Hustlers was one of the breakout hits of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, but what are its chances at the 2020 Oscars? The true-story crime drama is undoubtedly one of the year's biggest surprises, captivating critics and audiences with its sharp script, strong performances, and energetic direction from Lorene Scafaria. At the outset of this awards season, few would have predicted a film about strippers scamming wealthy Wall Street clients out of money would find its way into the Oscar conversation, but now that the Venice, Telluride, and Toronto festivals are complete, Hustlers needs to be under consideration.
While Hustlers didn't win Toronto's coveted People's Choice Award (Jojo Rabbit) and wasn't even one of the runner-ups (Marriage Story and Parasite), it's clear judging by the reactions and box office performance the film has a lot of support. There's obviously still a long way to go, but the response to Hustlers will embolden STX as they put together the awards campaign. Here, we analyze its odds to see what it could realistically be in contention for.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway in the Hustlers reviews is Jennifer Lopez gives arguably the best performance of her career as Ramona, the de facto ring leader of the strippers. Presumably being pushed in the Best Supporting Actress category, she is clearly Hustlers' best shot at a nomination. Even if STX decided to campaign for Lopez in Lead Actress, they would have a good chance, partially due to how surprisingly thin that field looks at this point in time. But to say Lopez would benefit from a perceived weakness in competition is disingenuous to her fantastic turn. From her already iconic introductory scene, Lopez was the MVP of Hustlers, commanding audiences' attention with her magnetic screen presence and sweet chemistry with Constance Wu. It's a multi-faceted role and performance that seemed tailor-made for Lopez, utilizing her talents to the best of her ability. Even in a normal year when Actress and Supporting Actress are stacked, Lopez would be in the running.
Outside of Lopez, Hustlers might be able to land a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. Scafaria's screenplay is a big reason why the film works as well as it does, digging deeper to find the substance and relatable human element to the story. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, Hustlers could have turned out disastrous, but Scafaria kept a steady hand on the material, balancing the humor and drama to craft an entertaining package. Hustlers is much more than just a "stripper movie;" it's elevated by themes of family and sisterhood, as well as social commentary that tackles the effects of the 2008 housing crisis. In some respects, the material Hustlers covers isn't entirely new, but it's told from a fresh perspective that definitely connected with people.
STX no doubt has grander ambitions of getting Hustlers into the Best Picture race, but that seems like a long shot right now. In order to secure a Best Picture nomination, a film needs to receive at least 5% of first-place votes on the preliminary ballots. That means 200 Academy members need to rank a movie as their #1 choice for the year. Hustlers is critically-acclaimed, but there are several other titles it's competing with, such as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Marriage Story, Jojo Rabbit, and more. Right now, it's hard to see Hustlers getting enough first-place votes to beat some of these out. Unless one of the unseen contenders, like The Irishman or 1917, falters after screening, Hustlers might be on the outside looking in for Best Picture. But it remains a viable contender in other categories, which is a major and impressive accomplishment.