I Am DB

March 24, 2018

20 Movies I’m Looking Forward to in 2018

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 4:00 pm
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Last year, I didn’t manage to get this list out until September. I’m back to my more typical schedule now, though I’d hoped to have this ready in time to include Black Panther and Annihilation…both of which I’ve seen, and both of which met expectations. As I was putting this together, an odd thing occurred to me. For the first time in the 10 years I’ve been doing a list like this, I didn’t have a #1 pick. While I’m looking forward to many movies this year, there was no clear, obvious choice for the top slot. Or even the second. So I decided to switch gears and just run through them alphabetically.

As usual, it’s hard to know what the last few months of the year will look like right now. At this time 12 months ago, The Post and All The Money in the World hadn’t even started filming yet. Who knows what movies expected in 2019 might be moved up (possibly Scorsese and De Niro’s first collaboration in over 20 years, The Irishman?) or what little under-the-radar title will cast a universal spell (who could have anticipated Lady Bird?). But from where I stand now, here are 20 I’m especially keen to experience.


AD ASTRA

Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Loren Dean, Kimberly Elise, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Jamie Kennedy, John Ortiz
Release Date: TBD

There’s a question as to whether this sci-fi drama will even be released this year. It’s currently set for January 11, 2019…but that suggests to many that 20th Century Fox may be planning for a limited release in late December to qualify it for awards consideration, with the January date set for wider distribution. We’ll see. Either way, there’s little to say about it at the stage. Pitt plays an army engineer, possibly autistic, whose father departed on a mission to Neptune 20 years earlier in search of extra-terrestrial life and never returned. The son ventures out into the solar system in hopes of discovering what happened. We’ve seen similar plots before: space crew disappears on a dangerous mission, new crew goes off to try and find out what happens to them. Bad things usually happen. Maybe Ad Astra will follow the same formula, or maybe it will turn in a different direction. The sense of familiarity doesn’t make me any less interested in a new film by Gray, a serious-minded and underrated director who has named Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a reference point for this film. So if this turns out to be a spiritual marriage of Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey, well, that sounds like something to see.
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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johannson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Bettany, Linda Cardellini, Don Cheadle, Idris Elba, Jon Favreau, Anthony Mackie, Elisabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Angela Bassett, Dave Bautista, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Brolin, Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Benicio del Toro, Vin Diesel, Winston Duke, Karen Gillen, Danai Gurira, Tom Holland, Pom Klementieff, Chris Pratt, Paul Rudd, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Wong, Letitia Wright, Peter Dinklage
Release Date: April 27

I remember wondering how 2012’s first Marvel team-up The Avengers would handle bringing together the six primary heroes introduced across its first five films – Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye – and service each of their character arcs as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) story at large.

How naive I was.

It was a simpler time then. When Avengers: Infinity War drops next month, the MCU will be eighteen movies deep. Six primary heroes? Laughable. Now we’ve got Doctor Strange and Ant-Man, Vision and Falcon, Black Panther and Spider-Man, plus a crew of galaxy-guarding misfits. And that’s still not everybody. I mean…Jesus, look at that cast list! The actors’ salaries alone must have made this one of the most expensive movies of all time. So the question comes up once again. Can the movie do justice to all of these characters and tell a story that doesn’t spiral out of control and one that meaningfully positions the various players who will populate the next wave of MCU films, each of which will be, in a way, a sequel to this one? It’s a tricky game Marvel plays, but so far – 10 years in – they’ve proved that even with occasional stumbles, they play it remarkably and uniquely well.

So what event will bring these dozens of characters into common orbit? It ain’t Peter Parker’s high school graduation. One thing the previous 18 films have been doing, small piece by small piece, is setting up the story of the Infinity Stones, six enormously powerful gems scattered throughout the universe, which could yield unparalleled power if brought together. Guess what? Someone’s been trying to bring them together. Thanos, a burly purple alien bent on possessing destructive power, has been trying to locate the stones and wield their might. He’s already made brief appearances in previous MCU movies, but now he steps out of the cosmic shadows and into the spotlight, where our heroes – several of whom have been in contact with certain stones – will try to stop him. Pretty standard fate-of-the-universe stuff. The real fun will come not from inevitable large-scale action sequences, but from watching all of these actors and characters interact and crack wise. I’m sure every MCU fan has their wish list of meet-ups. I’m hoping for Tony Stark, Rocket, Star Lord, Scott Lang, Shuri and Loki to share some back and forth sarcasm, with Peter looking on in delight. With a roster this big, the possibilities are endless. Just like the MCU itself.

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BACKSEAT

Director/Writer: Adam McKay
Cast: Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Tyler Perry, Allison Pill, Bill Pullman, Lily Rabe, Sam Rockwell, Shea Whigham
Release Date: TBD

Adam McKay, Will Ferrell’s longtime collaborator who graduated from goofy man-child comedies like Anchorman and Talledega Nights to incisive, topical comedy with The Big Short, which won him an Adapted Screenplay Oscar, continues on that trajectory as he examines a storied political figure through a satirical lens. Or at least, I assume it will be satirical, given his background. His subject? Former Vice President, Secretary of Defense and White House Chief of Staff Dick Cheney.

It’s got to be somewhat comedic, doesn’t it? Cheney is such a roundly despicable asshole that if McKay tried to tackle him in a straight-up drama it would be too much to bear. But view him through a more humorous lens and perhaps his crimes against humanity and decency will be easier to swallow. I mean, this is the guy who shot his friend in the face while hunting, so it’s not like the groundwork hasn’t been laid.

If a comedy about Cheney isn’t unexpected enough, get a load of the casting. The heartless, soulless shell of a human will be played by Christian Bale.

Wait…Christian Bale?!?

I know…I don’t see it either. But he’s packed on some pounds to round out his face, and with the hairpiece that he sports in the few on-set photos that have hit the web, well, he kinda sorta looks the part. Or…I don’t know, maybe not. He’s certainly a good enough actor for me to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I can’t wait to see what he does with the role. His American Hustle co-star Amy Adams plays wife Lynne Cheney, while Steve Carell and newly-minted Oscar winner Sam Rockwell take on Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, respectively. Carell as Rumsfeld is another transformation that’s hard to imagine, but of course I’m thinking of Rumsfeld during the Bush years. If you look at him back during the Ford administration, maybe it’s less of a stretch. Bale on the other hand…still have a hard time seeing that. Although this talent pool might seem oddly suited at first to present one of modern American politics’ most powerful and influential behind-the-scenes players, the more you think about it the more thrilling a fit they somehow seem. I’m really curious to see how this plays out. I feel like it’s gonna be great.
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THE DEATH AND LIFE OF JOHN F. DONOVAN
Director: Xavier Dolan
Writers: Xavier Dolan, Jacob Tierney
Cast: Kathy Bates, Sarah Gadon, Michael Gambon, Kit Harington, Thandie Newton, Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Ben Schnetzer, Bella Thorne, Jacob Tremblay, Chris Zylka
Release Date: TBD

I have yet to see any of Xavier Dolan’s films, but at 29 years old, the French-Canadian wunderkind filmmaker has six features to his credit since 2009, the most recent two of which picked up major prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. He’s proven to be a colorful and controversial presence on the international film scene, and now he’s making his English-language debut (not counting the music video for Adele’s “Hello”) with this all-star drama. The plot concerns the written correspondence between John Donovan (Harington), star of an early 2000’s teen crime TV series, and an 11-year old fan (Tremblay). When the nature of the relationship is called into question, Donovan’s life and career are impacted. 10 years later, Donovan has died and the young fan is now an up-and coming actor himself, confronted during an interview with revisiting the relationship and its fallout. It’s an intriguing premise, and stands to bear the mark of Dolan’s varied influences that range from global art house cinema to the tales of heroes and villains that Hollywood pumps out ad infinitum. (Dolan, also an actor since childhood, has a lengthy filmography of dubbing French versions of English language hits like the Harry Potter and Twilight films.) The movie was originally scheduled for release in late 2017, but working with an initial cut of four hours, Dolan needed more time to shape the film in the editing room. In the process, the role of a caustic tabloid reporter played by Jessica Chastain was completely removed, no longer fitting in with the tone that was emerging. No word on whether or not Dolan has locked his cut or when the movie will finally be unveiled, though his fans around the world are anxiously awaiting this year’s Cannes announcement to see if it will show up there, or if Dolan is trying to emulate Terrence Malick with his lengthy post-production periods and deleting of entire performances.
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FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD
Director: David Yates
Writer: J.K. Rowling
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Carmen Ejogo, Dan Fogler, Claudia Kim, Zoë Kravitz, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Katherine Waterston
Release Date: November 16

I liked Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them well enough when I saw it in theaters, but didn’t love it. I’ve caught it on HBO a few times now, however, and it’s grown on me considerably. So I find myself eager to return to the story of socially awkward magizoologist Newt Scamander and his American friends: auror Tina Goldstein, her mind-reading sister Queenie and non-magical baker Jacob Kowalski. When the new movie picks up, Newt’s book has been published, earning acclaim far and wide, but the dark wizard Grindelwald – captured by American magical authorities with Newt’s help – has escaped and begun gathering followers on his quest to see pure-blood wizards rule magical and non-magical populations alike. As we know from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Newt’s former professor Albus Dumbledore stands in the way of his one time friend, setting the stage for a showdown that becomes wizarding world legend.

Rowling has said this series will stretch across five films, which may seem like overkill unless you think of it as a season-long HBO or Netflix show. Whether all five will build to the conclusion of the Grindelwald plot or whether that storyline will resolve itself earlier and the remaining films will cover subsequent events in Newt’s life is unknown. For this film at least, which takes place mostly in Paris after the first film’s New York setting, Newt will help Dumbledore attempt to thwart Grindelwald. How Tina, Queenie and Jacob get involved is also a mystery. While I’ll enjoy getting those answers, one of the chief things to anticipate is watching Law take on the role of Dumbledore. Just seeing the character in action as a young man will be a treat for Potter fans, but Law is great casting, and the the publicity shot below shows the filmmakers have succeeded in making him look like a young Michael Gambon. How he takes Gambon’s performance and puts his own spin on it should be fun to watch. I have to say, now that a trailer has been released, Law doesn’t seem to be doing much to match Gambon’s vocal inflections, but there’s only a few lines to judge him on, so we’ll wait and see.

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FIRST MAN

Director: Damian Chazelle
Writer: Josh Singer, Nicole Perlman
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Christopher Abbott, Jon Bernthal, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Claire Foy, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Brian d’Arcy James, Pablo Schreiber, Corey Stoll, Shea Whigham
Release Date: October 12

For his La La Land follow-up, director Damien Chazelle re-teams with Ryan Gosling, who will play Neil Armstrong in a story about the astronaut’s life leading up to his becoming the first man to walk on the moon. Not much is known at this point, but it’s based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. It’s unexpected to find Chazelle venturing into biopic waters, where there’s always the challenge of not falling in step with traditional “story of a life” beats. This also marks the first of his films he hasn’t written, as well as the first that isn’t about music or musicians. As such, it should be an interesting test for the youngest Best Director Oscar winner in history, as he delivers a film in a conventional genre, telling a story that, outwardly at least, he has less of a personal connection to than anything he’s done up to this point. But if it’s successful, perhaps Gosling will get credit for saving the American space program, just like he saved jazz.
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THE FRONTRUNNER
Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Jason Reitman, Matt Bai, Jay Carson
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Mamoudou Athie, Josh Brener, Kaitlyn Dever, Tommy Dewey, Molly Ephraim, Ari Graynor, Toby Huss, Mike Judge, Alex Karpovsky, Sara Paxton, Kevin Pollak, Steve Zissis
Release Date: TBD

In 1988, George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis to become the 41st President of the United States. Bush might have faced a different opponent, however, and might not have won the election at all, had Senator Gary Hart of Colorado not withdrawn his candidacy after becoming engulfed in a sex scandal. Hart’s alleged extramarital affair with model Donna Rice became all anybody in the media wanted to talk about. The dissection of his personal life was unprecedented, eclipsing all focus on his progressive ideals and foreign policy wisdom. In the 2014 book All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, journalist Matt Bai explored the implosion of Hart’s campaign as a turning point in American politics and its news coverage. Reitman, in what could be a return to the sharp political satire of his debut feature Thank You For Smoking, adapts the book along with Bai and Democratic strategist Jay Carson, a consultant on House of Cards. It sounds like exactly the right kind of material for the director, who could use a win after his last couple of films underwhelmed. (He has another chance this year as well, with the Charlize Theron comedy Tully.)
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THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS
Director: Brian Henson
Writer: Todd Berger
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Leslie David Baker, Elizabeth Banks, Bill Barretta, Joel McHale, Maya Rudolph, Jimmy O. Yang
Release Date: August 17

From The Muppets to D.C. Follies to Crank Yankers to Team America: World Police to Avenue Q, there is a long and glorious tradition of whipsmart puppet comedy, and I’m a bit of a sucker for it. Featuring puppets created by the Henson Creature Shop, this story finds humans and puppets living side by side, though not in perfect harmony. Puppets are victims of institutional discrimination, and when cast members of a popular 1980s TV show called The Happytime Gang are being killed off one by one, a puppet ex-cop turned private eye teams with his former partner (McCarthy) to try and identify the murderer. This has been a longtime passion project for director Henson (Jim’s son), and I feel like the potential is strong for it to misfire spectacularly. But I’m hoping the results are more in line with its obvious cousin, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I’m inclined to have a soft spot for it no matter what. I mean, c’mon…puppets! Who doesn’t love puppets??
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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Director/Writer: Barry Jenkins
Cast: Stephan James, Kiki Layne, Michael Beach, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Dave Franco, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Emily Rios, Ed Skrein, Finn Wittrock
Release Date: TBD

Barry Jenkins had directed only one feature before making an indelible impression with 2016’s Best Picture winner Moonlight, and eight years separated his debut from his sophomore effort. Thankfully we don’t face so long a gap before seeing what he does next. If Beale Street Could Talk is based on a novel by James Baldwin and tells of young Harlem couple Tish and Fonny, whose lives are upended when corrupt police pin a rape on Fonny and he is sent to prison. Soon after his incarceration, Tish learns she is pregnant, and intensifies her efforts, with her family’s help, to prove Fonny’s innocence before their child is born. In Moonlight, Jenkins displayed an exquisite skill for drawing honest and vulnerable performances, and introduced us to some bright new acting talents in the process. Beale Street comes with similar potential, especially in the form of Layne, a recent college graduate who moved to Los Angeles just a few months before landing the Beale Street audition, which Jenkins has said completely wowed him. Considering all the people Jenkins himself wowed with Moonlight, interest in his follow-up is high.
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THE INCREDIBLES 2
Director/ Writer: Brad Bird
Cast: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Huck Milner, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, John Ratzenberger, Isabella Rossellini
Release Date: June 15

I’ve been disappointed that so many Pixar films from the latter half of their filmography have been sequels. With the exception of the Toy Story follow-ups, none of them have been as good as their originals, but more importantly, none have felt organic or necessary. So it’s ironic that, again with the exception of Toy Story, no Pixar film had as much potential for a great sequel as The Incredibles, yet it’s taken so long and we’ve been served two Cars movies, Monster’s University and Finding Dory before finally getting the follow-up that actually makes sense.

Although 14 years have passed since the Parr Family – Bob, Helen, Violet and Dash – revealed their superpowers to the world, The Incredibles 2 will pick up immediately where the first film left off, with the Parr’s battling The Underminer. From there, it looks to pursue a decidedly and timely feminist direction, as Helen/Elastigirl is recruited to help bring Supers – forced into hiding years earlier due to the destruction left in the wake of their heroics – back into the spotlight. While she goes off to work, Bob/Mr. Incredible stays behind to take care of the kids, but finds himself challenged by baby Jack-Jack, whose powers are just beginning to reveal themselves.

It’s nearly impossible to name a single favorite Pixar film, or even an easy Top 3…or Top 5. But on a list where several films are huddled oh so high, The Incredibles is still near the pinnacle for me. I can’t expect the sequel to be as good, but I feel sure it will be better than most of Pixar’s other so-so second helpings. And maybe it will exceed my already high expectations. After all, Toy Story 2 is just as good as the original, and Toy Story 3 is arguably the best. So maybe Brad Bird can pull it off.

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ISLE OF DOGS

Director/Writer: Wes Anderson
Cast: F. Murray Abraham, Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, Jeff Goldblum, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johannson, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Kunichi Nomura, Yoko Ono, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schrieber, Fisher Stevens, Tilda Swinton, Akira Takayama, Courtney B. Vance, Ken Watanabe, Frank Wood
Release Date: March 23

Just in the nick of time.

After Wes Anderson ventured so successfully into the world of animation with 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, I had hoped it wouldn’t be a one-time excursion. It was therefore welcome news a couple years back when he announced he was embarking on another stop-motion project. The fruits of his and his team’s meticulous labor are upon us, with Isle of Dogs premiering to acclaim last month at the Berlin Film Festival. The future-set story finds Mayor Kobayashi of the Japanese city Megasaki exiling all dogs to an island of trash after an outbreak of canine flu. Flouting authorities, 12 year-old Atari finds his way to the island in search of his dog, and is aided on his mission by a pack of mutts voiced by Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton and newomer to Anderson’s pack, Bryan Cranston. The movie’s large voice cast is a nice mix of Anderson vets and newbies, with Swinton and Keitel among the former and Gerwig, Schrieber and Johannson included in the latter camp. The director has cited Akira Kurosawa, Hayao Miyazaki and the enduring Rankin/Bass Christmas specials like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as his primary influences, but when the trailer debuted last fall it was clear that the movie would be full of Anderson’s trademark style and imagination. Cute talking animals are the bread and butter of animated films, but you don’t need to see the trailer or any commercials or posters to know that Anderson will present them in a whole new way.
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THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writer: Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni
Cast: Adam Driver, Olga Kurylenko, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgård
Release Date: TBD

Could it really be true? After 20 years of fits and starts and travails through the deepest levels of Development Hell, could Terry Gilliam truly be on he cusp of releasing The Man Who Killed Don Quixote? In the beginning, there was a script about a modern-day advertising executive who inadvertently travels back in time to 1600s Spain, where he encounters Don Quixote and gets caught up in the self-apppointed knight’s adventures. The film was set to star Johnny Depp and French actor Jean Rochefort, and began shooting late in 2000. That’s also when it stopped shooting, after an onslaught of problems began almost immediately, from destructive weather to location difficulties to an injury that completely sidelined Rochefort, who had spent seven months learning English for the role. This initial Depp/Rochefort attempt was so disaster-riddled that a pair of filmmakers who had been hired to document the production ended up turning their footage into the acclaimed 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha, chronicling the movie’s rapid demise.

But Gilliam persevered. Over the years, attempts were made to revive the project, with the earliest efforts held up by rights issues while later attempts seemed to crumble due to financing woes. Every time it seemed like a go, it would fall apart again. At various points, Robert Duvall, John Hurt, and Michael Palin were set to play Quixote, while Ewan McGregor and Jack O’Connell came and went as the contemporary sidekick. (Hurt’s cancer diagnosis led to his iteration of the project being shut down.) Finally, the cast settled with Gilliam’s Brazil leading man Jonathan Pryce and Adam Driver. For all his well-documented disdain of commercial Hollywood movies, it’s ironic that Gilliam has Star Wars to thank for making Driver bankable and helping to finally make this absurdly-long gestating film a reality.

Gilliam confirmed a few months ago that shooting had been completed and post-production was well underway. I won’t actually believe the movie is done until I’ve finished watching it, but all signs indicate it will finally see the light of day. I don’t know if any filmmaker in history has faced as many battles and daunting setbacks throughout his career as Terry Gilliam, from the troubled production and release of Brazil to the death of Heath Ledger during the making of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. He’s a warrior, and a director of constant creativity and vision. I hope the film really does hit screens this year, and that it’s worth the wait…not to mention all the pain it cost Gilliam along the way.

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MOWGLI

Director: Andy Serkis
Writer: Callie Kloves
Cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Rohan Chand, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris, Tom Hollander, Eddie Marsan, Peter Mullan, Frieda Pinto, Jack Reynor, Matthew Rhys, Andy Serkis
Release Date: October 19

By the time this adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s stories arrives, roughly a year-and-a-half will separate it from Disney’s live action hit The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau. There was a time when both versions were competing to hit theaters first, but when it became clear that Disney would win that race, Warner Bros. decided to push their movie back, both to provide some distance from Disney’s take, but also to give director Serkis more time to pull off the movie’s challenging visual effects. Unlike the 2016 version in which actors like Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray and Idris Elba provided voices of CG animated characters, Warner’s version will rely on the motion capture technology for which Serkis has demonstrated such mastery. The actors will not be confined to a voice recording booth, but will instead slither, crawl and leap in order to bring their own personalities that much further into the characters. Cumberbatch and Serkis, who will play Shere Kahn and Baloo respectively, have been here before; the former played the fearsome gold-hoarding dragon in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But it will be new territory for most of the actors, and I think I’m looking just as forward to seeing behind the scenes footage of Bale and Blanchett getting into their zone as I am to seeing the finished product. In the inevitable attempt to differentiate this version of Kipling’s narrative from Disney’s, Serkis has said they’re going for a darker, scarier, more PG-13 take. It won’t be a musical, of course, and will not feature the orangutan King Louie, a character not found in Kipling’s work. Expect a protest from outraged primates over underrepresentation and lack of opportunity in films and television.
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OCEAN’S 8
Director: Gary Ross
Writer: Olivia Milch, Gary Ross
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Awkwafina, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Richard Armitage, James Corden, Damian Lewis
Release Date: June 8

Hopefully we can all agree that this recent trend of taking male-driven films and remaking them with primarily female casts is probably not the best way to solve the problem of creating more rich and enticing roles for women. On the heels of the all-female Ghostbusters, Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are teaming for a Dirty Rotten Scoundrels remake called Nasty WomenTaraji P. Henson will star in What Men Want, the female version of the 2000 Mel Gibson rom-com What Women Want; and new versions of The Rocketeer and Lord of the Flies(?!) are being developed with women in the lead roles. I’m sure there are more in the pipeline. Hollywood, you can do better.

