Tag Archives: dunkirk

Oscars Watch 2018 (Preview): What To Keep An Eye On This Year

Yes, this is probably too early.

But to be fair, this isn’t really a set of predictions. We don’t even begin to know what’s for sure getting released this year, much less what’s getting pushed and what will be successful outside of the festivals where these things live and even less what the political atmosphere will be surrounding this.

Think of this more as a trend piece. What should you be keeping an eye out for? If you want to keep up on what’s hot in the film world, what should you be grabbing tickets for? Basically, it’s a Fall preview, but only for the “respectable stuff.” You already know about Blade Runner 2049 (which actually does stand a good chance of getting technical nominations), Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Justice League. What else?

This is also by NO means a comprehensive list. This’ll be missing stuff like Wonderstruck, Logan, The Greatest Showman, Molly’s Game, Wonder, Last Flag Flying, Professor Marston & The Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman, A Ghost Story, and all the potential nominees for Foreign/Animated/Documentary.

So, right now, we’ll divide the fall festival films/Oscar hopefuls (insofar as they have a good chance, not all prestige bait necessarily) into three categories: Great Guesses, Don’t Count Them Out, and Count Them Out.

Also, I’m gonna use my standard rule for previews that I’m only gonna talk about movies we actually have seen something from, anywhere from a release to reviews out of a film festival. So sorry Phantom Thread and The Post, you’ll have to wait until later. The films here are the ones that are gonna play big roles. Best Picture is kind of the assumption, but there may be other awards I’m expecting, which I’ll note below.

Great Guesses

Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name seems to be the most direct response to last year’s surprise victory in Moonlight. A queer story, though one that seems to revolve much more around its romance, Call Me By Your Name is walking the path that Moonlight really blazed for it, a space that seemed unfriendly to a previously much more conservative Academy.

But even beyond that, Call Me By Your Name has received almost universal raves since its debut at Sundance. Luca Guadagnino (a long time critical favorite) has been called a beautifully written, gorgeously shot, and masterfully acted story that’s specific and universally relatable. With an apparent breakout performance for Armie Hammer as young star Timothee Chalamet and a score from Sufjan Stevens, there’s a lot to get excited about here and a lot for voters to latch onto.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score/Best Original Song

Dunkirk/Darkest Hour

Is there another year we’ve had two films functionally about the same event that have both attracted as much attention as these two have? Two films about the Evacuation of Dunkirk, one on the ground and one back in London making the decisions, both attracting huge Oscar attention. Dunkirk for Nolan’s visceral, “You Are There” filmmaking and sheer towering technical achievement, Darkest Hour as a more traditional chamber prestige drama rotating around its dialogue and the huge, flashy lead performance from Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.

Maybe (Both)?: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score
Maybe (Dunkirk)?: Just name a technical award
Maybe (Darkest Hour)?: Best Actor (Gary Oldman), Best Original Screenplay

The Shape of Water

With its Golden Lion win at Venice Film Festival, The Shape of Water technically becomes the first “Oscar season” picture to put some points on the board. Guillermo del Toro’s Cold War fairy tale of the love between a mute woman and a fish man has been getting gushing love throughout the critical spectrum. So far, the film has been praised for its sensuality and sensitivity as well as performances from lead Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones as well as supporting work from Richard Jenkins. That the design and directorial work is also extremely strong should surprise no one.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Sally Hawkins), Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins), Best Original Screenplay, All Technical Awards

Battle of the Sexes

The kind of film that will play like gangbusters for Hollywood and the critical audience (given every piece was “This is the election, but not the election”), it will be no surprise when Battle of the Sexes gets to be a huge crowd-pleaser coasting on that love to plenty of safe nominations. The sitting Best Actress winner apparently turns out another exceptional performance, so it’ll be interesting to see if she can pull it off again.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Actor (Steve Carrell), Best Original Screenplay

Mudbound

Netflix’s attempt to get Oscar prestige has been, at least for me, the most quietly fascinating story in Hollywood. Not content being at this point synonymous with watching things on streaming and not content with being a player in just the TV awards, Netflix has been buying up prestige pics and projects right and left. Dee Rees’ post-WWII story of race and family has attracted a lot of attention and seems well up the Academy’s alley as one of the few Black films this year getting any attention.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Jason Mitchell), Best Supporting Actor (Garret Hedlund), Best Supporting Actress (Carey Mulligan), Best Original Screenplay

