HE vs. Whipp on Likely 2018 Best Picture Faves

L.A. Times forecaster Glenn Whipp has posted a list of ten 2017 films that might become Best Picture favorites among the Gurus of Gold and Gold Derby-ites (and therefore among Academy and guild members) nine or ten months hence. I’ve had most of the same films posted in HE’s Oscar Balloon since last January, but let’s review Whipp’s choices before reconsidering my own:

1. Michael Showalter‘s The Big Sick (Amazon/Lionsgate, 6.23). Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Zoe Kazan. Whipp’s rationale: Romcoms generally don’t end up as Best Picture nominees, but this one is smarter, hipper and more cross-pollinating with Nanjiani co-writing as well as playing himself. Plus L.A. Times critic Justin Chang wet himself when he saw it at Sundance so it must be a Best Picture hottie.

Wells verdict: Sick was the second best film I saw at Sundance (Call Me By Your Name was #1) but it’s looking at an uphill struggle as a Best Picture contender. Not because it isn’t good, but because (a) no one will ever remember Nanjiani’s name much less how to spell it, and (b) Kazan’s character, based on Nanjiani’s wife and co-writer Emily Gordon, gets too angry at him for too long a period — she freezes Nanjiani out for nearly two-thirds of the running time, and mostly because he doesn’t stand up to his dictatorial Pakistani mom by confessing that he has a white, non-Muslim girlfriend. Even after Kazan forgives him at the finale you’re thinking, “What happens when he fucks up the next time? Will she freeze him out for a year or divorce him or hire a couple of goons to beat him up?” Kazan is too much of a hard-ass. The audience is kept in limbo for too long.

2. Chris Nolan‘s Dunkirk (Warner Bros., 7.21). Cast: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Fionn Whitehead. Whipp’s rationale: Dunkirk will probably resonate with boomer-aged Academy members (whose parents were the vanguard of the WWII generation) and Nolan will knock it out of the park scale-wise, verisimilitude-wise, IMAX-wise…expect him to “capture every inch of the rescue’s horror and triumph,” especially with Hoyte van Hoytema shooting and Hans Zimmer scoring.

Wells verdict: The late July release obviously won’t help, and the movie may only register as a logistical or technical triumph if it doesn’t have character arcs and performances that stick to the ribs. Nolan wrote the script so these aspects will be on him. Then again this is his first stab at history and realism, and it therefore might be interesting. Will Dunkirk make the cut? Let’s say “maybe” for now. If Warner Bros. decides against previewing it in Cannes, the know-it-alls will begin to whisper that they don’t quite have the goods.

3. Kathryn Bigelow‘s Untitled Detroit Riots Project (Annapurna, 8.4). Cast: John Boyega, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, Ben O’Toole, Hannah Murray, Anthony Mackie. Whipp’s rationale: For the last six or seven years (i.e., since The Hurt Locker) the rep of director Kathryn Bigelow and producer-screenwriter Mark Boal is that they make nervy, drill-bitty Oscar flicks. Fait accompli. Garlands for the conquerors.

Wells verdict: The Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker put Bigelow & Boal into that presumptive winner category six years ago. If you ask me Zero Dark Thirty should have won Best Picture instead of Argo. The problem is that August 4th release date, which seems to send a signal to the blogaroos that Untitled Detroit Riots might not be an Oscar Derby-type film. But maybe it is. On the Bigelow-Boal brand alone, I’m calling it a Best Picture nominee. (I used to call them Biggy-Boal but no more; can’t think of another snappy term to replace it.) Still, that release date worries me.

4. Joe Wright‘s Darkest Hour (Focus features, 11.24). Cast: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, Ben Mendelsohn as a sweating, grim-faced, Marlboro-inhaling King George VI, John Hurt as Neville Chamberlain, Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill. An obvious tour de force opportunity for Oldman in his portrayal of the legendary Prime Minister who weathered the Dunkirk disaster, toughened British resolve during Nazi bombings, presided over the D-Day invasion and soldiered through to Gemany’s defeat in ’45.