That said, I can’t help await this all-female twist on Ocean’s Eleven. Not because I enjoyed that series (which I did) and want to see it revisited, but because any movie with this cast demands attention. Caper movies are usually good fun, providing an opportunity to round up a whole bunch of strong performers and let them chew some scenery. Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s series featured an excellent and eclectic cast, and it was a treat to watch them play together. That same energy generated by an unexpected ensemble seems baked into this version as well. I mean…forget everything about story, plot, etc. and consider a collaboration between Blanchett, Bullock, Bonham Carter, Hathaway, Paulson and Kaling. I don’t care what that movie’s about, I just wanna see it.

The one element notably missing from the otherwise impressive line-up is an elder stateswoman, comparable to Carl Reiner or Elliot Gould in the Soderbergh series. This movie should have added a Lily Tomlin or Shirley MacLaine…or even better, someone who we rarely see these days, lured back for a juicy role alongside a roster of great actresses. Eva Marie Saint, Julie Andrews, Kathleen Turner, Debra Winger, Carol Burnett…how great would it have been to get one of them, or someone of that ilk, in the mix? Maybe in Ocean’s 9. Or even better, an original movie with a cast of women as impressive as this one.
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READY PLAYER ONE
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Lena Waite, Letitia Wright
Release Date: March 29

Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel is set in 2044, when the world has been ravaged by global warming, and society en masse escapes from the problems of the real world by hiding in a virtual one called The Oasis – essentially a world-wide virtual reality video game largely filled by its creator James Halliday with references to 1980’s pop culture. When Halliday dies, his will reveals that The Oasis holds an easter egg, and that the person to find it will inherit his wealth and his company. Five years after the announcement, Wade Watts – an Oklahoma City teenager and Halliday obsessive – starts to get close, attracting unwanted attention both inside and outside of The Oasis.

It’s almost too perfect that Steven Spielberg, one of the chief architects of 80’s pop culture, would take on Cline’s book. For the nearly two years it’s been in the works, fans of both the novel and the director have been waiting to see what he would do with it. (The visual effects were so demanding that Spielberg was able to make an entire other movie, The Post, while ILM did their work.) Spielberg has said he would not include any of the book’s nods to his own films, but maybe he was referring only to those he directed and not the many he produced, because the trailer drops a couple of prominent Back to the Future references. I get a little skeptical about anything this reliant on virtual worlds and entirely VFX environments like the Oasis we see in the trailer, but it’s obviously essential to the story, so if ILM does their job well, then hopefully it all works. A month ago, I was cautiously optimistic. Now that the release is a week away and early reviews have been largely enthusiastic, my optimism is slightly less cautious.

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SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, Jon Kasdan
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Paul Bettany, Warwick Davis, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Release Date: May 25

Wait, what?? A new Star Wars movie and it’s not in the first place slot, like the last three years? Look who’s not so predictable after all. The fact is, this movie shouldn’t even be on my list. This movie shouldn’t have been made, because Harrison Ford OWNS the role of Han Solo and the notion of asking anyone else to play it for more than a purpose of brief parody borders on criminality. All due respect to the terrific Alden Ehrenreich, but these are impossible shoes to fill. So if I feel that strongly about it, why is the movie on my list at all? Because let’s face it: they could slap the name Star Wars on anything and if it plays in a movie theater I’ll show up. I’m just another animal in the jungle, and no animal can resist its true nature. But had I done a traditional countdown post, this would have been ranked in the lowest spot, because I could not in good conscience accord it anyplace higher. Usually when I make these lists, I’m worried the movie’s going to disappoint me. This time, I’m worried it might be good and I’ll have to swallow my resentment.

Whatever happens onscreen, the background drama has certainly been full of exciting twists and turns, with original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller – smart, funny, talented guys, but all wrong for this from the start – getting abruptly fired by Lucasfilm late in production and replaced by Ron Howard, a friend of the studio and a steady hand who could reliably bring the movie in for a smooth landing. We don’t know how much of what Lord and Miller shot will remain (they retain an Executive Producer credit on the film), though we know that at least one casualty of the change was actor Michael K. Williams – Omar from The Wire – who was not available to return for necessary reshoots and was replaced by Paul Bettany. Who knows how the mid-production shift will impact the finished product, which in my mind (and the minds of many Star Wars faithful) faced an uphill battle to begin with despite a script co-written by Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Force Awakens co-scribe Lawrence Kasdan. The first trailer was finally unveiled last month, and visually it’s as impressive as one would expect. And I do love this ensemble of actors. (Donald Glover as a young Lando Calrissian is genius casting…not there should BE a young Lando Calrissian, but here were are.) At the end of the day though, the whole thing just feels wrong.

Salt on the wound: this blaspheme will be the first in the new wave of Star Wars films to get a May launch, arriving 41 years to the day from the release of the original film. How dare you.
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UNDER THE SILVER LAKE
Director/Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Patrick Fischler, Topher Grace, Callie Hernandez, Riley Keough, Riki Lindhome, Zosia Mamet, Jimmi Simpson, Grace Van Patten
Release Date: June 22

Though it’s not the last on the list, this is the last that I wrote about, and I was having a hard time settling on what my 20th film would be. Several were on my list, including this one, but none necessarily felt like the one that should rise above. As it happens, the trailer for Under the Silver Lake hit the interwebs a couple of days ago and pushed it into pole position. Something about the combination of the movie’s title, the presence of Andrew Garfield, and the description that it was a modern day L.A. noir grabbed my attention when I first heard about the project, which is writer/director Mitchell’s follow-up to his impressive debut feature, the horror film It Follows. But until the trailer, there was nothing else to go on. So what do we know now? Clearly not out to repeat himself, Mitchell shifts tones here, going for offbeat, surreal humor in what the trailer suggest is an unlikely mash-up of Brick and A Beautiful Mind, with perhaps a dash of La La Land. Garfield plays a slacker who shares one night with a beautiful girl in his apartment complex, only to find her gone without a trace the next day. This puts him in sleuth mode, and finds him obsessing over possible hidden codes and messages that may lead to her whereabouts. Or not. But it looks like a stylish good time, and I’m digging the promise of Garfield in a loose, shaggy role that looks like a fun change of pace from the heaviness of recent work like Silence and Hacksaw Ridge.

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WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?

Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, Holly Gent Palmo, Vince Palmo, Jr., Richard Linklater
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Judy Greer, Troian Bellisario, Kristen Wiig
Release Date: October 19

Richard Linklater continues to have one of the most eclectic filmographies of any director working today, and his latest film is further evidence of his varied interests. What might have drawn the man who made Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, School of Rock and The Before Trilogy to the adaptation of this tart 2012 Maria Semple novel about a restless, reclusive wife and mother who goes missing shortly before a family trip to Antarctica? The vacation was the request of Bernadette’s 15 year-old daughter Bee, as a reward for years of top-grade schoolwork. When her mother disappears, she turns detective and starts to discover facts about her mother’s past that she never knew. I don’t know much more than that, but Linklater at the helm and Blanchett in the lead is enough to make me want to learn more.
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WHITE BOY RICK
Director: Yann Demange
Writers: Logan Miller, Noah Miller, Steve Kloves, Scott Silver, Andy Weiss
Cast: Bruce Dern, Rory Cochrane, RJ Cyler, Piper Laurie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Eddie Marsan, Richie Merritt, Matthew McConaughey, Bel Powley, Brian Tyree Henry
Release Date: August 17

In an incredible real life story that began in the 1980s and is still unfolding, a Detroit teenager named Richard Wershe, Jr. was recruited by the FBI at age 14 to serve as an informant in the city’s drug trade. According to recent testimony by Wershe, his sister was an addict, prompting his father to approach the FBI for help. The Feds saw an opportunity for something in return. Richie was a tough kid who knew the streets and many of the gang members being targeted in the FBI’s war on drugs, so the government gave him money to buy drugs and resell them. He had no involvement with drugs before working for the FBI, but now he began doing his own deals on the side. The successful federal operations that took place as a result of his information not only impacted drug dealers, but also corrupt members of the Detroit Police Department. When the government no longer needed him, Richie continued his own business, but was eventually busted by the Detroit cops at age 17 with over eight kilos of cocaine. Even as a minor who had not committed a violent crime, he was sentenced to life in prison under the strict drug laws of the era. The Michigan Parole Board granted his freedom less than a year ago, but he is now serving a few more years in a Florida prison on separate charges related to a stolen car ring that he was involved in from behind bars.

In their quest to to give the movie a palpable sense of authenticity, the filmmakers conducted an extensive search to find an actor to play Wershe, settling on a 15 year-old Baltimore kid named Richie Merrit, who has no previous acting experience but grew up in similar circumstances as the film’s subject…minus the whole drug connection. The newcomer will be backed by an impressive array of strong character actors, including Dern and Laurie as his grandparents, Leigh and Cochrane as his FBI handlers, and as his father, McConaughey – not a character actor, but someone whose recent run shows he can shed his handsome leading man skin and reach deeper.
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WIDOWS
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Steve McQueen, Gillian Flynn
Cast: Viola Davis, Jon Bernthal, Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Debicki, Garret Dillahunt, Robert Duvall, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Lukas Haas, Brian Tyree Henry, André Holland, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Kevin J. O’Connor, Michelle Rodriguez, Jacki Weaver
Release Date: November 16

After doing these posts for nearly a decade, the clearest pattern to have emerged is that I love movies packed with great actors, and next to Avengers, which sort of feels like a cheat in this regard, perhaps no release I know of this year has a deeper bench of on-camera talent than Widows, Steve McQueen’s first film since 12 Years a Slave. Co-written by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, it’s based on an early 80’s British television drama about four women who, after their criminal husbands die, team up to continue running their fellas’ operation and pull off the heist that they died trying to execute. Davis, Debicki, Erivo and Rodriguez play the widows, whose partnership must contend with a looming police threat, a rival gang and disparate motivations within their own circle.

This seems unlikely material for McQueen, whose previous films have all been serious, sociological explorations. Widows‘ pulpy premise sounds like his most commercial effort yet, but given his past work, I expect he’ll find a way to bring in some social consciousness and real-world relevancy. Or maybe he was just looking for a pure exercise in genre fun. Either way, the talent involved on both sides of the camera make this a must-see.

 

As always, there are plenty of other films I’m looking forward to, and when the book closes on 2018, some of them will surely end up as favorites of the year while some on this list proved disappointments. It amuses me to go back through previous years and see which movies I was anticipating, how they turned out and how I ended up feeling about them. In a few hours, I’ll see Isle of Dogs, so it’s off to the races…

 

 

 

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March 3, 2018

Oscars 2017: The Envelope Please

 

It’s a cold, grey, occasionally rainy weekend in Hollywood, so while the Oscar nominees are fretting their fashion choices, you get to curl up with a hot drink and settle in for a few hours of…I don’t know what, but hopefully something more entertaining than reading my predictions. If this is the best you can do, maybe skip the hot drink. You don’t want to spill it all over yourself when you nod off…
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BEST SOUND MIXING AND SOUND EDITING

Sound Mixing:
Baby Driver – Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
Blade Runner 2049 – Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
Dunkirk – Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
The Shape of Water – Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Sound Editing:
Baby Driver – Julian Slater
Blade Runner 2049 – Mark Mangini, Theo Green
Dunkirk – Alex Gibson, Richard King
The Shape of Water – Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

As you can see, the same five films are nominated in both categories this year. I was sure this was a relatively common situation, but in reviewing years past I realized it was actually a first. That said, it was only in 2006 that the Sound Editing category was expanded from three nominees to five, so there have only been 12 times where there could have been an exact match up. Not that this has anything to do with what will win. Usually there’s only one difference between the two line-ups, and since 1990 the awards have gone to the same movie almost as often as they’ve been split. As I probably say every year, most voters don’t understand the categories, which means they could always surprise us. But the pervading sense this year is that both will go to Dunkirk. I agree.

Personal: Sound Editing recognizes the creation of sounds in post-production that couldn’t be captured during filming. That makes me feel like this is the more creative of the two disciplines, because when it comes to science fiction or fantasy films, the Sound Editors must come up with what alien creatures and droids and spaceships sound like. Not that those are the only sounds which need to be manufactured in post; there could be practical reasons why real world sounds like gunfire or tires screeching must be re-created. Still, the requirement for complete fabrication makes me lean towards the fantastical, so my Sound Editing pick would be Star Wars: The Last Jedi. For Sound Mixing, which rewards the combination and interaction of dialogue, sound effects and music, I’d go Dunkirk. As with all of Christopher Nolan’s films, the music score by Hans Zimmer feels like a more integrated part of the soundscape then a score usually does, plus the ticking clock motif adds to the tension. It’s the nominee in which all of the sound elements work together most effectively.

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Blade Runner 2049 – John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick
Kong: Skull Island – Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan
War for the Planet of the Apes – Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

This category comes down to Blade Runner 2049 and War for the Planet of the Apes, and I want so much to think the latter will triumph and Weta Digital’s amazing work on this series will finally take the gold after the previous installments were criminally passed over. But I’m afraid it won’t happen. For one thing, I never get the sense that the Apes movies are widely seen by Academy members. In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes bafflingly lost to Hugo, a Best Picture nominee. In 2014, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes lost to Interstellar, which had effects that were impressive but fairly standard for “outer space” fare. Although there was no Best Picture nominee in the running that year, Interstellar still carried a hint of prestige that may have helped its chances. It was also nominated in four other categories, demonstrating that attention had been paid across multiple branches. The Apes movies have not broken out beyond visual effects, though each film has deserved additional nominations. That’s true this year as well, where Blade Runner 2049 has five nominations and, like Interstellar before it, carries an intangible prestige factor that while not substantial enough to land it in any of the top categories, is probably enough for it to succeed here.

Blade Runner features beautiful and seamless visual effects, so it’s hardly undeserving. But the Planet of the Apes movies are simply in another league, and if enough voters were paying attention, how could they not realize it? Every main character in this movie, save for two, are achieved through visual effects. Actors like Andy Serkis and Steve Zahn perform the characters using performance capture technology, so we can watch the movie and connect with the emotions these actors are putting out. But we also have to connect with what we’re actually looking at, and what we’re looking at in the case of these films was created in a computer. Main characters, holding the screen in dramatic, compelling moments of rage, warmth, loss, fear…it’s astonishing work. These characters – realized “in the flesh” entirely by computers – never for an instant seem anything less than completely, 100% real. There is no uncanny valley in this planet of apes. These movies, and their fate in this category, are a textbook case for why the Oscars might be far more meaningful if the winners – like the nominees – were chosen by the members of each respective branch rather than the membership-at-large. There is no way this series wouldn’t have picked up at least one Oscar by now if the decision was being made solely by visual effects artists.

I should be more optimistic. I’m writing about the movie as if it’s already lost, when in fact this is not a done deal. The primates do have a fighting chance. But I’m feeling like Blade Runner 2049 will win. I would love to be wrong.

Personal: Hmm, let me think about it.

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BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Darkest Hour – Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
Victoria & Abdul – Daniel Phillips, Lou Sheppard
Wonder – Arjen Tuiten

This is one of the easier picks of the year. The transformation of Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill was as talked about as the performance Oldman delivered through the prosthetics. Darkest Hour has this in the bag.

Personal: Darkest Hour. And now I want to see Oldman made up as Churchill and then transformed from that starting point into the ancient Transylvanian count he played in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Dunkirk – Hans Zimmer
Phantom Thread – Jonny Greenwood
The Shape of Water – Alexandre Desplat
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – John Williams
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Carter Burwell

If this award were being given out by film critics, I’d call it for Jonny Greenwood’s Phantom Thread, and it could turn out to be the Academy’s favorite too. Or Dunkirk admirers could push Hans Zimmer into the winner’s circle for his essential contribution to the movie’s nonstop tension, as well as for unifying its three storylines. But while Greenwood in particular poses a threat, I think Alexandre Desplat will take the Oscar for his romantic, Parisian-accented score that evocatively captured the playfulness, the love story and the otherworldliness of The Shape of Water.

Personal: Hans Zimmer’s collaborations with Christopher Nolan yield scores that do much more than support the films musically. The scores are almost like another character, and their impact on Nolan’s ability to grab his audience and get their hearts racing can not be understated. So I would be happy to see Dunkirk win. But I’d go with The Shape of Water. At every moment, Desplat’s charming score is the note-perfect complement to what we’re watching. Plus it works better as a listening experience apart from the movie than Dunkirk, which tends to be a consideration for me. And I could listen to “Elisa’s Theme” on an endless loop.

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Mighty River – Mudbound – Music and Lyric by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson
Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name – Music and Lyric by Sufjan Stevens
Remember Me – Coco – Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Stand Up For Something – Marshall – Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Lonnie R. Lynn and Diane Warren
This is Me – The Greatest Showman – Music and Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Poor Diane Warren. Her nominated song from Marshall marks her ninth time at this dance, but she has yet to win and that’s not going to change this year. In fact, “Stand Up for Something” is the least likely of the five to take the prize. Salt on the wound: while she awaits her first victory, she will likely lose to a pair of repeat winners. Either husband-and-wife team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who won for Frozen‘s inescapable “Let it Go,” or Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who took the prize last year for “City of Stars” from La La Land.

The problem with “Remember Me,” the effort from Team Lopez, is that it’s rather slight. It appears during Coco in three different versions, two of which are barely over a minute long, with the third falling short of the two-minute mark. It’s charming and sweet and I like it, but there’s not much to it. It’s power and effectiveness is less about the song itself than about the role it plays in the movie, especially in its final incarnation. The song could almost be anything; what packs the punch is how it’s used. Will voters make that distinction? Some, maybe. Regardless, my guess is that more of them will be engaged by the energy and aspirational nature of “This is Me,” which is a full-blown production number in The Greatest Showman, and which has taken on a life of its own apart from the movie, thanks in no small part to its prominent use in commercials for the Olympics. Having a platform like that smack in the middle of the voting period couldn’t hurt. That benefit aside, the song is an anthem for underdogs and people who feel unseen, making it as powerful and inspiring as it is jubilant. We’re experiencing a moment right now where those who have felt silenced or victimized are standing up and calling for change, whether it’s women fighting for pay equality and an end to harassment, or African-Americans demanding fair treatment from systems that have historically oppressed them, or students refusing to become casualties of gun violence…this song speaks to all of them, even without directly addressing any of those struggles. It feels like a song for this moment. But who knows. I may be taking away more than the average listener…or Oscar voter.

Personal: Although I seem to have just made a case for “This is Me,” that would be my second choice after “Mystery of Love,” Sufjan Stevens’ airy, haunting ballad that exquisitely captures the mood and tone of Call Me By Your Name.

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Beauty and the Beast – Jacqueline Durran
Darkest Hour – Jacqueline Durran
Phantom Thread – Mark Bridges
The Shape of Water – Luis Sequeira
Victoria & Abdul – Consolata Boyle

In Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, an esteemed fashion designer who creates dresses for royals and ladies of highest society. It’s a tall order for any costumer to create an array of outfits that could have believably been designed by a world famous couturier, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s longtime collaborator Mark Bridges met the challenge with flying reds, golds, pinks and greens. Unless The Shape of Water gets caught in a sweep, expect Bridges to take the statuette…which, if I were him, I would then dress in a little House of Woodcock replica. He’s already got one Oscar, so he can display that one in its au naturel glory while the new one is dolled up.

Personal: The category features nice work all around, but nothing really stands out like the beautiful designs of Phantom Thread.

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BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Beauty and the Beast – Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
Blade Runner 2049 – Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola
Darkest Hour – Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
Dunkirk – Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
The Shape of Water – Paul Denham Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

In the Best Visual Effects section, I suggested Blade Runner 2049 would win partly because it was embraced more broadly within the Academy than its primatey primary competitor, which I argue is more deserving. Here somehow the opposite applies. The world created in Blade Runner 2049 through the production design is at once familiar and alien, at times grand and imaginative while at others intimate but still idiosyncratic. It’s even more impressive considering that the sequel’s design carves out its own identity despite having to fit with what came before, even though 30 years have passed in the story. The movie pays homage to the original, but still feels fresh in its look. Yet it appears to be facing an uphill battle against The Shape of Water, which takes place in a world more grounded and ordinary but still sports terrific design work and would definitely be a worthy victor. Both films present bold colors that work in concert with all other visual elements of the films to tell their stories, and both films took home awards from the Art Director’s Guild, with Shape of Water winning in the Period category while Blade Runner scored in the Fantasy race. It’s probably the more creative accomplishment in this particular area, and it could win, but The Shape of Water seems to have the edge, perhaps because it’s more popular across the Academy’s ranks.

