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 Rees‘ Mudbound (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 Haynes‘ Wonderstruck (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.