Wells verdict: An almost certain Best Picture contender unless, you know, it sucks. Wright is a truly brilliant director when he has the right material. I haven’t read Anthony McCarten‘s script, although I’m a little bit afraid of this kind of multi-character saga being compressed into a two-hour film.  It would probably work better as an eight-hour miniseries.

5. Alexander Payne‘s Downsizing (Paramount, 12.22). Cast: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Alec Baldwin, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Sudeikis. Whipp’s rationale: It’s a good sign that Payne and his longtime cowriter Jim Taylor (Citizen Ruth, Election, Sideways, The Descendants) are back together. Plus there’s the basic math of Payne’s last three films — Nebraska, The Descendants, Sideways — having earned Best Picture noms. Downsizing is seemingly a kind of wry, Payne-ish sci-fi satire about short…er, small people.

Wells Verdict: The Wiki synopsis — “a man and his wife decide to voluntarily have themselves shrunk down in order to better manage their lives, but the wife backs out at the last minute after the husband has submitted to the procedure” — tells me it’s a Best Picture lock. You can’t not nominate an Alexander Payne film that opens in December unless, you know, it’s a good-but-no-cigar effort like About Schmidt.

6. Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Untitled ’50s Fashion Drama (Focus Features, possibly December). Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Richard Graham, Vicky Krieps. Whipp’s rationale: Reportedly based on the life of brashly brilliant dressmaker Charles James, but set in 1950s London rather than Manhattan, which was James’ base of operations from the ’40s to the ’70s.

Wells Verdict: PTA’s major auteur status automatically guarantees serious Best Pic consideration unless, you know, it’s on the level of Punch Drunk Love, The Master or Inherent Vice (i.e., a film I hated with every fibre of my being.) Pic is currently shooting in England under the working title I Swallow Your Horse Cock…kidding, Phantom Thread.

7. Luca Guadagnino‘s Call Me By Your Name (Sony Classics, 11.24). Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg. Whipp’s rationale: “Guadagnino’s breakthrough considering the huge acclaim that greeted his ’80s drama at Sundance. A deftly handled gay romance between a 17-year-old (Chalamet), vacationing with his parents in the Italian countryside, and a tall, handsome scholar (Hammer). Justin Chang called the movie a ‘powerfully erotic and affecting love story, albeit one so closely and intimately observed that the term ‘slow burn’ seems almost inadequate.'”

Wells Verdict: During Sundance ’17 I called this a “flat-out masterpiece” and “a landmark film that deserves to be heralded as a major Oscar contender.” From my 1.22 review: “Exquisitely done, perfectly acted and delivered with just the right degree of subtlety — the masterful Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash, I Am Love) blended with a mixture of Bernardo Bertolucci, Luchino Visconti and Eric Rohmer within a laid-back, highly refined atmosphere that’s 85% Italian, 15% American. The most vividly realized, open-hearted gay romantic film since Brokeback Mountain — except it’s not so much ‘gay’ as alive and rich and full of flavor — a sun-dappled celebration of all things sensual, musical, architectural, natural, genital, etc.”

8. Dee ReesMudbound (Netflix, presumably later this year). Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, Jason Mitchell. Whipp’s rationale: It must be a Best Picture contender because (a) Netflix paid $12.5 million to distribution rights and (b) Rees’ drawlin’, slow-paced drama about a poor white farm family and black sharecroppers in 1940s Mississippi delivers a “powerful take on racism,” etc. Shorter Whipp: Award-season-wise, Mudbound is the new Moonlight.

Wells Verdict: Too grim, too slow, too much like Mississippi Burning at the end. From my 1.22 review: “A ’40s period piece about racial relations amid cotton farmers toiling in the hardscrabble South, Mudbound bears more than a few resemblances to Robert Benton‘s far superior Places In the Heart (’84) — a better story, more skillfully written, more emotionally affecting. The low-rent, under-educated atmosphere represses like a sonuvabitch, and from the moment the film arrives at a shithole cotton farm (no plumbing or electricity) in the muddy Mississippi delta, you’re thinking ‘wait, I’m stuck in this hellish mudflat environment for the rest of the film?’ You’re also thinking ‘why has Carey Mulligan decided to marry pudgy Jason Clarke — she could obviously do better.’ Yes, Mudbound has a heart and a soul and a compassionate view of things. But my mantra as I watched was ‘lemme outta here, lemme outta here, lemme outta here, lemme outta here, lemme outta here,’ etc.”