Personal: As much as I admire and enjoy The Shape of Water‘s design elements, I want Blade Runner 2049 to take this.

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BEST FILM EDITING

Baby Driver – Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
Dunkirk – Lee Smith
I, Tonya – Tatiana S. Riegel
The Shape of Water – Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Jon Gregory

As I mentioned in the nomination predictions post, this award almost always goes to a Best Picture nominee, but every once in a while a particularly skillful action movie (The Matrix, The Bourne Ultimatum) or let’s say “near-action” movie (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) can emerge victorious. This year, Dunkirk would seem the clear choice, as it’s both a Best Picture contender and something of an action movie. But watch out for Baby Driver. Although probably seen by fewer voters than Dunkirk, it’s the kind of movie whose reputation precedes it, and even those who haven’t seen it might have awareness enough to admire and vote for the precision with which the images are cut to the pop soundtrack. It’s not your typical Oscar-caliber movie, but it’s exactly the kind of action piece that could take this prize. The precursor awards  do little to illuminate a clear choice. Dunkirk won the American Cinema Editors award in the Drama category, while Baby Driver surprisingly lost to I, Tonya in the Musical or Comedy field. I would read less into that, however, than into the fact that Baby Driver beat Dunkirk at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards, which have a pretty decent – though not perfect – record in recent years of matching the eventual Oscar winner. It’s a tough call. I’m going with Dunkirk, but I might as well toss a coin.

Personal: Tough call here too. I’d be perfectly happy to see Lee Smith win for his excellent work on Dunkirk – and to make up for him not getting nominated for Inception. But Baby Driver is probably the more impressive, difficult achievement and it would be great to see it rewarded.

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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Blade Runner 2049 – Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour – Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk – Hoyte van Hoytema
Mudbound – Rachel Morrison
The Shape of Water – Dan Lausten

Roger Deakins is one of the most lauded lensers of all time. 15 nominations from the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC); 4 wins. 8 BAFTA nominations; 4 wins. 14 Academy Award nominations; 0 wins. That’s right. Deakins, one of the greatest ever seated behind a camera, has yet to win an Academy Award. Many think this could finally be the year he takes it, thanks to his dazzling work on Blade Runner 2049. He’s already collected the prize from at least 22 critics organizations, as well as the ASC and BAFTA. Should be a slam dunk, right? Much as I’d like to think so, there’s reason to be wary. As mentioned above, Deakins has won BAFTA awards and ASC awards before, only to lose the Oscar. He’s won them both in the same year before, and still gone on to lose the Oscar.

Why might it happen again this year? For the same reason Blade Runner 2049 will probably lose Best Production Design: it’s up against two widely admired Best Picture nominees – Dunkirk and The Shape of Water – that also boast highly impressive work. Dunkirk was shot almost entirely with IMAX cameras, giving the film an epic sweep that still managed to be intimate and place the audience right alongside the characters. In addition, much of the movie’s photography is handheld, which is no easy feat to pull off with cumbersome IMAX equipment. And to get those big, bulky cameras into the cockpits of the planes for the RAF storyline? Quite a challenge. The Shape of Water, meanwhile, may not have posed the same level of physical complexity, but its camerawork and lighting interacts beautifully with every other visual element of the movie. Of course, the same is true for Blade Runner 2049; they both happen to be especially eye-popping films. I’d just argue that Blade Runner‘s imagery is a little more striking a little more often, particularly in its lighting.

With no clear and present frontrunner, this does seem like it might finally be Deakins’ year. But with Dunkirk and The Shape of Water showcasing wonderful work and being in the thick of the Best Picture hunt, either could find more support amongst voters. It should be noted that on the ballots, only the name of the film appears, not the name of the actual nominee. In the end, I’m cautiously predicting that Deakins’ losing streak is about to give way, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it extend yet again.

Personal: I can’t really be disappointed if Dunkirk or The Shape of Water took the prize. Each is immaculately shot and eminently worthy. But so is Blade Runner 2049, and when you factor in how overdue Deakins is, and how in the zone he is with this film, it would be crushing to see him miss yet again.

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BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Boss Baby – Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
The Breadwinner – Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
Coco – Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
Ferdinand – Carlos Saldanha
Loving Vincent – Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart

Not a whole lot to debate or deconstruct in this category. Coco is way out in front, and should easily deliver Pixar its ninth win in this category.

Personal: I’m torn. I loved Coco, even more than I expected. It moved me to tears…several times. But as a work of animation, Loving Vincent is staggering. An entire feature-length film, hand painted in the thick, swirly style of Van Gogh’s art and integrating live performances by actors like Saorise Ronan and Chris O’Dowd rendered as Van Gogh subjects. It’s a painting come to life, and it makes me wonder what the category should be judged on: the film itself, or the achievement of the animation? I suppose the former; the category is called Best Animated Feature, not Best Animation in a Feature. But maybe occasionally, with something as unique as this, the technique or style deserves to come first. So for its strikingly original artistry and its dramatically compelling content (a skeptic investigates Van Gogh’s mysterious death), I’d give the win to Loving Vincent.

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Call Me By Your Name – James Ivory
The Disaster Artist – Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Logan – Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Molly’s Game – Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound – Virgil Williams, Dee Rees

Here’s another category where there really isn’t a lot to grapple with. It’s not even roughly a two-way race. Call Me By Your Name might as well be engraved on this Oscar as I type. James Ivory will become the oldest winner in Oscar history at 89, besting Ennio Morricone, who was 87 when he won Best Original Score for The Hateful Eight. Then again, if Agnès Varda wins in the Best Documentary Feature category, she’ll be the oldest winner ever. She’s got eight days on Ivory. Regardless of who holds what record, it will be nice to see Ivory win an Oscar after a long and celebrated career that saw him nominated three times for Best Director, but always for films (A Room with a View, Howard’s End and The Remains of the Day) that were considered also-rans in the Directing and Picture categories despite winning in other top races. His moment has finally come.

Personal: It’s great to see Logan nominated, but Call Me By Your Name is the crown jewel among these contenders. A beautiful movie across the board, and it begins with André Aciman’s novel and Ivory’s script.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The Big Sick – Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out – Jordan Peele
Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Martin McDonagh

Any of these nominees would be a deserving winner, but The Big Sick will have to be content with its nomination. So too will The Shape of Water, despite being a frontrunner in other categories both above and below the line. It’s lovely and imaginative and full of meanings that may go unnoticed but which are carefully layered in by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, and in another year it might have had a better chance. As it is, there just happen to be three dominant writing contenders this time around. Two of them, Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig, have been lumped together quite a bit throughout the season (as in this Vanity Fair photo shoot and cover story), forced by circumstance to carry the torch for their respective chronically underrepresented demographics. Both are nominated here and for Best Director. The screenplay nominations were expected, but the Director nominations were question marks. Receiving that recognition is as far as they’re expected to go in that category, meaning this is the best chance that both of them have to win…and like the Highlander, there can be only one. (Well…technically they could tie, but that’s unlikely.) Oh, and there’s still Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to consider.

This is also Martin McDonagh’s best shot, as he was rather surprisingly omitted from the Best Director line-up. Three Billboards has been a formidable presence in the top races throughout Phase Two, and took Screenplay honors at the Golden Globes and BAFTA (the former does not distinguish between Original Adapted). It did not win the Writers Guild of America (WGA) award, but it wasn’t eligible for a nomination.  The big question with Three Billboards is whether the controversy that surrounds it has made a significant impact on Academy members. What controversy, you may ask? Many critics and viewers have a big problem with how the movie handles race. This piece from /Film nicely summarizes the issue, and contains links to several of the critiques, including prominent articles by New York Times critic Wesley Morris and The Daily Beast‘s Ira Madison III. The movie has its defenders, however, including Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, who argue in part that these excoriations miss the movie’s point. So again, will the controversy make a difference? Some voters may think twice, but I’d wager it’s more likely that if they consider this at all, it will be less about their own opinion being swayed than about not wanting to be perceived as endorsing a film that many find racially insensitive or outright ignorant.

So there’s that.

Peele and McDonagh are both among their films’ nominated producers, so if either loses this award, they still have a chance to take home an Oscar if their movie wins Best Picture. Not so for Gerwig, who is not a producer on Lady Bird. So with Best Director likely out of reach, this is her chance. But as perennial as it is for Oscar pundits to think a given person and/or their film might win in one category while their closest competition will win in another, thereby spreading the wealth, this scenario seldom plays out. People vote for what they want to vote for category by category; they don’t play their Oscar ballot like a chess board. So the fact that this is Gerwig’s best hope to win an Oscar this year doesn’t matter. As funny, acutely observed and delightful as Lady Bird is, it’s outmatched by the cleverness and social commentary of Get Out and the originality and potency of Three Billboards. Between those two, it could go either way…but Get Out just feels too relevant and too fresh to lose.

Personal: It’s not my favorite movie of the five nominees, but I still have to give this up to Get Out. It’s such a smart premise; simple but ingenious, and a whole lotta fun.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The way things were going waaaaay back in December, Phase One, the early days of the awards season, it seemed as if veteran character actor Willem Dafoe might earn a sort of career achievement Oscar for his role as a beleaguered motel manager in The Florida Project. But as often happens as the season stretches on, the winds shifted. Sam Rockwell (a veteran character actor himself, if not quite one with as many years logged as Dafoe) came up from behind to establish a lead, and is now the firm favorite. Given that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was built as a showcase for a dynamic female lead, it’s a testament to Rockwell’s impact that he’s as much a reason to see the movie as Frances McDormand. And even though his character is at the center of the aforementioned controversy, no one seems to have a problem with his performance. Having overtaken Dafoe’s early lead and captured every major prize along the way – Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and BAFTA – at this point it’s hard to envision any other outcome.

Personal: Rockwell. I have loved this guy for ages. The Green Mile, Galaxy Quest, Charlie’s Angels, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Choke, Moon, Conviction, The Way Way Back…he’s just one of those magnetic performers who always commands attention, no matter the quality of the movie he’s in. Still, none of his past achievements are reason to vote for him here. I choose him because Three Billboards gives him one of his best roles, and as expected, he crushes it.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

Even more starkly than in the Supporting Actor race, this one saw a shift as time went on. Allison Janney did well with the critics groups, but Laurie Metcalf dominated. Yet it was Janney who took the Golden Globe, SAG, BFCA and BAFTA awards, and there’s no reason to expect that she won’t take the Oscar as well. She has the showiest role of the bunch by far, and perhaps more importantly, she’s never played a part like this. There are moments in this movie when her eyes are so icy and frightening she could make Game of Thrones‘ Night King tremble, and she conjures the attitude to match. Some have pointed out that the character is pretty much one-note, and maybe it is…but take that up with the screenwriter. Janney went the distance with the part, and because she’s so well known across film and television, voters are likely to note what a change of pace the role is for her. She also has the advantage of being more familiar to film audiences than Metcalf, who is active on television and the stage but hadn’t appeared in a theatrical movie since 2008. From all angles, this seems like a sure thing for Janney. Still, proceed with caution. The very fact that all four acting frontrunners seem so locked could belie the possibility of a surprise, and if something unexpected happens, it could be here. Metcalf could still pull it off, and word is that Lesley Manville is gaining ground among voters who are just catching up with Phantom Thread.

Personal: I’ve got nothing but love for Janney and I’d be fine with her winning. I’d also be happy with Lesley Manville, who did so much with looks and posture. But I’d be happiest to see it go to Metcalf. She made that character so real. Flawed, kind, pained, petty, generous…loving. Not always in the right way, but always. Sometimes the most impressive feat isn’t nailing a big showstopper scene, but making all the ordinary and mundane moments so memorable. Metcalf does that here, over and over again.

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BEST ACTOR

Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Gary Oldman has pretty much had this thing locked up since Darkest Hour premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September. The Toronto Film Festival followed within days, and the buzz was out of the bag. Oldman checks off all the classic Oscar boxes. Real life/historical figure? Check. Physical transformation? Check. Big speeches/scenery chewing? Check. Quieter, subtler, more interior moments to balance out big speeches/scenery chewing? Check. Respected actor, long career, lots of great performances, hasn’t won yet? Check. As time goes on and the Academy’s old guard becomes the minority, these boxes may go away. But for now they remain intact, and they all point to victory for Oldman. Not exactly victory at all costs or in spite of all terror…but victory nonetheless.

Personal: It’s hard to deny Gary Oldman. Just because the performance checks off those predictable boxes doesn’t diminish its impact or suggest that voters who choose him are simply going through the motions. Oldman is tremendously entertaining and wholly committed in Darkest Hour, and having reached a point in his career where he tends to play primarily supporting roles, his work as Churchill is a reminder of his power as a lead. He’s also one of those guys who you assume must have won an Oscar somewhere along the line, but hasn’t, which fuels a classic “it’s time” narrative. It’s hard to put all the side factors out of your mind and just vote purely for the performance, but if I did I would probably go with Timothée Chalamet. Like Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird, he’s just so authentic. In his portrayal of a teenager overtaken by unexpected romantic desire, he makes some choices that are so surprising and impeccable, yet so straightforward. None of the performances present an existence so believable and fully lived-in as his.

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BEST ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Almost every year at least one of the acting categories comes down to a tight race between two nominees, with either outcome completely plausible. This year, not so much. All four acting categories seem to have clear outcomes, with Rockwell, Janney, Oldman and now Frances McDormand having taken Golden Globes, BFCA, SAG and BAFTA prizes. That factoid is, I believe, a first. It doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be an upset; only that they all have a significant advantage going into the big night.

Unlikely as a loss for McDormand seems at this point, there’s a case to be made that she could miss. For one thing, it’s clear each time she takes the stage that while she is happy and grateful, it’s not too important to her. Frances McDormand does not need your trophy, thank you very much. While accepting her SAG award, she even encouraged voters to support younger, newer talent. For another thing, this acting category might be the one where the frontrunner’s lead is the slimmest. Sally Hawkins and Saoirse Ronan are likely to pick up a lot of votes, and Margot Robbie will get her fair share as well. If enough people who are torn decide not to vote for McDormand, figuring she’ll already get enough support, the tide could turn. Also worth considering…

Oh hell, who are we kidding? Making a case for McDormand to lose is pointless. Yes, yes, anything could happen, but c’mon. People love her in this movie, they love her in general…you watch her give her other speeches – BAFTA, Golden Globes…this lady is just oozing swagger.

Personal: I’ve long wanted to see Academy Award Winner Frances McDormand become Two-Time Academy Award Winner Frances McDormand, so if she wins, it’ll be aces with me. But in a tough, tough choice between her, Hawkins and Ronan, I’d pick Ronan. Her character is more average and grounded than those played by some of her competitors, but her inhabiting of this girl facing typical struggles of adolescence went so deep and was so relatable. Her portrayal was as universal as it was particular, and her deadpan comic timing and delivery is a marvel.

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BEST DIRECTOR

Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

It’s great to have Paul Thomas Anderson back in this category, and great to have Christopher Nolan and Guillermo del Toro here for the first time. One day, this award surely must go to Anderson and Nolan. But it won’t be this year. Like the four acting categories, this one includes a nominee who has won every major precursor. Guillermo del Toro took the BFCA, Golden Globe, BAFTA and Director’s Guild of America (DGA) awards, the latter of which is the most reliable harbinger of Oscar victory in all of awardom. His close compadres Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu have each won this award in the last five years (Iñárritu did it twice), and now del Toro will complete the trifecta.

Personal: Guillermo del Toro. Every detail in every frame of The Shape of the Water, and every thought behind every word, shot, cut, sound effect and so on, is significant and can be explained in passionate detail by del Toro. When I hear him interviewed about this or any other of his films, I’m always struck by how nothing is without meaning or careful intention. And it all comes together so gorgeously in this movie.

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BEST PICTURE
Call Me By Your Name – Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges, Marco Morabito
Darkest Hour – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten, Douglas Urbanski
Dunkirk – Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan
Get Out – Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm, Jr., Jordan Peele
Lady Bird – Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neill
Phantom Thread – JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi
The Post – Amy Pascal, Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger
The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Martin McDonagh

The most difficult prediction of the year is for the top award. Races like Best Visual Effects, Best Original Song and Best Original Screenplay have boiled down to two strong possibilities (maybe three in the case of Screenplay), but four of these nominees are widely thought to be serious players. Of those four, Dunkirk faces the toughest odds. It hasn’t won any major awards on the road to the Oscars, but many pundits who are out there talking to Academy members consistently hear that it’s a popular choice, admired by many. This matters when dealing with the preferential ballot, the method employed to choose the Best Picture winner. All other categories are determined by a simple popular vote; the nominee with the most votes wins. But in 2011, the Academy introduced the preferential ballot in the hopes of reaching a Best Picture winner that represented as wide a group of voters as possible. Once again, I offer this video from The Wrap‘s Oscar whiz Steve Pond, who uses visuals aids to explain how it works.

So…it’s better to be a movie that’s admired and liked by a whole bunch of people than a movie that’s loved by a smaller faction. Based on reports from the trenches, Dunkirk appears to fall in the former group, and it surely has a lot of support from below-the-line members (cinematographers, editors, sound mixers, etc.). Actors make up the largest voting bloc of the Academy, but combine all of the crafts categories and you’ve got an even larger group. Working against Dunkirk? It didn’t receive any nominations for writing or acting. It’s considered almost impossible to win Best Picture without either.

Get Out. It’s seen as one of the most relevant nominees, which can be a huge benefit in these troubled times when social consciousness is on everybody’s mind. Many members want their vote to make a statement. Get Out spotlights an exciting new voice in filmmaking, provides a rare blessing of legitimacy on a genre that seldom gets this level of respect, and demonstrates that an “issue movie” can also be a popular crowdpleaser. And as with Dunkirk, many pundits report that their Academy contacts keep talking about it….though whenever I hear that I think, “Ok, but there are roughly 8,300 members of the Academy. How many are you talking to? A few dozen? Even if it’s a couple hundred, that’s a small percentage.”

Next, The Shape of Water. With a leading 13 nominations, it has broad appeal across the below-the-line categories as well as with actors, who nominated three of its stars. It’s a common mistake to think that the most nominated movie is also the most popular or the most likely to win. This often proves false. The movies that get the most nominations are the ones that not only find success in the top categories, but also hit several below-the-line boxes. Costumes, set design, music, makeup, visual effects, etc. In other words, period pieces and sci-fi or fantasy. So when it comes to The Shape of Water, it doesn’t hurt to have all those nominations, but they don’t necessarily signify anything. While many people love the movie, there are also many who don’t get it or just don’t care for it. One deterrent cited over and over is that despite its acclaimed ensemble and their praised performances, the movie did not receive a SAG nomination for Best Cast. No movie has won Best Picture without that since 1995’s Braveheart. But it did win the Producer’s Guild of America (PGA) award, which is the only major precursor that also uses the preferential ballot. And it won the BFCA award, which comes from an organization whose size is closer to the Academy than any other entity, and therefore probably consists of a similarly diverse and divided voting membership.

Finally, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which has the clearest momentum going into Oscar night, thanks to Picture and Screenplay wins at BAFTA and the Golden Globes, as well as McDormand and Rockwell steamrolling their way through Phase Two. It also won the SAG award for Best Cast. If not getting nominated for that could hurt The Shape of Water, winning it surely helps Three Billboards. On the other hand, Martin McDonagh was passed over for Best Director. A movie can win Best Picture without a directing nomination, but it doesn’t happen often. I’ve also read some interesting comments suggesting that the movie’s depiction of America is not all that realistic, representing an outsider’s view (McDonagh hails from Ireland) that misses certain key cultural nuances, particularly of the American south, and that the top prizes from BAFTA and the Globes are not surprising given that both voting groups are comprised of non-Americans. There’s also the controversy discussed previously. Here, it gives me pause. If the story has permeated the ranks of the Academy, they may be more wary of what they choose to represent them as a Best Picture winner than they will be with Best Screenplay. To whatever extent Oscar wins are remembered over time by those outside the realm of obsessives like me, a Best Picture win is more prominent than Best Screenplay. What kind of movie does the Academy want to bestow its ultimate validation upon? It’s the same question they face with Best Original Screenplay – if they face it at all – but it might matter to them more here, especially when they’re still in the shadow of #OscarsSoWhite.

Nine Best Picture nominees, four thought to have a real chance, all four facing precedents that say they can’t win, or at least are highly unlikely to win. They’re sometimes worth mentioning, but you can drive yourself mad trying to decipher all of these equations for victory that rely on the idea of voters actually stopping to think if the movie they’re selecting for Best Picture was nominated for SAG’s Best Cast Award or received an Editing nomination or is likely to win at least one other award, which is another supposed necessity. All of these rules will fail eventually. Which will it be this year? I have no idea. But my Best Picture guess, after much hand wringing, is The Shape of Water. Not because Guillermo del Toro is likely to win Best Director; the preferential ballot has upended the long-standing correlation between Best Picture and Best Director. The awards have gone to different movies in four of the last five years…and I feel more than a little stupid for not making the connection until last year. The categories are being voted on in two completely different ways now, so of course it’s going to be less likely that they will match up as often as they used to. No, I’m picking The Shape of Water because I suspect the arguments against it are weaker than the arguments against the other nominees, and because I think it’s the most likely among the four pack-leaders to benefit from the preferential ballot. But Three Billboards, especially, is a major threat, and if all the controversy and outsider viewpoint theories turn out to be sound and fury signifying nothing, it could go all the way.

Personal: The Shape of Water. This was the one I loved the most. The story, the production values, the humor, the characters and performances, the music, the bold swing of the romance…top to bottom and everything in between, this was my favorite movie of the year.

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FINAL THOUGHTS
As usual, you’re on your own with the Best Documentary, Best Foreign Language Film and the short film categories. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the feature-length narrative movies.  But there are a couple of other things I want to mention. Each year, you’ll find a few entertainment news sites that publish the opinions of some anonymous Academy members, who talk frankly through their choices and their feelings about what was and wasn’t nominated. There were several this year, and it’s always enlightening and frustrating to read them. What they prove is that despite all the time and energy that Oscar geeks like me, professional or otherwise, spend on calculating and predicting what “The Academy” or “The Voters” will do, this is ultimately – and I’ve hit this point before – several thousand individuals just expressing their own random opinions. Every nominee in every category will have some people who love it, some who hate it, and others whose feelings fall somewhere in the middle. Some voters are retired or work less and probably have a chance to see every nominee. Others are busy, active in the industry, and may not get around to everything. Some people will vote for a friend or a colleague, some people will vote to promote an agenda. Some people will vote for the nominee they enjoyed the most, others will wield their vote politically. I said earlier that people don’t play their ballot like a chess board, and while I believe that to be generally true, I’m sure that sometimes a voter might make a choice because they want to see a multiple-nominee win something, even if they preferred another choice in that given category. The reasons are all over the map, as you see when you look at these anonymous comments. (Year after year I read some of these and think there are certain people who don’t deserve the privilege of voting. Their comments also frequently come off as bizarre streams of consciousness that make little sense. But what can you do?)

The point is, for all the words I’ve vomited into this post talking about what voters might do and how the Academy thinks, there is no typical voter or Academy hive mind. It’s just a bunch of people marking a ballot according to their own personal preferences and reasoning. Every voter has their own criteria for determining what constitutes great work. If you’re interested, here’s some insight. IndieWire published a whole series of these interviews, speaking to a costume designer, film editor, publicist, executive, visual effects supervisor and producer. One especially telling detail from all but one of these is that they don’t understand or care for the preferential ballot. I have my issues with it as well, but now is not the time. The Hollywood Reporter, which usually publishes several of these in the week or so before the ceremony, has posted just two so far this year, one from a producer’s branch member and one from an actress, while The Daily Beast interviewed a member of an unspecified branch. Lastly, Vulture published a compelling two-part piece for which they interviewed 14 Academy members who joined within the last two years, several of whom represent the Academy’s push for greater inclusion (over half of their subjects are women and more than a third are people of color). The first article is a wide-ranging conversation about how they feel the Academy’s effort to diversify the voting ranks is affecting the nominations and the organization’s outlook in general. The second focuses on this year’s top eight categories and how these members are voting. These are definitely worth checking out. There’s so much in these two pieces I want to address and comment on, but that would have to be for another post that I’m sure I’ll never have time to write.

There’s one other thing I wanted to touch on, and then I will leave you in peace. Last year’s Oscar night concluded with the infamous clusterfuck of La La Land being mistakenly announced as Best Picture instead of the actual winner, Moonlight. It transpired that one of the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants who hands the envelopes to the presenters gave a duplicate copy of the Best Actress envelope to Warren Beatty and, well, we all know what happened.

There’s so much more to say about what happened, but that all belonged in yet another piece that I never had time to write. As it pertains to this year’s awards, I wanted to express a hope that last year’s event isn’t leaned on too heavily this year or played for repeated laughs. Returning host Jimmy Kimmel has already used it in an amusing promo…

…and there are bound to be some of jokes and references, and that’s fine. You can’t not acknowledge what happened, as new Academy president John Bailey and Kimmel have both expressed this week. And hey, what happened made for fantastic viewing and probably the single most memorable Oscar moment ever. But at the end of the day, it was huge embarrassment that resulted in three people thinking they had won Oscars only to have to give them up, gracious as they may have been, and another group of people not really getting to have the pure moment they deserved. We’re not talking about tragedy here, obviously. No one died, no one’s career was ruined (not even that accountant, who was not fired…but will most definitely never step foot near an Oscar ceremony again), and it was simply human error on a massive scale. It wasn’t Warren Beatty or Faye Dunaway’s fault, it wasn’t Jimmy Kimmel’s fault, it wasn’t anyone in the Academy’s fault, but the result was a pretty shitty situation for a small group of people. So my advice to Kimmel, show producers Michael DeLuca and Jennifer Todd, and the Academy leadership – because, you know, they’re all reading this – is to not overdo it. Word broke yesterday that Beatty and Dunaway are returning this year, but in what context – genuine presenters, or part of a gag? – is unclear. Have a little fun with it, but be respectful enough to remember that it kinda sucked for some people. They’ll live…but they’ll never live it down.

As for what Kimmel has in store, he hasn’t revealed much, but we are in such fiercely political times right now and you know the show will touch on some of it. #TimesUp, #MeToo, Parkland, Russia attacking our democracy…tough stuff to deal with, but Kimmel has addressed non-entertainment events with great compassion on his nightly show, so I’m sure he’ll handle his second time at the Oscars with finesse. Seth Meyers set a strong example at the Golden Globes, so the path is lit.

Ok, I’m done. Here’s a link to a ballot, here’s a link to an Oscar-themed crossword puzzle, and here’s that Golden Globes monologue from Seth Meyers, to leave you with something more interesting than anything I’ve said.

 

 

February 14, 2018

Oscars 2017: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars,TV — DB @ 12:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

(Class of 2017 photo from Annual Nominee Luncheon. Click image for larger version to play Spot the Celebrity.)

Complete List of Nominees

For an Oscars geek, the morning of the nominations might be even more exciting than the night of the show. By the time Oscar night comes around, dozens of precursor awards have been handed out, each category has been narrowed down and while there are always surprises, there are only a few ways things could go. But nomination morning offers up so many more possibilities, as the field is still wide open and anything can happen. Well…maybe not anything. The Book of Henry wasn’t about to show up on the Best Picture list, nor was Dwayne Johnson’s performance in Baywatch going to score him that long elusive Best Actor recognition. But within the realm of reason fortified by 90 years of Academy Awards history, anything can happen on the morning of the nominations.

Beginning as always in the dreaded 5 a.m. hour, this year’s nominations once again tried something a little different. After last year’s abandonment of the traditional live announcement in favor of a video intercutting comments and memories from past Oscar winners with a bland reading of all the nominees by an anonymous fembot, this year’s presentation combined the two approaches. Before a crowd of gathered press, Academy President John Bailey made some brief introductory remarks, then turned the program over to Andy Serkis and Tiffany Hadish, who announced the nominees. The video component came in the form of some stylish introductions for the below-the-line categories, each starring a female actress/Academy member. Priyanka Chopra, Rosario Dawson, Gal Gadot, Salma Hayek, Michelle Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, Molly Shannon, Rebel Wilson and Michelle Yeoh appeared in the intros, which added some fun to what can be a dry event while also shining a small but notable spotlight on a diverse group of women. The structure was still a bit awkward, as Serkis and Haddish would read each category’s nominees and then introduce another video. It might have felt less disjointed if each participating actress could also have read their category’s nominees, but of course the videos would have been produced long before the nominees were known, and the logistics of having each actress present to read the nominees live would be complicated. Academy headquarters essentially go on lockdown the night before the announcement, and the presenters spend the night there. That operation is easier to accommodate with two people than with a dozen. Still, this was definitely an improvement over last year, and Haddish added some inadvertent entertainment value as she struggled reading many of the nominee names but maintained her sense of humor throughout.

If for some inexplicable reason you don’t want to watch the entire 30 minute announcement, you can at least check out the intro videos here. I wish I could have learned more about how these came to be, who directed them, etc., but I couldn’t find any details. Missed story opportunity, EW.com.

I had a pretty good morning as far as predictions go. I was only 100% in four categories (Actress, Supporting Actor, Production Design and Sound Mixing), but in 12 others I missed by just one. I don’t have too many thoughts to share on how things shook out, but here are a few.

BEST PICTURE
My typical go-to decision to predict nine nominees worked out this year, and I only faltered by including The Florida Project, which was the one I was least sure about as I finalized my picks. I took it off the list, put it back on the list, took it off the list…and finally put it back on, thinking the voting contingent that had supported child-centric movies like Room and Beasts of the Southern Wild in recent years might propel this indie gem onto the final list. I’m sure it had support, but not enough to land it a spot. The nominee I failed to predict – which came as a surprise to just about everyone; I didn’t see any lists that had it – was Phantom Thread. The re-teaming of Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis did extremely well, with a few other unexpected nominations on its way to a tally of six. There’s no question that PTA is widely admired in the Academy, but you never know from film to film how much they’re going to show it.

By the way, reviewing past editions of this annual post, I realize it’s been a few years since I railed against the constant use of the word “snub.” Every media outlet covering the nominations loves to point out all the movies that were snubbed and the actors that were snubbed. I feel I’d be remiss not to get back atop my soapbox and briefly decry this yearly exercise in stupidity. EW.com‘s list of snubs and surprises pointed out six Best Picture snubs. That amounts to two-thirds of the entire list of nominees. And if any of the nominated films had been passed over, those would have been called out as snubs. Of the movies that did get nominated, only one was really a surprise, with maybe two more thought to be on the bubble. None of these so-called snubbed movies pointed out were any better positioned or more widely expected to be nominated than most of the movies that actually were. These aren’t snubs, idiots. They’re just movies that missed out. Please stop being lazy and talking about these movies that came up short as if there was anything more to their omission than falling victim to an overcrowded field and the whims of several thousand voters.

BEST DIRECTOR
Thank God. Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig both made the cut, for Get Out and Lady Bird respectively, sparing us the litany of opinion pieces we’d have been subjected to if either or both had failed to be recognized. Don’t misunderstand me; the historical scarcity of women and people of color in this category (and many others) is not unworthy of attention. Peele is only the fifth black director ever nominated (John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen and Barry Jenkins precede him) and Gerwig only the fifth woman (after Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and the sole winner, Kathryn Bigelow). Those stats are sufficiently shocking. But as they relate to the recent #OscarsSoWhite outcry, or #OscarsSoMale – which isn’t a thing, but could be (the acting categories notwithstanding) – they are far more the result of a chronic lack of opportunity for filmmakers in those demographics to tell their stories to mainstream audiences than they are of an ingrained bias on the part of Academy voters. So above any other reason, the presence of Peele and Gerwig pleases me because it means we don’t have to hear about an imaginary aversion within the Academy to directors who aren’t white males.

Now…about the white males. While it wasn’t a big surprise by this point in the season, the nomination for Christopher Nolan was cause for his fans to celebrate after he had been left out of this category two or three times too many over the years. Hopefully this is only the first of many more to come. The category’s big surprises were the absence of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri‘s Martin McDonagh and the inclusion of Phantom Thread‘s Paul Thomas Anderson. I thought this might be one of those rare years where the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and Academy were in complete agreement, but McDonagh was the point of diversion. Given Three Billboards‘ momentum in the Best Picture race – top honors at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards make it a strong contender – he seemed a likely nominee, but not a lock. I suspect he came close, but in the end he was kept at bay by an unexpected swell of support for Anderson. No complaints from me about the turn of events that delivered PTA into the final five. He’s one of my favorites, and Phantom Thread finds him in peak form.

X
BEST ACTOR

One of my instincts paid off here, and one didn’t. The one that did: James Franco missing out. Of course, nearly every outlet commenting on his “snub” (grrrr) wrote about it as if the accusations against him during the Oscar voting period – first via a series of tweets and then elaborated upon in a Los Angeles Times story – were the reason he wasn’t nominated, definitively. I’m less certain. Although Franco got a lot of recognition throughout the season, including Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations and a Golden Globe win, I had my doubts all along that an Oscar nomination would follow. Yes, it’s important to weigh all the precursor awards to gauge who and what has momentum, but you also need to do some thinking for yourself about what does or doesn’t feel like it will resonate with Academy members. You won’t always be right, but these things are impossible to ever fully know, so sometimes you need to apply reason and instinct. Anyone doing so should have questioned Franco’s chances. That performance was never a sure thing…as much as anything can be a sure thing. Franco is funny in The Disaster Artist, no doubt, but at the end of the day the performance is an impersonation of someone whose natural state feels like a vibrant exaggeration to begin with. Franco may do an uncanny Tommy Wiseau, but was he going to get an Oscar nomination for that? Possibly. Yet there was always reason to doubt, even before he got swept up in the #MeToo movement. I’m sure the accusations cost him some votes, but I’m not convinced they made the difference. We’ll never know, but my gut tells me Franco would have been omitted regardless.

The instinct that failed to pay off was Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya. I didn’t, and still don’t, understand the elevation of his performance to any list of the year’s very best. He does good work and serves the movie perfectly well; I’ve got nothing negative to say about him. I’m just confounded by the level of acclaim he’s garnered. Yes, he was armed with a Golden Globe nomination and additional nods from SAG, BFCA and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), and yes, that precursor quartet usually leads to an Oscar nomination…but not always. I let the occasional exceptions to that rule, along with my own opinion – which would surely be shared by the majority of voters – convince me that Kaluuya might not make it. It was possible. But it wasn’t likely, and I probably should have known better. If I thought he deserved the nomination, would I have predicted him? I probably would have.

Thinking that Franco and Kaluuya would miss, I predicted Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. There was room for Washington, but Hanks was once again left out. Although I wasn’t able to make room for Denzel on my personal list, he was definitely right on the edge. I hope the nomination brings some attention to Roman J. Israel, Esq. The movie is decent, but Denzel is the reason to see it. He’s never played a character like this before, and it was fun to see him do something so different.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
I was off by two in this category. I didn’t think Mary J. Blige would make it despite having reasonable momentum. The part seemed too small and too lacking in the kind of showcase moments that would catch the attention of enough voters to gather her the necessary support. But here she is, and her nomination marks the first major-category recognition for a Netflix release. Mudbound picked up three additional nominations, including recognition in another top-category: Best Adapted Screenplay, where director and co-writer Dee Rees became the first black woman ever nominated. Netflix would have liked Mudbound to crack the Best Picture race, but the nominations it did get – some of which made Oscar history – help disprove the idea of a bias against the company and its releases.

My other miss was Lesley Manville. Many hoped but few expected that the Phantom Thread co-star would find a spot, but voters’ undetected appreciation for the movie carried her along, much to my delight. Manville is excellent as Daniel Day-Lewis’ steely sister and business partner. She doesn’t necessarily say much verbally, but speaks volumes with her posture and facial expressions. And when she does talk, she can cut right to the bone. Well done, Academy!

Alas, pleasant surprises usually come at another contender’s expense, and in this case Holly Hunter and Hong Chau were the two most notable omissions. Hunter was widely expected to be included, and although I enjoyed her greatly in The Big Sick, I don’t know that the role merited a nomination. I’m more disappointed by the absence of Chau. I understand Downsizing didn’t catch on, but Chau was something special, and her multilayered performance was deserving. Hopefully the attention she did garner for the movie will at least lead to more prominent roles in high profile projects.

X
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY AND BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

I missed by one in each screenwriting category, but in both cases I was happy to be wrong. I mean…I would rather have been right…but I’m glad about the picks the Academy made that I didn’t. For Original Screenplay, that was The Big Sick. It had unwavering momentum going in, and most pundits expected it to be there, but I thought it might be taken down (with an attack to the kneecaps, maybe?) by I, Tonya. In the Adapted Screenplay race, the Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) choices were mirrored, which meant a nomination for Logan. Maybe still stinging 10 years later from the omission of The Dark Knight, I didn’t think the Academy would go for a comic book adaptation, even one as grounded and somber as Wolverine’s swan song. But how great to see it here, the first writing nomination for a movie based on a “superhero” comic. Expecting it to be passed over, I instead predicted The Beguiled. I didn’t really think that would be included, but it seemed more probable than Logan.

One other comment about Best Original Screenplay. Given the robust support for Phantom Thread, it’s surprising that it did not land writing recognition. Paul Thomas Anderson is a four-time screenwriting nominee (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice), and this could have been an obvious place to honor a typically unique Anderson vision. But voters stuck to the script – no pun intended – and nominated the five favored choices. I can’t argue with that, even if it would have been nice to see Phantom Thread. This category has felt mostly locked for some time now, with Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri all but assured and all supremely deserving. As discussed above, I thought there was some wiggle room with The Big Sick, but that I, Tonya would have been the beneficiary. This was always going to be a tough race to penetrate, and Phantom Thread probably came up just a bit short.

X
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Seriously? Victoria & Abdul? Over Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2? If I were one of the Academy’s top officials, I would be deeply concerned about whatever ailment befell the members of the Makeup and Hairstyling branch causing them to all go blind over the past year. For clearly that’s what must have happened. There can be no other logical explanation for Victoria & Abdul beating out Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. If there’s one place this year where I might consider calling out a snub, this would be it. I don’t know what bias the branch members might have against the crew from Guardians, but maybe there’s some bad blood somewhere in there, because this is such a comically incomprehensible outcome that there must be an agenda at work.

Okay okay…I didn’t see Victoria & Abdul. But I’ve seen the trailer and I’ve seen pictures and I’m confidant I’ve seen enough to know that there’s no way anyone can make a legitimate case for Victoria & Abdul over Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 in a category recognizing achievements in makeup. Are you kidding me with this?

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The big shock here was the absence of Dunkirk. Although CGI tends to dominate the landscape, practical effects often find a place among the nominees, and Dunkirk was heavily favored, given the overall admiration for Christopher Nolan’s film and its impressive staging, particularly the aerial sequences. Less of a shock but still a surprise was the omission of The Shape of Water, another widely appealing contender and Best Picture prospect with VFX work that’s beautiful if not necessarily groundbreaking. Instead, the visual effects branch members eschewed their tendency to recognize at least one “prestige” film, and kept the focus on the effects themselves. Dunkirk and The Shape of Water would have been deserving, but so are the two films seen as taking their spots: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Kong: Skull Island. The former showcased a wide variety of superb work, from CG characters and creatures to environments to the impressive de-aging of Kurt Russell for his flashback scene. Kong, meanwhile, boasted outstanding creature effects, not just in the form of the towering simian, but in the titular locale’s many other denizens, most of them as creepy as they are gigantic. The 10 semi-finalists were all impressive this year, so some tough choices had to be made.

 

See, that wasn’t so bad. Just a little light reading between the behemoth prediction posts. Until the next one of those comes along, here are my wishful thinking Oscar categories and nominees, not necessarily concerned with five per category. Because I’m a rebel and I like to break the rules.

BEST POSTER

[Larger Versions: mother! (Lawrence); mother! (Bardem); The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; All the Money in the World; Murder on the Orient Express; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (IMAX); Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Teaser); Wilson; Kong: Skull Island (IMAX); Kong: Skull Island; Baby Driver; Colossal; Wonder Wheel; The Hitman’s Bodyguard]

BEST TRAILER
Dunkirk (Final); It (Teaser); The Lego Batman Movie (Batcave Teaser)Logan (Teaser); mother!; Thor: Ragnarok (Teaser)Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Red Band);

BEST CASTING
Baby Driver – Francine Maisler
Battle of the Sexes – Kim Davis, Justine Baddeley
The Big Sick – Gayle Keller
The Florida Project – Carmen Cuba
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – Sarah Halley Finn
It – Rich Delia
Lady Bird – Allison Jones, Ben Harris
Phantom Thread – Cassandra Kulukundis
The Post – Ellen Lewis
Spider-Man: Homecoming – Sarah Halley Finn
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Sarah Halley Finn
Thor: Ragnarok – Sarah Halley Finn

BEST ENSEMBLE
Baby Driver; It; Lady Bird; Logan; Mudbound; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE
Tiffany Hadish – Girls Trip
Sylvia Hoeks – Blade Runner 2049
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Dafne Keen – Logan
Vicky Krieps – Phantom Thread
Brooklynn Prince – The Florida Project
Algee Smith – Detroit
Bria Vinaite – The Florida Project
Fionn Whitehead – Dunkirk

BEST BODY OF WORK
Colin Farrell (The Beguiled/The Killing of a Sacred Deer/Roman J. Israel, Esq.)
Woody Harrelson (The Glass Castle/LBJ/Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri/War for the Planet of the Apes/Wilson)
Caleb Landry Jones (American Made/The Florida Project/Get Out/Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name/The Post/The Shape of Water)

BEST SONG SOUNDTRACK
Baby Driver; The Disaster Artist; The Greatest Showman; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2; I, Tonya

BEST OPENING CREDITS
Baby Driver; Call Me By Your Name

BEST CLOSING CREDITS
Beauty and the Beast; Call Me By Your Name; The Greatest Showman; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Wasn’t that fun?

Lastly, here’s a brief montage of all of this year’s Oscar nominated films. May it inspire you to check a few out between now and Oscar night, March 4.

