Boy, there is a lot of…news out there today. Everything is generally awful and terrible and brutish and nasty.
So, we’re going to go to something that doesn’t matter at all in the hopes of distracting you, me, and everyone else.
That’s right, it’s OSCAR SEASON!!!
Now, I’m gonna preface all this with the reason for the subtitle. To some degree, I’m acknowledging that I’m playing into a lot of the power games that created a lot of the current situation in Hollywood. Weinstein made his name, his money, and his influence off this game.
This is not some grand statement. On the contrary, I’m a F-list blogger with no influence, no reach, and no real ultimate meaning. It’s simply my own personal way of knowing what I’m doing and hoping to wrest some personal control of these narratives from people like that.
I’m looking at the Oscars this year as a post-Moonlight thing. An avenue to now boost smaller and more important movies that may not have gotten the chance. This is a way to celebrate films on a scale that there are few chances to and we deserve to make our own narrative. Yes, there is and always will be needs to be right and there are certain caveats I must always make with these articles. I’m looking to be technically correct, not morally, whether I like it or not.
But there’s narratives to create and I’m going to create them.
So, without further adieu, let’s give last year’s disclaimer:
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.
And let’s give our categories. Sure Things, Incredibly Likely, Possibly, and No-Go. I also keep the general rule that there has to be something from it out there for me to include it. Reviews or trailers, something to make it possible to keep an eye on things.
The rumors around The Post are enough to make sure I do that.
The big story this year is the lack of any frontrunner and the absolute wealth of possible runners. It’s a year that the Festivals and Studios are producing a lot of very good movies, a lot of stuff that people are really liking even if a good chunk of it is somewhat divisive. But that divisiveness is meaning that there’s nothing universally agreeable.
Remember that by this point last year Moonlight was already out and La La Land was tearing it up over in festival land. The tea leaves were there for those two to read, but nothing is so big right now. Nothing is tearing up festivals the same way something usually does and it’s likely going to come down to the compromise candidate that everyone is reasonably positive about.
Dunkirk and Darkest Hour may hold the rare distinction of being the first pair of movies about the same event ever nominated in the same year. There’s a few years with pairs of WW2 movies or pairs of movies set in the same era (1998 had a pair of each) but Dunkirk and Darkest Hour are both set during the Battle of Dunkirk, just from different ends.
Nolan is with the soldiers in a film that is heart-stoppingly realistic and jaw-droppingly shot. Wright takes the fight back to Parliament with Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill battling for his place of power and the rallying of his nation. Darkest Hour is classic Oscar material, a chamber piece about a great man, and Dunkirk is functionally a Robert Bresson film by way of Nolan’s tech-wizardry, by no means an Oscar piece. But the sheer scale and skill at play here makes both a lock with Nolan’s Dunkirk more seizing of the imagination than anyone expected.
The Shape of Water is honestly an unexpected success. Del Toro’s recent adoption of his Spanish language style into his English language output yielded the great Crimson Peak but seemed doomed to alienate all but the critical audience. But The Shape of Water is apparently a warm, romantic/sexy story that seems to be connecting with every audience that sees it as an impressive American fairytale. As a longtime fan, I’m thrilled.
Call Me By Your Name was always kind of destined to look like this year’s Moonlight, a story of queer desire and longing with lush and gorgeous filmmaking. But that’s a flattening that doesn’t quite go into Moonlight and apparently doesn’t quite go into Call Me By Your Name with its parental dynamics and the Armie Hammer factor (the most underrated actor working). This film has had its praises sung since January and there seems to be no stopping on this train. And hey, any film with a Sufjan Stevens soundtrack is worthy of an Oscar in my opinion.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri joins Call Me By Your Name and The Shape of Water in making this year the year of finally recognizing people who’ve done great work and have had no Awards success until now. Martin McDonagh’s foul-mouthed and darkly hilarious films have been an underseen delight for years and Three Billboards seems to be the film that’ll finally get him some attention. His dynamite actors, his profanely brilliant dialogue, and his steady portrayal of place seems to all come to the forefront here and have gotten this movie the attention he’s always deserved.
Get Out is perhaps the film of the year. No film passed into popular refrain quicker, no film became a bigger hit culturally (and few financially), and no film feels more desperately of its moment. No film has felt like it so tapped into the conversation around race, class, and culture so quickly. Peele’s Get Out is a vital and visceral piece of filmmaking that absolutely can and should be in the awards conversation. Best Picture must include movies like this.