Don’t Count Them Out

The Films of A24

A24, having won last year’s Best Picture in one of the most dramatic Oscar moments ever, shows no intention on slowing down. While none of the three below are sure things, A24 has a really solid marketing and schmoozing department and the attention and love these have been getting mean that you absolutely shouldn’t count any out. Plus, the fact that these are three of the films that are getting very little division in a divisive year should be worth paying attention to.

Greta Gerwig making a story about women by women that apparently features an incredibly strong performance from lead Saiorse Ronan (already an Oscar darling). Melting everyone’s hearts.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Saiorse Ronan)

Director of Tangerine makes a working class comedy with a confident directorial style. Amazing Willem Dafoe, great child performances, tapping into stories about the poor and working class.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Willem Dafoe), Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, Best Cinematography

And here’s my “Dark Horse” pick. Almost universally well-reviewed right now, a film about the passion and love of filmmaking from a director and star who can apparently surprise with a story that has a huge amount of appeal to the newly young Academy. A story about Hollywood anchored by a performance digging into the heart of someone that seems larger than life. I think we should prepare for a lot from The Disaster Artist.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actor (James Franco), Best Adapted Screenplay

Get Out

One of this year’s bonafide cultural phenomenons, Get Out is the kind of populist blockbuster hit that also has a serious brain, its ideas quickly passing into the cultural aether. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut tapped a vein that a smart studio could easily turn into legitimate Oscar gold. And, given how great this movie is, it really does deserve it and the recognition that we need more stories like this could be good for the industry.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), Best Supporting Actress (Lil Rel Howery), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay

The Big Sick

Another romantic and bonafide crowd pleaser, the success of The Big Sick seems primed to wedge its way into the Oscar race. Amazon showed off its Oscar prowess with Manchester by The Sea last year and the industry seems to have absolutely fallen for the story of how writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, already cult favorites, fell in love.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay

I, Tonya

itonya_02-useforannouncement

A very recent entry into the consideration category, this one really just comes down to whether it’s released this year or not. Just picked up by NEON, they could choose to hold it for a 2018 release. If they don’t, the true story of one of the most bizarre stories in sports, apparently told with a 4th-wall breaking Coen-esque flair. Plus, Margot Robbie is just about at the point in her career where it’s time for her to win an Oscar and Allison Janney is apparently stealing the show at every turn.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actress (Margot Robbie), Best Supporting Actress (Allison Janney), Best Original Screenplay

3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh has never exactly been one for a lot of prestige success, his seriously sweary scripts attract a lot of niche and critical love but are rarely going past recognition for screenplays. But between Frances McDormand’s tornado performance and an incredibly stacked cast in a film that seems to have a little heart alongside its caustic nature might go well for this film.

Maybe?: Best Actress (Frances McDormand), Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell)

Count Them Out

Suburbicon

Boy, George Clooney sure can whiff ’em. Reactions seem to be generally negative on this one, a film too divided between a dark comedy and an attempt at a social issues picture to work at either. If no one likes it, nothing is gonna stick.

mother!

What’s the opposite of a crowd pleaser? Darren Aronofsky’s psycho-horror mother! is getting a lot of great reviews and I’m dying to see it, but even the most positive word has cautioned that this movie will absolutely not be for everyone with one of the most verifiably insane third acts. The kind of movie that promises to “Mess. You. Up.” is gonna have a really difficult time getting its claws into an Academy Award.

Roman J. Israel, Esq

A chance for Denzel to win another award, but early word seems way too divided on this movie, mostly saying that it just doesn’t ever end up coming together, a lot of raw material that doesn’t quite work. Denzel could rise above, but if no one likes the movie, that’ll be hard. Nightcrawler didn’t exactly light up the Academy either.

Downsizing

While early word out of Venice was positive, this mostly seems to be getting slammed once it gets to American shores. A premise that mostly feels wasted and Payne maybe over-extending his reach a little bit. The word about the Vietnamese refugee character really doesn’t seem to help.

