a Best Original Screenplay nom from the Writers Guild, so we know industry writers like it too. Below the line, especially keep an eye out for the taut film’s sound, editing and cinematography.

And Kaluuya might not be alone from the film among the acting nominees. LaKeith Stanfield has received ample praise from critics just like Kaluuya has, so he could ambush an already crowded Best Actor field for playing the film’s title betrayer. And Dominique Fishback, an emotionally grounding force in the film as Hampton’s partner Deborah Johnson, could emerge in a Best Supporting Actress lineup that has been in flux this season.

So while it can be a disadvantage to build momentum so late in an awards season, this COVID-extended Oscar calendar leaves the door open for late-breaking surprises, especially since the academy’s allowances for streaming films this year makes the eligible contenders so easily accessible to voters. Do you think we could be in for a big “Judas” push over the next month all the way to the Oscar nominations?

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