Sources have told zakkondratenko.com that former draftnik Shane Alexander, best known for the podcast PylonU as well as controversial opinions such as “O.J. Howard is a generational talent” and “Paxton Lynch is QB1”, will be returning to the podcast after a self-imposed exile to preview the upcoming bowl season.
This news comes as a bit of a shock as Shane recently deleted his Twitter account. But over the last couple of weeks, Shane’s new account has sent out a few football-related tweets, leaving many to wonder if a full-on return was imminent.
All year, even before anyone saw any of the films, Gary Oldman has been considered the heavy frontrunner to win for his performance as Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. On paper, it’s the perfect Oscar performance; a beloved veteran actor with a strong overdue narrative (just one nomination, zero wins) doused in heavy makeup playing a historical figure in an assumed Best Picture contender. We’ve seen this type of performance win many times, especially when the British angle (an important “vote” within the Academy) is played up, a la Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. When the film screened at Telluride and Toronto, our suspicions had been confirmed. Critics and festival-goers called Oldman’s turn a powerhouse performance and reaffirmed the notion that it’s his Oscar to lose (even if overall word on the film wasn’t quite as kind). But the first few precursors of the season have ignored Oldman, bringing in some doubt. He should still be considered the frontrunner, and critics groups often intentionally go against the grain when an early frontrunner is declared. But one thing is for sure, Oldman isn’t going to sweep the entire season the way Daniel Day-Lewis did five years ago for Lincoln, and the more precursors that go to other names, the more voters in the acting branch will have reconsider what at one time seemed like an obvious vote.
Speaking of Daniel Day-Lewis, the three-time winner may be Oldman’s main challenger. He’s back teamed with Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread. The last time the two worked together was There Will Be Blood, for which DDL won an Oscar. The film is still under embargo but early whispers say that it’s major and he’s great in it. The fact that it’s supposedly his final performance could be an added narrative boost for one of the Academy’s favorites. Also establishing himself as a contender thank to NY Critics, and someone who’ll surely pick up more critics notices, is Call Me By Your Name breakout Timothee Chalamet. He’ll turn 22 in a few weeks, so he’s very young for this category, but his work has drawn raves since Sundance and the film is a Best Picture contender. He looks like a lock for a nomination.
A trio of strong contenders will likely battle for the final two slots. James Franco, previously nominated for 127 Hours, has emerged as a strong player for The Disaster Artist, which he also directed. The dramedy, chronicling the making of cult disaster/classic The Room, is sure to resonate with other actors and there’s a nice comeback narrative surrounding Franco after a five year stretch without much high-profile, acclaimed work. Tom Hanks, who hasn’t been nominated since Cast Away despite doing some of the strongest work of his career in films like Captain Phillips and Sully, surprisingly won Best Actor from the NBR for Steven Spielberg’s The Post. The film, while a major threat to win Best Picture, is said to be more of a Meryl Streep show, but there’s already premature talk of a Silence of the Lambs type sweep for it with Oscar. I don’t think Hanks can win this year, but he is a popular actor and a strong bet to ride the film to a nomination. Also in play is Jake Gyllenhaal, who many think was snubbed for Nightcrawler a few years back. He’s got a strong overdue narrative himself and does exceptional work as Boston Bombing survivor Jeff Bauman in Stronger, but I’m worried that if Franco and Hanks continue to rise then Jake’s film not really being an Oscar contender anywhere else could keep him out.
As for dark horses, Oscar favorite Christian Bale is said to be great in Scott Cooper’s western Hostiles, but the film (from a new distributor) needs a late rise. After seeing him rise at the last minute and almost win for The Big Short, I will never rule him out. Denzel Washington was nominated again last year and is back with Roman J. Israel, Esq, but reviews for the film are very mixed and it probably will sit the season out. Andrew Garfield got his first nom last year and afterglow noms are a very real thing but Breathe is being ripped apart by many as shameless Oscar bait. It doesn’t seem to have any traction. Daniel Kaluuya and Robert Pattinson give two of the year’s best turns in Get Out and Good Time, respectively, but will both need a number of critics groups and/or SAG to cite them to really jump into serious contention. Kaluuya is a better bet to do that considering his film is a likely Best Picture nominee.
Current Predictions: Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Timothy Chalamet, James Franco, Tom Hanks
What a loaded field this is. Along with Best Original Screenplay, it’s the most interesting race of the season. At the top right now appear to be three ladies who have all hit with Oscar before. First, there’s Meryl Streep, the most nominated actress in Oscar history (20), who seemingly has something major on her hands as the lead in The Post. Her winning the NBR confirmed that she will once again be a force to be reckoned with. Streep’s last win came six years ago for playing Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Her three noms since then have all been for less serious work, but now she’s in a Best Picture frontrunner and is a real threat to win her third Oscar. Two-time nominee (despite being just 23!) Saoirse Ronan has already begun what figures to be a dominant run with critics groups for her work in likely Best Picture nominee Lady Bird. She’s the youngest contender in a field loaded with big names but Oscar has shown that they like her and the work is really, really good. She is a serious threat to win. I’m still unsure of how the Academy will respond to Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri given how absent it’s been from the season so far, but Frances McDormand should be a safe bet for a nom. Many critics and festival-goers are saying her work in the film is even better than what she did in Fargo, for which she won this award.
The next tier looks real strong as well. Sally Hawkins is receiving a lot of praise for The Shape of Water, and the branch has nominated her before. It’s a unique performance that may not resonate with everyone but will have vocal supporters. Margot Robbie,quickly becoming one of the most popular actresses in the game, is getting strong word for her work as Tony Harding in the black comedy I, Tonya but it remains to be seen if the film (from new distributor NEON) is a real Oscar contender. Can it hit with a few precursors? In such a loaded field, it’s hard to see anyone getting in if their film doesn’t hit with the Academy on a larger level. Jessica Chastain, two-time nominee who pretty much everyone realizes should’ve won for Zero Dark Thirty over Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, appears to have a strong turn in Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin. But like Robbie, I have concerns that the film just isn’t going to last the season and hit big with the Academy.
There’s also another Academy favorite in play with Kate Winslet. Her film, Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, didn’t land as the contender most expected but her performance is being praised and she can never be ruled out. If SAG goes for her, she’s in. Emma Stone, fresh off her win, has a baity role in Battle of the Sexes but the film also didn’t land too strong. She’s got a great shot at a globe nom though. The legendary Judi Dench is playing Queen Victoria again in Victoria & Abdul but the film doesn’t appear to be a player. She 100% needs SAG to notice. A couple of dark horses to watch are Vicky Krieps for her supposed breakout turn in Phantom Thread and Academy favorite Michelle Williams if she’s a true lead in All the Money in the World and if the film is actually good.
Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) may have had some early momentum, but the field is too strong for her to crack it. Same goes for the young Brooklyn Prince (The Florida Project).
Some clarity has been given to this field over the last few weeks, but the fact that four films still each have two contenders keeps it a relative mystery until more critics groups and SAG weigh in. Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project), fresh off wins from both the NBR and NYFCC, is certainly a lock for a nom and the early frontrunner to win. This is a spot for the Academy at large to award The Florida Project as a whole when final voting goes down. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri appears to have two real contenders in Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. I haven’t yet seen the film, but based on what I’m reading, Rockwell appears to be *slightly* more likely to hit. Then again, he’s never been nominated before whereas Woody has two. I doubt they both get in unless the film is a real threat to WIN Best Picture. Same goes for the men of Call Me By Your Name, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg. Hammer is being pushed harder by Sony Pictures Classics and is playing the circuit very well but Stuhlbarg is older with a major snub on his hands years ago (A Serious Man) and is also in Best Picture player The Shape of Water. Stuhlbarg also has a clear “Oscar scene” that can be edited into promotional material easily. But much like with the Three Billboards guys, we need more clarity.
The Shape of Water has both Richard Jenkins and Michael Shannon. Jenkins is more of a highlight based on reviews but after Shannon’s out-of-nowhere nomination for Nocturnal Animals last year you can never rule him out. The acting branch loves him. If Netflix’s Mudbound can find a way to actually land with Oscar, there could be some split votes in the acting branch between Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund. Both are very good in the film, but it seems to be more of Mitchell’s moment right now.
Other strong contenders include previous winner Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) carrying his film’s acting chances and therefore Best Picture chances on his shoulders, Bryan Cranston (Last Flag Flying) whose work will appeal to older voters, Will Poulter (Detroit) whose film never landed strong but looks to get a late push from Annapurna, Bob Odenkirk (The Post) who’s reportedly a scene-stealer, and Idris Elba (Molly’s Game) if his film can get off the ground.