The Current War

The honorary winner of the trailer with the SINGLE LOUDEST CAMERA I’VE EVER SEEN, the constant bag of tricks apparently didn’t mean anything for this film. Reviews say that this is the same bland prestige biopic that always stars Benedict Cumberbatch…just with the camera spinning basically everywhere.

Advertisements

The Worst and, more importantly, THE BEST of 2017, so far

So, as I am the grand arbiter of all things film, I’m officially calling the summer movie season at its close. Alas Logan Lucky, The Glass Castle, or Annabelle: Creation, you’re all part of the fall movie season. However will you survive?

And at the close of summer movie season, we’re essentially halfway through the movie year. I know we’re more than halfway through the calendar year, but trust me, that back half is always as packed as it gets. There’ll end up being things that are Oscar nominees that aren’t even on our radar right now. The worst movie of the year is likely still yet to come (though it’s hard to imagine right now).

But since I’m a fiend for lists, let’s make one, shall we? Let’s give a few check-ins and see where we are, starting with the worst (because it gets the attention) before taking a full celebration of the best.

Bottom 5 Films of 2017 So Far

5) The Dark Tower

Idris Elba

Ahh, The Dark Tower. The best franchise that will never quite be. Based on Stephen King’s series of epic fantasy western Lovecraftian meta-novels, some much smarter studio could have had a new Game of Thrones on its hands. Alas, it was in the hands of Sony and they instead produced a fall flat on its face. A mess of bad studio production, The Dark Tower wastes its actors, murders its pacing, and takes all the material and tosses it out the window for a mid-90s adaptation premise. Any film that features Matthew McConaughey saying “I see you’re still impervious to my magicks” with a straight face has an uphill battle. The Dark Tower doesn’t win it.

4) The Circle

image

A bland mess of technophobia, I really just feel bad for the people involved here. The Circle is Black Mirror without the brains or heart, an aesthetic rip-off by a huge number of people who should be able to make some better stamp. Staring a pitch-perfect satire of late capitalism in the face, The Circle is content to shake its fist at social media and ultimately end up going nowhere.

3) Transformers: The Last Knight

transformers

Look, who the living fuck expects anything out of this franchise at this point? The best Transformers has ever been able to aspire to is Bay’s weird hypercompetencies managing to shine through the material. But when they don’t, it’s the same thing that happens every goddamned time: A mess of story with awful design with a runtime that lasts for aeons.

2) Ghost in the Shell

ghost-in-the-shell-2017-trailer-ed

A pile-up of decisions so bad that you’re more baffled that it ever happened than mad that someone chose to do it. That all said, this is a film that was never going to be great and still manages to enrage far above its station. A messy script, terrible direction, and boring setpieces would sink any movie, but a movie that white-washes like this one does deserves all the ire that can be thrown. When your material is so fertile with intellect, you can’t be this fucking stupid in putting it together.

1) The Book of Henry

the-book-of-henry-movie-3

Colin Trevorrow is a rare sort of filmmaker, one who in a past era would have perhaps been run out of town after town after the people found out his snake oil elixirs just weren’t working. The Book of Henry is his raw nerve put on screen. Excessively manipulative, baffling in every plot point put on screen, and a masterpiece of inhuman behavior, seemingly put together by a man who’s never met a human but is fairly certain he knows how they work. Fuck this movie.

Dunkirk is a war film that’s all death, no glory.

Note: I saw the film in non-IMAX 70mm projection.

Dunkirk is the rare kind of blockbuster granted to the rare occurrence of a clear and vaunted “auteur” that manages to find clear commercial success. Scorsese or Spielberg had these and now Nolan joins their ranks. A film that drips its budget and studio backing and effects work from every frame and yet takes its formal cues from masters of Art and Classical cinema and, of course, wears the concerns and abilities of its directors on its sleeve.

If Inception was Nolan’s calling card, a film that showed how his very specific clockwork robot filmmaking and spiraling narratives about confidence men and dead wives could be commercially populist, then Dunkirk is his opus. A film that, finally divorced from all his usual narratives and genres, gives him the chance to let his formal aesthetics and structure and filmmaking ability free.