9. Todd HaynesWonderstruck (Amazon, late 2017). Cast: Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Millicent Simmonds, Oakes Fegley, Cory Michael Smith, Tom Noonan, James Urbaniak. Whipp’s rationale: “An ambitious, unconventional effort [as] Haynes adapts Brian Selznick’s beautiful, illustrated novel about a boy and a deaf girl, separated by 50 years, each longing for escape. Haynes cast Simmonds, a 13-year-old deaf actress, as the girl and shot her scenes as a silent film to capture her perspective.”

Wells Verdict: No comment as I know nothing about the source material or anything else for that matter. Haynes is a grade-A director. That’s all for now.

10. Untitled Adam McKay/Dick Cheney Project (Paramount, likely December release). Cast: Nobody’s been announced but how could McKay not cast Will Ferrell as George Bush? Whipp’s rationale: Nothing. Glenn just wants to see a smart Dick Cheney film, and is counting on it being good and presuming that if it’s good the blogaroos and Academy/guild members will agree that it deserves a nomination.

Wells Verdict: Same deal — I know nothing but I’m pumped.

More potential Best Picture contenders from HE Oscar Balloon: John Curran‘s Chappaquiddick; Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Fox Searchlight); Dan Gilroy‘s Inner City; Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris‘s Battle of the Sexes (Fox Searchlight); Alex Garland‘s Annihilation; Scott Cooper‘s Hostiles.

Nobody expects Terrence Malick‘s Radegund, a World War II drama about an Austrian conscientious objector who was executed by the Nazis, to open later this year. Given Malick’s tendency to edit for months if not years on end, a 2018 or even a 2019 release is more likely. But if he breaks character and gets the lead out and Radegund opens later this year, maybe. It’s allegedly more tightly scripted than his last few. Shot last summer in Europe; costarring August Diehl and Valerie Pachner.

  • lazarus

    “(a) no one will ever remember Nanjiani’s name much less how to spell it”

    Chiwetel Ejiofor says hello.

    • Jeff

      I still can’t spell Merhershala Ali’s name and he has an Oscar.

      • Mahershala

        • Hardcore Henry V

          Maherneverbeheardfromagainala.

    • Yo, Chiwetel!

    • Martin Foyle

      So does Saoirse

      • AstralWeeks666

        I do wonder if her name may hold her back a bit in America. Of course she has been Oscar nominated twice before the age of twenty two so she is hardly struggling. But does the fact that most Americans have zero chance of understanding that name undermine her potential to break the though to the Emma Stone/Jennifer Lawrence A-List?

        • Martin Foyle

          Indeed. 2 films lying on a shelf, Chesil Beach & Seagull, would back that up, she can’t open a film yet. Needs a comic film spot to really make a mark.

          • AstralWeeks666

            Well Brooklyn did quite well for an Irish period piece. I presume that On Chesil Beach is waiting for the 2017 film festival film festival season to start. But The Seagul must be a stinker. That film was in the can before Brooklyn was filmed and there has been utter radio silence on it.

            • Martin Foyle

              Yes, of course The Host was supposed to make her a megastar. She’s probably happy to stick to little films, her imdb has 3 other titles since those 2, she’ll be kept busy for a while yet.

  • David Adams

    Gee….didn’t The Hurt Locker open in June and won Best Picture?

    Maybe it’s time for studios and bloggeroos to stop thinking that award level films can open before Labor Day if they support the film throughout the campaign process.

    I’m starting to think that the media only likes to campaign for films they get to see first at Sundance, Cannes, Telliride or Toronto. Wide release films that screen one week before opening need not apply.

    • Mark Henry Hopper

      I have a feeling the problem for bloggeroos and news sites is that release date suggests the scale of the Oscar campaign, and championing a summer release means you’re going to inevitably annoy some of the awards marketers who keep your blog in the black with their ads for “awards season” films.

      Unless of course the momentum is undeniable and the Oscar campaign budget goes up. Like Hell or High Water.

      • JoeS

        Except most blogaroos and almost every awards group still abandoned HELL OR HIGH WATER when it needed the ‘momentum’ the most. It got lots of nominations, but almost no wins from major grops. And, the bloggers? They mostly jumped ship and kept pushing the later releases like MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, LA LA LAND, and of course, MOONLIGHT.

    • Professor Wagstaff

      They’ll definitely favor anything that makes said media think they’re getting something exclusive or well ahead of the curve compared to the peons who have to wait for opening weekends or, heaven forbid, a gradual rollout.

  • DukeSavoy

    Every fiber of your being? Really? Inherent Vice was funny and loopily watchable. A 60’s Firesign Theater take on Dragnet. A stoner’s Chinatown. It’s no Boogie Nights or Magnolia but still high-level PTA.

    • Buck Swope

      jeff’s opinions get stronger in his rearview mirror. give it another year and he will say it’s the worst movie he ever saw. also, isn’t this one of those movies he hated because he couldn’t “hear” it?
      all PTA’s movies get better with rewatches because they are so weird the first time you watch them. and i know a lot of people think if it doesn’t grab them the first time why rewatch, but Jeff is definitely on record as not liking or getting movies on 1st blush and then liking them way better once expectations are diminished (and subtitles available).

      • Charles Peligro

        He didn’t like it because of the sandal wearing hippie protagonist.

        • Hardcore Henry V

          To be fair, not the craziest reason he has ever given for hating a film (I hated being subjected to the Phoenix phalanges, as well).

    • blake011

      Inherent Vice sucked. Wells is correct. The Master isn’t that good either but its a masterpiece compared to Vice. Vice bombed and has and will be forgotten by everyone.

      • freeek

        Yup, Inherent Vice was an A to Z disaster. And that’s a PTA fanatic talking here.

    • brenkilco

      Vice was a vastly enjoyable, off kilter, shaggy dog story. Best approached with no expectations. But maybe you have to be in the mood.

  • Jeff

    Given Moonlight’s win, it feels like at least 2/3 of Downsizing, PTA or Dunkirk will be nominated to lean into mainstream classic auteurs as a counter for a teenie tiny movie winning. If Damon is great in Downsizing, it could very easily be his coronation Best Actor year like Leo two years ago. I can see a split where PTA wins Screenplay, Nolan wins Director and Downsizing wins Picture.

    As far as Kumil, you are underrating him as someone well known throughout the industry. He has a massive twitter following, is beloved by comics and has been starring in an industry bait HBO series for what will be 4 seasons very soon. Having not seen the film, its tough to predict its Best Picture chances but it could be formidable if the healthcare debate wages on this year.

  • Brad

    If you are usng Hans Zimmer’s scoring as a reach to Best Picture, geez, you already failed.

  • SJR

    I didn’t know hating THE MASTER was humanly possible. A shrug, maybe but even then.

    • blake011

      The script isn’t good. Obtuse and pointless. I mean it beautifully filmed and well acted.

      • SJR

        Its mesmerizing, on acting and cinematography alone. If it were not for the ending, I would too say it was pointless and obtuse but clearly Phoenix character got something out the experience, he didn’t change but became a fraction of a better person.

  • Phineas T. Prune

    The Shape of Water. You’re welcome

  • ABC

    Jeff, you’re a reactionary and preposterous person, but until today I’d always kind of grudgingly conceded you were a good prose stylist. “Methinks”? Ewwwwwwww.

    • I killed it.

      • Hardcore Henry V

        The word was already dead.

  • Bob Strauss

    Thank God for the 12-month awards season. Enables us to limit our horizons and passionately guess wrong all year long.

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  • Eric

    Wonderstuck… Maybe not a Best Picture movie, but that sure sounds interesting. I’m in, and I’ll be Simmonds is a standout.