Current Predictions: Willem Dafoe, Armie Hammer, Sam Rockwell, Richard Jenkins, Bob Odenkirk
Best Supporting Actress
Is this really the two-horse race between Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird) and Allison Janney (I, Tonya) that it once appeared to be? Metcalf is the frontrunner. She’s already started picking up what will ultimately be a huge number of critics prizes and her film is at the top of the Best Picture hierarchy right now. Janney is still very much a contender but I wonder if she can really win if her film doesn’t land elsewhere, which could very well be the case. Both ladies are respected veterans of film and television and should duke it out for industry awards all season long.
Octavia Spencer received her second nom last year and she’s the acclaimed comic relief in The Shape of Water. But there are multiple performances in the film that figure to draw more attention. Sony Pictures Classics picked up Novitiate thinking Melissa Leo could win. Oscar loves her but the film is *very* small. The surprising NYFCC for Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip) established her as a very real part of this race. Raunchy comedies aren’t traditional Oscar material but Melissa McCarthy was nominated for Bridesmaids and Haddish has a ton of vocal support. Will more critics groups get behind it or was NYFCC just trying to stick out?
Holly Hunter is carrying The Big Sick on her shoulders. The film has a lot of fans and she’s a previous winner and four-time nominee. Mary J. Blige is really, really good in Mudbound but it remains to be seen if Netflix can hit with Oscar in the major categories. A SAG nom would be huge for her, but then again, Idris Elba got a SAG nom for Beasts of No Nation and still missed with Oscar. Folks love Kristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour) and while the film is obviously all about Oldman we often see lead actor juggernauts carry in supporting players (think Sally Field getting in for Lincoln).
Some dark horses include Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread and Hong Chau for Downsizing. The former needs to to emerge as a talking point from her film, whereas the latter already has but needs to film to play better with voters than it did with critics and festival audiences.
Current Predictions: Laurie Metcalf, Allison Janney, Octavia Spencer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Holly Hunter.
Awards season is off and running. The Gotham Awards went down last night. The Indie Spirit noms came out last week. Those two collectives focus on honoring the independent, small-budget films of the year. Many films that pop up there also go on to hit big with Oscar, but many simply aren’t eligible for various reasons. The National Board of Review, a mysterious and secretive NY-based collective of film enthusiasts that’s been citing the best in the field since 1909, weighed in today. The NBR, like any precursor, shouldn’t be considered too heavily when predicting Oscar, but it is one of the first major groups to have their say and citations from them can give a film a boost as other critics groups and industry guilds have their say over the coming weeks. There are always some films that make the NBR’s top 10 that don’t go on to receive a Best Picture nomination (Sully, Silence, Patriots Day, and Hail, Caesar! last year) and 4 of the last 5 NBR Best Director winners missed out on Oscar noms (Barry Jenkins bucked the trend last year). On the other hand, only 3 times since 1990 has the NBR Best Film winner missed out on a Best Picture nomination. It’s worth talking about a little bit for any serious awards nerd.
So let’s do that.
And if you’re interested, here’s a spreadsheet of my actuals Oscar prefix with analysis, that I updated weekly: OSCAR PREDICTIONS
Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post‘ named Best Film, and more.
In a bit of a surprise, considering reviews of the film are still embargoed, Steven Spielberg’s The Post took the NBR’s top prize. An unseen wildcard over the last few weeks as awards discussion heated up, a film about The Pentagon Papers from one of the most acclaimed directors ever certainly seems to have Oscar DNA, especially in a time when a certain orange man is making freedom of the press a talking point. But some bad buzz came with the film a while back due to nobody seeing even an image of it and some mumbling that it was having problems in the editing room (that buzz appears to have been completely made up by thirsty bloggers). A historical Spielberg drama hit big with Oscar as recently as two years ago (Bridge of Spies).
What’s most surprising here isn’t that The Post won Best Film, but that its two lead performers (Tom Hanks & Meryl Streep) won Best Actor & Best Actress, respectively. Streep, with her 20 Oscar noms, was always assumed to be a contender this year and now we have verification of that. Hanks on the other hand is genuinely surprising to see cited here, considering word suggests it’s really “Streep’s film” and juggernauts like Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis were competing with him. Despite stellar recent work in films like Sully and Captain Phillips, Hanks hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since Cast Away in 2000. Can he continue the momentum all season? Winning NBR by no means guarantees an Oscar nom, just ask Oscar Isaac and Sean Penn.
The twitterverse is already buzzing that The Post could be the first film since Silence of the Lambs to win the “big five” Oscars (Picture, Director, lead Actor, lead actress, screenplay). It’s a little early for such speculation but The Post certainly looks like a force to be reckoned with.
A nice day for A24 Films’ three-headed pony.
A24 Films, a NY-based company and probably the premiere indie studio right now, won the big Oscar last year with Moonlight. They appear to have 3 strong players this year and the NBR put all of them in their top 10, as well as citing them elsewhere. Lady Bird, an exceptional coming-of-age film and surprising commercial hit, saw Greta Gerwig named Best Director by the NBR. What a pleasant surprise that is, considering it’s her directorial debut and she’s just the second woman to win it in NBR’s 109 year history. The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s dramedy about the making of cult midnight disaster/classic The Room, scooped up Best Adapted Screenplay for Scott Neustadter & Michael Weber. It’s looking like a real Oscar player in a weak adapted screenplay field and also for Franco’s lead performance. The Florida Project, Directed by Sean Baker, saw Willem Dafoe scoop up Best Supporting Actor. The veteran seems like a great bet to hit with SAG & Oscar as well, and any citations help a really small film like this. Add in a trio of early-year acclaimed films in It Comes At Night, A Ghost Story, and Good Time it’s been a nice stretch for A24.
Surprising inclusions, and exclusions, in the NBR top 10.
The NBR always goes against the grain a bit, but this year’s crop of 10is particularly strange. Their top 10, in alphabetical order:
Baby Driver (TriStar Pictures, dir. Edgar Wright)
Call Me By Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Luca Guadagnino)
The Disaster Service (A24 Films, dir. James Franco)
Downsizing (Paramount, dir. Alexander Payne)
Dunkirk (Warner Bros, dir. Christopher Nolan)
The Florida Project (A24 Films, dir. Sean Baker)
Get Out (Universal, dir. Jordan Peele)
Lady Bird (A24 Films, dir. Greta Gerwig)
Logan (Fox, dir. James Mangold)
Phantom Thread (Focus Features, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Let’s start with the films that ARE in the top 10. Baby Driver, while a smash commercial hit and critical darling, wasn’t something I thought would pop up anywhere outside sound categories. It’s unapologetically escapist, seemed to be relatively forgotten about, and features a certain actor in some hot water right now. It’s cool to see such a popular film get a citation, but don’t expect to hear its name much throughout the season. Alexander Payne has always been a juggernaut when it comes to awards, but Downsizing was ripped apart by critics on the festival circuit. I assumed it was dead on arrival. Perhaps not?
There’s been talk all year about how hard Fox would campaign Logan, and it appears to be paying early dividends. Despite the narrative surrounding Wonder Woman and the general acclaim the trio of Marvel movies received, Logan was always the best awards bet when it comes to this year’s superhero crop. It’s style is much easier for cynics and film purists to digest. Paul Thomas Anderson films will always be contenders, but it’s still a bit surprising to see it cited here considering its first screenings were less than a week ago. PTA also won Best Original Screenplay from the NBR.
The rest of the top 10 were all assumed to be strong awards players yesterday, and they still will be tomorrow. While these early awards so more about what they nominate than what they don’t nominate, I’d still like to discuss a trio of films that AREN’T in the NBR top 10.
Everyone has said all year that Gary Oldman (playing Winston Churchill) is winning Best Actor for Darkest Hour. But neither he nor the film were cited by the NBR. I wouldn’t panic. It’s a more traditional player, something that’ll do better with industry guilds than critics, and should have no problem capturing the older vote and the British vote (still important even as the Academy continues to diversify). As for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water, I’m starting to have a bit of pause when it comes to calling them Best Picture frontrunners. Both missed out with the NBR, and the Gothams/Indie Spirits as well, despite being eligible indies. They both played really well on the festival circuit and have vocal admirers, but perhaps the early hyperbole is a bit much. We’ll see. Again, it’s still early.