 

January 22, 2018

Oscars 2017: Nominations Eve

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 6:45 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Has it been a year already? It seems only yesterday I bolted upright on my couch when one of La La Land‘s producers declared that a mistake had been made and Moonlight was the Best Picture winner. Now here we are, a new year’s worth of films to consider, and me showing up at the last minute as usual to hear myself talk. Oh the fun!  Let’s get to it…

BEST PICTURE
This year’s most nominated film will easily be The Shape of Water, and its inevitable field-leading haul trickles down from here, where it will almost certainly be joined by Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Dunkirk, Lady Bird and Get Out. It will mark an especially impressive journey for the latter film, which debuted last February the weekend that the Oscars were handed out. Despite being met with glowing reviews, few could have expected (hoped, maybe, but probably not expected) that when next year’s Oscar season came around, Get Out would be among the top contenders. An of-the-moment social satire blending horror and comedy, it’s a far cry from the kind of movie typically nominated by the Academy, or given serious attention by groups annually celebrating the best in film. But Get Out has been a fixture all season long, and actually leads the field in Best Picture wins from the critics associations across the country that end up shaping the field of contenders each year during what we in the business of Oscar soothsaying sometimes refer to as Phase 1.

As always, it gets difficult from here, as there could be anywhere from five to ten nominees in this category, depending on how many ballots are turned in and how the votes fall. In the six years since the five-to-ten rule took effect, we’ve had four years with nine nominees and two years with eight. Surely one of these days, we’ll see a different number, but I’m going with nine because…well, I gotta go with something.

Call Me By Your Name is a likely nominee, and after that it really is a guessing game as to what will have enough support to crack the list. In addition to these six films, the Producers Guild of America (PGA) nominated The PostThe Big Sick, Molly’s Game, I, Tonya and Wonder Woman. Will some of these repeat with the Academy? The PGA has a guaranteed 10-film slate (well, 11 this year, due to a tie), which the Academy does not. The PGA can also be counted on to go with some popular picks that rarely break through with the Academy. Wonder Woman fits that bill this year, and though I’d normally dismiss it from having a chance, it’s not out of the question given the current climate of female empowerment. Wonder Woman is fun, but it’s a more important movie than it is a great one, so while some Academy members will probably vote for it to celebrate what it represents, it still faces tough odds.

The Post would seem like a lock, given the several timely issues it hits on, as well as the Oscar-friendly combination of Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. But it missed out on nominations from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Writers Guild of America (WGA), Directors Guild of America (DGA), and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), in addition to coming up short in all six of its categories at the Golden Globes, leading many to believe it hasn’t caught on within the industry as expected. I do think the contingent that supported Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies will champion this one too, but then again their loyalty may lie elsewhere. Each year is its own beast. Perhaps those voters will go for Darkest Hour this time around.

The Big Sick is well-liked but probably too light to score here, whereas I could definitely see I, Tonya getting in. It seems to have taken people by pleasant surprise, and feels like the kind of underdog that surges late. Molly’s Game, despite strong reviews and Aaron Sorkin’s cache, doesn’t have the momentum it needs to push through.

Looking beyond the PGA’s choices still leaves a few possibilities. Darkest Hour, mentioned above, was hailed as an across-the-board contender when it played at the Toronto and Telluride film festivals in September, but its central performance aside, it didn’t make much noise during Phase 1. That doesn’t always mean anything; critics and Academy members don’t necessarily think the same way, and Darkest Hour – a robust historical drama energized by a powerful lead performance – certainly meets the criteria of an Academy-friendly movie…though as the demographics slowly begin to change with newer, younger, more diverse members joining the ranks in the last few years, that criteria could be starting to shift.

The Florida Project is a critical favorite, but I can’t gauge how deep the love goes with the Academy. I’m guessing it will make the cut, but it’s the choice I’m least confident in. There’s also Mudbound, which has the gravitas usually found in Best Picture nominees but might suffer for being distributed by Netflix. Silly as it seems, I’ve been reading that many voters seem to hold that against the movie even though the streaming service did give it a brief theatrical release. It would be a shame if voters denied Mudbound for such a petty reason, but even if the Netflix factor doesn’t enter into most minds the movie still may not have quite the must-see buzz it needs to go the distance with the full Academy.

Others in the mix that could get lucky but are relative longshots for one reason or another are Phantom Thread, The Disaster Artist, and All the Money in the World.

Predictions:
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Florida Project

Get Out
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal Picks:
Blade Runner 2049
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
Logan

Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST DIRECTOR
The Shape of Water‘s Guillermo del Toro will lead the way, finally getting the nomination he should have received 11 years ago for Pan’s Labyrinth. Expect him to be joined by the even more egregiously overdue Christopher Nolan. I’ve been burned before, betting on the directors branch to recognize Nolan, but Dunkirk is much more in the Academy’s sweet spot than The Dark Knight or Inception were, and if they passed him over this time it would be a pretty shocking and baffling slap in the face. He picked up a DGA nomination – his fourth from that group, I might add – and seems poised to finally get an Oscar nod to match. He’d better, or I take a torch to the Linwood Dunn Theater.

Speaking of the DGA, they also nominated del Toro, Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jordan Peele for Get Out, and Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. The Peele and Gerwig nominations were welcome news for those films’ advocates after both missed out on nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which hands out the Golden Globes, and BAFTA. There will be no shortage of negative commentary if either of them are overlooked by the Academy, but it could absolutely happen. The Oscar nominees for directing seldom match up with the DGA picks, and del Toro and Nolan are the only ones who feel like safe bets. McDonagh could find himself the odd man out too, so this will be one of the most eagerly anticipated categories of the nomination announcement. Even though neither Gerwig or Peele make my list of personal picks, I kinda hope they both get nominated just so we can skip the outrage from people who don’t understand how this process works and/or can’t possibly conceive of the notion that not everything is about race and gender.

Why aren’t Peele or Gerwig on my list? Well, not that my personal picks matter in the slightest to anyone but me, but it’s because as much as I liked their movies – and I really really did – and as great as their work is, there’s only room for five nominees, and I feel that some different films stand out as achievements in directing. It’s not because I’m racist and it’s not because I’m sexist and it’s not because I have an unconscious bias. I’ve actually read articles suggesting that such mindsets are the reason that Peele and Gerwig have not been nominated by other groups. In past years my own picks have included black directors, female directors, and black female directors. This year, my choices happen to not include either demographic. But I’ve got Guillermo del Toro, so there you go. Diversity.

So…assuming the Academy is not of the same mind as the DGA, who else is in the running? If Darkest Hour had fared better in Phase 1 I’d have thought Joe Wright might finally bag a nomination (he should have had one a decade ago for Atonement). But even BAFTA failed to nominate him despite a strong overall showing for the film, so it’s hard to imagine he’ll show up here. Call Me By Your Name‘s Luca Guadagnino faces more favorable odds, and I would not be at all surprised to see directors put forth Sean Baker for the intimate, naturalistic performances he drew from his non-professional child actors in The Florida Project (and the non-professional adults, for that matter). Ridley Scott managed the seemingly impossible and certainly audacious self-imposed task of completely replacing Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World, bringing Christopher Plummer onboard and re-convening other cast and crew members on location six weeks before the movie’s scheduled release date. This wasn’t just a matter of re-shooting all the scenes for a role which, while not the lead, is substantial. Plummer wasn’t delivering an identical performance to Spacey’s that could simply be dropped into the already-assembled film. He brought his own rhythm and pacing to the part, necessitating major post-production overhauls.  In fact, screenwriter David Scarpa claims that some scenes with Spacey that had been cut from the film found their way back in because Plummer was so good. If that’s true, it would have made the post-production schedule even more daunting. But Scott and his crew pulled it off, with the movie’s release getting pushed back a mere three days. All of this to say that fellow directors could certainly throw their vote to Scott in admiration not just for the decision to remove Spacey from the film and save everyone else’s hard work from undeserved ignominy, but for the sheer madness of what he attempted…and accomplished

All that said, while the movie has been favorably reviewed, it doesn’t seem to have caught fire, so a nomination for Scott would be perceived as directly commending the unique circumstances rather than his overall work on the movie. Interestingly, All the Money in the World was already moving on an accelerated schedule – filming began in May – with the goal of getting it into theaters by the end of the year, which was also the case with The Post. Steven Spielberg began putting that movie together in March almost immediately after reading the script. Spielberg and Scott are known to be among the fastest-moving, most efficient directors working. But it may not be enough this year to get Spielberg into the final five, even if The Post makes the Best Picture cut.

Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins is a remote possibility, but I think the movie is more likely to be a surprise Best Picture nominee than Jenkins is to score individual recognition. When the directors branch deviates from the DGA, it often does so in favor of an admired auteur with a passionate fan base, from David Lynch for Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive to Krzysztof Kieslowski for Red to Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher. This year, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve or even relative newcomer Dee Rees could benefit from that sort of goodwill for Phantom ThreadBlade Runner 2049, or Mudbound, respectively, though all are long shots if their movies are not nominated for Best Picture. Back in ye olde days of five Best Picture nominees, it was as common for the Picture/Director nominees to not match up as it was for the Academy/DGA choices. Since the field expanded in 2010, however, Miller is the only director to be nominated without a corresponding Best Picture shout-out. All that aside, neither Anderson, Villeneuve or Rees – whatever their films’ Best Picture fates – would be outside-the-box choices. Each received a handful of citations from the critics, and Villeneuve scored a BAFTA nomination. If the directors branch really wanted to go their own way, wouldn’t it be something if they stood up for Darren Aronofsky’s batshit crazy, polarizing but fiercely visionary mother!? Or Edgar Wright’s meticulously assembled popcorn ditty Baby Driver? Or Yorgos Lanthimos’ gripping, unsettling The Killing of a Sacred Deer?

Fun to think about…but don’t count on anything like that happening. When all is said and done, it would not surprise me one bit if this were a year where the DGA and the Academy lined up. I’ve read that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a extremely well-liked by a lot of members, which bodes well for McDonagh. The Golden Globe ceremony, during which Natalie Portman pointedly introduced the “all-male” directing nominees (immediately after Oprah brought the house down with a feminist call to arms, it should be noted) fell smack in the middle of the voting period. Anybody who was undecided or on the fence about Gerwig might have been inspired to help her get recognized by the Academy. Peele is probably the most vulnerable, having directed the film furthest outside the Academy’s comfort zone as far as genre goes. But he’s been such a presence in Phase 1 that, while it’s not hard to imagine him missing, it’s less hard to imagine him getting in.

And hey, maybe we’ll all be surprised and Vin Diesel will finally be right in predicting some Oscar love for The Fast and The Furious series.

Predictions: 
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Edgar Wright – Baby Driver
Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Sean Baker – The Florida Project

Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

BEST ACTRESS
We’ve still got a long way to go before women hold positions behind the camera in the quantity they should, and before they’re front and center in well-developed on-camera roles at the same rate as their male counterparts. But perhaps there’s some encouragement to be found in yet another year where there is such impressive competition for the five Best Actress slots. We’re looking at another heartbreaker where some excellent work is going to be crowded out. It’s a good problem to have, though one unlikely to be felt by Sally Hawkins or Frances McDormand, or probably Saoirse Ronan, all of whom are as close to locks as you can get.

As I, Tonya‘s popularity grew throughout the season, so too did Margot Robbie’s chances, to the point that she now feels like a pretty good bet, though not a guarantee. These four actress scored SAG nominations, alongside Judi Dench for Victoria & Abdul. That’s one of the few films with Oscar chances in the main categories that I missed, so while I can’t speak to Dench’s performance – a reprisal of Queen Victoria, who she was nominated for playing in the 1996 film Mrs. Brown – I can say that I’d be surprised if she makes it. Delightful as Dench looks in the movie, and as much as she is appreciated by Academy members, the competition feels too stiff this year for her to score a nomination in what looks like a performance she could probably give in her sleep.

An ocean away, BAFTA gave a rather surprising nomination – alongside Hawkins, McDormand, Ronan and Robbie – to Annette Bening for Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. She’s great in the movie, playing real-life (and Oscar-winning) actress Gloria Grahame in the final few years of her life, when she fell into a relationship with a much younger man before dying of cancer at age 57. The surprise of the nomination is that it’s the only high-profile mention Bening has received his year. That’s not a commentary on her performance, but rather on the film’s under-the-radar status (it was one of the very last releases of 2017). It’s too bad she’s not deeper in the mix, because she’s terrific in the film. But she’ll sit the race out again, just as she did last year for an even more deserving turn in 20th Century Women (an omission that remains one of 2016’s most disappointing).

Assuming that Hawkins, McDormand, Ronan and Robbie are all in, then laws of science, nature and Oscar would dictate that Meryl Streep be the fifth nominee. In The Post, she gives a wonderfully understated performance as a newspaper owner trying to find her voice in the male-dominated (you’re kidding!) world of publishing circa 1971, while also facing a daunting decision that could result in her imprisonment for defying a government-issued court order. As with the Best Picture race, some pundits see The Post‘s lukewarm showing  on the award circuit as evidence of too little support. Yet nominations for each branch come from within, and plenty of actors will vote for Streep regardless of whether they include the movie in their Best Picture tally. Also, I’m not reading too much into the film’s no-show with SAG; I think it may have been unveiled too close to the end of the voting period for it to make a dent. So…will Streep get in?

If not, Jessica Chastain is the most likely to round out the category, playing a ski champion-turned-poker madame in Molly’s Game. Actors love Sorkin’s scripts, and they will appreciate Chastain’s dexterity with the writer’s trademark, fast-paced dialogue as well as the strength and intelligence she gives the character. Both Chastain and Streep have been regular nominees among the national and regional critics groups, though neither as consistent as the other four ladies already mentioned. It’s a sign of how many worthy performances there are this year that two as good as theirs are on the bubble.

The dark horse contenders are Michelle Williams, typically terrific in All the Money in the World, and if voters are more enamored of Phantom Thread than expected, Vicky Krieps, a fresh face who goes toe to toe with Daniel Day-Lewis. In a weaker year they might have had a better shot, as would last year’s winner Emma Stone for her take on Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes or even Jennifer Lawrence, who certainly gave her all in mother!, whatever people may think of the film. Also deserving of mention are the stars of two potential nominees for Best Foreign Language Film: Daniela Vega for A Fantastic Woman and Diane Kruger for In the Fade. Both play women dealing with grief and resulting challenges after the deaths of loved ones, and each has received wide acclaim, though neither is likely to break into this crowded contest.

A few months ago I’d assumed that Kate Winslet would be firmly in the mix, if not the frontrunner, but unfortunately Wonder Wheel didn’t live up to its promise. Of course, given the resurgence of the Woody Allen controversy in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Winslet may be grateful to be out of the circus this year, where she would surely have faced a lot of awkward questions about working with Allen.

Predictions:
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Personal:
Same

BEST ACTOR
Gary Oldman, nominated only once before, has been considered the favorite to win this award ever since Darkest Hour‘s festival premieres last September. He remains the frontrunner, but first, the nomination. The revered veteran’s most formidable competition comes from relative newcomer Timothée Chalamet, for Call Me By Your Name. Possibly familiar to people from Season 2 of Homeland or a small role as Matthew McConaughey’s son in Interstellar, Chalamet broke through this year with supporting roles in Lady Bird and Hostiles, and his emotionally rich leading turn in CMBYN. Meanwhile, Phantom Thread‘s reunion of Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis should earn the three-time Best Actor winner another nomination, though contrary to popular belief, Day-Lewis doesn’t get nominated just for showing up. He’s missed before, and if Phantom Thread hasn’t connected with voters, he could miss again. But it does seem unlikely, especially considering that this is supposedly his final performance before he leaves acting behind. Hopefully his retirement will be more like Michael Jordan’s than Gene Hackman’s, and seven years from now Anderson or Martin Scorsese will track him down in a tiny village in Belize, hand-making candles…blowing glass…beekeeping…restoring frescoes..something like that, and convince him to step in front of the camera again. Until that universal wish is fulfilled, I expect voters will send him off with one more nomination.

Another strong bet seems to be Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya, but I’m really not sure what to do there. Personally, I don’t get it. A fine performance, but Best Actor? I just don’t see it. I know better…usually…than to let personal opinions (or maybe potential cluelessness in this case, since I don’t understand what I’m missing) keep me from predicting what I think will happen…but when you remove from the equation all the nominations Kaluuya has collected so far – and he’s collected all the big ones – I wouldn’t think he’d get nominated. Only because he does have SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA and BAFTA noms am I even considering him a contender. Having all those feathers in your cap is no guarantee of a nomination, but it sure goes a long way toward making you look secure. There’s also the delicate matter that as far as acting goes, Kaluuya’s track record so far makes him the best shot at avoiding another #OscarsSoWhite year. The only other real potential there comes in the Supporting Actress category, which we’ll get to, but none of the relevant contenders there are on solid ground. Even if individual voters are thinking about #OscarsSoWhite when making their choice, they have no idea how their fellow branch members are voting, so how can they know if an actor of color will end up getting nominated? I have to believe, perhaps naively, that they simply vote for their preferences, regardless of the possible optics. (Another reason the whole #OscarsSoWhite movement is misguided, but I’m not getting into that here.)

SAG’s nominees, in addition to Kaluuya, Chalamet and Oldman, were Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq. and James Franco for The Disaster Artist. Franco makes for another tough call. His  performance, though committed and hilarious, never felt like a sure-thing with the Academy to begin with, but now accusations of sexual misconduct have clouded the waters even further. Those stories emerged in the wake of Franco’s Golden Globe win, which came early in the Oscar voting period. But at first it was just one or two casual accusations on Twitter. It wasn’t until the end of the week, a day before Oscar voting ended, that five claims against him came out in a Los Angeles Times story. Who knows how many voters submit their ballots that late in the game. The majority of people voting for Franco had probably already done so by then, so I don’t think the allegations will have much impact. The question of his nomination boils down to the normal factor of how popular his performance was among voters. And I still don’t know what to think about that. If he does get nominated, it’s sure to raise plenty of internet ire, with cries of the Academy supporting his alleged behavior – claims that, as usual with these matters, will be largely misinformed and misdirected. If he doesn’t get nominated, it will be seen as a victory for the #MeToo movement when in fact that probably had little to do with it.

As for Denzel, he plays enjoyably against type in Roman J. Israel, Esq. as an idealistic, socially-awkward lawyer battling the system, but the movie fell through the cracks. Admired as he is, his chances don’t look good. Had Phantom Thread been screened for SAG members in time for their voting, I suspect Day-Lewis would have been nominated, knocking out Washington or Kaluuya (I know, I know…that doesn’t look good…but I’m just reading the room.) Then again, if my instincts about Franco and/or Kaluuya prove correct, Washington’s odds increase significantly. Oh, what to do? BAFTA retains Kaluuya, Oldman and Chalamet, but jettisons Franco and Washington in favor of Day-Lewis and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool‘s Jamie Bell. He’s good in the film as Annette Bening’s young lover, but can probably chalk his nomination up to a home turf advantage. An Oscar nomination is not in the cards.

Back in October, Jake Gyllenhaal and Andrew Garfield appeared to be in the running, each for playing real-life men who faced significant physical challenges: Garfield in Breathe as Robin Cavendish, who became paralyzed from the neck down due to polio and lived years longer than expected, eventually helping to invent a wheelchair with a built-in respirator; and Gyllenhaal in Stronger as Jeff Bauman, a Boston Marathon bombing victim who lost both his legs. Breathe was met with tepid reviews that quickly took Garfield out of the running, but Gyllenhaal’s faded fortune is more surprising. Both the movie and his performance earned great reviews, and he was expected to be more of a presence during the season. He got a few mentions from critics groups, but was otherwise overlooked. It will be nice when Gyllenhaal finally gets nominated again one of these days. He’s still only been in the running once, for Brokeback Mountain, but after Zodiac, Source Code (yes, I’m serious), Nightcrawler and now this, he’s way past due.

Christian Bale in Hostiles, Hugh Jackman in Logan, and Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes (when is the Academy going to acknowledge that motion capture visual effects technology can not mask a great piece of acting?) all deserve to be serious contenders, but they’re all on the sidelines. Ditto Robert Pattinson, who got some love from the critics for a change-of-pace role in Good Time, but I don’t see most Academy voters finding much appeal in this grungy crime drama. The one last real possibility is Tom Hanks for The Post. Hanks hasn’t been nominated since 2001, coming up a bridesmaid for Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks and Sully. It’s probably going to happen again this year, but he’s definitely in the second tier of possibilities, especially if we’re underestimating The Post. He brings urgency, honor and a slightly mischievous wit to his take on editor Ben Bradlee (who Jason Robards won an Oscar for playing in All the President’s Men.) If I’m right to doubt Franco and/or Kaluuya, Hanks could make it. 

Predictions:
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks – The Post

Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Personal:
Christian Bale – Hostiles
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Hugh Jackman – Logan
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The two leading contenders in this category are both celebrated actresses with long and distinguished careers, but both would be first-time Oscar nominees. While moving regularly between film and television, Allison Janney’s most notable work has been on the smaller screen, and she’s won multiple Emmys for The West Wing and Mom. Laurie Metcalf, though she has appeared in several films, is far better known for television and stage work, having won three Emmys for Roseanne and a Tony for A Doll’s Hose, Part 2. Both play strong-willed mothers to equally strong-willed daughters: Janney in I, Tonya and Metcalf in Lady Bird, and both are about to add Oscar nominee to their impressive lists of accolades.