A24 is riding hot after winning for Moonlight last year. A young studio turning the little movie that could into the little movie that did. They’re now an official player and they’ve come out 2017 with a few runners now that they’ve got the connections to run an actual field this time around.
Their two best players are Lady Bird and The Florida Project. Lady Bird is the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, a somewhat autobiographical picture about a teen girl in the early 90s. The film is one of the big darlings of the critical set right now and Gerwig is a Hollywood favorite that could definitely get this film the early attention. The Florida Project is from Sean Baker, director of the wonderful Tangerine, about the lives of the poor and displaced in a Florida hotel. Willem Dafoe’s against-type performance and the great leading performance of child actress Brooklynn Prince got this thing the attention, but Baker’s very humanistic eye got this thing the love. I didn’t necessarily fall head-over-heels for it, but this is certainly the kind of movie that deserves the Awards talk.
Phantom Thread has a lot going for it. It’s Paul Thomas Anderson, in the conversation for our best living director. It’s Daniel Day-Lewis, in the conversation for our best living actor. It’s a surprisingly respectable looking period piece about high-fashion and passion in 50’s London, which could help people make a connection with PTA’s increasingly difficult films. The only reason it’s not assured is a late release date and a lot of secrecy around it (combined with a dynamo filmmaker and a difficult potential subject makes me think Silence) and the rumors that this may be a real high-class 50 Shades. This is a surprisingly sex-heavy year, but still not sure how that goes over.
Battle of the Sexes is the kind of big-swing crowd pleaser that could absolutely find a way to wriggle in easily, especially with its stars and its performances and its 2016-election parallels that can and will be played up. I don’t really care for this one overall, but it’s easy to understand how this one will move into the race.
The Big Sick is another big-swing crowd pleaser that could make it in for all the reasons that Battle of the Sexes could, minus its direct political relevance and adding the true story behind it. This one I’ll admit that I have much more attachment to, given my admiration for Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, and the sweetness and skill with which this story is told means it should absolutely get a shot at the Oscars.
I, Tonya is definitely a late-game and somewhat surprising addition to this race. It really exploded out of TIFF and landed in the lap of young distributor NEON. While it’s going to remain to be seen how NEON gets a handle on Oscar campaigns, a big and flashy movie like this with starpower and star performances certainly holds the chance of giving some hooks in.
Mudbound certainly stacks up as the prime sort of Oscar contender. A film about race in post-war America from Dee Rees, whose film Pariah you should absolutely see, that should end up having some resonance, especially after raves out of Sundance. But Netflix is a biq q-mark. Hollywood is no fan of the upstart challenger and there’s a lot of legitimate issues with the way Netflix promotes and throws up the middle finger to theaters. Will the business side overcome the movie?
The Disaster Artist is my personal pick for this year’s dark horse. A Hollywood tale about the love of filmmaking running a surprisingly smart campaign (that billboard) with apparently a career-best performance out of James Franco. I could see this one doing surprisingly well if A24 plays their cards right.
Every year we have the conversation about when/if one of these big superhero blockbusters is going to make it into the Best Picture race. This year has maybe presented the two best shots at it with Logan and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is the one that feels of its moment and of its time and its critical success has been a surprise for the otherwise-reviled DC Film universe. Logan is a much darker/weightier film than Wonder Woman which may give it the edge in the “respectability” race, though it certainly wasn’t the smash hit that a superhero film is going to need to be to break in here.
Molly’s Game is just here because with a Best Actress/Supporting Actor/Screenplay line-up possible, it certainly needs to be in the conversation. The Academy loves Sorkin.
All The Money in the World
Weinstein. Allen. (as of today) Spacey. These names are gonna poison these movies.
mother!/The Killing of A Sacred Deer
The Greatest Showman
I adored mother! and am fairly certain I have positive feelings about The Killing of A Sacred Deer, but these are two movies for which the word “divisive” was made. mother! got an F Cinemascore for a reason. I can’t see enough people wanting to vote for these.
Breathe is the kind of tear-jerker that tried for the attention but it pretty much fell flat on its face. No box office, no critical love, nothin’.
The Greatest Showman is trying for a little of that La La Land but my god it looks and sounds embarrassing for everyone involved. I hope I’m wrong, but…