Dunkirk is Nolan letting his filmmaking speak all the volumes it can, no dialogue, no tricks, just his narrative structures and his ability to stage filmmaking on a massive scale. It’s an immersive, breathtaking experience and one that it’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling off on quite so grand a scale.

Nolan chooses to tell the story of the Dunkirk Evacuation, after most of the fighting has stopped and as the British forces try to retreat from the French Harbor as the Germans push slowly forward and pick them off from the air. There are three narratives interwoven here, told non-linearly.

The Mole takes place over one week and follows Tommy (Fion Whitehead) as he tries to get on a boat back to Britain and escape the bombing in Dunkirk. The Sea takes place over one day as British civilian boats (our focus is on one vessel commanded by Mr. Dawson [Mark Rylance]) as they sail to Dunkirk to evacuate the soldiers. The Air takes place over one hour as a trio of the British Air Force (our focus is on a pilot named Farrier [Tom Hardy]) shoot down Luftwaffe as they advance towards the evacuation in Dunkirk.

While on its face this non-linear storytelling may seem like a simple extension of Nolan’s usual narrative tricks, there’s something that feels so much more vital than merely being impressive. Dunkirk is a film of experience, a “You Are There” strapping-in where the war isn’t happening in front of you, but around you. The airplanes scream and the bombs explode (this is a LOUD movie) and you feel the air leave your lungs as the characters drown in the sinking ship.

Nolan compresses and expands time to create just as much of that feeling. The waiting on the beach desperately hoping someone will come, giving a week gives the time for multiple attempts to cling to a chance of rescue. The day gives that difficulty and the way civilians could approach each instance in this war. The hour gives urgency and an ever-ticking clock up in the air.

Speaking of an ever-ticking clock, and as much as I’ve praised Nolan, Dunkirk is a film that reminds you of the efficacy of good collaborators. Hans Zimmer’s score, constructed around a ticking clock (see, brought that back around), is a score that embraces the terror of this war, blasting noise and pulling the strings to their limits, and allowing for the briefest moments of grace. Lee Smith’s editing is tight and propulsive and juggles the intersecting timelines and time frames impossibly well. And cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema may be the best pickup Nolan’s had, giving his film a more distinctive and dirty, shadowed look far from Nolan’s overly clean earlier work.

Dunkirk is a film that looks past its people, in a way. This is Nolan’s most human film, in a way that’s more successful than something like Interstellar. The emotion, the pathos, the connection to these men in this tribulation feels more organic, more drawn from what we see them go through than the story that’s told about them.

But it’s not about them. It’s not Man v. Man. The word Nazi is never said and a German is but once seen on screen. There’s only the dialogue that is necessary, only the struggle that feels real. The twist is incidental, the structural tricks have no explanation within the narrative itself based on the characters.

It’s about something bigger than them. It’s about war not as an individual glorious struggle, but as some terrifyingly mundane thing that just gets a bunch of people killed and doesn’t produce great men dying to make a name for themselves. Dunkirk is a film that gets that existential terror of war, how much you’re subsumed into the gears of a machine that grinds you up and spits you out on the other side for enemies vaguely defined and by people basically unseen. There’s a patriotism yes, but there’s no glory to Dunkirk.

The people aren’t defined because no one in war is. We glorify heroes to hope that war has a meaning, but Dunkirk shows how truly anonymous many of these people are, how much they’re pulled into a monster that doesn’t offer them glory, just the hope of one day leaving.

This isn’t to say that the performances aren’t worth anything. Dunkirk has a strong cast doing simple, clean, understated work. Rylance and Hardy’s skill is well-known and unsurprising, Rylance conveying a fundamental decency and Hardy doing wonders with just his eyes. The kids on the Beach, including the famous Harry Styles, get across the sorrow and difficulty and desperation.

But it’s not about them. It’s about that larger horror and the little graces you can find in them. The movie’s second-to-last shot is a beautiful grace note in the middle of it all, a bit of Tarkovsky in the middle of all of Nolan’s Bresson here.

Grade: A+