Beyond these two, this field is hard to pin down, with a number of actresses on relatively equal footing. Maybe The Big Sick‘s Holly Hunter, as another strong-willed mother, is a better bet than most of the competition, but even she is far from a sure thing. Janney, Metcalf and Hunter are SAG nominees along with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound and Hong Chau for Downsizing. Blige got a lot of nominations from critics groups, but I’m not sold on her Oscar chances. She’s good in the movie, and definitely disappears into the character, leaving behind any thoughts of the star musician with whom we’re all familiar. But putting aside how much of a dent Mudbound will make with the Academy given the rumored anti-Netflix sentiment I mentioned in the Best Picture section, the role lacks the kind of showcase scenes usually needed for an Oscar nomination. As for Chau, she’s the highlight of a film that generally fell short of expectations (I liked it), and while some critics have taken issue with the her broken-English accent that they see as caricature, I think her choices make sense, and her performance runs much deeper than that surface concern. But she will have to overcome the otherwise underwhelming reception met by Downsizing. I think she can do it. I’m sure voters made a point to see the movie, as its director and co-writer Alexander Payne is an Academy favorite and two-time screenwriting winner. Excitement about whatever he’s doing is inevitable, and it would be hard to imagine Chau not leaving a lingering impression on those who watched.

All five of these actresses were nominated by the BFCA, along with Octavia Spencer for The Shape of Water and Tiffany Hadish for Girls Trip. Like Blige, Spencer picked up a number of nominations from critics, but whether Academy members feel the part has enough going for it to rise to the level of Oscar nomination is hard to say. She’s well-liked and definitely entertaining in a movie that is among the season’s most beloved,   so that helps. Hadish, meanwhile, broke out as a wild party girl on a trip to New Orleans with her best friends, and she has some truly hilarious moments in a role that earned her comparisons to Melissa McCarthy’s Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids. She garnered a handful of mentions throughout Phase 1, most notably a win from the New York Film Critics Circle, one of the only critics groups that carries any real weight. Still, broad comedies and their performances face an uphill battle for Oscar nominations; Bridesmaids was a rare exception. Hadish may not be as lucky.

The BFCA has a larger field of nominees than most other organizations, so consideration of the BAFTA nominees brings the list back down to the usual five. Their slate included Janney, Metcalf and Spencer, as well as Lesley Manville of Phantom Thread and Kristen Scott Thomas of Darkest Hour. I don’t see it happening for Thomas. There’s very little for her to do in Darkest Hour (she plays Churchill’s wife), and her BAFTA recognition, like Jamie Bell’s, was probably helped by being a local favorite. Manville has some biting moments in Phantom Thread, but it’s a chilly performance that’s probably appreciated more by the critics, and like many of the women we’re talking about here, the part may not give her enough to do to justify Oscar recognition….though I fully admit that’s a consideration I can’t help bringing to the analysis, and there are plenty of past nominees and winners who defy it, so…everyone has their own take on these things. 

Two actresses who definitely have enough to do in their film to be worthy of a nomination are The Florida Project‘s Brooklynn Prince (6 years old when she made the movie) and Bria Vinaite, who plays her single mother. Prince had done some commercials, but here was front and center as the main character of a feature-length film. Vinaite was an entrepreneur with a marijuana-themed clothing line who director Sean Baker discovered on Instagram. Both actresses are nonstop engaging, and absolutely worthy of consideration, though I always wonder with performers as young as Prince how much of what they’re doing is “acting” vs natural behavior, albeit guided by a director and played to the camera. Regardless, a straight line can be drawn from the Academy’s 2012 anointment of Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild to Prince. (The same is true of that whole movie – a Best Picture and Best Director nominee – and The Florida Project.) So Prince could get lucky, but I’d feel better about her chances if SAG, which has been more favorable to child actors, had nominated her first. Then again, Wallis made it without SAG. She did have a BFCA nomination though, giving her at least one significant group’s recognition. Prince won the BFCA’s Best Young Actor/Actress category, but didn’t crack the main acting races. Oh, and for what it’s worth while we’re on the subject of young actresses, Logan‘s Dafne Keen was also excellent, and the nature of that performance is less reliant on normal childlike behavior…unless it’s normal for young children to ferociously decapitate people who try and hurt them, using metal claws that grow from their hands. No? I didn’t think so. As such, I might be so bold as to say that Keen is even more deserving of a nomination for her impactful performance than the adorable Prince.

A few other actresses that garnered a bit of attention from critics but are far off on the sidelines are Tatiana Maslany for Stronger, Nicole Kidman for The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Melissa Leo for Novitiate. There was actually a brief period there where it looked like Leo might have a shot for her role as a demanding Reverend Mother struggling with sweeping reforms in the Catholic Church circa early 1960s, but I think she would have needed more nominations in Phase 1 to keep her in Academy voters’ minds. It’s strange that the movie’s distributor Sony Pictures Classics didn’t put a bit more muscle behind Leo. They’re usually good Oscar campaigners who get results, but it seems most of their attention this year went to Call Me By Your Name. (They also distributed Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, but failed to mount an aggressive campaign for Annette Bening.)

Lastly, a few actresses deserving of mention who received pretty much none: Get Out‘s Allison Williams and Betty Gabriel (especially good as an odd, mysterious maid), The Lost City of Z‘s Sienna Miller, and Hostiles‘ Rosamund Pike. And most surprising? Nary a mention of Michelle Pfeiffer in mother!. I thought at least a few critics groups would have her among their nominees or runner-ups, but she was completely absent.

Predictions:
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Holly Hunter – The Big Sick
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Betty Gabriel – Get Out

Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The one place where The Florida Project is almost sure to score a nomination is here, for Willem Dafoe’s kind, beleaguered motel manager. At first he looked like a runaway favorite among critics groups, but Sam Rockwell has caught up, if not quite closed the gap, for his dim, mama’s boy deputy in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Dafoe and Rockwell could be joined by the latter’s co-star Woody Harrelson, whose role provided some of the movie’s more surprising and emotional moments. When Three Billboards emerged from the Telluride/Toronto/Venice film festival trifecta with roaring buzz, the reviews focused largely on Frances McDormand and Rockwell. But when the awards game began a few months later, Harrelson started to get his due as well. He picked up SAG and BAFTA nominations, proving an unexpectedly sturdy player in a race where Rockwell was expected to carry the movie’s torch solo. (Rockwell too was nominated by SAG and BAFTA, as well the BFCA and HFPA. He’s already won the last two.)

If Harrelson does join Rockwell as an Oscar nominee, it throws a wrench into a category where, early on, an entirely different film seemed poised to offer a pair of nominees. It was Call Me By Your Name and its stars Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg who were thought to be a dual threat here. And they still may be. Perhaps the category could shake out with Dafoe, Rockwell, Harrelson, Hammer and Stuhlbarg. But I doubt it, because we haven’t gotten to Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water yet. We will in a moment, but first, Call Me‘s two contenders. Both have fared well in the precursor awards, with some critics groups nominating each of them, some going with Stuhlbarg only, others with just Hammer. Working against Stuhlbarg is that  throughout most of the movie he appears in short bursts with nothing out of the ordinary to do…until that much talked about scene he has at the end. Make no mistake, whatever recognition Stuhlbarg has received for this movie is entirely about That Scene. Actors have won Oscars for what were essentially one-scene-knockouts (Beatrice Straight in Network and Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables come immediately to mind), so certainly Stuhlbarg could be nominated on the strength of that one powerful moment. He won’t be hurt by having been in some of the year’s other most acclaimed films and TV shows (The Shape of WaterThe Post, and Fargo). In fact, Stuhlbarg is in at least one of every year’s best films and/or TV shows. Seriously, Michael Stuhlbarg is fucking awesome. He’s surely accumulated enough goodwill from fellow actors to help him score a nomination for what boils down to a few unforgettable minutes. But will he?

I mentioned Richard Jenkins, who’s a SAG nominee along with Dafoe, Rockwell, and Harrelson. (Neither Hammer nor Stuhlbarg made the guild’s cut, not that that wrecks their Oscar chances by any means). Jenkins, the always-terrific character actor who has probably worked with half of the members in the branch, shines as a source of both humor and pathos in The Shape of Water. With nominations from several critics groups, he has plenty of momentum.

Another spoiler who could upset what for most of Phase 1 looked like a tight race between the six actors already discussed? Christopher Plummer. We covered Ridley Scott’s 11th hour re-shoots of All the Money in the World, but here the focus shifts to the man who had to step into a difficult situation with little time to prepare or research, and in a mere 9 days, deliver a performance all his own, calibrating it to the rest of a movie that was already in the can. It takes a real pro to pull that off; someone who can come in without any ego or bullshit, who’s there to get down to work and help tell the story. Not only did Plummer meet those needs behind the scenes, he delivered a performance that pops and crackles with exactly the kind of energy and star quality that the part demanded to begin with. Although not the central figure in the movie, J. Paul Getty needs to be scene-stealer. While we’ll never know what the results were, it’s easy to see why Kevin Spacey was chosen for the role in the first place. Upon casting Plummer, Scott said that’s who he wanted all along, but ended up with Spacey because the studio wanted a bigger star. Ironic that in the end, Scott got what he wanted, the movie got what it needed, and the studio might get bragging rights if Plummer lands a nomination. Surely his fellow actors will be impressed with the effort and the outcome.

With now seven top contenders, I think Hammer is the one who falls out first. That leaves six, all with compelling attributes in their favor, vying for five spots. I have no idea which one will get left out…or if more than one will miss in favor of a surprise. There are plenty of people lurking on the periphery who’ve been heralded by critics and other groups, or who at least earned impressive reviews and who could find themselves nominated against the odds. There’s Patrick Stewart as a mostly-but-not-entirely diminished Charles Xavier in Logan; Idris Elba, who gets arguably the most quintessential Aaron Sorkin monologue in Molly’s Game and crushes it; Steve Carell, who mines depth and nuance in what could have been a one-note take on Billie Jean King’s chauvinist challenger Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes (and who, in something of a surprise, picked up a SAG nomination); Ray Romano in The Big Sick, who, like Carell, started out in comedy but has grown into an actor with genuine dramatic chops, and here gets to blend the two sides nicely; Jason Mitchell as a young African-American struggling with the indignity of Jim Crow-Mississippi after tasting tolerance as a WWII tank commander in Mudbound; Barry Keoghan as an awkward teen who wreaks unnerving havoc on a surgeon and his family in The Killing of a Sacred Deer; and Keoghan’s Dunkirk co-star Mark Rylance, as a civilian boat captain sailing across the English Channel to help rescue soldiers trapped on the beach. Of all these outliers, I think Carell and Elba are the only ones who would have any real shot of breaking in, and still the odds are slim, even for Carell with his SAG and Golden Globe Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy nominations. Maybe Rylance could sneak in if enough members of the acting branch were determined to recognize Dunkirk…but highly unlikely.

There are a few others I’d be remiss not to mention who are eminently worthy of attention this year. Mary J. Blige reaped most of the individual praise from Mudbound‘s acclaimed ensemble, with some love leftover for Jason Mitchell, but I was most impressed by the one actor in the cast I wasn’t familiar with: Rob Morgan, who brought wonderful shadings to his weary sharecropper. Steve Zahn stole the show as Bad Ape in War for the Planet of the Apes, proving perhaps even more than Andy Serkis this time around how much an actor’s own persona and talent can shine through the visual effects in a motion capture performance. Gil Birmingham, perhaps most familiar as Jeff Bridges’ partner in last year’s Hell or High Water, was heartbreaking as the father of a teenage girl whose mysterious death on a harshly cold, remote Indian reservation is at the center of Wind River. And finally, Michael Shannon as the cruel project leader at the government lab that employs Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water. Shannon was terrific, and has twice come from considerably far behind to be nominated for an Oscar. Maybe he’ll crash the party again.

Predictions:
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water 
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Steve Carell – Battle of the Sexes
Rob Morgan – Mudbound

Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Michael Shannon – The Shape of Water

Steve Zahn – War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Whatever happens with Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig and Martin McDonagh in the Best Director category, all three should be safe here for Get Out, Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, respectively. Three Billboards was ruled ineligible for the WGA Awards due to being made outside of the guild’s guidelines – a fate which befalls at least one frontrunner every year. Other disqualified scripts include Darkest Hour, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Coco, though none of those were expected to penetrate a tight race. (Then again, Darkest Hour seems to be on an upswing, so it has a shot.) WGA’s nominees, in addition to Get Out and Lady Bird, are Steven Rogers for I, Tonya, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani for The Big Sick, and Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor for The Shape of Water. BAFTA’s slate, meanwhile, is almost the same, but drops The Big Sick in favor of Three Billboards.

The surprise out of these precursors is the momentum for I, Tonya. Landing both the BAFTA and WGA nominations doesn’t mean anything for certain, but it shows support from two organizations who share membership with the Academy and who had other promising choices to elevate, most notably The Post and Phantom Thread. The Post was widely expected to be a major contender here, but being passed over by the WGA and BAFTA does not bode well. As for Paul Thomas Anderson, you never know what will happen. Writers love him, but Phantom Thread might be among his less accessible work, more akin to The Master than There Will Be Blood or Boogie Nights. The Master was nominated by the WGA, but not the Academy. His last movie, Inherent Vice, saw those results flipped.

One other longshot possibility is Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, but while his fellow writers have a better track record of recognizing him than the directors branch (he was nominated for Memento and InceptionDunkirk is a more visceral film, with a deliberate lack of dialogue and character development – two things that writers rightfully value. Many of them no doubt still understand the importance of good screenwriting in creating something like Dunkirk, but they are more likely to celebrate films that stand as showcases for their craft.

In a more wide open year, we might be talking about Wind River, another excellent screenplay from Taylor Sheridan, who was nominated last year for Hell or High Water and robbed of a nomination the year prior for Sicario. But the race seems to have solidified around nine movies, four of which are vying for the one spot that doesn’t appear to be spoken for. However it shakes out, there’s bound to be some disappointment. I’m afraid The Big Sick is going to fall by the wayside. I hated omitting it from my personal picks, but something had to give. It was almost as consistent a nominee among critics groups as the other four frontrunners, and had been hailed as a likely screenwriting contender as far back as its Sundance premiere a year ago. There’s plenty of love for it, but the late-blooming I, Tonya many have eclipsed its chances.

Predictions:
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Rogers – I, Tonya
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Unlike its counterpart, the Adapted Screenplay category feels much more fluid. Or maybe it’s not fluidity so much as there being fewer sure things. In fact, the only lock in my mind is Call Me By Your Name. Most pundits would add The Disaster Artist, and they’re probably right, but I could see it missing. It’s a broad comedy in a category that tends to prefer its comedy more elegant and sophisticated (think Sideways, Wonder Boys, American Splendor, Up in the Air…). Then again, Borat picked up a nomination here, so what the hell do I know? The Disaster Artist has the underlying theme of pursuing your dreams no matter what, and surely that resonates with anyone who’s become successful enough in the movie business to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Call Me and Disaster Artist are among the WGA nominees, along with Mudbound, Molly’s Game and Logan. I was thrilled to see Logan cited by the guild. Between that and other more mainstream/commercial films like Blade Runner 2049 (recognized, as was Logan, with nominations from several critics groups), War for the Planet of the Apes and Thor: Ragnarok (and some might say Wonder Woman and Star Wars: The Last Jedi), 2017 provided numerous examples that even franchise movies and comic book adaptations can be as intelligent, emotional and complex as any other drama traditionally recognized in awards season.

In a different year, Logan might appear to be the beneficiary of the WGA deeming one or two more “typical” choices ineligible, but this year none of those excluded scripts on the adapted side are frontrunners. Victoria & Abdul and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool are the most notable victims, and neither was really in the race. Liverpool did get a BAFTA nomination, but their Adapted Screenplay slate is not much of a barometer for the Oscar this year. They also nominated Call Me By Your Name and Molly’s Game, but their remaining two slots went to movies that didn’t open in the U.S. in 2017: Paddington 2 and The Death of Stalin. It’s not inconceivable, therefore that the Oscar nominations could match the WGA’s picks down the line. But if we assume there’s likely to be one difference, possible nominees are the The Beguiled, The Lost City of ZHostiles, or the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049.

Predictions:
Sofia Coppola – The Beguiled
James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name

Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Dee Rees, Virgil Williams – Mudbound

Personal:
Hampton Fancher, Michael Green – Blade Runner 2049
James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name
Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green – Logan
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Dee Rees, Virgil Williams – Mudbound


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

This is one of the few categories where I have seen almost none of the contenders, for one of three reasons:

-It was an underwhelming year for mainstream choices, and very little of what was out there looked interesting or appealing.

-With the exception of Loving Vincent, which had great word of mouth and enjoyed a long run at theaters, most of the independent animated offerings were difficult to find.

-The few indie films that could be found were playing only for the one-week engagements necessary to qualify. I’d hoped to see The Breadwinner and Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, but I wasn’t able to get to either of them during their brief windows of availability.

26 films were submitted for consideration, and assuming they all met the requirements – such as that one-week engagement in Los Angeles – five films can be nominated. The slate of studio-released animation this year looked pretty bland. The Boss Baby, Despicable Me 3, Captain Underpants…not really screaming Oscar-worthy to me. Let’s hope this means it will be one of those years where more indie films shine through…although there’s a new rule that might not bode well for outside-the-box thinking. As with all other categories except for Best Picture, nominees are selected by members of the appropriate branch. This year, for the first time, Best Animated Feature was opened up to the entire Academy. That might pose a challenge for any of those movies that couldn’t be widely seen to get included. On the other hand, it’s not truly an everyone-can-vote situation. According to the rules, a nominating committee will be responsible for the voting. Anyone in the Academy can join the committee, but you must be on the committee to participate. Hopefully this means that only the truly engaged will take part (it could end up being all or mostly members of the animation branch anyway) and those smaller, less publicized films will get a fair shake.

I expect Coco, Loving Vincent and The Breadwinner to make the list, but I have no idea what might join them. The studio films all seem so undeserving, and I know too little about the independent options and how they’ve been received to hazard any well-informed guess about what might show up. I’m basically throwing a dart at the list.

Predictions:
Birdboy: The Forgotten Children
The Breadwinner

Coco
Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

Personal:
N/A

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The great Roger Deakins, still awaiting his first win, should pick up his 14th nomination thanks to Blade Runner 2049. His stiffest competition will come from the other two sure things: Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk and Dan Lausten for The Shape of Water. All three were nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), and by BAFTA, and by pretty much every single critics group that gives out a cinematography honor. Their fellow ASC nominees are Bruno Delbonnel for Darkest Hour and Rachel Morrison for Mudbound, and I suspect one of them will be replaced in the Academy’s line-up.

Morrison is the first woman to be nominated for the ASC’s award, and should she receive an Oscar nomination, she’ll have the same distinction with the Academy. It would be an especially resonant victory given all that’s happening this year, but she faces tough competition, and is probably more likely than Delbonnel to be the ASC contender who misses out on an Oscar nomination. Darkest Hour‘s use of light and shadow is striking in a way that Oscar voters tend to reward, whereas Mudbound‘s lensing is understated, naturalistic…very unshowy, which is not the easiest path to the Oscars. It will be fellow cinematographers evaluating the field, of course, and many will no doubt appreciate her work. But there are other potential nominees that are equally effective while also being more overtly “pretty” or visually stimulating. Personally, I must have missed something, because I saw Mudbound twice and neither time was I particularly struck by its photography. Which isn’t to say I thought the film was not well shot. It just didn’t stand out to me as one of the year’s best achievements. And I understand that my knowledge of cinematography (and most elements of filmmaking, for that matter) is casual and that I’m most certainly unaware of all the elements that should be considered when judging it.

There is plenty of other impressive work that could break in should the Academy drop Mudbound or Darkest Hour. Ed Lachman won raves for Wonderstruck, shooting on film and using black and white for the 1920’s half of the movie while giving the 1970’s scenes the warm, grainy look of many of that period’s notable New York-set films, like The French Connection. Three time winner Vittorio Storaro brought light and color to Wonder Wheel that popped off the screen; quite atypical for Woody Allen’s movies, which aren’t usually standouts in this area. Call Me By Your Name‘s Sayombhu Mukdeeprom captured the beauty of an Italian villa and helped evoke an impressive sense of mood in the lighting as the protagonist’s lazy summer days bleed into night and back again. And in mother!, Matthew Libatique keeps the camera close to Jennifer Lawrence at all times such that the audience discovers the story’s increasingly bizarre twists and turns right along with her. The Lost City of Z, War for the Planet of the Apes, Hostiles, Murder on the Orient Express, A Ghost Story and, don’t laugh, Kong: Skull Island are all worthy of attention.

Predictions:
Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom – Call Me By Your Name
Bruno Delbonnel – Darkest Hour

Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk
Dan Lausten – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Same


BEST FILM EDITING

This category shares a special friendship with Best Picture, and many will say that it’s nearly impossible to win the big award without an editing nomination. The numbers bear that out, but is it just coincidence or do voters really make the connection? Birdman defied this historical pattern when it won the top prize in 2015 without an editing nod. It was the first since Ordinary People in 1980. All of this to say that Best Editing tends to be filled with the Best Picture frontrunners. But it also makes room on occasion for a well-received action movie that is otherwise not a contender in most top-tier categories. Air Force One, Crimson Tide, Speed, Terminator 2, and Die Hard were all nominated for Best Film Editing, while The Matrix and The Bourne Ultimatum both pulled off wins. This year, it would be something of a crime if Baby Driver didn’t secure a spot. Nearly every moment of this movie is meticulously timed to the music playing in the central character’s earphones, and the precision and creativity with which the movie is assembled makes it one of the year’s standout achievements in this field.

