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Best Picture – An Early Look at the Landscape

The Oscar race will be a strange one this year. In some respects it will be business as usual, as the critics, the bloggers, and ultimately the industry hunt down the year’s best.

In other respects, we are adrift amid a sea of criticism in the wake of Harvey Weinstein, fighting for some kind of power under the Trump administration. Our outrage machine is well intact on Twitter, which ensures any film coming down the pike will face the gauntlet. That means all productions will be scrutinized for any potential offenses – the actors, anyone involved will also be carefully vetted. Shitstorm after shitstorm. How that ultimately impacts the race, though, who can say. Last year Three Billboards was taken out, and the year before it was La La Land (although who knows if the controversies were the reason for that or not).

There is this idea that art must reflect a kind of purist ideal where no single person is offended for any reason. It’s a strange way to judge art but there it is. That means when seeking out films for the Oscar race it will be necessary to do a “shitstorm check.” When I first saw Three Billboards I didn’t pick on the thing that would ultimately bring it down but I did note that it was potentially a shitstorm in the making for various other reasons. No one else seemed to agree. The shitstorm blossomed later on, once the film started winning stuff. The more attention a film gets and the more awards it wins, the higher the scrutiny on it, as though a single movie can be a massive political statement that tells the world who we are and not just, you know, a movie.

We’re just a couple of months out from the Telluride Film Fest. As summer comes to an end, the bloggers make their exodus to the mountains of Colorado to scout for this year’s Best Picture slate. The Venice Film Festival takes place roughly at the same time. A movie can hit big at either fest and do well. How has it gone so far?

2017 — The Shape of Water, Venice/Telluride
2016 — Moonlight, Telluride
2015 — Spotlight, Venice/Telluride
2014 — Birdman, Venice/Telluride
2013 — 12 Years a Slave, Telluride
2012 — Argo, Telluride
2011 — The Artist, Cannes (and then everywhere else)
2010 — The King’s Speech, Telluride
2009 — The Hurt Locker, Toronto (the year prior)

Every year the conversation revolves around the film that didn’t play the festival circuit, like whether or not a movie like The Revenant could break the Telluride streak. So far, it hasn’t happened since 2012. There is going to be that one year when a movie finally does do it. We just don’t know when.

Skipping around the internet I wanted to look at what films are rumbling around that might head to the Oscar race this year. I looked at AwardsWatch‘s well maintained lists and at Collider‘s from March. I looked at Hollywood-Elsewhere‘s Oscar Balloon. I looked at Kris Tapley’s and Jenelle’s Reilly’s column on the Oscar race so far. I looked at the release dates of upcoming movies (which can change). There are films on our radar and films that aren’t.

The good news is that there are a few films that potentially feature leading roles for women of color, like Widows and If Beale Street Could Talk. There are plenty of films directed by women that could be in the race (which is exciting), like Mary Queen of Scots, On the Basis of Sex, What They Had, and Can You Ever Forgive Me? Chloe Zhao’s The Rider has already been released. The landscape for women looks promising all around for women behind and in front of the camera.

But let’s start with any film that has been seen. Of the films that have played festivals or opened theatrically, I’d say there are two prominent possibilities, but really probably only one. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther ought to be seriously considered for Best Picture, though it will probably only get in if it’s a weak year. Some have said it is a weak year, some have said it isn’t. We can’t know until September rolls around. Black Panther broke new ground by not just being the first superhero movie with all-black cast, many of whom are women, but also making so much money it now sits at number three all-time at the domestic box office behind only The Force Awakens and Avatar. Black Panther is a worthy film to be the first superhero nominated for Best Picture, but don’t hold your breath. This Academy continues to reject the franchise tsunami taking over movie theaters.

Paul Schrader’s First Reformed has cut through the noise and appears to be a film that could land in more than a few number one slots. Schrader is one of the few cinematic lions we have around at all who will have films in this year’s race. It could see nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Screenplay, Best Actor.

Another that might get some attention is The Wife, starring Glenn Close, although that is probably more a Best Actress showcase.

Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born and Damien Chazelle’s First Man are both being screened here and there and thus being buzzed here and there, though there is nothing official yet. Naturally, buzz at this stage would be carefully managed, and thus, generally positive.

As it stands right now, the Best Picture race is probably going to involve films seen around September on. So what have we got? We’ve got several documentaries making a splash, including The Notorious RBG, Whitney, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Three Identical Strangers — and there will be more, a lot more.

But as far as the Best Picture race is concerned, let’s look at the Big Oscar Movies first – when are they coming? What are they?

First Man (October, Universal) – Damien Chazelle’s first film has good buzz out of the gate and will likely hit Telluride. That is definitely one to watch as many will have their eyes on it for the major nominations. Potential for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Visual Effects, Cinematography, Original Score, Editing, Costumes.