List of NBR Winners
Best Film: The Post
Best Director: Greta Gerwig
Best Lead Actor: Tom Hanks (The Post)
Best Lead Actress: Meryl Streep (The Post)
Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Best Original Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Scott Neustadter & Michael Weber (The Disaster Artist)
Best Animated Feature: Coco
Breakthrough Performance: Timothée Chalet (Call Me By Your Name)
Best Directorial Debut: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Best Foreign Film: Foxtrot
Best Documentary: Jane
Best Ensemble: Get Out
Check back soon for more commentary as awards season continues.
We’re just under three weeks until the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Expectations are quite high considering LucasFilm already signed writer/director Rian Johnson to develop his own trilogy. For no other reason than I’m bored I decided to take a look at some of the most acclaimed movie sequels ever and ask myself if they’re actually better than the film that preceded them.
Is The Empire Strikes Back really better than Star Wars?
Despite receiving middling reviews on its release in 1980, Empire has gone on to not just be widely regarded as the finest Star Wars movie, but seen as the archetypal blockbuster sequel. It’s bigger, longer, and darker than its predecessor. With less expository responsibility, the film is able to dive deeper into the characters. George Lucas stepped back a bit, allowing others to actually script and direct the film so he could focus more on the complicated financial and special-effects development aspects that went into such an unprecedented production. Sci-fi author Leigh Brackett was hired to pen the film, and then Lucas’ Raiders of the Lost Ark colleague Lawrence Kasdan was brought in to redraft Brackett’s script. Lucas hired indie maestro (and his USC former professor) Irwin Kershner to direct, though there’s still some doubt as to who handled which scenes, as Lucas was reportedly heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the film.
Regardless of whomever is chiefly responsible, the result is a true masterpiece. Empire is a narratively ambitious and visually stunning the film. The ending alone is unlike anything that came before it, with Luke losing his hand and Han being frozen. Star Wars was a great film; a landmark moment in cinema. But it was fairly lighthearted and driven by imagination more than anything else. Empire is an undeniable classic even the most cynical Star Wars hater has to acknowledge as special. The scene of Han being frozen is the high point in the entire saga. Exceptional mise-en-scene. Vader in control. Chewy pleading for Han to be spared. C-3PO, strapped to Chewy’s back and unable to see anything, providing comic relief. Gorgeously lit and colored, emphasizing the reds that the franchise has has always used to represent evil. Then of course there’s “I love you.”………”I know.”
Verdict: Yes, Empire is the better movie. There’s a reason it’s the film that great sequels are always compared to.
Is The Godfather Part 2 really better than The Godfather?
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 crime epic The Godfather is near the top of every “best movies ever” list for good reason. It transcended just about everything people thought they knew about cinema at that point in time with its own uniquely American aesthetic, and its thematic handling of gangsters (portraying them as a counterculture to a corrupt world rather than a collection of angry villains). The cast is of course exceptional, and nearly every scene of the film has become iconic in its own right. It breezes through its three-hour runtime. So while it’s a bit tiring to hear it always talked about, that’s not the movie’s fault.
The Godfather Part 2, released two years later, was actually the first sequel to draw real acclaim, going on to win the Oscar for Best Picture (like its predecessor). It shares many stylistic similarities with the first film, but a divided narrative (a subplot focusing on the rise of Young Vito) made it very different. Nowadays, many consider Part 2 to be the better film, and a perfect film. I just can’t get on board with that. While Pacino, Duvall, Cazale, Keaton and De Niro are exceptional…the film’s real-time narrative with Michael in Havana is, frankly, sort of boring and insignificant within the context of what makes the film compelling otherwise. During those scenes, I find myself begging to return to De Niro, or to Pacino interacting with his family members. Part 2 is just a bit too ambitious politically for its own good.
Verdict:The Godfather is a perfect film. Every scene matters. The sequel, while very much an amazing work of art, just isn’t as tight or self-aware. So, no, the sequel is not better in this case.
Is Aliens really better than Alien?
For two films that share Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the same species of terrifying extraterrestrial, Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979) and Aliens (dir. James Cameron, 1986) couldn’t be more different. Alien is a close-quarters horror film, drawing much of its tension from its ambiance and what it *doesn’t* show you. Aliens is a balls-to-the-wall action film, preferring to wow you with spectacle and kineticism. Alien is a slow burn while Aliens moves quickly, as any great action movie should. Both films are very much products of their directors. Ridley Scott is a master of careful design. He understands how seemingly minor details such as single musical notes or shadows or close-ups of faces can make a film terrifying. James Cameron is an ambitious innovator. He wants to make the impossible into reality through moviemaking technology and sheer will, certainly proving himself capable of such time and time again.
I have a hard time saying which approach is better for these films, and therefore have a hard time deciding which is the better final product. I probably prefer Scott’s take, maybe because I’ve seen so many movies like Aliens but so few like Alien. But that’s just a personal taste thing.
Verdict: Too close to call, and the aforementioned reasons make this such an odd comparison. Therefore I find it silly to vehemently argue this one either way.
Is Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior really better than Mad Max?
The Mad Max franchise is my favorite collection of movies ever. All four of George Miller’s dystopian action films, including 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, are exceptional. The first film, 1979’s Mad Max, accomplished an awful lot. A huge and surprising financial success worldwide, it established Australia as a hotbed for filmmaking talent and also made Mel Gibson into a global superstar (he’d go on to become one of the most successful action stars ever). The vehicular stunts look spectacular even through a modern lens.
But The Road Warrior is something else; something more. It doubles down on the survivalist mayhem. The vehicles are bigger and louder. The dialogue is more sparse. The desert photography is more epic. The leather costumes now feature a great deal of bondage. The overall punk aesthetic of the film influenced an entire generation of artists. It’s also truly a film of nonstop action, perhaps only matched in raw intensity by Fury Road (if we’re comparing Fury Road to the original trilogy, it certainly bears the most resemblance with The Road Warrior). The Road Warrior is the rare film that actually put a bigger budget to good use. It’s unapologetic action pornography.
Verdict:Mad Max will always hold a place in my heart, but The Road Warrior is, for my money, the greatest action film of all-time. So, yes, the sequel is better.
Is The Dark Knight really better than Batman Begins?
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins remains the finest superhero origin story captured on film. Visually creative and loaded with narrative heft, it really is a thinking man’s Batman movie. While the Tim Burton-Michael Keaton rendition of the classic character was certainly very good, the Nolan-Christian Bale version is something truly major. This was the first comic-book blockbuster to be taken seriously by a cinephile community that is frustratingly pretentious at times (I’m allowed to say that because I’m part of that frustratingly pretentious community).
But let’s not overthink it. The Dark Knight is better. It’s basically Heat but topped with comic-book verve. Gorgeously shot and tightly plotted, the first two hours of TDK never let up. The opening bank robbery and vehicle chase shot on the lower level of Chicago’s Wacker Drive make for two of the finest action sequences ever staged. The story is loaded with moral and emotional complexity. Every performer breathes life into their characters. Heath Ledger deservedly received most of the praise, but how good is Aaron Eckhardt in this movie? The Dark Knight is so fucking good that when it missed out on a Best Picture nomination, public backlash forced the Academy to open the category up to as many as ten nominees.
Verdict: The sequel is better. Don’t be an Armond White. The Dark Knight is as incredible as everyone says.
T2: Judgement Day is NOT better than The Terminator. It may be bigger and more action-packed and loaded with groundbreaking VFX work, but it lacks the intelligence of the first film.
As far as the X-Men go, X2: X-Men United (while very good) is not better than X-Men, and Days of Future Past certainly isn’t better than First Class.
This one is probably obvious, but Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is one of the great superhero films ever and a major step up from the first film.
Not sure if it counts since the entire trilogy was shot together, but The Two Towers is by far the best Lord of the Rings film. It’s one of the best-edited films ever.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Blade II, andSuperman II are all significantly better than their predecessors.
I will probably die alone on this hill but I think The Temple of Doom is the best Indiana Jones movie.
As far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe goes, both Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are much-improved sequels. They’re also the two best movies in the entire franchise thus far.
The Color of Money is harmless but it doesn’t touch The Hustler, and I say that as the world’s biggest Scorsese fan.
It’s damn near impossible to top Jurassic Park, and while The Lost World didn’t come close, I’d be mad at myself if I didn’t mention that insane “trailer hanging over the edge of the cliff” scene, the most brilliant and original action staging since the titular Thunderdome in the third Mad Max movie.
Mostly thanks to a better villain, J.J. Abrams topped his own solid reboot with Star Trek Into Darkness (despite that terrible title).
