Editor’s Note: Yes, there was originally a different article here. Yes, it was super dumb. No, I’m not going to subject you to it all again.
Do you love political campaigns. Is the current nationwide “Zack Snyder directing a multi-car pileup”-esque Presidential election really getting you down?
Then come join me for Awards Season! It’s all the fun of pitched ideological combat with complete disregard for actual substance without any of the depressing stakes or increasing sense of existential dread at the future. Plus, you get to watch a whole bunch of movies!
We’re talking, of course, about the Academy Awards here. The Oscars, if you’re nasty. It may not be for a few months, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it now.
“But Brandon,” you don’t say but I pretend you do, “how can you have a discussion about these movies? Not only have you only seen two, but most of them haven’t even been officially released?”
You sweet summer child.
Fun fact about the Academy Awards: They’re rarely about the actual movies. They’re about how movies are perceived and make the voters feel. As long as the movie has a reasonably strong critical reception (unless you’re Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), the appearance of quality and importance is enough. Plus, thanks to the Festival circuit, we can already see the conversations that are being had around it, so waiting for them to come out isn’t necessary. This is shot-calling, not criticism.
The Awards are also about the quality of the campaign! Did the studio put the movie in front of enough people with a clear enough case? Does the studio have the connections and the infrastructure to really get their case out there? Being good means nothing if nobody knows it.
That’s why we’re actually gonna start with the big kahuna. The Best Picture race. The prestige from which all other prestige flows and cases are ultimately made.
I’m gonna break it down into Sure Thing, Maybe Thing, and No-Go. If you need an explanation…you shouldn’t need an explanation. I’m also going to remind you that things can change. Remember how few of these have come out and remember that at one point The Birth of a Nation was the front-runner to win.
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
La La Land and Manchester by the Sea are both riding almost universal festival acclaim into the Oscars. While La La Land‘s throwback nature and popular leads make it the clear frontrunner, never underestimate something that really knows how to pull the heartstrings as much as Manchester seems to be able to. Plus, both are headlined with what are apparently all-timer performances. Keep in mind that Actors are the biggest part of the Academy.
With Denzel Washington writing, directing, and starring and Viola Davis starring in the same role she won a Tony for, Fences is blessed with star power in every pore. But its focus on a black story told by black storytellers may be much more important to its success as an answer to #OscarsSoWhite.
Loving is pitched right at the Oscar sweet spot. Simple and historical with a performance focus. A film you can get and agree with and a filmmaker who’s been earning recognition for a while.
As for Silence, it’s Marty. Come on now. Let’s be real.
Live by Night
There’s a few different reasons I put these in the Maybe pile.
Moonlight, Lion, and Arrival are all films that have played well at multiple festivals, which would put them in the same category as La La Land and Manchester. But those films have a universality of praise that made them obvious frontrunners, as well as less complicating factors.
Moonlight is from a young distributor and has an abnormal narrative structure, which means it’s anyone’s guess how it plays large. Arrival fits in with the “1 Sci-Fi Film” norm and Amy Adams is a perpetual Oscars bridesmaid, but I wonder how the mix of super-heady and super-emotional will play with people, especially with Villeneuve’s icy style. Lion is still a largely unknown, the kind of picture that a lot of critics are still feeling out their reaction to. It is from the Weinsteins, but the Weinsteins don’t have the clout they once did.
Sometimes, it also comes down to the decisions studios make. What are they gonna push?
Warner Brothers, I think, figured out the benefits of going all-in for one movie with Fury Road. To replicate that, they’re gonna be ultimately choosing between Sully and Live by Night. Sully is the clearly respectable picture, and is right up Middle America’s alley. But Live by Night, though a complete unknown, has the newfound Ben Affleck prestige, and great gangster epics have always done well. Sully‘s narrative slightness may be damaging, but if Live by Night doesn’t deliver, it may be their best option.
Paramount on the other hand has a few different options between Silence, Arrival, Florence Foster Jenkins, and Hacksaw Ridge. Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most intriguing possibilities, a potential comeback narrative for Mel Gibson and a film that did get as much really positive buzz as it did criticism, which gets controversy in there. That being said, has Mel Gibson quite earned his redemption yet? We’ll see.
And then we have Hidden Figures, which has all the markings of a potential Oscar superstar. Most notably as a tale of forgotten history and a strong cast that also stands as an answer to #OscarsSoWhite (along with marking a potential character actress groove for Janelle Monae). But we’ve seen very little from it since it just entered the race, and the pedigree behind the camera doesn’t quite match that in front, which gives me pause.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
The Birth of a Nation
Rules Don’t Apply
20th Century Women
Not to be dismissive, but let’s be dismissive.
I’m as shocked as you are, but unless the Academy screenings of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk aren’t in 120 FPS, I think Ang Lee is gonna miss the Oscars this year. Powerful story, but no one can get over the tech.
Never hinge your whole campaign on one person. The Birth of a Nation learned that the hard way.
The Brangelina Divorce and the rumors may be good for Allied‘s profile, but unless it’s a home run, that’s all people are gonna see.
Rules Don’t Apply looks lame, the return of Warren Beatty aside.
A24 is still figuring out the Oscar campaigns. Don’t expect to see multiples in the Best Picture race, 20th Century Women has acting awards to focus on.
Overall, this isn’t gonna be a year of any single film dominating, nor is it going to be a horse race. Barring a complete swooning over La La Land (which is very possible), it’s going to be a series of smaller works scrapping for victory. Should be fun.
Next Week: Best Actor