The Academy’s Combustible Year
After two consecutive telecasts recognizing only white actors, the 2017 Oscars started off redemption-plot-perfect, awarding early statuettes to two actors of color, Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali. Then came the most-witnessed accidental reveal since the 2004 Super Bowl — when an accounting error placed “Emma Stone, ‘La La Land’” in the Best Picture envelope, instead of the rightful winner, “Moonlight.” Nonetheless, many responsible for the ceremony will be back in 2018, among them Academy CEO Dawn Hudson (her contract was renewed soon after through 2020), executive producers Mike De Luca and Jennifer Todd, and host Jimmy Kimmel. Even PricewaterhouseCoopers will return (although a different accountant duo will be responsible for the ballot briefcases).
The Academy did get a new president in August (because of term limits, not Envelopegate): John Bailey, the first leader elected from the cinematographer’s branch (with credits including “Ordinary People” and “As Good as It Gets”). His tenure began weeks after membership was extended to 774 individuals — just as Halle Berry questioned whether her 2002 Oscar “meant nothing” — the largest-ever incoming class; although to achieve more gender and racial party, many acclaimed TV stars were confusingly courted under the guise of their film contributions. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of female Academy members jumped 11 percent, while since 2013, 331 percent more people of color have received invites to join.
But the Academy also expelled its second member in 90 years — Harvey Weinstein — and implemented new standards of conduct “oppos[ing] any form of abuse, harassment or discrimination.” A rule change also ensured that no future projects will replicate the awards run “O.J.: Made in America” had at both the Oscars and the Emmys. These changes might have made some forget that the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures was originally slated to open in Fall 2017; the current projected opening is Spring or Summer 2019, and a $388 million fundraiser is underway (museum trustees include Tom Hanks, producer Kathleen Kennedy, and Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos).
Industry-wide sexual harassment must now be addressed at the upcoming ceremony (even though Dustin Hoffman, faced with multiple accusations, was allowed to present at November’s Governors Awards). SAG-AFTRA already took a took a major stance by announcing that the first-ever SAG Awards host (Kristen Bell) would anchor a line-up of only female presenters when those trophies are bestowed, just two days before Oscar nominations arrive. — JM
“Star Wars” Director Shuffle Continues
Broadimage/REX/Shutterstock, Nils Jorgensen/REX/Shutterstock
Few directors could dream up a more awe-inspiring, richly historied, and culturally resonant assignment than helming an entry in the “Star Wars” saga. Yet three who got the chance had their hopes dashed by history’s second-largest film franchise (after the Marvel universe) in Summer 2017.
In late June, six months after production began on “Solo” — a Han Solo spinoff starring Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, and Donald Glover — directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The LEGO Movie” franchise) were jettisoned over clashing “creative visions” with Lucasfilm, a Disney-owned outfit since 2012. “The gap was too big,” Lord said at Vulture Festival in Los Angeles last month, after he and Miller had been replaced by “A Beautiful Mind” Oscar-winner Ron Howard. The release date for “Solo” remains May 25, 2018.
Then in early September, news came that “Jurassic World” director (and Steven Spielberg mentee) Colin Trevorrow had been let go from “Star Wars: Episode IX.” Once again, Lucasfilm said in its statement that “our visions for the project differ[ed].” J.J. Abrams — director of 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which became the highest-grossing “Star Wars” film after delivering a record-setting, $528 million worldwide opening weekend — will pick up from Trevorrow, although that film will now hit theaters in December 2019, seven months later than initially planned.
While these latest firings came as shocks because of their quick succession and the positive track records of the directors in question, in recent years, under Disney, Lucasfilm has been commitment-phobic when deciding who will oversee new chapters in its signature space Western. Josh Trank left a Boba Fett spinoff that was then canned in 2015, after his “Fantastic Four” film underperformed for another Disney entity, Marvel. While Gareth Edwards was given directing credit for the next year’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “The Bourne Legacy” director Tony Gilroy oversaw that film’s post-production.
Rian Johnson — who wrote and directed the massively successfully, currently-in-theaters “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” — did seem to land himself elusive Lucasfilm job security: he’s inked a deal for a new “Star Wars” trilogy. His biggest problem in the galaxy far, far away seems to be contending with low Rotten Tomatoes user scores. — JM
“Get Out” Makes History
Jordan Peele calls “Get Out” a documentary, and the Golden Globes call it a comedy (to Peele’s chagrin). Here’s what’s not up for dispute: This year, Peele — previously best known as half of the Comedy Central sketch duo “Key and Peele” — became the first black writer-director to craft a debut film that made more than $100 million at the box office. Shot for just $4 million, his modern, macabre retelling of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” became one of the biggest success stories in Sundance history, eventually earning more than $250 million worldwide, a journey that began with a secret screening in Park City just three days after Barack Obama vacated the White House.
“Get Out” is also the most-profitable Blumhouse Productions film in the Universal-housed company’s 17-year run, and the third-best performing R-rated horror film ever (after “It” and “The Exorcist”).
So far, Peele has accepted three Gotham and National Board of Review Awards apiece for the film; “Get Out” is also up for five film Independent Spirit Awards and two Golden Globes (which overlooked Peele’s screenplay and direction). Up next is a host of intriguing projects — including an under-wraps second film; revisiting “The Twilight Zone;” Tracy Morgan’s regular return to TV (“The Last O.G.” on TBS); and “Black Klansman,” a Spike Lee-directed feature Peele will produce — guaranteeing that Peele will continue to bewitch the industry for years to come. — JM
The Continued Emergence of Female and Non-White Blockbuster Directors
Getty Images for Vulture Festival
Besides Jordan Peele, “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins also set records in 2017: her film delivered a $100.5 million domestic opening weekend, the best result achieved so far by a female director (now in second is “Fifty Shades of Grey” from Sam Taylor-Johnson). In September, Variety reported that Jenkins will also become history’s top-paid female director with December 2019’s “Wonder Woman” sequel, for which she will be paid “in the $8 million dollar range to write, direct, and produce.”
Several more directors are poised to draw massive audiences next year and beyond, while also added much-needed diversity to their profession. This February and March — just three weeks apart — Ryan Coogler and Ava DuVernay will release their respective $100-million-plus Disney pictures that they’ve been editing “steps away from each other.” Coogler, who co-wrote and directed 2015’s hit “Rocky” sequel, “Creed,” is putting finishing touches on Marvel’s “Black Panther” starring Chadwick Boseman as the first black MCU superhero to get his own film (Boseman’s co-stars include Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker, and Sterling K. Brown).
Oscar-winning documentarian DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”) will then debut her version of Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” featuring a biracial teen protagonist (Storm Reid) who saves the universe with help from supernatural beings (Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, and Oprah Winfrey). That quartet has already been featured on the cover of TIME. The only woman to previously direct a film with a similar-sized budget was future Best Director Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”), when tasked with making 2002’s “K-19: The Widowmaker.”
For the following year, the Disney universe has also hired “The Secret Life of Bees” writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood to oversee “Silver & Black,” a “Spider-Man” spin-off focusing on Black Cat and Silver Sable; “Half Nelson” co-writer Anna Boden will co-direct Brie Larson in “Captain Marvel” (alongside her frequent collaborator Ryan Fleck); and New Zealander Niki Caro (“The Zookeeper’s Wife”) will helm a live-action remake of “Mulan.” — JM