Assuming the editors branch does the right thing here in regards to Baby Driver, the rest of the slots will likely be occupied by the top Best Picture contenders…though that still leaves a lot of possibilities. Dunkirk and The Shape of Water are looking good for recognition, but it will be a battle between Get Out, Lady Bird, Three Billboards, I, Tonya, Molly’s Game, Darkest Hour and The Post for the remaining spaces. With the exception of Darkest Hour, all of these films picked up nominations from the American Cinema Editors (ACE), which splits their award into categories for Drama and Comedy/Musical. Their roster included Blade Runner 2049 as well, which was also included by BAFTA, the BFCA and several critics groups, giving it major spoiler potential.

Predictions:
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
Get Out

The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
The Post

The Shape of Water

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Blade Runner 2049 leads the way here, with The Shape of Water right behind it. Dunkirk is a strong likelihood too, as we move away from some of the contemporary-set films dominating the top categories and get into period pieces, fantasy and sci-fi. The former two meet in Beauty and Beast, where the ornate castle looms large and incorporates period design with plenty of fantastical flourishes. Other period stand-outs that could be included are Darkest HourPhantom Thread, Murder on the Orient Express and Wonderstruck. Beyond Blade Runner, there are also some excellent sci-fi contenders in Alien: Covenant, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Downsizing would be a worthy inclusion here, and while it doesn’t have a chance, it deserves mention for perfectly capturing the way the world-changing technology at the movie’s center would be sold and marketed to consumers. The entire layout of the Leisureland exposition hall, and pretty much every aspect of how that entire location is presented, not to mention the luxurious mansions and, later in the film, the more lower income quarters where Hong Chau brings Matt Damon…all the design elements are so spot-on that you might be fooled into thinking the whole downsizing enterprise actually exists. The Art Directors Guild has a Contemporary category, and they did well to nominate this alongside the familiar titles like Get Out, Lady Bird and Three Billboards. (Logan was the category’s fifth nominee.)

Across their Period and Fantasy categories the guild also nominated The Post, War for the Planet of the Apes and Wonder Woman alongside a few titles I mentioned above, so any of them could conceivably show up, but I’d be surprised. 

Predictions:
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

Personal:
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Again, contemporary films rarely get recognized here, even if arguments could be made for Lady Bird, Get Out or I, Tonya. And if there were an award for best single costume piece of the year, you’d have to consider Frances McDormand’s blue jumpsuit (if that’s what it is) in Three Billboards. It’s essentially her superhero outfit. But, like the Production Design category, this one is all about period and fantasy, which means we’re often looking at the same group of films between the two. Beauty and the Beast should be sitting pretty here, and Darkest Hour and Dunkirk could repeat as well. I could see The Shape of Water going either way. It’s on slightly less solid ground for costume design than in most other below-the-line categories, but will probably be swept in. 

If you’re going to make a movie about a famous clothing designer, the costumes had better meet the highest standard so that we can buy into the character’s stature as an icon in his field. Phantom Thread succeeds with flying colors and should easily get nominated. Murder on the Orient Express could make the cut, and The Greatest Showman may also find recognition here. Wonder Woman, Victoria & Abdul and Mudbound are possibilities too. (Can we at least give an Oscar to Mary J. Blige’s sunglasses? Maybe there really does need to be a category for best individual costume piece.) Blade Runner 2049 has picked up a few notices, including one from the Costume Designers Guild (CDG), but I can’t get behind that, if only for the head-scratching choice of having Harrison Ford in a generic grey T-shirt and jeans, utterly failing to draw any connection between the Deckard of the original film and the Deckard of the film’s present day.

Speaking of the CDG, I was disappointed that with an entire category dedicated to Contemporary costumes they still failed to nominate Baby Driver, which featured many memorable looks courtesy of designer Courtney Hoffman. Baby’s jacket, simple though it was, nevertheless stood out, not unlike McDormand’s blue jumpsuit in Three Billboards. Lily James’ waitress outfit was an inventive variation on an everyday look; Jamie Foxx’s red-on-red shirt and jacket combo popped; and Eisa Gonzalez’s ensembles had as much attitude as her character. I wouldn’t expect an Oscar nomination, however worthy the costumes are, but the guild pass is a pretty glaring oversight.

Predictions:
Beauty and the Beast
Dunkirk
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water

Personal:
Baby Driver
Beauty and the Beast
Darkest Hour
The Greatest Showman

Phantom Thread

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
I’ve written at length before (is there any other way to write?) about the problems with the guidelines for this category and how the contenders are judged, so I’ll move past that and just get to the guess work. As always, it’s a tricky category to nail down, as it’s one of the few where voters look beyond the same films that tend to show up in so many other categories. To be fair, those films often don’t have a song in play, but even still the branch members have been known to come up with some left-field choices in this race.

There are 70 songs in the running this year, and to my point above, none of them are from Lady Bird, Get Out, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Molly’s Game, The Post, Phantom Thread….you get the idea. In fact, the only film among the top contenders that could show up here is Call Me By Your Name, and it likely will. Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens contributed two songs to the movie, both of which are featured prominently. If voters choose only one, it will probably be “Mystery of Love,” although “Visions of Gideon,” which is more repetitive, is arguably a more memorable melody and plays over the film’s affecting ending moments. Both have a viable shot at a nomination.

Under the current system of judging, songs that appear in the actual movie and not just over end credits are often thought to have an advantage, which is always good news for musicals. This year, Beauty and The Beast and The Greatest Showman can expect to carry on the tradition. For Beauty and the Beast, Alan Menken – the animated film’s original composer – returned and contributed some new songs, written with Tim Rice. Of the two submitted, “Evermore” might be the stronger candidate, although the other, “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” is also graced with that Disneydust which is so much catnip to Oscar voters, so maybe both could land a spot. From The Greatest Showman comes “This is Me,” a rousing anthem of empowerment sung by Keala Settle, who plays a bearded lady in P.T. Barnum’s circus. It’s a showstopper that should have no problem landing a nomination. I’m not sure why no other songs from the film were submitted. It could have put forth up to three, but perhaps the studio felt they had a better chance of a nomination by keeping the focus on one song. Too bad; I’m sure “A Million Dreams” would have been nominated alongside “This is Me,” and although only two songs from a single film can ultimately make the final five, “Rewrite the Stars” would also have been a deserving contender.

While not exactly a musical, the protagonist of Pixar’s Coco is a young boy with aspirations of singing professionally, so the movie does include song performances. The most resonant – and the only one submitted – is “Remember Me,” which is performed various times throughout the film, by various characters and in various styles. Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal and Anthony Gonzalez all have a go, and it’s that last rendition that makes for one of the most emotionally affecting moments in the movie (and there are many such moments throughout Coco). The song is simple and brief, but that final version packs a punch at a crucial moment in the movie, which should assure it a nomination. 

There’s one song I would have loved to see included, but it was not eligible. “I Get Overwhelmed,” from A Ghost Story, could not be submitted because composer Daniel Hart did not specifically write it for the movie, even though he sent it to writer/director David Lowery before using it anywhere else. It became an inspiration to Lowery as he was finishing the script and scouting locations, and he ended up writing a scene into the film in which he could use the song. I wish the rules should be flexible enough to accommodate a situation like that, where a song has not been previously released commercially, and the film and song are clearly in sync with each other. 

Predictions:
Evermore – Beauty and the Beast
Mighty River – Mudbound
Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name
Remember Me – Coco
This is Me – The Greatest Showman

Personal:
Love and Lies – Band Aid
Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name

Remember Me – Coco
This is Me – The Greatest Showman
Visions of Gideon – Call Me By Your Name


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

After a brief respite from the season’s usual suspects, they’re back in play for Best Original Score, and will likely dominate the category. The Shape of Water is in for sure, and Darkest Hour and Dunkirk are good bets too. Most will say that Phantom Thread is a guarantee, but I’m less certain. It probably will make it, but composer Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame is a rock musician first and a film composer second. It would not surprise me if some members of the branch were not so quick to embrace him.

Blade Runner 2049 was nominated by most critics groups who give out a score award, but I’d wager the movie’s heavily dissonant style, while no doubt effective in the movie, is not many voters’ cup of tea. In fact, the same quality could hurt Dunkirk, though that score has a bit more melody and, like the scores in all of Christopher Nolan’s movies, vigorously propels the action. John Williams, the most nominated person alive, has two chances this year with The Post and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. He was nominated for The Force Awakens, but I don’t think he’ll be back for the sequel, which offered no new themes or standout pieces. It was a good Star Wars score, but not original enough to merit a nomination. I also didn’t feel that The Post offered his strongest work, but it underscores the movie nicely enough, and given how revered Williams is, you can never count him out.

Others that picked up some love from the critics were War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonderstruck and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I would love to see the Academy recognize Apes, which was easily one of the strongest scores of the year and offered multiple recurring and memorable motifs.

There are always plenty of worthy scores in the running, too many to consider them all fairly and fully, but among those that warrant mention are A Ghost Story, Logan, Victoria & Abdul, Loving Vincent, Thor: Ragnarok, and Murder on the Orient Express. I don’t expect any, other than possibly Victoria & Abdul, to surprise, but I’d be happy if any did.

Predictions:
Dario Marianelli – Darkest Hour
Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
John Williams – The Post
Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Dario Marianelli – Darkest Hour
Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
Michael Giacchino – War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The Academy always does us a favor by narrowing this field down considerably in December, leaving only seven possibilities, from which three will be chosen. This year’s list features Bright, Darkest Hour, Ghost in the Shell, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, I, Tonya, Victoria & Abdul and Wonder.

Well we already know what’s going to win this award come March, so it goes without saying that Darkest Hour will be nominated for Gary Oldman’s stunning transformation into Winston Churchill. Guardians of the Galaxy is a shoo-in too. Nearly every character in the movie sports significant makeup effects, and the work is too vast, too varied and too good to be ignored. But damn if I have any inkling as to where the third nomination will go. I’d maybe rule out Bright, but I haven’t actually seen it; I’ve only looked at pictures. (Ditto Victoria & Abdul and Wonder). They all seem like feasible contenders, from what I can tell.

I would have liked to see It on this list. I thought it would make the cut of seven, if perhaps not the final three. Maybe the nomination committee members are scared of clowns.

Predictions:
Darkest Hour
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Wonder

Personal:
Darkest Hour
Ghost in the Shell
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Here too, the Academy makes things slightly easier by trimming the field – first to 20 films in early December, then to 10 a few weeks later. The remaining hopefuls are Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island, Okja, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and War for the Planet of the Apes.

I once again had a chance to attend the Visual Effects Bakeoff, a gathering of branch members at which 10 minutes worth of footage from each film is shown, accompanied by brief commentary from the potential nominees. After the presentation, the members cast their votes. Being in the room can provide a sense of how the voters feel about the work, and can also help illuminate challenges faced in creating the effects that you might not have been aware of otherwise. It definitely helped me make my picks last year.

This time around, I’m not sure anything I saw or sensed moved the needle too much. All of the work was impressive, though I’d guess that Valerian would be the first to go. It felt like the sheer amount of VFX in the movie was its most impressive attribute, but I can’t see it surviving to the final five. Everything else seemed possible and, to my untrained eye, worthy of a nomination. It’s almost more a matter of determining what feels like it “has to be there” and working back from there. I’d wager that Blade Runner and Planet of the Apes have to be there above all. Dunkirk and The Shape of Water cover the “prestige” films that are usually represented, and Dunkirk should appeal in particular to the branch members who work on practical effects rather than CGI. With The Shape of Water, I got the sense that people in the room were especially impressed with how effects were used to enhance the creature suit worn by actor Doug Jones and make the character feel more organic and otherworldly.

That leaves Star Wars, which will probably get in because the effects are top notch and Star Wars is pretty much the reason every member of the branch works in VFX to begin with. That said, I can’t think of anything in The Last Jedi that breaks significant new ground, so it feels like the most vulnerable of the “has-to-be-there” group. Okja‘s giant pig and its playful relationship with its young owner seemed to strike an emotional chord with the crowd, so if there’s a surprise, that could be it. But as I said, nearly everything looked impressive to me. I wish there was room for Guardians of the Galaxy and Kong.

Predictions:
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

Personal:
Same

BEST SOUND EDITING / BEST SOUND MIXING
Okay, so I’m running short of time to finish this up, and we’ve come to the two categories about which I know the least, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Each of these races will probably feature three or four of the same movies, so I’ll just lay my cards on the table and see what happens.

Sound Editing Predictions:
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Wonder Woman

Sound Mixing Predictions:
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I might have found a place for Coco or Transformers: The Last Knight somewhere in there, but it’s been several years since any animated films have shown up in these categories, and the last Transformers movie, unlike all of its predecessors, wasn’t nominated, so maybe the voters have heard enough of that franchise. As for my personal picks, I always say that my lack of understanding of what really goes into this craft – which I’m sure is shared by most Academy members – makes me wish there were a single category  honoring overall Sound Design, which seems like it might be a little bit easier for the layperson. In my lack of understanding, this year I would nominate Baby Driver, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and War for the Planet of the Apes.

 

No doubt to your great relief, that’s all I’ve got. Nominations will be announced Tuesday morning in two parts, beginning at the odd time of 5:22am PT. May fortune favor your picks, as long as they don’t conflict with mine. 

 

September 10, 2017

20 Movies I’m Looking Forward to in What’s Left of 2017

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 4:45 pm
Tags: , ,

Since 2009, I’ve been writing about anywhere from 20-30 movies that I’m excited about in the coming year, which I usually post shortly after the Oscars. Last year, I didn’t get the list out until May, but most of the movies I was anticipating were still to come, so okay, no big deal. My intention this year was to get it out in January, since there were actually some February releases I wanted to include.

That didn’t really work out.

Nor did May.

Or July.

And so The Lego Batman Movie, Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Alien: Covenant, Song to Song, Beauty and the Beast, Trainspotting 2, The Great Wall, Baby Driver, War for the Planet of the Apes, Detroit and Dunkirk have all passed by.

Now, as we enter my favorite movie season of the year, plenty of titles from my original list are yet to arrive, so in an effort to not totally abandon this blog, and to not completely waste the time I’d already put into this post, I’ve reconfigured it as a sort of Fall Movie Preview, informed by some recent developments at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals. Even this late in the year I have no problem coming up with a list of 20 movies, and could easily have included more that I’m eager to see. No doubt many of these will come up again in my Oscar posts. But for now, consider…

20.
LAST FLAG FLYING

Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater, Darryl Ponicsan
Cast: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburnce, J. Quinton Johnson, Yul Vasquez
Release Date: November 3

Among the many films that come up when people talk about the great American cinema of the 1970’s is Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, which starred Jack Nicholson and Otis Young as Navy officers tasked with escorting a younger, sentenced cadet (Randy Quaid) to prison. It was adapted by Robert Towne from a novel by Darryl Ponicsan, and in 2005 the novelist published a follow-up that dropped in on the three characters post 9/11. From the time it was published, Richard Linklater has wanted to adapt the semi-sequel for the screen, and originally hoped to reunite Nicholson and Quaid, with Morgan Freeman replacing Young, who died in 2001. Sadly, that ship has sailed, with Nicholson essentially retired and Quaid, well…let’s just say Quaid is otherwise occupied and leave it at that. Still, it’s hard to wallow in regret over what might have been when the newly assembled trio is as impressive and promising as Carell, Cranston and Fishburne. And in the end, Linklater — collaborating with Ponicsan on the script — ended up shifting direction a bit by not making the film a direct sequel to The Last Detail, but rather more of a spiritual one in which the trio of leads play different characters. Either way, as far as I’m concerned. Having only seen The Last Detail once, my interest in this movie was never about that one. I’m just excited by the promise of this filmmaker and these actors.

19.
THE CURRENT WAR

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Writer: Michael Mitnick
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Macfayden, Katherine Waterston
Release Date: December 22

In Christopher Nolan’s 2006 drama The Prestige, two illusionists in the 1800’s engage in an increasingly intense rivalry to dazzle audiences with a particularly astonishing trick. Though fictional, the characters interact with very real inventor Nikola Tesla, who makes a key contribution to their efforts. In The Current War, Tesla once again factors into the rivalry of two competitors, this time the real-life pioneers Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, as they race to implement the most effective system of delivering electricity to the masses. Cumberbatch and Shannon take on Edison and Westinghouse, respectively, and if Me and Earl and the Dying Girl helmer Gomez-Rejon seems an odd choice for this larger-scale, more cinematic material, he has plenty of experience telling stories of competition and of light and dark as a veteran director of Glee and American Horror Story. As for Tesla, those who can’t get enough of him — nor afford the car that bears his name — can look forward to him being front and center in a potential upcoming film about his relationship with Mark Twain. In the meantime, Nicholas Hoult assumes the mantle from Nolan’s Tesla, the late David Bowie.

X
18.

THE DISASTER ARTIST
Director: James Franco
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Hannibal Buress, Zac Efron, Ari Graynor, Melanie Griffith, Josh Hutcherson, Seth Rogen, Sharon Stone, Jacki Weaver
Release Date: December 1

If you live in a major city, there’s a very good chance that on any given weekend, there’s a theater somewhere offering a midnight screening of The Room, a 2003 movie so notoriously awful that it has garnered a devoted cult following and been called the worst movie of all time. One of The Room‘s stars, Greg Sestero, wrote a book about his experience working on the project and his relationship with its fascinating writer, director and lead actor, Tommy Wiseau. In this comedic but affectionate adaptation of that book, James Franco takes on the role of Wiseau, with his brother Dave playing Sestero. Based on the highly favorable reaction to the film upon its debut earlier this year at the South by Southwest festival, the filmmaking team may have spun gold from the dreck, crafting an Ed Wood-like homage that aims to celebrate the passion more than mock the results. After seeing the first teaser trailer for The Disaster Artist, I had my doubts that Wiseau could have performed as poorly as Franco’s interpretation suggests. I was wrong. I’ve never seen The Room; I generally feel that there are too many good movies worth seeing to waste time on the bad ones, even those of the so-bad-they’re good variety. But The Disaster Artist may force me to make an exception.

17.
DARKEST HOUR
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Cast: Gary Oldman, Stephen Dillane, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pickup, Kristin Scott Thomas
Release Date: November 22

While the pedigree of this movie – Atonement director Wright, The Theory of Everything screenwriter McCarten, and a fine cast headed by Oldman – would automatically put it on my list of movies to see, it probably wouldn’t have made the jump to this list had it not just premiered to a thunderous reception at the Venice Film Festival, where Oldman was instantly elevated to frontrunner status in this year’s Best Actor race for his performance as Winston Churchill. That’s all well and good, and no doubt I’ll have more to say about it if I manage to do my usual Oscar write-ups come January. But the movie was celebrated beyond just Oldman’s work. It was hailed as an across-the-board triumph that tells the story of Churchill’s early days in office with vigor and passion, bringing the history of Britain’s stand against Nazi Germany to thrilling life. In addition, by focusing on a narrow period of Churchill’s life rather than going the cradle-to-grave biopic route, it stands to follow in the sterling footsteps of films like Capote and Lincoln by using a specific event from the subject’s life to tell a larger story about who and what they were. As always, I avoided getting too deep into the reviews and reactions, but what I gleaned left no doubt that the movie was now one to anticipate with great expectations.

16.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Michael Green
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Lucy Boynton, Olivia Colman, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley
Release Date: November 10

As a director, Kenneth Branagh has brought several famous characters of literature to the screen, from Hamlet to Thor to Jack Ryan. Now he’s about to give us a new interpretation of Agatha Christie’s enduring detective Hercule Poirot in one of her – and her character’s – most famous cases. In addition to directing, Branagh will play Poirot, following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Orson Welles, Albert Finney, and Peter Ustinov. The gallery of passengers/suspects provides a grand ensemble opportunity, and Branagh has stacked the movie with an impressive and eclectic cast that includes his hero and regular collaborator Jacobi; Hamilton Tony-winner Odom Jr.; Star Wars: The Force Awakens breakout Ridley; the luminous Pfeiffer, who has worked only occasionally in recent years but appears to be staging a welcome comeback; and Depp, smartly joining a classy ensemble that doesn’t require him to shoulder the movie on his own, but which may amount to more than his recent blink-of-an-eye cameos in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Into the Woods. Branagh has big shoes to fill, not just doing justice to Christie’s book, but also working in the shadow of Sidney Lumet’s acclaimed 1974 version which earned six Oscar nominations and boasted an equally impressive — perhaps even starrier — roster of actors. But the results look promising.