Backseat (December, Annapurna) – written and directed by The Big Short’s Adam McKay about Dick Cheney. It will definitely be one everyone I know personally will be interested in seeing the most. It stars Christian Bale (who bulked up for the lead) and Steve Carell. Potential nominations for Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Editing, Makeup.

The Frontrunner (November, Sony) – directed by Jason Reitman, his second feature released this year, about the candidacy of Gary Hart. For those of us who lived through it, this should be fun. Or not. Either way, curious about it. Reitman made the already released Tully about two women finding a relationship amid motherhood, the polar opposite of this one. Potential nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor.

On the Basis of Sex (November, Focus) about the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, starring Felicity Jones and directed by none other than Mimi Leder. Personally excited for this one both as a major RBG fan but have been rooting for Mimi Leder to make a comeback. Potential nominations for Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Best Actress, Costumes.

(ctr) Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I

Mary Queen of Scots (December, Focus), directed by Josie Rourke, written by the awesome Beau Willimon, starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, about the infamous monarchs. Potential nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress for both Ronan and Robbie (or one gets supporting), Production Design, probably will win Best Costumes. Hard to say beyond that.

Welcome to Marwen (November, Universal/Dreamworks) – co-written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Steve Carell, based on a true story of a man beat up so badly he goes into a coma, then tries to rebuild his life. Potential nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design.

Widows (November, Fox), directed by Steve McQueen, written by Gillian Flynn, a heist movie about women forging their own path, starring Viola Davis, Colin Farrell, and Carrie Coon, among others. One of the few films with a woman of color in the lead (if Davis is indeed in the lead). Potential nominations for Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress.

A Star is Born (October, Warner Brothers) – directed by Bradley Cooper, with a supposedly brilliant performance by Lady Gaga. Cooper and Gaga play the timeless couple of he on the decline, she on the rise. Potential nominations for Picture, Director, Best Actress, Cinematography.

If Beale Street Could Talk (November, Annapurna) – Barry Jenkins’ follow-up film based on the James Baldwin novel about a young couple about to have a baby. When the father is accused of rape and put in jail, the young mother (Kiki Layne as Tish) must get him out of jail before the baby is born. Potential nominations for Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, Costumes, Production Design.

BlacKkKlansman (August, Focus) – from Spike Lee, the pic took Cannes by storm and is probably among the more timely films heading into Oscar season. Potential nominations for Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Production Design, Cinematography, Costumes, Score.

Ad Astra (Fox, maybe qualifying run in December?) – starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, directed by James Grey – a sci fi film about a man in search of his father. Potential nominations for Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Supporting Actor, Production Design, Cinematography.

Richie Merritt, left, and Matthew McConaughey star as Richard Wershe Jr. and Richard Wershe Sr. in Studio 8 and TriStar Pictures’ WHITE BOY RICK.

White Boy Rick (September, Sony) – directed by Yann Demange, starring Matthew McConaughey, about an undercover father who becomes a drug dealer then ends up in prison. Potential nominations for Picture, Director, Best Actor, Costumes.

The Children Act (September, A24 ) – directed by Richard Eyre, with Emma Thompson in what will surely be a contender for Best Actress. Potential nominations for Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress.

Mary Poppins Returns (December, Disney) Rob Marshall directs while Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda star. Hard to tell how this will play. Will it seem like a remake and nothing more? Will it be super awesome? We will have to wait and see. Potential nominations for Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, Song probably, Costumes, Cinematography, Production Design, etc.

And a few more potential films to watch:

Roma – written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, highly anticipated film – will it get a theatrical release?

Operation Finale (September, MGM) – Ben Kingsley stars as Nazi Adolf Eichmann in this film about the hunt and capture of the Nazi war criminal in Argentina in the 1960s.

The Old Man and the Gun (September, Fox Searchlight) – directed by David Lowery, starring Robert Redford and Casey Affleck.

Boy Erased (September, Focus) directed by Joel Edgerton, starring Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe about a young man being forced into “conversion therapy”).

What they Had (October, Bleecker Street) – directed by Elizabeth Chomko, starring Hilary Swank who returns home help deal with her mother’s (Blythe Danner) Alzheimer’s and her father’s (Robert Forster) reluctance to let go of their life together.

Beautiful Boy (October, Amazon Studios) – Steve Carell and Amy Ryan star in the film based on the book about a father dealing with a son’s addiction.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (October, Fox Searchlight) directed by Marielle Heller, starring Melissa McCarthy. About a writer deemed “out of touch” who takes matters into her own hands, supposed to be a serious turn for the talented McCarthy.

Bad Times at the El Royale (October, Fox), directed by Drew Goddard, starring Jeff Bridges, Russell Crowe, Chris Hemsworth – about seven strangers who gather for one night at a hotel for one shot at redemption.