It’s early days yet, we know. But awards season 2018 got started at Sundance, and came into further focus at Cannes. Check out our early speculation, based on festival play, credible filmmakers, promising ensembles and Oscar-savvy distributors, of what might be in store when the next award season rolls around in the fall of 2017.
Sundance 2017 introduced the first potential feature contenders: Michael Showalter’s big Amazon Studios sale, “The Big Sick,” a true romance starring writer-actor Kumail Nanjiani, as well as Geremy Jasper’s New Jersey rap musical “Patti Cake$” (Fox Searchlight), starring breakout Australian actress Danielle Macdonald and returning veteran Cathy Moriarty (“Raging Bull”), which also played Cannes, and Sony Pictures Classics’ elegiac gay romance “Call Me By Your Name,” directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Armie Hammer and “Homeland” breakout Timothée Chalamet as summer lovers, and stalwart Michael Stuhlbarg as the teenager’s father.
It will be interesting to watch how Netflix will handle its $12.5 million pickup of Dee Rees’ post-World War II southern drama “Mudbound” starring Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hudland, Jason Mitchell and an unrecognizable Mary J. Blige. Adapted by Rees and Virgil Williams from Hillary Jordan’s 2009 novel, this movie is not small. Rees and cinematographer Rachel Morrison executed sweeping, gorgeous cinema with disciplined precision. The burgeoning streaming service plans a day-and-date release in a limited number of theaters to qualify for the Oscars.
Performers grabbing notice at Sundance included Melissa Leo, who steals Maggie Betts’ good-nuns-gone-bad movie “Novitiate.” Never underestimate Sony Pictures Classics’ ability to showcase a popular actor like Leo.
And after last year’s Sundance sleeper “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” Sam Elliott returned in another Brett Haley film, “The Hero” (The Orchard), delivering a moving lead performance as a 70-year-old western star trying to tell the women in his life that he may be dying. Get out your handkerchiefs.
Courtesy of Sundance
Among the documentaries, Matthew Heineman followed his Oscar-nominated border drug war thriller “Cartel Land” with another daring and timely non-fiction, Amazon’s “City of Ghosts.” Any footage from Syria came from the fearless Raqqa journalists he tracks through Turkey and Germany, where they discover that they are not necessarily safe — anywhere.
Netflix’s “Icarus” comes from marathon biker Bryan Fogel, who stumbled upon a riveting global scoop: the Russian Olympic doping scandal. Also acquired by Netflix is U.S. Documentary-winner “Chasing Coral,” a heartrending, eye-popping follow-up to Jeff Orlowski’s “Chasing Ice,” similarly documenting the technological feats required to go underwater to film the process of vivid live coral reefs succumbing to warm-water temperatures, as well as Kitty Green’s beauty contest expose “Casting JonBenet.”
Well-reviewed May release “Risk,” Laura Poitras’s follow-up to Oscar-winner “Citizenfour,” should also factor in the documentary race.
Early 2017 releases include Jordan Peele’s brainy Hitchcockian thriller “Get Out,” among the best-reviewed of the year; Universal is pushing it hard, hoping that its genre elements won’t prevent it from scoring anything beyond a well-deserved nod for screenplay.
James Mangold delivers an R-rated Marvel family smash with “Logan,” a stylish reinvention of the superhero genre made possible by Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, who were willing to close out their roles as Wolverine and Charles Xavier, respectively.
Cannes 2017 delivered a handful of contenders.
Civil War melodrama “The Beguiled” (June 23, Focus Features) scored a Best Director win for Cannes regular Sofia Coppola, only the second woman to take home the prize. Her star Nicole Kidman won a special award for four varying performances at the festival; she’s most likely to land her fifth nomination for “The Beguiled” as the resilient Southern girls school headmistress; also strong are lead actor Colin Farrell as a manipulative wounded Irish Union soldier, and supporting actress Kirsten Dunst as the gullible teacher he woos. The period film is elegantly crafted. Assuming all goes well, writer-director Coppola, Kidman and Dunst could eventually land nominations; technical nods are most likely, for cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd and more possible down the line.
Todd Haynes follows up “Carol” with “Wonderstruck” (November 15, Amazon/Roadside Attractions), an ambitious weaving of the two story threads in rookie screenwriter Brian Selznick’s adaptation of his own graphic novel which wowed Cannes critics and audiences (though not the jury) with its cinematic prowess. It was a daunting task, wedding a black-and-white 1927 silent film starring 14-year-old deaf actress Millicent Simmonds and Haynes regular Julianne Moore with a 1977 color narrative about a young man who suddenly goes deaf. Haynes’ cinematic skills are perfectly suited to this story about lonely children in peril, seeking answers as they wind their way to the Museum of Natural History in New York. The Academy crafts will hum over rock-star costume designer Sandy Powell, cinematographer Ed Lachman’s evocation of two distinct time periods, Mark Friedberg’s detailed production design, and Carter Burwell’s sensitive score, which carries the movie along with its intricate sound design, and makes it sing.
Again, Amazon and Roadside, which collaborated effectively on “Manchester By the Sea,” will need to find an audience for the film as well as critical support — after Cannes, “Wonderstruck” sits at 74% on Metacritic, but may do better stateside. Also from Amazon is Lynne Ramsay’s hardboiled hitman drama “You Were Never Really Here,” starring a beefy Joaquin Phoenix as a suicidal hitman experiencing an existential crisis. This exercise in style will have a tough time getting past the Academy’s resistance to small-scale indie violence. “Goodfellas,” “Mean Streets” and “The Departed” rode a surge of critical success to overcome their gangster genre origins. Thrice-nominated Phoenix and Best Actor winner could score a fourth Oscar slot as a sad sack freelance killer.
Following their Oscar win with “Moonlight,” A24 brought four movies to Cannes. But their hot pickup “The Florida Project” is most likely to push them into awards season contention, although gritty crime caper “Good Time” did yield some rave notices for Robert Pattinson as an acting breakthrough. A24 could push “The Florida Project,” writer-director Sean Baker’s follow-up to “Tangerine,” using the model of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which debuted in Sundance and went on to ride strong Cannes buzz and the fall festival circuit to four nominations, including Best Picture, Writer, Director, and Actress Quvenzhane Wallis. She’s a precursor to “Florida Project”‘s 6-year-old diminutive breakout Brooklynn Prince.
Baker’s slice of life along Orlando’s budget motels also relies on twice-nominated Willem Dafoe (“Platoon,” “Shadow of the Vampire”), who is long overdue for award recognition. His humane and paternal motel owner is the glue that holds together this poverty-row drama.
Netflix’s Noah Baumbach Competition entry “The Meyerowitz Stories” looks great on the big screen. If the acerbic New York family ensemble comedy led by Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler was getting a conventional theatrical release build-up to a full-on Oscar campaign, producer Scott Rudin might have been able to get Dustin Hoffman’s cranky artist and father a shot as supporting actor. But a day-and-date release in limited situations for a week is not going to do the trick.
Jumping to the front of the Oscar line is 88-year-old filmmaker Agnes Varda’s heart-tugging pop-up road movie documentary, co-directed with artist JR, which comes out of the festival surrounded by love and valentines and a Best Documentary prize. She’s at the top of her game, even if she’s going blind and leaning on a cane. The aging Academy will respond to this love letter to the creative spirit.
Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” (Warner Bros., June 2) jumped into Oscar contention after its $103-million opening and rave reviews for the movie and its two stars, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. Comic-book superhero flicks usually contend in the technical categories, but this one might add some acting and directing nod for Jenkins as well.
Still to come over the summer and into the fall and holidays are a raft of well-assembled, promising projects that will pass through the crucible of reviewers and performances before emerging as full-blown bonafide Oscar players. And some still may pick up actual distributors and release dates as well.
Until then, bring on new movies from Paul Thomas Anderson, Kathryn Bigelow, Guillermo del Toro, Garth Davis, Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky, Alexander Payne, Joe Wright, Destin Daniel Cretton, Alex Garland, Colin Trevorrow, Aaron Sorkin, and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. At this stage, hope springs eternal.