“Keep an eye on that recessive male,” writes Deadline’s Michael Cieply at Deadline, looking for a broad plotline that might catch the media’s attention, “He might be a dominant theme in 2018.”
While it’s true that the amount of female-driven films seems high at the moment, especially with movies like A Star is Born, The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots, Widows having been announced to play at the fall festivals (New York, Venice, Telluride), and especially with already released films like Tully and The Wife clearly putting the female protag front and center, I don’t think we’re quite ready to give up on our American male hero just yet.
The perfect storm for how the media will cover this year is clear from miles off. Post-#MeToo, the rise of female candidates winning primary elections (and hopefully in November) puts that mirrored experience right in the heat of Oscar season. With the changes made to the Academy to up the demographics a bit for women and people of color, there is no better time to celebrate women than with an awards sweep that allows the full spectrum of experiences.
Even still, the two movies I have my eye on right now aren’t female-driven or even female directed. And this runs counter to Anne Thompson’s recent column that puts The Favorite right at the top of the Oscar list. No, the movies I’m looking at are very much driven by men and those would be Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, sure to be yet another exciting directional pull from the Three Amigos who continue to shape American film, Damien Chazelle’s First Man, and finally, Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner.
Two of these films will likely benefit from the Venice/Telluride one-two punch, which the following Best Picture winners also benefited from:
The Shape of Water
Those recent Best Pic winners that played only at Telluride:
12 Years a Slave
That’s three for three, with Telluride still being the most important player. But every stat is born waiting to die, as we saw last year when The Shape of Water busted the biggest stat of them all, the SAG stat, which held that no film without a SAG ensemble nomination could win. Well, game over, man. Game over.
Sooner or later the Telluride rule will be broken, just as sooner or later the Netflix/Amazon streaming rules will be broken. It is only a matter of time and Hollywood, at least as far as the Oscars go, is running out of it. The market for the kinds of films Oscar voters like clashes with the kinds of movies Big Hollywood needs to make to rake in the kinds of profits to keep living in the status in which they become accustomed. Something will have to give. Either movie theater snobs will have to compromise and let the right Netflix in, or they will have to start awarding tentpole films like Mission Impossible or Black Panther.
The Oscar race has managed to keep a certain niche of the market alive just by being part of the Oscar race — call it Oscar Island — but it has not bailed out the entire industry, even with films like Argo doing well at the box office. The younger generations do not appear to have any interest in “Oscar movies” as the boomers do, though surely there is a portion of them that do. Put it this way: they’re not flooding the theaters just because a movie has Oscar buzz. More likely, they’re on Twitter picking that movie apart and looking for weaknesses in the choices the artists made, whether they adhere to the rigid rules and standards they’ve developed as a way to make sense of their fast changing global experience online.
Whether any of us wants to acknowledge it or not, many of the same themes that crippled our democracy in the 2016 election will be alive and well and pulsating through the Oscar race. Trump, Hillary, Bernie, the different factions they represented, what emerged in their wake — all will be part of the Oscar narrative somehow. The low hanging fruit will be “the year of the woman,” but there will be other important themes. When I circle around those, I come back to Alfonso Cuaron, to Mexico, to the border, to families being ripped apart, to the fight against the reality of our country in 2018. I don’t know anything about Roma. I know it’s set in the 1970s. I know that Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant Shape of Water was very much an indictment against Trump and all that he stands for, even if I am not entirely sure voters knew that when they picked the movie to win.
There is also the return of Spike Lee, whose Oscar story has been long and weird and complicated. Where a white director who made a movie like Do the Right Thing, then followed it up with Malcolm X would have easily been a regular nominee at the Oscars, Lee has been mostly shut out, punished for being, what was thought of at the time as, an “angry black man.” But so much has changed since then, even Spike himself, so BlacKkKlansman could easily be a strong player this year and another big middle finger to Trump.
I know these themes might be as important as the “receding male vs. the rise of the woman.” Just saying.
What I see in Hollywood now is an industry fighting for survival. It is in Trump’s best interest, and in the interest in those deep-pocketed conservatives who put him in power, to eliminate the power of Hollywood. They didn’t like it that Roseanne got fired. They don’t like it that people in America are still influenced by Hollywood. Steve Bannon, in particular, did not like it. They are trying to destroy that power just as they’re trying to destroy the power of the news media, and, frankly, the power of our democracy. Much of that destruction will be aimed squarely at the Oscar telecast and the movies voters choose.
Until Trump is out of office, as chaos reigns in this country 24/7, we will look to our film community not necessarily to preach TO us, but perhaps, if nothing else, to remind us of who we are, to remind us of the American right to freedom of expression. And finally, to entertain the living shit out of us — all of us.
Right now, the Oscar race is abundant with a variety of choices for Best Picture. Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace is, at least right now, a strong contender for a woman to be included in the Best Director race, to possibly join Cuaron, Chazelle, Reitman, Bob Zemeckis, Spike Lee, Adam McKay, and possibly Joel and Ethan Coen, whose new film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs has just been announced as a movie movie, rather than a Netflix series. You can see the room is getting crowded without any of these movies having been seen.
All of this to say that I would not be so sure those males are receding any time soon. And for once, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. For once it feels like there is a healthy balance as we heads towards Telluride in one month’s time.
Here’s an early spitball of potential nominees for Best Picture from my perspective right now, with not a lot of intel to go on:
High on my radar:
The Front Runner
Mary Queen of Scots
Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Also looking at:
On the Basis of Sex
If Beale Street Could Talk
Welcome to Marwen
The Old Man and the Gun
Can You Ever Forgive Me
A Star is Born
And those films that have played already that seem to still have a shot:
Leave No Trace
I guess you could say, unless we’re really off the mark here, that the race is a wee bit thin.