  • Hunter Tremayne

    It is my understanding that Joe Wright’s DARKEST HOUR takes place mainly in 1939/40 and ends at the point when the USA entered WWII in December 1941.

  • THX11384EB

    A posthumous nod for John Hurt would be nice…

    • alexandercoleman

      Just finally caught up with Jackie, and he was mesmerizing as “The Priest.”

      The running conversation between he and Natalie Portman was one of the film’s greatest assets. Her one line about how men used to react to seeing her, and the way he listens to her as she says it, is one of the most heartbreaking moments in all of cinema this past year.

  • alexandercoleman

    Looking forward to Downsizing.

    • Dr. New Jersey

      Thom Phoolery says, “So you don’t have much hope for the Trump economy?”

  • alexandercoleman

    I remember as a little kid the Oscars being around the third weekend or so of March. Now prognostications for the next year’s Oscars commences during the dead space between awards shows in February if not January or December, or a year earlier, or whatever.

    It’s like what Brooks says in Shawshank. “The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.”

    • Muldoon

      The ceremonies were in April (as late as April 18) from 1959 through 1972 and alternated between late March and early April through 1988. The noms were supposed to get folks into theaters, but home video slowly changed everything.

  • Pete Miesel

    Part of me thinks that Linklater’s Last Flag Flying (a “sequel” to Last Detail) gets Steve Carrell an Oscar. He’s playing the Quaid part.

  • adam____l

    “Wright is a truly brilliant director when he has the right material.”

    Um….? “Truly brilliant”? Shouldn’t that accolade be reserved for a very select few directors who are, you know, *truly* brilliant. Aside from the first 30 minutes of Atonement, what on earth has he done that’s so good? I’ve seen everything of his since Pride and Prejudice.

    • blake011

      Anna Karenina is brilliant and very underrated. Also there are many parts of Hannah that are great even if the movie doesn’t come together.

      • adam____l

        Anna Karenina is well directed, I agree (although the film underwhelms as a whole) but I still wouldn’t call him a brilliant director off the back of one and a half films. I walked out of Hanna after 40 minutes. I thought it was unbearable.

        • Hardcore Henry V

          As much as I loved AK, I’m with you — and I wouldn’t either.

          Wright’s like a really solid lefty specialist out of the bullpen — except for him, it’s period pieces.

  • Mark G.

    Isn’t Steven Spielberg’s THE POST also mainly Oscar fodder?

    • Hardcore Henry V

      That man’s name is never spoken (or typed) in this corner of the web.

  • RossoVeneziano

    What about the new Aronofsky?

    • blake011

      I hope that is more Black Swan and less Noah.

      • RossoVeneziano

        It is for sure. Looks like a sci-fi sexy horror.

      • Edward

        I liked Noah, but agree that Black Swan is the better film.

  • Pertwillaby

    Why am I not seeing the new Denis Villeneuve movie anywhere on that list?

  • Hardcore Henry V

    “If you ask me Zero Dark Thirty should have won…”

    Thankfully no one asks you such things (and never will).

  • DougW

    This year I’m going to try to not care what wins Best Picture. 14 nominations and you’re not Best Picture? As Donald Sutherland says in Best Picture Ordinary People, “…I don’t know what we’ve been playing at.”

    • Patrick Murtha

      That quotation applies to SO MANY things.

  • freeek

    It’s a pretty hard task predicting Oscar faves when half the movies on that list won’t be out in 2017.

  • Dr. New Jersey

    Remember how in March 2016 HE predicted Moonlight would win Best Picture?

  • Dr. New Jersey

    Netflix is completing Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind”. Might it be eligible? http://deadline.com/2017/03/orson-welles-netflix-the-other-side-of-the-wind-1202043295/

  • GSmith

    Punch Drunk Love is underrated.

  • Michael

    I feel wolfgang peterson would be a better chioce to direct Radegund

  • Michael

    After seeing the cast Am getting Wolfgang Petersen das boot vibes from Radegund