As awards season heats up, with the first batch of critics prizes already done and SAG ballots out, I take stock of a Best Picture race that’s without a clear frontrunner. That’s not to say it’s a weak field, there’s just no clear battle at the top like there has been the last few years. No Birdman vs Boyhood. No Spotlight vs The Revenant vs The Big Short. No La La Land vs Moonlight. We’ll learn more over the coming weeks as precursors start but it’s already Thanksgiving and Oscar pundits everywhere seem lost.
Despite the wide open nature of the race there are four films that appear to be near-locks for at least a nomination, so I’d like to run through those first and explain why they’re such safe bets. Nine out of the last ten years the people’s choice prize winner at the Toronto International Film Festival has gone on to score a Best Picture nom, and the one that didn’t was a foreign language film. It’s become the most significant Oscar forecaster. This year, in a relative surprise, Martin McDonagh’s black comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri took home the prize. While it’s far from your typical Oscar film and the Academy hasn’t responded to McDonagh’s past work, Fox Searchlight is campaigning it across nearly every major category as their primary pony and it looks like a major threat to win Actress (Frances McDormand), Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell), Original Screenplay (McDonagh), Film Editing (Jon Gregory), and even Original Score (Carter Burwell). If you had to peg a Best Picture frontrunner right now, Three Billboards is the smart choice.
Fox Searchlight has another strong player with Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. A passion project for GDT, said to be a blend of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Beauty and the Beast, it’s played the festival circuit very well and even won the Golden Lion at Venice. Guillermo has always flexed his visual muscle, and he appears to have crafted a story that pulls at the heartstrings as well. However, there is certainly some genre stigma to overcome with it being a blend of fantasy, horror, and classical romance. Its chances of actually winning could come down to how popular it proves once it actually comes out. It’ll pick up at least five nominations nominations, both in major categories and “below-the-line” technical categories, and that could lead to Guillermo winning Best Director while something else wins Best Picture (there’s been a Director/Picture split four of the last five years). Another film that looks like a lock for a nomination in both those categories and a real chance to win in Director is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. The most significant Oscar player from the summer, Nolan’s film is arguably his best work yet as a director and will hit with most technical branches, making it a possibility to pick up the most overall nominations on Oscar morning. Support from those branches combined with the overdue narrative from Nolan never having been nominated as a director before could catapult him to a win. Warner Bros is also giving it a December re-release in IMAX 70mm to ensure that all interested parties see the film in its intended format. I don’t see any scenario where it wins Best Picture, however. The acting branch is the largest of the Academy. Not since Braveheart in 1995 has a film won Best Picture without getting a SAG Ensemble nom. Dunkirk is simply not an “actor’s film”. Perhaps veteran and recent winner Mark Rylance scores a nom. But even then, the film won’t have the passionate support from the most important branch necessary to win.
My final “lock” would be Lady Bird, the exceptional directorial debut of Greta Gerwig. Critically-adored (a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with 146 reviews) and a huge hit with audiences so far, the coming-of-age film is looking like another force to be reckoned with from A24 Films, the hot indie studio who won the big one last year with Moonlight. The film will score two acting nominations (Saoirse Ronan & Laurie Metcalf) and an Original Screenplay nod. It’s also very much a player in editing, cinematography, and director. Maybe it feels too small to win Best Picture, but so did Moonlight.
After those four, there are a handful of really strong bets, but strong bets that have one potentially fatal flaw as far as awards makeup goes. First is Darkest Hour, the film the everyone assumes Gary Oldman (playing Winston Churchill) will win Best Actor for. It has the traditional Oscar DNA as a talky period piece with a juicy performance that’ll resonate both with older voters and the oft-overlooked British sect of the Academy. But the Academy is getting younger and less traditional. I still believe the film will have a strong box office and drum up enough support to get in, but the days of stuff like The King’s Speech dominating the night are over. On the opposite end of this spectrum is the surprising smash hit Get Out, which could make for the most subversive Best Picture nominee ever. There are certainly concerns -genre stigma for both horror and comedy, lack of buzz in the acting categories- but the film’s momentum has held strong throughout the year. It should continue to pick up a ton of critics prizes and will probably win Best Comedy/Musical at the Globes. It’s hard to pick out any places where it’s a real threat outside of screenplay, but this is hugely popular film getting a giant push from a major studio. It doesn’t need to take the traditional path to a nomination.
Call Me By Your Name has been a critical favorite since Sundance, and Sony Pictures Classics believes they may have a winner on their hands. I don’t buy people’s concerns over the subject matter (both the romance between a 24 y/o & 17 y/o being problematic & another “gay” film the year after Moonlight). If voters love the film none of that will matter. But it remains to be seen how the film plays with mass American audiences and Oscar voters. Critics don’t matter as much as we often pretend they do when it comes to industry awards. Another critical darling is The Florida Project, which I have seen and think is very strong, but feels small for a Best Picture run, especially considering A24 has Lady Bird as well. The brilliant but understated filmmaking may not jump out at voters, and the only place it feels like a threat to win is Best Supporting Actor (Willem Dafoe). It certainly could have a nice run with critics prizes and precursors, but other indies seem to have much more buzz right now so I don’t feel too comfortable predicting it despite the fact that it plays as a crowd-pleaser.
The biggest mysteries right now are The Post from Steven Spielberg and Phantom Thread from Paul Thomas Anderson. They won’t hit theatres until the end of December, but will screen for guilds beforehand and are getting screeners sent out in time to qualify for critics awards and major industry precursors like SAG and DGA. Spielberg saw Bridge of Spies score six nominations, and The Post is a more timely historical story given our current president and that it deals with freedom of the press. He has both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in tow this time. There were early rumors of the film having problems in the editing room, but with it getting screeners out in time for SAG, those rumors don’t appear to have any basis in reality. Phantom Thread is a tougher film to assess with Oscar until reviews start rolling in, as Paul Thomas Anderson’s work doesn’t always resonate with the Academy. Inherent Vice didn’t really land with Oscar, and The Master missed out in Best Picture despite THREE acting nominations. But he’s back with Academy favorite Daniel Day-Lewis this time around. Their previous collaboration, There Will Be Blood, scored eight nominations including Best Picture and saw Day-Lewis win. Phantom Thread looks very unique, to say the least, but I don’t doubt PTA or DDL. It’s also the only pony Focus Features has this year, so it’ll surely get an aggressive campaign.
Then there’s All the Money in the World, Ridley Scott’s film that formerly starred Kevin Spacey but saw him replaced with Christopher Plummer and is currently re-shooting hoping to make its Dec. 22nd qualifying release. This is an unprecedented move from Sony, to say the least. I have no idea how to look at it. If it’s good, will it matter? Does the fact that it originally starred Spacey damn it entirely, or will that have the reverse impact and give the film bonus good will? All I know is that he original trailer looked great and that while Ridley is hit-or-miss with Oscar, he hit big as recently as two years ago with The Martian.
There are other films from major studios getting campaigns. Blade Runner 2049 (Warner Bros) received strong reviews but the box office was simply terrible, and genre films really need to emerge as popular hits to have a chance (Arrival, also from Denis Villeneuve, doesn’t get in last year if it doesn’t surprise and put up big numbers). But it’s going to pick up some technical noms and will probably win Roger Deakins his long-deserved cinematography Oscar so you can’t rule it out. Fox is pushing War for the Planet of the Apes. I personally think it’s deserving of a great many noms, but its Oscar upside is likely limited to a victory in Best Visual Effects. The Academy has ignored the franchise to this point. Fox also has a musical starring Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams in The Greatest Showman. While that seems Oscar friendly, early buzz surrounding the film is dreadful.
On the superhero front, there’s been talk about how Logan and Wonder Woman could break through genre stigma and land with Oscar. I don’t buy it as anything more than clickbait fodder, personally. Both films appear much more likely to hit a couple Globe noms and maybe score with PGA like Deadpool did last year. Wonder Woman remains a talking point though and I wouldn’t completely rule it out with Oscar. Love for the film could spill over to a nom in Visual Effects (not deserving imo) or Costume Design (very deserving imo). There’s also an added and very legitimate female empowerment narrative surrounding the film that’s only made more relevant every time a sexual harasser within the industry is exposed. If it wasn’t such a loaded Best Actress race this year, I’d consider Gal Gadot a real threat, which would really help the films chances overall. Logan seems relatively forgotten at this point.
The big wildcard is Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The Force Awakens was much closer to getting a Best Picture nom than you think. It scored five nominations including the very important Best Film Editing, and was a PGA nominee as well. If TLJ ends up being the improved sequel most expect it to be, it certainly is a contender. At the very least it’ll pick up a handful of technical noms like its predecessor. Disney doesn’t have to push it hard. Everyone will see it regardless and it campaigns itself.
