Were this article a film, I’d like to think that it would be in contention for recognition from the Academy. It had a clear and bold start, compelling second act, and now, hopefully, a memorable ending. But seriously, let’s talk about who will end up winning the big prizes next spring. There are always strong indicators from the second a film finishes its first press screening of its chances. It is a long road from there on, with numerous twists and bumps. Since this article was written, a number of critics’ groups and smaller awards ceremonies have taken place that have cemented the position of some films, while seeing others have their chances diminished. Just this Wednesday, Get Out continued its momentum by being named the best film of the year in the prestigious Sight and Sound poll. Jordan Peele’s genre-bender is following its unexpected commercial success with unexpected awards success, and it may well not be one of the front runners. More bizarrely, master surrealist David Lynch’s magnificent Twin Peaks: The Return, aired on Showtime over eighteen episodes, was named the second best film of the year. While Lynch himself considers his work a very long film, it is the continuation of a television show, aired on television, in an episodic format. This once again highlights the blurring between film and television that was demonstrated by O.J.: Made in America winning best documentary at the Academy Awards last year. It must be noted that two of the films that I will discuss here, The Post and Phantom Thread, were not featured in the Sight and Sound poll as they have yet to screen outside of the States.
It is increasingly becoming a trend for Oscar contenders to emerge from Sundance. Last year it was Manchester by the Sea (after The Birth of a Nation was tanked by details of Nate Parker’s 1999 rape trial emerging). This year Call Me by Your Name arrived like a juggernaut. Luca Guadagnino has shown talent throughout his career, but he finally brings it all together for this elegant coming-of-age drama, set in 1983 Italy, chronicling the romantic relationship between a 17 year old boy and his father’s American student. Adapted from André Aciman’s novel by Oscar stalwart James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name has continued its momentum from the start of the year, playing well through the fall festivals, and will go wide in the States at the end of the month. It is sure to get nods from the Academy for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom gorgeously captures intimate moments on 35mm, and should get a best cinematography nomination. Timothée Chalamet is a rising star (he also appears in Lady Bird and Hostiles this winter), and should become one of the youngest ever nominees for best actor. Michael Stuhlbarg could finally earn an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his best performance since A Serious Man (one scene in particular in the third act should have voters sold). Armie Hammer has never really given much of an indication that he could act particularly well, but he acquits himself solidly here. It may not be enough for a nomination, especially if Academy voters are unsure whether to place him as a lead or supporting actor, but he can be proud of his career-best work.
When considering the best British filmmakers of the modern day, many will answer ‘Christopher Nolan’ without hesitation. While the likes of Lynne Ramsay and Steve McQueen are stronger directors, Nolan must be respected for the way he has brought intelligence and cinematic quality to big budget science fiction films. His Dark Knight trilogy was for the most part a vast improvement on previous efforts from Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher (though undeniably Darren Aronofsky’s planned Taxi Driver-style neo-noir with Joaquin Phoenix as the caped crusader would have been the greatest possible on-screen depiction of Batman). Nolan’s long-awaited war piece, Dunkirk, opened to rapturous acclaim in the summer, and proved popular with audiences too, raking in over $500 million at the box office. In the past Nolan has been criticised for his over long run times, paper thin characters and cringe-worthy dialogue. For the most part he does away with these faults, instead playing to his strengths of visual style and roaring sound. Expect Dunkirk to score highly in the technical categories, alongside the obvious Best Picture and Best Director nods. With this being a true ensemble piece, it is unlikely to score any acting nominations in spite of the strong performances all round, with Mark Rylance the most likely for Best Supporting Actor, a category he won two years ago for Bridge of Spies. Warner decided to release this suspense thriller in July, aiming to avoid any notion of it being Oscar bait, and also peculiarly wanting to emulate Saving Private Ryan, a similarly visceral war film that of course undeservingly lost to Shakespeare in Love for Best Picture in 1998. They will have fingers crossed that Dunkirk fares better and goes all the way to the Dolby Theatre podium.
Spielberg. Hanks. Streep. The last film to release a trailer this year was The Post. Since then many seem to have placed this historical drama at the head of the pack of contenders for best picture. Ten or twenty years ago this would have been the shrewd move. However, this is 2017, and the Academy will no longer bow down to big names and dry biopics. Granted, Spielberg’s recent period dramas Lincoln and Bridge of Spies have been very good, but neither took home Best Picture. We are a quarter of a century from the days when Hanks dominated the Best Actor category, and while Streep will get her customary nomination, can she really compete against the fiery performances that McDormand and Ronan have given? This is a timely film given that it concerns the role of The Washington Post and The New York Times in the leak of the Pentagon Papers that detailed the role of the United States Government during the Vietnam War. The parallels with the Trump regime are obvious. If it is as good as Spotlight or All the President’s Men then it has a chance (co-writer Josh Singer also co-wrote Spotlight incidentally). It features a strong supporting cast, including TV stars Sarah Paulson, Carrie Coon, Matthew Rhys, and Bob Odenkirk. There were allegedly issues in the editing room, but any fear that The Post ’s chances of Oscar glory could be derailed have been allayed by strong early reviews and the National Board of Review naming it the best film of the year on Tuesday, as well as awarding Streep and Hanks Best Actress and Best Actor respectively.
While the Oscars are overwhelmingly biased towards English-language cinema, the Academy has at times failed to properly reward the greats of American cinema. Sure the likes of Ford, Wilder and Capra won multiples times, but Kubrick, Lynch and Altman never won Best Director. Even Scorsese has only one win from eight nominations, long overdue when he took home his award for The Departed, a film far from his best work. Paul Thomas Anderson is just the latest in a long line of mercurial talents to be undervalued by the Academy. From six nominations he is yet to win a single time. His latest film, Phantom Thread, sees him reunite with Sir Daniel Day-Lewis for the latter’s final ever performance. The last time the two collaborated Anderson came so close to sweeping the Academy Awards with There Will Be Blood, only to lose in his categories to No Country for Old Men. Men is a great film, and one of the best of the century, but Blood is one of the greatest films ever made. Day-Lewis of course won for Best Actor in that film, and has since gone on to become the most successful actor in Oscar history. The Academy revelled in handing him his record third victory for Lincoln (especially after front runner Joaquin Phoenix badmouthed the whole notion of awards season, calling it “complete bullshit” and “the worst carrot I have ever tasted”), and it would not be surprising to see them do so again. Jonny Greenwood reinvented film scoring in Blood, and while he is up against stiff competition from the likes of Hans Zimmer, even the likable German admits that it is Greenwood who is the finest film composer on the planet at the minute. Phantom Thread will be a strong contender in a number of technical categories, including Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Production Design. Anderson himself will not just be gunning for the triple crown previously bestowed on the likes of Wilder, Brooks, the Coens and Coppola; he will be going for a quadruple, as he also serves as the cinematographer on his newest film (a fact he is keen to play down). He has recently proved a little too esoteric for Academy voters, in the way that Kubrick was ahead of his time, and only gained full appreciation years later. Anderson will be hoping that his time is now.