X
15.
WONDER WHEEL

Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Kate Winslet, James Belushi, Max Casella, Tony Sirico, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake
Release Date: December 1

Until recently, details were typically scarce regarding Allen’s latest effort, other than its 1950’s Coney Island setting. With nothing to go on, including whether or not it was a comedy or a drama, and knowing that the enduring auteur’s output is always hit or miss, it was the presence of Winslet that landed Wonder Wheel on my list. I hoped that having an especially special talent like her – the first cast member announced last summer – meant this was something he tailored to her, and that he rose to the occasion and provided her with a film and a role worthy of her gifts, just as he did with Blue Jasmine in 2013 for our other magnificent Kate…or Cate, as it were. Now we know more about the film, and there’s reason to think my hope will be rewarded. Winslet plays the wife of a carousel operator, who falls for a lifeguard (guess which one is played by Belushi and which one by Timberlake!). Her emotional conundrum becomes more complicated when her husband’s daughter (Temple) from a previous marriage turns up after a long absence and also has eyes for the lifeguard, setting up what Winslet described in Entertainment Weekly as her character’s “great unraveling.” According to the same EW piece, Allen has long wanted to work with Winslet; it almost happened a decade ago on Match Point, until she had to drop out due to a pregnancy and was replaced by Scarlett Johannson). He says he knew it would take one of the great actresses of our time to bring the necessary depth to this character. Knowing Allen’s track record with writing great roles for actors, I have a really good feeling about this one and the likelihood that we’re going to get something superb from Winslet.

14.
THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED)
Director/Writer: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Candice Bergen, Judd Hirsch, Sakina Jaffrey, Elizabeth Marvel, Rebecca Miller, Emma Thompson, Grace Van Patten
Release Date: October 13

Baumbach’s latest story of family dysfunction, which bowed to strong reviews at the Cannes Film Festival, casts Hoffman as Harold Meyerowitz, a sculptor who, while celebrated, never quite received the recognition he felt he deserved. Sandler, Stiller and Marvel (a dynamic character actress getting increasingly larger roles, including the President-Elect on the recent season of Homeland) play his children, all of whom are brought together by a pair of events concerning Harold. I’m a big fan of Baumbach’s 2005 and 2007 films The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding, but haven’t been much enamored with his output since. The word out of Cannes was that his latest is more in the vein of those earlier films, so I’m crossing my fingers that those murmurings prove true. Particular praise at the festival was centered on Sandler, who dazzled critics with a performance that served as a reminder of what directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and James L. Brooks have long seen in him. Those directors, and a few others over the years, have cast Sandler in more dramatic material, and he has always risen admirably to the challenge, even if he usually chooses to avoid those sorts of genuine acting opportunities in favor of palling around with buddies Kevin James, Rob Schneider, Chris Rock or David Spade on lazy, clichéd comedies. His performance here was so acclaimed, in fact, that many critics were calling it Oscar-worthy. Though the movie is being distributed by Netflix, the company apparently plans to give it a limited theatrical release the same day it debuts for streaming, which would indeed qualify it for awards consideration. Whether it can break into the race is another matter, but for now I just hope the movie is a reward in and of itself.

13.
COCO
Director: 
Lee Unkrich
Writer:
Adrian Molina
Cast:
Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal, Alfonso Arau, Anthony Gonzalez, Edward James Olmos, Renée Victor
Release Date:
November 22

No, it’a not the long-awaited Conan O’Brien biopic about the struggles of a tall, thin ginger to overcome his physical handicaps and conquer the world of late-night comedy. It’s the next movie from Pixar, set in Mexico on the annual Día de los Muertos holiday. It follows Miguel, a music-loving boy from a music-hating family, who dreams of breaking away from the successful shoemaking business that has been handed down for generations and instead charting his own course as a performer. When he discovers a magical guitar that transports him to the Land of the Dead, he seeks out his ancestors as well as his idol, singer Ernesto de la Cruz, uncovering secrets from both that will affect him profoundly back in the real world…if he can get there. Like all of Pixar’s movies — the non-sequels, especially — this one has been in development for a long time, but will arrive at an ideal moment when diversity is top of mind not just in the entertainment industry but in the world-at-large. Given some of the political conversations going on right now, it will be especially welcome for moviegoers from all backgrounds and age groups to see a culture that doesn’t get enough mainstream exposure depicted in all of its rich and vibrant glory by Disney and Pixar, two giants of animation who know how to lure the masses.

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12.
SUBURBICON

Director: George Clooney
Writers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Cast: Matt Damon, Oscar Isaac, Julianne Moore, Glenn Fleshler, Noah Jupe
Release Date: November 3

The Coen Brothers don’t have a new movie coming out this year, but here’s the next best thing: a script they wrote, directed by one of their frequent stars, and starring three of their past collaborators in Damon, Moore and Isaac. (It almost featured two more, but Woody Harrelson had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts and Josh Brolin’s small role was cut). While Clooney won’t appear onscreen, he’s worked with the Coens enough by now to have a firm grasp of their style, which should help him successfully translate their script to the screen.  It’s an older effort that the brothers considered making in the late 90’s, and which Clooney and Heslov have re-worked to bring it up to date thematically, although it takes place in the 50’s. I’ve heard varying plot descriptions, so I’m not sure what’s true and what’s not, but the story may involve a man who tries to have his wife killed in order to be with her sister. It’s said to be in the Fargo/Burn After Reading vein of other violent comedies from the Coens. We’ll see if Clooney and company can deliver something that feels at home with the originators’  own projects.

11.
MOLLY’S GAME
Director/Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Bill Camp, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner, Brian d’Arcy James, Idris Elba, Graham Greene, Chris O’Dowd, Jeremy Strong
Release Date: November 22

Aaron Sorkin’s scripts have been directed by an A-list roster of filmmakers. David Fincher, Rob Reiner, Bennett Miller, Danny Boyle and Mike Nichols have all had the pleasure of bringing Sorkin’s words to the big screen. Not for nothing though, Sorkin has been atop the creative ladder long enough that his own time behind the camera seems quite overdue. He’ll finally make the leap with Molly’s Game, adapted from a memoir by Molly Bloom, who as a young woman had Olympic goals as a member of the U.S. national ski team. When that dream failed to materialize, she went to Los Angeles where she got a job as a waitress. Many people go to Hollywood and wait tables on their way to becoming movie stars, but Bloom’s path led her in a different and even more fascinating direction. Her smarts and entrepreneurial nature eventually led to her running a high-stakes underground poker game attended regularly by major Hollywood players including Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck. But apparently the Russian mob had ties to the game as well, and because Bloom was taking a cut of the pot, legal lines were crossed and the FBI shut down the game and arrested her. (We’ve all been there, right?) It’s a compelling story that should translate nicely to film, especially with this impressive cast getting to dig into the always-delicious dialogue at which Sorkin excels.

10.
IT

Director: Andy Muschietti
Writers: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Chosen Jacobs, Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Owen Teague, Finn Wolfhard
Release Date: September 8

I’m a little late on this one, which opened Thursday night, but since I haven’t seen it yet, it still falls under “looking forward.”

The random surge of popularity in the work of Stephen King — The Dark Tower on the big screen and Mr. Mercedes and The Mist on the small – continues here, and the time couldn’t be more right for a film adaptation of the author’s seminal success It, which was published in 1986 during his most prolific and celebrated period. Fueled by the popularity of last summer’s surprise Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things, It has a chance to capitalize on the renewed interest in King’s 80’s oeuvre that was so lovingly evoked by that series. In fact, one of the film’s producers actually used Stranger Things as a reference point for the tone of the film, a tactic made even more ironic by the fact that filmmaker brothers Matt and Ross Duffer created Stranger Things after Warner Bros. denied them the chance to make the It film, presumably unwilling to hand over so prized a property to a relatively untested duo.

The massive, 1,100+ page novel follows a group of seven bullied friends in Derry, Maine – who refer to themselves as The Loser’s Club – as they contend with an ageless, shapeshifting, child-eating demon who favors the form of a clown called Pennywise. This year’s release is the first of a two-part adaptation, focusing on the kids and their battles with Pennywise. The second film will continue their story in adulthood…those who survive to see it, at least.

Although I went through my own Stephen King phase as a teenager, I never got around to reading It, nor did I see the 1990 ABC miniseries that would probably be forgettable if not for Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise creeping its way into the pop culture consciousness. The role in this new adaptation will be played by Bill Skarsgård (son of Good Will Hunting/Thor star Stellan, brother of True Blood/Big Little Lies star Alexander). The cast of endangered youths includes the excellent Jaeden Lieberher, and yes,  Stranger Things‘ soulful breakout Finn Wolfhard.

Still, there are concerns. It was originally to be helmed by Cary Fukunaga, the terrific director behind the bold 2011 Jane Eyre adaptation starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, the harrowing Beasts of No Nation, and the entire first season of HBO’s True Detective. He’s a filmmaker who has demonstrated a talent for finding horror in realistic settings. When his take on King’s story clashed with the studio’s, he left the project and was replaced by Andy Muschetti, whose only feature credit is the decently-reviewed 2013 Jessica Chastain horror film, Mama. Fukunaga has said that he wanted to treat It like a character drama, teasing out the horror less overtly, whereas the studio wanted a typical, mainstream horror movie…a fact which is no less disappointing for being so predictable. Seldom does any good come from studio executives overriding the vision of a singular filmmaker. Muschetti will surely give the studio what it wanted, but will that be the best thing?

In the end, maybe it will. Reviews have been mostly kind, and as we speak the movie is doing bang-up business and smashing various box office records, so…fingers crossed. If it turns out to be a disappointment, well, at least we’ve got a second season of  Stranger Things to look forward to next month. #JusticeForBarb

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9.
THOR: RAGNAROK

Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Eric Pearson
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins, Sam Neill, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban
Release Date: November 3

Those of you to study these lists each year, riddle over them, puzzle them out, try to analyze my endgame, those of you who have taken a devoted, scholarly approach to my work, may have noticed that few of the previous Marvel films — only Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man — have been included on this list, even though I’ve said in many other posts that I’m a big fan of the whole series. So why Thor: Ragnarok? Because like Guardians and Ant-Man, it looks like a real curveball that will somewhat shake up the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The first Thor had a lot of enjoyable humor, born out of its fish-out-of-water set-up that found the Asgardian god stuck on earth in a tiny desert town. Thor: The Dark World…well, I can’t say I remember too much about it, though I don’t recall it going for as many laughs. But in perhaps the boldest directorial choice yet on Marvel’s part (even bolder than Edgar Wright for Ant-Man, had that panned out), they handed the reins of this installment to New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, best known for his comic sensibility on such hilarious and acclaimed indies as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Waititi is a delightfully offbeat choice, and everything we’ve seen of Ragnarok thus far paint it as a delightfully offbeat entry in the MCU. Ruffalo has described it — perhaps jokingly — as both a road-movie and a buddy-comedy between Thor and Hulk (the only two Avengers who were MIA from Captain America: Civil War). Waititi has also stated that he took inspiration from the 1980 cult classic Flash Gordon, and that he would have loved the movie to have a soundtrack by Queen just as that film did. In that spirit of fun, the teaser trailer – rocking out to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” – gives off a vibe that feels like an 80s arcade game come to life. I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

8.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Director/Writer: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Clarke Peters, Sam Rockwell, Nick Searcy
Release Date: November 10

Movie nerd that I am, I’ve been tracking movies for years. That is, I keep a list of movies being made by actors, writers, directors, even producers that I’m interested in. So it came as a surprise to me when I first saw the red band trailer for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri debut on the internet back in March or April, considering that despite the impressive cast and a writer/director whose work I’ve enjoyed, I had never heard of it. So I watched the trailer.

It immediately went on the list. Does this require further explanation?

If nothing else, the trailer promised a showcase role for McDormand, and there can never be enough of those. Now that the film has screened at the Venice Film Festival (where it was just awarded the prize for Best Screenplay), the actress has indeed been praised, but the loudest buzz has been centered around Sam Rockwell. Variety critic Owen Gleiberman hailed the performance as a “revelation,” which is pretty staggering praise considering that Rockwell is hardly an actor whose gifts have been hidden. He has done fantastic work — both comedic and dramatic — in any number of movies from Galaxy Quest to Moon, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to Choke, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to Conviction. (I’ll forgive his participation in the ill-advised Poltergeist remake.) There are plenty more juicy turns where those came from; this is not someone who’s been hovering on the precipice of a breakthrough. The attention around his performance is additionally surprising since the trailer doesn’t feature all that much of him, and what it does show suggests a performance more in a comedic “dumb guy” vein than the darker, multifaceted character described in reactions to the movie. So if that trailer wasn’t reason enough to put this movie high on the list, it sounds like Rockwell’s work is another.

7.
THE POST
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Liz Hannah
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Matthew Rhys, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bradley Whitford, Zach Woods
Release Date: December 22

This is not the Steven Spielberg movie I expected to be on this list. For some time, the legendary director has had two movies in the works: an adaptation of the novel Ready Player One, which long ago finished shooting but has extensive visual effects requirements that will prevent it from being out before 2018, and The Kidnapping of Edgaro Mortara, a true story set to star Oscar Isaac and Mark Rylance that was initially expected this year. Apparently, however, the difficulty in finding the right child actor to play the title role led to a delay that opened up a window in Spielberg’s schedule. So now we’ll get The Post, which was first announced in March and came together remarkably quickly to allow it into theaters at the end of the year.

The topical true story is set in 1971 and casts Streep as Kay Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, and Hanks as the paper’s editor Ben Bradlee, as the two defy the Nixon administration by supporting The New York Times‘ efforts to publish the leaked Pentagon Papers, which called into serious question the United States’ ongoing involvement in the Vietnam War. Amidst threats and talk of treason from the White House, journalists banded together and defended their right to publish the leaked materials, eventually leading to a landmark Supreme Court case. Given the current relationship between the President and the press, it’s easy to see why Spielberg would gravitate toward this subject. As he did with Lincoln, the director has lined up an all-star support team to bolster his main players, and a review of the impressive cast list reveals some fun and surprising connections, like Mr. Show buds David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, and real-life couple Carrie Coon and Tracy Letts.

6.
mother!
Director/Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence, Domhnall Gleeson, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Release Date: September 15

Darren Aronofsky went to great lengths to keep this movie’s secrets under wraps. We didn’t get a trailer until maybe a month ago, and unlike many trailers that give away too much of the story, this one definitely emphasized tone over plot. And that tone is one of freak-out terror. The movie has now been seen at the Venice Film Festival, where it inspired impassioned reactions all over the map. Whether critics and audiences cheered or booed it, they definitely felt strongly and it generated plenty of talk, which is exactly what Aronofksy wanted. The set-up is that a couple’s quiet life is disrupted by the presence of unwanted visitors, but even after seeing it, many critics seemed to question what it was about at heart. They all agreed, however, that it was an audacious, over-the-top, absolutely insane trip down a deep dark hole. I’m fascinated to see what it’s all about…and a little scared.

5.
THE SHAPE OF WATER

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg
Release Date: December 8

The latest film from the endlessly imaginative del Toro debuted last week at the Venice Film Festival to rapturous responses and this weekend it won the festival’s top prize. Set in the U.S. in 1963, Hawkins and Spencer play workers at a secretive government laboratory (is there any other kind?) who discover a shocking experiment involving an aquatic creature. I’ve avoided reading much about it beyond the basic description that it’s a beauty-and-the-beast-like story, but I know del Toro said that he and his team spent more than half a year designing and crafting the amphibious character. The prominent presence of a creature should come as no surprise to del Toro fans, nor should the painstaking lengths that went into birthing it. This is a guy who truly loves, connects with and has deep empathy for what the rest of us might casually refer to as monsters. His affection for them and the thought he puts into them is why his movies are among the few that still feature bold, original, frightening creations while most movie monsters these days are uninspired and forgettable. The Cold War backdrop suggests that The Shape of Water will hew more closely to del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth and other work like The Devil’s Backbone than his more action-oriented projects like Pacific Rim and Blade, and a cursory scan at the reviews out of Venice bear that out. Marrying the supernatural and the historical is del Toro’s sweet spot, which makes this new film – now graced with glowing reviews – especially promising.

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4.
DOWNSIZING

Director: Alexander Payne
Writers: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Cast: Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Hong Chau, Joaquin de Almeida, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris, Margo Martindale, Jason Sudeikis, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig
Release Date: December 25

Alexander Payne made his reputation on sharply-observed portraits of simple, everyday folks, but his newest finds him making an unexpected turn into what sounds like Charlie Kaufman country. The script has been floating around for many years, and the plot may have morphed somewhat during that long development period, but the core idea remains: people shrinking themselves down to a smaller size in order to simplify their lives. I know that’s a rather simplistic description, but while the movie has now played at Venice and Telluride, meaning there’s more about it to glean, I’m avoiding anything further. Fans of Payne’s early work will be happy to know that the movie reunites him with his writing partner Jim Taylor over a decade after they last collaborated on (and won Oscars for) Sideways, and they’ve put together a fine cast headed by Damon, after earlier stalled attempts to get the movie off the ground included Reese Witherspoon, Paul Giamatti and Sacha Baron Cohen. Regardless of the characters’ size, I’m expecting big things.

3.
BLADE RUNNER 2049

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Cast: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Hiam Abbass, Barkhad Abdi, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, David Dastmalchian, Sylvia Hoeks, Lennie James, Jared Leto, Edward James Olmos, Robin Wright
Release Date: October 6

35 years after its release, Blade Runner — one of the most acclaimed, admired, revered science-fiction films of all time — is getting a follow-up.

This is a bad idea.

The thing about Blade Runner is that it’s not merely a beloved film. It’s a studied film. It’s a film valued as much by critics and scholars as by fans and cinephiles. The movie’s reputation developed over time; it was not a hit upon initial release. It worked its way into the culture and earned its reputation through conversation and analysis and reconsideration. So in today’s corporate-guided Hollywood landscape ruled by desire for the familiar and for quick-fixes rather than things lasting and meaningful, is there any reason to be optimistic about the movie’s prospects?

The answer is yes, and it’s a big reason: Denis Villeneuve. There have been worrisome rumblings of a Blade Runner sequel for years, but hearing that Villeneuve would take the reins was a game-changer. Because this dude is phenomenal. One of the best directors working today, and yet one who is still flying under the radar of general public recognition even after earning an already overdue Best Director Oscar nomination last year for the Amy Adams sci-fi drama Arrival. Over the last few years he’s been putting out top-notch work (Prisoners, Sicario) and anything he’s doing is worth getting excited about, sight unseen. He also has master cinematographer Roger Deakins onboard, and the trailers for the film have demonstrated expectedly striking, gorgeous visuals. Is it too early to hope this movie could finally end Deakins incomprehensible losing-streak at the Oscars?

Villeneuve has assembled a strong cast for the sequel set decades after the original, led by Ryan Gosling as a new blade runner – a law enforcement agent tasked with tracking down and “retiring” genetically-engineered androids nearly indistinguishable from humans. Serving in that role has him following in the figurative and apparently literal footsteps of Harrison Ford’s blade runner Rick Deckard. Ford is returning, and he’s had both good and not-so-good results in other instances of revisiting years-old characters/films. Original co-screenwriter Hampton Fancher is also back, this time collaborating with Michael Green, who was likely brought to the project by producer and original Blade Runner director Ridley Scott, for whom Green did some story work on Alien: Covenant. Having Scott, Ford and Fancher all involved again is encouraging, but by no means a sign that the movie will be good. Our best hope that the sequel will live up to the reputation of its predecessor is Villeneuve. I’m dying to see what he does.

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2.
UNTITLED PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON PROJECT

Director/Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Release Date: December 25

A decade after their colossal collaboration on There Will Be Blood – a span during which each has only made two other features – Anderson and Day-Lewis are re-teaming. There’s really not much more that needs to be said…which is a good thing, since there’s really not much more than can be said. Almost nothing is known about the movie at this point, other than that it takes place in the fashion world of 1950’s New York…and even that detail is sketchy, since a later report cited London as the setting. Some writers have taken to calling the movie Phantom Threads, but at this stage that’s a working title only. So the movie has no name, it has no substantial plot synopsis, and it barely seems to have a supporting cast to speak of, with only two actresses mentioned when the film quietly began production earlier this year. When news of the film first broke, Vulture took a swing at guessing what — or more accurately, who — the subject might be, based on the New York locale. It was well-considered speculation, but if the movie is set in London, that might render the guess incorrect. Whatever or whoever the subject is barely matters right now. When either of these guys makes a movie, it’s headline news as far as I’m concerned. And if Day-Lewis is to be believed, his recent out-of-nowhere retirement announcement will make this his final film. I’m not sure I buy that this is the three-time Best Actor Oscar winner’s swan song, but if it is, it’s tough to imagine a better way to go out than by re-uniting with PTA. There will be glory.

1.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Director/Writer: Rian Johnson
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Kelly Marie Tran
Release Date: December 15

J.J. Abrams and his co-writer Lawrence Kasdan brought the Star Wars saga back in fine form with 2015’s The Force Awakens, and now they hand the baton off to Rian Johnson to tell the middle chapter of the sequel trilogy. The inventive writer/director behind Brick and Looper now gets to fill in the gaps while furthering the journeys of new heroes and villains Rey, Kylo Ren, Finn and Poe Dameron. After being much discussed but little seen in The Force Awakens, Luke Skywalker will at last feature prominently, while Princess Leia (she may be General Organa now, but she’ll always be Princess to me) will also find her screen time increased, giving us a last chance to enjoy Carrie Fisher in her defining role. Fans continue to speculate on such mysteries as Rey’s lineage and Supreme Leader Snoke’s identity, but I haven’t engaged much in those guessing games. I’m just excited to delve deeper into the lives of the characters, find out about new additions Dern, del Toro and Tran (all of whom have now now been introduced thanks to Vanity Fair‘s summer cover story), and see what’s become of Luke Skywalker. With a filmmaker as creative as Rian Johnson, I’m confidant the series is in good hands…for now.

 

 

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