Among the dark horses are a few films hoping to ride lead acting contenders to overall Oscar love. A24 Films is already making a strong effort to campaign James Franco for The Disaster Artist, which he also directed. While the film -a comedy telling the story of cult midnight film The Room– is far from traditional Oscar material, it’s in part a love letter to filmmaking that folks in the industry should relate to. Critics already love it. We’ll see if audiences respond. Stronger did not have the box office Lionsgate was hoping for but Jake Gyllenhaal is probably getting nominated and there’s some real love for the film as a whole. It’ll need to surprise with precursors, but I wouldn’t stick a fork in it just yet. Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin featuring an acclaimed Jessica Chastain performance, played well at Toronto and is now closing AFI Fest. It could be a late riser like Lion and Hidden Figures last year, or it could be just a screenplay contender. Wonder may be overly sentimental but that hasn’t stopped a great many films from hitting with Oscar. It had a huge opening weekend and Lionsgate should recognize what they have and push the film and Julia Roberts as this year’s Lion/Nicole Kidman.
Some lesser-known distributors are hoping to break through. NEON is a new company but they seem to have a real contender in I, Tonya, which is likely looking at nominations for both Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. The Tonya Harding biopic is another film that surprised on the festival circuit and it’s stylistically different from anything else in the race this year. Can NEON score the film a SAG Ensemble nom? Getting the actors to bite is key. Hostiles, a challenging and violent western from rising director Scott Cooper, was picked up last minute by Entertainment Studios. It isn’t typical Oscar material but it features an acclaimed Christian Bale performance and Oscar absolutely loves him. Also, Netflix has their best chance yet at major nominations with Dee Rees’ Mudbound, but there’s still a huge hurdle for the company to jump and the film doesn’t appear to be playing as well with general audiences as it did with critics at Sundance. I’ll believe it’s got a real shot if it gets a SAG Ensemble nom.
A great many assumed contenders appear dead in the water. Wind River has strong box office, solid reviews, and features a powerhouse Jeremy Renner performance…but it’s mostly been forgotten and no matter how hard writer/director Taylor Sheridan tries, it’s tough to separate the film from Harvey Weinstein. Annapurna Pictures is trying to get Detroit back in play with a re-release, but the passion for the film just isn’t there and it’s got some potentially messy racial commentary attached to its third act. Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying has a big-name cast but hasn’t opened well or sparked much passion with anyone. It’ll need a surprising late boost. Along with that film, Amazon Studios co-distributed The Big Sick, which proved surprisingly popular on top of critical acclaim. It’s a crowd-pleaser but the momentum seems to have really slowed down and I don’t see it competing anywhere outside of screenplay. Maybe critics groups can push it back into the discussion over the next few weeks. We’ll see. Breathe has not received good reviews and is being called pure Oscar bait. Wonder Wheel has not received good reviews and is directed by Woody Allen. Downsizing and Wonderstruck are ambitious films from beloved directors (Alexander Payne and Todd Haynes, respectively) but neither are said to be anything special as experiments. Battle of the Sexes has Emma Stone and Steve Carrel, and it certainly tried on the festival circuit, but the reviews are just okay and Fox Searchlight already seems to be forgetting about it in favor of Three Billboards and The Shape of Water. Darren Aronofsky has hit before with Oscar, but mother! has proven very divisive and didn’t do anything at the box office. It has Jennifer Lawrence and I think it’s possible the DGA will acknowledge the ambition and cite Aronofsky. Maybe it can get some late momentum but it’ll be awfully difficult for Paramount to get it major love.
Anyways, that’s my commentary for now. I’ll do a similar post looking at the acting categories sometime over the next week.
As Oscar season gets into gear, I’ll be posting a bunch of Oscar-related content, both past and present. Here is a list of 50 great performers who’ve never been nominated, ordered alphabetically by first name. I tried to keep it current with folks who are somewhat active today and could very well be in for their first nom soon.
Adam Driver: Driver’s understated work in last year’s Paterson is one of the great screen performances I’ve ever seen, but I’m not going to get too upset about him being snubbed because his rising Star Wars fame makes it extremely likely he gets in for his next great performance. Perhaps Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote next year?
Anthony Mackie: I’m not sure how the hell Mackie hasn’t been nominated yet. He’s very talented, famous, handsome, and works interviews well. He was also every bit as good as his nominated co-star (Jeremy Renner) in The Hurt Locker. He just hasn’t really gotten any juicy, awardsy roles since. Fix that please, Hollywood producers.
Aubrey Plaza: Don’t laugh, she’s much more than just a deadpan comedy star. Performances in films like Safety Not Guaranteed and Ingrid Goes West prove such. She can bring it, and if she steps away from the mumblecore stuff for a bit, the Academy will see that.
Ben Foster: There may not be a better character actor working right now. Nobody does unhinged-but-still-human better than Ben Foster. 3:10 to Yuma, Alpha Dog, Hell or High Water…the list goes on. The latter of those three was a Best Picture nominee last year and he still couldn’t get in despite picking up a handful of critics awards. Ugh.
Brendan Gleeson: He’s either won or been nominated for virtually ever other major acting award there is; so Oscar continually ignoring his work is on them, not him. It’s starting to feel like one of his kids is going to get a nom before he does. I like Domhnall though, so that’s cool I guess.
Bruce Willis: Sure, he’s starred in some really bad movies, but so have plenty of other Oscar favorites. That shouldn’t erase his great performances, like being the best part of Pulp Fiction, for example.
Channing Tatum: The cinephile community continues to ignore just how good Tatum is. Maybe it’s because he was mostly cast in meathead, show-off-your-chest roles early in his career. But his Soderbergh collabs, hilarious work in the Jump Street movies, and all-in performance in Foxcatcher have proved he’s a great actor. He just needs people to stop seeing him as the guy from Step Up.
Chris Pine: Those dreamy eyes and chiseled jawline are both a blessing and a curse, as Pine is actually a versatile character actor trapped in a prototypical leading man’s body. He’s good in everything, whether it be lifting an otherwise bad movie like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, or deftly blending in with his co-stars and scenery in something more serious like Hell or High Water.
Colin Farrell: Colin suffers (or, suffered) from the same curse as Pine. When he came up, Hollywood tried to make him their next Tom Cruise. But he’s not an action hero or leading man. He’s a remarkably unique actor capable of communicating deep depression and hilarity in the same line. I don’t think anyone else could’ve made films like In Bruges and The Lobster work.
Danny Glover: Glover has been such a staple in Hollywood for nearly four decades that people often forget about him. He just, is. While he doesn’t have that one performance that jumps out in an “how was he not nominated for that?” sort of way, his prolific filmography should be more than enough to get him noticed by a branch that often hands out career achievement awards disguised as nominations.
Donald Sutherland: I’m dead serious. Donald Sutherland, star of M*A*S*H and Klute and a dozen other classics, has never been nominated for an Oscar (8 Golden Globes though). At least the Academy has realized how wrong they are and decided to give him a Lifetime Achievement Awards this year.
Emily Blunt: This is starting to get ridiculous. You can probably count on one hand the actresses who’ve been more prolific than Emily Blunt over the last fifteen years. She can do it all; whether that be stealing scenes from Streep and Hathaway, making Tom Cruise seem like a sidekick in an action movie, or keeping an overly gritty film like Sicario human. Goddamnit, how does Emily Blunt not have a nomination?
Elizabeth Banks: She’s coming for one soon as she continues to break out of her comedy shell. Her work two years ago in Love & Mercy managed to stand out even surrounding by great actors like Cusack, Giamatti, and Dano. She’s also proven herself a capable director.
Elizabeth Olsen: The most talented Olsen sister has quietly become one of the most consistent working actresses. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a landmark performance for which she should’ve been nominated. She’s a scene-stealer in the Marvel movies. And she was great this year in Wind River. Still just 28, she’ll surely get one.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw: If Gugu isn’t a household name yet, she will be by this time 2018, after starring in two likely blockbusters (God Particle, A Wrinkle In Time). Her performances in both Belle and Beyond the Lights were nomination-worthy, the film’s just failed to land with general audiences. Her most notable work probably came in the Emmy-winning Black Mirror episode “San Junipero”. Like with Olsen, it feels like a foregone conclusion that she’ll get one sometime over the next five years.
Idris Elba: Hollywood producers have never really understood how to use Idris Elba. It’s not a coincidence that’s his best work has come on TV, although, he was certainly deserving of all the praise he received for Beasts of No Nation. It appears this could change this year, as he’s in the thick of the Best Supporting Actor race yet again for Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game.
