As the year winds down I always find myself reflecting back on the best films to emerge over the past twelve months, and this inevitably leads to speculation on which ones might end up with Academy Award nominations and wins. These two categories do not always align, and last week I ran through some of the films that had awards aspirations, but are now considered long shots, or out of the race entirely. The first few prizes of the season have begun to be handed out, with the Gotham Awards on Monday and the National Board of Review revealing their year-end lists on Tuesday. This makes the continuation of this run down of Oscar contenders all the more pertinent. So here we go.
Cary Fukunaga, incidentally a screenwriter on It, will be feeling a whole lot of frustration if Mudbound picks up Oscar nominations. Fresh from delivering a tremendous first season of True Detective for HBO on television, he wrote, shot, and directed war drama Beasts of No Nation for Netflix. It should have been an awards season contender, and in particular Idris Elba, who won the Screen Actors Guild award for best supporting actor for his powerful turn as the Commandant, should have been a major candidate for the Academy Award (he is to date the only actor to win an SAG award and not be nominated for the Oscar). Instead, the Academy turned its noses up at Netflix’s day and date release scheme and refused to acknowledge the film. Netflix are sticking by their release strategy, but have brought in a number of industry veterans with experience of running awards campaigns to help push Mudbound. Dee Rees’ period drama, following two families in rural Mississippi post-World War II, would be a strong contender for a best picture nomination were it with Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, Focus Features, or Amazon. Yet her film is with Netflix, and it remains to be seen if they can mount a serious awards campaign and win over the Academy with a system that seems to undermine the traditional theatre experience. It is possible that the new influx of younger Academy voters may aid their attempts.
“Wonder Woman will succeed where The Dark Knight failed, and be the first superhero film to earn a best picture nomination”
Also benefiting from the shake up to the Academy membership could be Get Out. Jordan Peele’s suspenseful horror played well at Sundance and then stunned the world, raking in huge sums against a very small budget. Hugely profitable, sheer hype alone may drive it into awards contention. On Monday it picked up three prizes at the Gotham Awards, and on Tuesday it was named on the National Board of Review’s list of the best films of the year, as well as winning best ensemble and best directorial debut. It is worth bearing in mind that films such as Baby Driver, Logan, The Disaster Artist, and Downsizing, that are now considered out of the awards race (bar a couple of possible nominations for actor and adapted screenplay for The Disaster Artist), were also name-dropped by the National Board of Review. That being said, Get Out has a whole lot of momentum behind it right now.
Similarly, Wonder Woman, remarkably Patty Jenkins’ first film since she guided Charlize Theron to Oscar glory in Monster, was a box office smash. Though beyond the surface its content is still formulaic tent-pole material, the current narrative seems to be that this is some kind of great feminist art piece (did anyone see Elle or The Love Witch last year?), and that may resonate with the new left wing influx of Academy voters. It is somehow possible that Wonder Woman will succeed where The Dark Knight failed, and be the first superhero film to earn a best picture nomination.
Amazon’s hopes will now be pinned on their Summer release The Big Sick, which is the highest grossing indie of the year. Playing well at Sundance, Kumail Nanjiani plays himself in the intriguing story of how him and his wife fell in love, in the best romantic comedy to surface for years.
One film that may actually suffer from the changes to the voting body is Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. Wright’s Atonement was a seven-time Oscar nominee, but his latest is not as strong. Following Winston Churchill during his early days as prime minister during the Second World War, this feels like it would have been a lock for a best picture nomination a few years ago, but with the Academy expanding the type of films it is willing to honour, the only sure thing with this one is Gary Oldman’s best actor nomination.
These films should earn best picture nominations, but will likely fall short in their pursuit of the grand prize. Guillermo del Toro returns with his best film since Pan’s Labyrinth. That film won three of its six Oscar nominations and is a modern classic. Del Toro has a penchant for fairy tales, and this one is a Douglas Sirk-type romance film concerning the burgeoning affection between a mute janitor and a mysterious Merman-like creature. The Shape of Water picked up the Golden Lion at Venice, and should certainly receive nominations for picture, direction, screenplay, and Sally Hawkins’ lead performance as well as registering in many of the technical categories.
“Lady Bird emerged unexpectedly strong from the fall festivals, and Ronan will cement herself as one of the finest young actors in the world”
Amidst the glitz and glam of Cannes, the eagle-eyed of us will have picked out the return of Sean Baker as one to watch. Baker is most famous for shooting his sensational Tangerine on an iPhone 5c, the same phone the rest of us used for blurry night out photos and questionable selfies. With The Florida Project, he does continue to use some iPhone footage, but the majority of this sublime film, set on the outskirts of the Walt Disney World resort and told from a child’s perspective, is shot on glorious 35mm film. This one will have you smiling and crying at the same time, a look that will make you glad you are sat in a dark theatre where no one can see you. A24 succeeded in pushing another Florida-based project, Moonlight, all the way to the big prize last year, but ultimately The Florida Project will probably fall just short.
Another A24 distributed picture is Lady Bird, the semi-autobiographical directorial debut of renowned indie actress Greta Gerwig. Driven by a fierce performance from Saoirse Ronan, Gerwig’s direction is assured and authentic. This film emerged unexpectedly strong from the fall festivals, and Ronan will cement herself as one of the finest young actresses in the world with a third Oscar nomination at the young age of 23. Gerwig’s original screenplay (which is allegedly 350 pages long and yet has managed to yield a 93 minute film) should also earn a nod, and Laurie Metcalfe is a good candidate for supporting actress. Rising young actors Timothée Chalamet and Lucas Hedges also deliver the goods here.
Eight of the last ten winners of the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival have gone on to receive a best picture nomination, making it a very good indicator of awards season success. Past winners include Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, 12 Years a Slave, and La La Land, all of which won best picture (of course La La Land ’s victory lasted a matter of seconds as they had to hand over their award to actual winner Moonlight). This year Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri pipped runner-up The Shape of Water to the prize. Martin McDonagh has a strong track record with dark comedies, but this is the first time it all truly comes together in a cohesive manner for him. Fortunately, this coincides with his best cast ever, including Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges, and Caleb Landry Jones. There is a searing drama against the backdrop of McDonagh’s black humour which makes this film far more effective and profound than anything he has done before. McDormand delivers an intimidatingly powerful performance as the foul-mouthed mother who takes matters into her own hands when the police struggle to come up with a suspect in the case of the rape and murder of her teenage daughter. She is the favourite to win best actress, adding to her win for Fargo. Rockwell may score a first nod for supporting actor. McDonagh’s screenplay is a shoe in for a nomination too.
We’re gonna reveal our overall winners in next week’s Felix grand finale – tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion!