With the fall festivals behind us, awards season 2018 is well under way. Check out our predictions, based on festival play, credible filmmakers, promising ensembles and Oscar-savvy distributors, of what might be in store when nominations are announced on January 23.
Here’s an Oscar time-line.
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, 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.
Netflix is campaigning for its $12.5 million pickup of Dee Rees’ post-World War II southern drama “Mudbound” starring Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, 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” (Sony Pictures Classics); and following 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 Julian Assange expose “Risk” (Neon/Showtime), 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 could land her fifth nomination for “The Beguiled” as the resilient Southern girls school headmistress. The period film is elegantly crafted; technical nods are most likely, for cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd and more possible down the line.
Todd Haynes followed up “Carol” with “Wonderstruck” (October 20, 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.
Following their Oscar win with “Moonlight,” A24 is pushing Cannes/NYFF hit “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.
Another A24 pickup doing well on the fall circuit is writer-director Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical directing feature debut “Lady Bird,” starring Saoirse Ronan as a rebellious California high school achiever eager to escape to an Eastern college and Laurie Metcalfe as her mother.
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. A day-and-date release in limited situations for a week may not do the trick, but Netflix and Rudin plan a full-court Academy press as the NYFF boosted its awards cred.
At the front of the Oscar line is “Faces Places,” 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, which could also wind up France’s Oscar submission.
Patty Jenkins’ record-breaking box office phenomenon “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 categories and a directing nod for Jenkins as well, as Warners mounts a full campaign.
Another summer blockbuster is Christopher Nolan’s stunning cinematic achievement, the World War II original “Dunkirk” (Warner Bros.), which is the movie to beat: its fall competitors include “Darkest Hour” (Focus Features), Joe Wright’s World War II portrait of Winston Churchill, starring Gary Oldman; two Fox Searchlights films, Guillermo del Toro’s dark romantic fantasy “The Shape of Water,” starring Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins and Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” starring Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell; as well as a few late-year entries from Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”) and Steven Spielberg (“The Post”).