Jamie Lee-Curtis: Like with Sutherland or Glover, what can you really say at this point? Few people have given greater contributions to the medium of cinema over the last 40 years.
Jeff Goldblum: Perhaps he’s become more well known in recent years for his unique style of ranting than for his actual acting talent, but Goldblum can bring it. Just watch The Big Chill or The Fly if you don’t believe me. Goldblum needs a director to tailor a flashy supporting role in a Best Picture nominee to his talents, like what Whiplash did for J.K. Simmons.
Jim Carrey: Carrey proved himself as a dramatic actor years ago with films like The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Him missing for the latter is one of the worst Oscar snubs of the century so far. Since then, he hasn’t really *tried* to do something that would resonate with Oscar, which is fine, but if he wants one, he has to choose better/different scripts.
Joel Edgerton: Edgerton continues to churn out quality work in good films that can’t quite land with the Academy (his Loving co-star Ruth Negga got a nomination, but the film was snubbed beyond that). Focus Features is gearing up for an Oscar run with Boy Erased next year. It’s Edgerton’s latest directorial effort, but he’s not acting in this one. Maybe that’s where he finally finds Oscar love?
John Goodman: WHO DO I HAVE TO FUCK FOR GOODMAN TO GET AN OSCAR NOMINATION? Seriously, when you think of the term “best supporting actor”, is he not the first name that comes to mind? Pick your favorite Goodman role in a Coen Bros movie, and it’s more than a worthy performance.
John Turtorro: Yet another Coen muse named John who’s been grossly ignored by the Academy. Turturro is an actor who lifts every film he is in, even the dreadful Transformers movies.
Keanu Reeves: While his highest-profile work has come in action movies, Keanu has also proven himself time and time again a great dramatic performer. My Own Private Idaho drew raves mostly for the work of the late River Phoenix, but Keanu was every bit as good.
Kerry Washington: Everyone knows how great Washington is. She’s become very, very popular thanks to her work on Scandal. Now it’s just about finding the right role in an Oscar-friendly film. Some though that may be Django Unchained, but her character ended up sitting almost the whole movie out.
Kevin Bacon: Another performer whose lack of a nomination is genuinenly shocking. You can probably pick out 10+ Kevin Bacon turns that are worthy of awards attention. For a recent great Bacon performance, check out Cop Car (2015).
Kirsten Dunst: Maybe her frustrating work in the Spider-Man movies left a bad taste in the mouths of many, or maybe it’s just that her best performances come in art films that aren’t really in the Academy’s wheelhouse? I don’t know, but nobody as good as Dunst was in Marie Antoinette or Melancholia should be without an Oscar nomination.
Kristen Stewart: Ever since her Twilight duties ended, K-Stew has turned in exceptional performance after exceptional performance. She works with great directors. It’s probably a matter of being in something a bit more commercially friendly.
Kurt Russell: One of the great pure movie stars of all-time has never gotten his proper due as a serious actor. Perhaps he’ll find an old man role that can bring him one. We thought it may be The Hateful Eight, but some of his co-stars outshined him. He doesn’t currently have anything in the pipeline.
Léa Seydoux: Seydoux was so unbelievably good in Blue is the Warmest Colout, but it’s not very surprising the lengthy French romance didn’t land with Oscar. She’s a rising name though thanks to her appearances in major franchises such as Bond and Mission: Impossible, so perhaps her next transcendent work will have more American eyes on it.
Margot Robbie: Robbie’s sudden rise to the top of the game has been fascinating. It’s really been the result of just two roles; a seductive Brooklynite in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and the iconic Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. While those two films unfortunately portrayed Robbie’s character as little more than a sex object, she’s proven her dramatic capabilities in Z for Zachariah and (reportedly) in I, Tonya, which many pundits expect to land her a nomination this year.
Maria Bello: All Bello does is churn out quality work. It’s crazy she wasn’t nominated for either The Cooler or A History of Violence.
Martin Sheen: Insane. The star of Badlands and Apocalypse Now, two landmarks in American cinema, has never been nominated for an Oscar (though he’s picked up a slew of Emmys and Globes for The West Wing). He’s also turned in a handful of strong support performances. At 77, the clock is, unfortunately, ticking. He’s playing Oral Roberts in a Netflix film coming next year. Maybe that’s the one?
Michael B. Jordan: Another guy who feels destined to be nominated sooner rather than later. He did deserving work in both Fruitvale Station and Creed, but neither film got a real awards push from their distributors. Once he finishes his duties for Creed II, expect him to find a project that’ll get him back in the awards discussion.
Michael Peña: Peña is one of the most versatile actors working today. He can be hilarious (Ant-Man, Observe and Report). He can be heartbreaking (he gave the best turn in Crash, a Best Picture winner). He can act next to huge movie stars and not get outshined (End of Watch with Gyllenhaal, Fury with Pitt). He’s another Michael who feels destined to get one soon. Maybe for the War in Afghanistan drama Horse Soldiers from Warner Bros next year?
Miles Teller: Miles Teller has been compared to a young Brando; both for his acting chops and the fact that he doesn’t appear to mind coming off as an asshole. That type of PR can work both ways. Whiplash saw an awards-worthy performance out of Teller, but all attention and campaign dollars were directed at J.K. Simmons.
Nicholas Hoult: Some questionable role choices in bad franchises have held Hoult back, but he can act. He was a standout in Mad Max: Fury Road, and he’s got a juicy role in the new Yorgos Lanthimos film coming next year.
Pam Grier: Most of her notable work came in 70s genre film, which never had a chance with Oscar, but Jackie Brown certainly should have. She held that rather crazy narrative together. Unfortunately, Greer doesn’t really work anymore and seems comfortable with her legacy. But if she does step back into serious work, I’d expect Oscar to take note.
Paul Dano: The fact that this didn’t happen after There Will Be Blood or Love & Mercy makes me think it never will. Maybe Oscar just doesn’t really know or care who Dano is. But he’s one of the very finest actors of his generation. I have no doubts he’ll give a dozen more worthy performances.
Peter Sarsgaard: Shattered Glass, An Education, Jackie. Get this man a damn nomination, please. He’s perhaps the most underrated actor working today.
Ray Liotta: I’d like to take a second to note how ridiculous it is that Liotta wasn’t nominated for Goodfellas, one of the great lead performances ever. Surrounded by flashier work, Liotta holds the film together with his enthusiastic turned paranoid performance. He does what DiCaprio did in The Wolf of Wall Street, but more human. He’s also done some very good supporting work since (The Place Beyond the Pines, Killing Them Softly).
Rebecca Hall: Hall’s work in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Christine make for two of the best performances of this century. She understands the subtleties of her characters, and how to communicate them without speaking. She’s an automatic must-watch for me, as I’ve never not seen her lift a movie. She’s gonna be in Woody Allen’s 2018 film, maybe that’s the one? Allen directed her best performance in the aforementioned Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Regina King: We as a collective need to stop under-using and underappreciating Regina King. Much of her major work has come on TV, but roles in Jerry Maguire and Ray should’ve garnered her more attention.
Robin Wright: Ever since she broke out with The Princess Bride, Wright has struggled to resonate with Oscar despite some really strong supporting work. Her stock is higher than ever thanks to House of Cards and Wonder Woman. Maybe her next turn in a prestige film will do the trick.
Rosario Dawson: While she’s known nowadays for the Marvel/Netflix shows and problematic comments, Dawson has proven herself a great actress. She gave a powerhouse performance in Kids at the age of just fifteen. #MakeRosarioDawsonGreatAgain.
Rose Byrne: She’s just so consistently great, whether it be in comedy or drama. I’d cite Paul Feig’s Spy as the clearest example. She shows up and steals the show from a very talented cast. She was also great opposite Susan Sarandon in The Meddler last year.
Sam Rockwell: Perhaps the most consistently electric character actor of today appears to finally be in for his first nomination courtesy of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Scarlett Johansson: Crazy that ScarJo hasn’t been nominated. Despite still being just 32, she’s been one of the most prominent and acclaimed actresses of the last fifteen years, ever since her should’ve-been-nominated breakout turn in Lost in Translation. Films like A Love Song for Bobby Long, Under the Skin, and even her voice work in Her shouldve garnered more awards attention.
Shailene Woodley: How Jennifer Lawrence has 4 nominations while Woolley has 0 is beyond me. The Descendants, The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars. Whew. That’s a damn fine trio of performances for such a young actress. Bonus points for holding her own opposite three titans of the field on Big Little Lies.
