Oscar 2017: Paradigm Shift

Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread”

I think it’s fair to say that at this time last year, no one had Moonlight as the favorite to win Best Picture. The question becomes, did the diversity push in membership change the paradigm of what an “Oscar bait” movie is? One year does not make a trend, but it is a giant leap for a film that cost less than two million dollars to make (the lowest-budgeted Best Picture of all time, adjust for inflation), has no stars, no white actors, and a gay theme to take the top prize. Even more than ever, it’s like the old William Goldman quote about predicting Oscars: “Nobody knows anything.”

But that won’t stop me from trying. Going over the slate of films to be released this fall and winter I don’t see anything that stands out as a favorite for the Oscar. Usually I get about five of these, but I wouldn’t be surprised to do far worse than that this year. Last year I certainly didn’t have Moonlight on my horizon.

In alphabetical order:

Battle of the Sexes (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris) Sep. 22. The film opens at Telluride tomorrow, so this may be out of the running quickly. The story of the tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was a gaudy circus (I’m old enough to have watched it) and these are the directors of Little Miss Sunshine, so they have Oscar pedigree. I’d be interested to see if they touch upon the rumor that Riggs threw the match because of massive debts.

Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan) Jul. 21. Though I was underwhelmed by this war film, it is in the right quadrant–big box office and near universal critical acclaim. After several weeks it is still in the top ten. The Academy has been gun shy about Nolan–he’s never been nominated for Best Director, and only Inception has been nominated for Best Picture. It all depends on how many good films are coming–if they aren’t too many, Dunkirk will be remembered.

The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey) Dec. 26. It’s hard now for films released too late in the year to get nominated, and this musical was postponed an entire year (to avoid conflicting with La La Land). It stars Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum. The trailer makes it look like he was a lovable character, but remember, he’s the guy who said “There’s a sucker born every minute.” If it’s a whitewash of who he was I don’t like its chances.

Goodbye, Christopher Robin (Simon Curtis) Oct. 13. Now here’s a movie that has the old “Oscar bait” all over it. It’s literary–about the creator of Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne, and his experiences in World War I, and an emotional tale about fathers and sons. The only question that remains is is it any good?

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos) Oct. 27. Two of Lanthimos’ previous two films, Dogtooth and The Lobster, received Oscar nominations. Will this Greek director who has a different perspective than most crack into Oscar respectability? I don’t know anything about the plot of this film. It stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman.

Last Flag Flying (Richard Linklater) Nov. 3. The plot sounds formulaic–three war buddies attend the funeral of one of their sons–but Linklater may make it better than it sounds. Starring (again) Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne, it may tap into the zeitgeist.

Mudbound (Dee Rees) Nov. 17. A film directed by a black woman (the only other film thus directed to be nominated for Best Picture was Selma), it is set in the South post-World War II. It has been seen, at Sundance, and though it didn’t win a prize it was generally well-received.

Phantom Thread  (P.T. Anderson) Dec. 25. Anderson almost always comes up with films that get Oscar nominations, ever since Boogie Nights, but only There Will Be Blood got a nomination for Best Picture. It’s mostly being celebrated as purportedly the last film for Daniel-Day Lewis (though he’s retired before) and set in the London fashion world of the ’50s.

The Post (Steven Spielberg) Dec. 22. Another late release, but it’s hard to bet against the trio of Spielberg, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks, telling the story of the Pentagon Papers. Hanks plays Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who has already been played by one Oscar-winner, Jason Robards in All the President’s Men.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh) Nov. 10. I was intrigued by the trailer–this may get the usual Coen Brothers slot. McDonagh, a fantastic playwright, has had a checkered career as film director–In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths–but has already won an Oscar for Best Short Film. It stars Frances McDormand as a woman demanding justice for her dead daughter, and seems to be anti-police, which could be another zeitgeist nominee.
Also possible:
Darkest Hour (Joe Wright); Detroit (Katheryn Bigelow); Victoria and Abdul (Stephen Frears); Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes); Suburbicon (George Clooney); Wonder Wheel (Woody Allen).

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

One response »

  1. The Greatest Showman’s release date was moved out to 2017 even before La La Land’s release was scheduled for December 2016, so the two things were not related. And Barnum didn’t say those words; it’s only a popular misconception.

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