Steve Buscemi: William H. Macy and Frances McDormand certainly deserved their nominations for Fargo, but Buscemi should’ve been nominated too. And for Mystery Train. And for Reservoir Dogs. And for Ghost World. AND FOR CON-AIR.
Oscar Isaac: I 100% buy the young Pacino hype. Oscar Isaac is incredible. His work in Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year, and Ex Machina make for some of the best turns of this decade. All three should’ve been cited. Thanks to Star Wars fame, his next great turn likely will be.
It’s October. Fall Film Festival season is essentially over (there are still a couple notable NYFF and AFI Fest premieres, but mostly everything has been seen). That means it’s officially awards season in the cinephile community, much to the chagrin of some. I follow and track the Oscars year round hoping to get a leg up on the competition when it comes to predicting and gambling. I did well last year if I may toot my own horn (8 of 9 best picture nominee, 18 of 20 acting nominees). In this post, I get weird and ask myself questions designed to help you follow awards season.
I’m doing things a bit differently this year. Rather than post actual predictions and analysis on this blog, I’m doing them on this GOOGLE SHEET. It’ll be easier for me to update and for you to follow along.
This is a rather long post, so let’s get started. Feel free to jump around as the questions aren’t posed in any particluar order.
#1) Which, if any, early year/summer hits will actual factor into the Best Picture race?
Modern conventional Oscar wisdom is relatively simple; distributors hit the fall festival circuit with their top horses, then position them as limited October/November/December releases that slowly expand as awards season heats up. There’s sometimes room for a hot Sundance buy or popular foreign film in the field (though those films usually play the festivals as well). But every now and then there’s a studio film from the year’s first half that sustains hype and plays a major role in the race. Take recent examples Mad Max: Fury Road (a May release) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (a March release), which went onto ten and nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture nods, respectively. Could there be an already-seen juggernaut lurking this year?
Dunkirk is the most likely to last the season. Christopher Nolan’s latest (and possibly greatest) blurs the line between commercial mass-market entertainment and more typical prestigious filmmaking the Academy tends to favor. Oscar also loves them some WWII. Dunkirk will fight for the most overall noms on Oscar morning thanks to the support it’ll get from “below-the-line” branches such as the cinematographers and sound editors. It surely won’t win Best Picture, but looks like a lock for a nomination unless Warner Bros really fucks up the campaign.
Elsewhere, for all the deserved talk about its importance and Oscar campaign, Wonder Woman is looking less and less likely to be a factor everyday. Oscar pundits fell for the early year blues yet again. We talked about Wonder Woman mostly because there was nothing else to talk about. Now that other contenders have emerged, and Warner Bros has both Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 to work, Wonder Woman looks like a PGA/Golden Globes player at best. It’s not your fault fanboys (girls, too) and overzealous Oscar prognosticators…we fell for the same trap last year with Deadpool.
Also on the superhero front is Logan, which Fox has been working all year and supposedly already sent out screeners for. It’s a very popular film and certainly has its Oscar merits (Marco Beltrami’s film-carrying score, Patrick Stewart’s vulnerable supporting turn) but like with every other film named after a comic-book character, Oscar isn’t ready to embrace it just yet.
I adored Get Out but it has serious genre stigma to overcome and has fun laughing at old, white, wealthy, half-woke liberal archetypes who still fill up the majority of the Academy despite the organization’s best efforts the last two years. Universal’s best chance for the film remains Jordan Peele’s screenplay. The Big Sick (Amazon Studios) also sees its best chances come via writing, but unlike Get Out, it’s managed to sustain buzz all year. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are both players in supporting acting races. If other assumed contenders falter, the film could make Best Picture noise.
#2) What are the Sundance darlings that will emerge as Oscar players?
There is almost always a film that premieres at Sundance in February then goes on to battle the big boys all year on its way to a Best Picture nom. 2012 was the last time such wasn’t the case. Now, the film(s) that becomes a contender isn’t always the one we expect immediately following the ‘Dance (last year, mostly in response to #OscarsSoWhite, everyone labeled The Birth of a Nation an Oscar frontrunner at Sundance. But then Nate Parker got exposed, and more people actually saw the not-very-good film. Manchester by the Sea, another Sundance hit, went on to score a BP nom). This year’s Sundance films with real Oscar hopes include:
Novitiate, a very small film even by Sundance standards, but one purchased by Sony Pictures Classics with intention of the great Melissa Leo winning Best Supporting Actress.
The Big Sick, Get Out, and Wind River all premiered out-of-competition at Sundance and all have varying screenplay hopes.
Mudbound premiered to acclaim, and was then scooped up by Netflix. Many are saying it’s the film that’ll finally see the streaming company break through into major awards categories.
And then there’s Call Me By Your Name. Sony Pictures Classics appears to have a major Oscar player on its hands, and I’d even go as far as to say it’s more likely than not that it gets a BP nom. Critics certainly love it; actors will too. Althout it is suffering from lazy and unfavorable comparisons to Moonlight due to its subject matter.
#3) Is it Gary Oldman’s Oscar to lose?
Probably, yes. All the stars are alinging to Oldman in Lead Actor. He’s playing Winston Churchill in a BP contender (Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright). He’s got a strong overdue narrative as a popular actor who’s never won before (and with just one nomination, somehow). He’sbeen labeled as a must-see frontrunner for all voters to an extent only matched by Leonardo DiCaprio and Julianne Moore in recent years.
Oldman is very much the favorite, but there are a few upset possiblities, naturally. Don’t rule out the also-overdue Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger), rising star Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), or the legend himself Daniel Day-Lewis (still untitiled Paul Thomas Anderson film).
#4) Can new distributors break through?
A couple of distribution companies with no awards campaign experience picked up some Oscar hopefuls at the last minute on the festival circuit. Enterainment Studios grabbed Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, whoch stars Academy favorite Christian Bale. I, Tonya, which sparked Oscar buzz for Margot Robbie & Allison Janney at TIFF, was scooped up by Neon. Just because a distributor is new doesn’t mean it can’t run a great campaign. A24 Films saw Moonlight WIN BP just three years after the company started distributing films.
#5) What impact will the continued changes to Academy membership have on this year’s race?
For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) broke its own record for new member invites. This year sees 774 new invitees (i.e. Oscar voters) added to the pack. This is part of the Academy’s continued effort to get more diverse in terms of race, gender, and -most significantly in terms of film tastes- AGE. The changes come in part as a response to #OscarsSoWhite from a couple years ago, a legitimate but misdirected gripe aimed at the Academy (a union, more or less) rather than the actual industry responsible for the problematic hiring practices.
39% of new members are female. 30% of new members are people of color (though POC still represent just 13% of the overall Academy, a staggeringly low figure). The acting branch, the largest and therefore most powerful subset of the Academy, saw many big names added. Donald Glover, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Naomie Harris, Margot Robbie, all the Marvel Chris’ (Pratt/Evans/Hemsworth)…just to name a few. This isn’t a battle that’s going to be won overnight seeing as there’s about a century of ugly history to fight against, and even Moonlight winning last year is more of an outlier than a sign of actual change. But it’s encouraging to see AMPAS -who have the inherently difficult task of representing an industry that struggles so much with representation- at least trying.
Also, AMPAS is reportedly taking away voting privileges from some old folks who haven’t worked in years.
#6) Speaking of diversity, are this year’s acting races really that white again?
They sure are. I’d like to reiterate that Oscar isn’t to blame for what’ll likely be another nomination morning filled with mostly white English names. Oscar reacts to and judges what is presented to them. If the studios and production companies either don’t make films with POC or don’t handle their POC-driven films in an Oscar-friendly way, I’m not sure what you can expect the Academy to do.
A few non-white names to keep an eye on this year, though I wouldn’t feel good about betting on any of them right now:
Idris Elba, playing Jessica Chastain’s attorney in Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin.
Downsizing scene-stealer Hong Chau, who’d be a shoe-in if the film had played festivals better.
Octavia Spencer is in likely BP nominee The Shape of Water, but most praise for the film has been directed at other cast members.
Always a threat and a nominee last year, Denzel Washington is said to be great in Roman J. Israel, Esq., if only word for the film as a whole was as kind. But hey, he got in for the god-awful Flight.
Jason Mitchell broke out two years ago with Straight Outta Compton and is said to be the best performer in BP hopeful Mudbound.
#7) Is it FINALLY Roger Deakins’ year?
Once DiCaprio won his, the biggest overdue narrative amongst Oscar fans shifted to Roger Deakins, the now legendary cinematographer and thirteen-time nominee who’s back in the race this year, having shot Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. If you’re not familar with his name somehow, google his filmography. I guarantee he’s shot one of your favorites.
His work on 2049 is arguably the most praised element of a critically-adored film that’ll factor in everywhere below-the-line with Oscar. One of his prior Villeneuve collabs, the exceptional Prisoners, netted him a nom. There are certainly other deserving contenders –Hoyte van Hoytema’s work on Dunkirk is stunning, and the great Vittorio Storaro appears to have shot Wonder Wheel exquisetly- but it still looks like Deakins’ award. Bet the house on him. He’s the winner I’m most confident in right now; even more so than Oldman.
#8) What’s up with The Weinstein Company?
Harvey Weinstein, through both Miramix and his current self-titled company, was once the Oscar game’s King Midas. He could buy a middling film after a mediocre festival premiere, take his scissors to its liberal running time, and then campaign it to a slew of nominations. But TWC has struggled a bit in recent years. Lion snuck into BP last year, snapping a year-long skid for the company that included high-profile BP misses Carol and The Hateful Eight (both would’ve been deserving, I might add). TWC hasn’t won the big prize since The King’s Speech, which feels like decades ago given how much awards season has changed. All of this comes amidst continuing reports of financial struggles for the company, though it’s not as if TWC isn’t trying because they can’t afford to.
The company looks hopeless in the BP race yet again this year. Garth Davis, who directed Lion, saw his already controversial film Mary Magdalene pushed back to 2018. Wind River has had a nice box office run, but it isn’t this year’s Hell or High Water. The critical love just isn’t there. The Current War, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon, has had bad buzz surrounding it for over a year and premiered at TIFF to boos and harsh reviews. It’s dead on arrival.
#10) Just how loaded is the Best Actress race?
Loaded, as loaded as any race I’ve seen since following the Oscars (~11 years now). Here are just some of the names of previously-nominated ladies who’ve had their films seen and already labeled as contenders:
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul), Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game), Jennifer Lawrence (mother!), Annette Bening (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool), Carey Mulligan (Mudbound), Nicole Kidman (The Beguiled).
Then there’s relative youngin’s Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), and Claire Foy (Breathe). Then there’s unseen but highly-anticipated work from Oscar favorite entering the race (Meryl Streep in The Post, Kate Winslet in Wonder Wheel).
Like I said, loaded.
#11) Can any currently unseen studio films surprise and enter the race at the last minute, a la The Big Short?
Of course, I’d even wager that there will at least one BP nominee that nobody has seen yet. The hard part is forecasting which one. AFI Fest in early November is traditionally the last jumping off point in terms of festivals, but oftentimes last-minute contenders aren’t ready in time and have to work the Oscars without a festival boost. These films usually come from major studios with deep pockets though, so building buzz isn’t a huge issue.
The most obvious possibility this year is Fox’s The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks & Meryl Streep. On top of the film’s Oscar pedigree (Spielberg’s usual craft team is in tow) it’s a historical drama whose freedom-of-the-press themes are very timely, for obvious reasons.
Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World has a great cast, a great trailer, and Sony subsidiary TriStar Pictures is having the film make its debut at AFI Fest. Ridley is hit-or-miss with the Academy, but he hit big as recently as The Martian.
Also, dealing with the 2015 Thalys train terrorist attack, Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris stars its actual subjects as themselves and seems very interesting. It started shooting in mid-July, so while it being done in time is far from a guarantee, I wouldn’t bet against the uber-efficient Eastwood.
#12) Any chance we see a “lone director” nom this year?
– The “lone director” refers to when a filmmaker is nominated in Best Director despite his or her film missing out on a Best Picture nod.
As the directors branch grows, the possibility of a lone director nom becomes less likely. A small group of directors who really love a specific film or filmmaker don’t have the same power they used to. The tastes of the branch continue to inch closer to the tastes of the overall Academy. The last time we saw a lone director was three years ago with Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher). Before that, you have to go back ten years to get one (Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).
Even with a wide-open BP race, it’s hard to see a lone director happening this year. The best bet is probably Paul Thomas Anderson, a respected filmmaker whose work is often a bit strange for general Academy/BP tastes (for example, The Master didn’t get a BP nom despite THREE acting noms). His still untitled 1950’s Londo couture drama satrs Daniel Day-Lewis and will get a Christmas release from Focus Features.
#13) How come the screenplay categories seem so inbalanced this year?
No real reason, it just so happens that the vast majority of BP players this year come from original screenplays rather than adapted ones. Perhaps an open Best Adapted Screenplay race could result in an out-of-left-field nominee like The Beguiled, The Disaster Artist, or even Logan.
#14) So what exactly is the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing with Oscar?
It’s simple enough. Best Sound Editing (preveiously called Best Sound Effects) is an award for exactly that; sound effects, or non-dialogue/music created sounds for a film. Best Sound Mixing awards the cominbing and blending of all sounds in a film, including the sound effects that are awarded in editing.
Common confusion between the two stems from there being so much overlap in nominees between the two categories. Last year, three films (Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Arrival) were nominated in both places. The year before that, four film were nominated in both.
#15) The last couple years have seen FOUR first-time Best Director nominees each, can we expect the same this year?
Probably not, though the changes to the Academy certainly make it more likely. The directors branch is a very old branch that prefers to nominate fellow veterans. They really make you earn it for years, usually across at least five films, before they notice you. Damien Chazelle (La La Land) made for the younges winner ever at 32.
New films from big, previously nominated names such as Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve, Ridley Scott, and Clint Eastwood make it unlikely we’ll see four cherries popped again, but two or three is certainly possible. Keep an eye on:
Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), who has somehow never been nominated as a driector.
Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name)
Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Joe Wright (The Darkest Hour)
Sean Baker (The Florida Project)
Those five all helm BP contenders and look like decent bets right now (in descending order).
#16) Is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a Best Picture lock?
I hesitate to use the word “lock” with something I haven’t personally seen yet, but recent history suggests that it is. The latest from Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF. Eight of the last nine winners of that prize have gone on to score BP noms, and the one that didn’t was Where Do We Go Now?, a Lebenase film.
#17) Who’s the frontrunner in a fascinating Best Visual Effects race?
It really is going to be an interesting race, unlike last year, where nothing was touching The Jungle Book (and deservedly so). For much of the year, War for the Planet of the Apeswas considered the heavy favorite given its groundbreaking mo-cap work and the fact that the franchise has never won the award before (the second one losing to Interstellar still stings three years later). But then Blade Runner 2049 premiered, and it’s even more of a visual treat than folks anticipated. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is of course a formidable contender, as is The Shape of Water. We saw that “best visual effects =/= most visual effects) with Ex Machina winning a couple years ago. So while Guillermo del Toro’s film may be a bit more understated in the VFX department, the VFX he does employ may be scene as absolutely essential to his story. These four all look like locks for a nomination. One of them will win. I’m still leaning Apes until I see the other films.
As for the fifth nomination…it probably comes down to the Marvel trio (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming”, and Thor: Ragnorak), the practical VFX driven Dunkirk, or Wonder Woman (which has bad VFX for my money but is a popular film people will want to see cited somehwere).
#18) What’s a film nobody is really considering right now that could surprise on Oscar morning?
Here’s a dark horse for ya’….The Disaster Artist. The dramedy from A24 Films (who took Moonlight all the way) is directed by and stars previous Oscar nominee James Franco. It tells the story of the making of the historically awful film The Room. It drew raves at both SXSW and TIFF, and pundits have started putting Franco’s name on Best Actor lists. I can’t say much more until I actually see it when it comes out in December, and perhaps it’ll be too silly, but it seems like a film that’ll really play to the tastes of industry folks, and with the very-popular Franco at the center of it, you never know.
#19) Is that little movie called Star Wars: The Last Jedi a real Best Picture threat?
I fully believe it is. If it’s the Empire to TFA’s A New Hope, which I think it may be with the great Rian Johnson at the helm, it’ll be in the discussion. I don’t think people realize just how close The Force Awakens was to a BP nom two years ago. It received a PGA best film nom and an Oscar nom for Best Film Editing, two of the awards that most often go hand-in-hand with BP. It also received four other Oscar noms, winning best VFX.
Star Wars is the one franchise that doesn’t really suffer from franchise/sequel stigma when it comes to reviewers and industry tastes. The Academy doesn’t view these films like Transformers movies or Marvel movies.
#20) What events should you follow throughout Awards Season to keep up with everything?
To some, awards season begins on Oscar nomination morning. For us obsessives, the real fun is the road leading up to Oscar. Predicting nominations is the most fun and (relatively) challenging part. Here are some important dates along the way: