Friday, December 2, 2022

Can “Aftersun” Burn Bright This Awards Season?

It’s that time of year again. Awards season is truly upon us. The major film festivals have ended, the For Your Consideration ads are being placed, and nominations are starting to be announced. Last week we saw the Gotham Awards announce their nominations and amongst films such as “TÁR” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” there was one welcome but slightly unexpected name that many have been rooting for since its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, “Aftersun.” Charlotte Wells’ feature directorial debut received nominations for Breakthrough Performance, Breakthrough Director, Outstanding Lead Performance, and the big one, Best Feature.

After its Cannes premiere, it was no surprise to see a warm reaction to the film when it opened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in August, given the filmmaker and film’s Scottish connections. Wells grew up in Edinburgh, developing a love for cinema through the local Filmhouse and film festival, and now resides in New York. “Aftersun” is an incredibly personal film, drawing on elements of her own life and childhood to tell the story of a woman looking back on a holiday she took with her father. What has been amazing to see is how well the film has played to audiences outside Scotland and the UK. It was one of the few films to receive universal acclaim at Cannes this year and saw equally strong reactions from critics at Telluride, TIFF, and NYFF.

Despite being a film featuring a Scottish family on holiday in Europe, it has transcended its boundaries to appeal to a broader audience. There is a universality in the specific, with viewers able to see and confront elements from their own lives in the movie’s themes on a father/daughter relationship, that first holiday, memory, and mental health. Plus, every screening has been accompanied by critics’ tears at the emotional gut punch that comes with the Queen “Under Pressure” needle drop.

The film currently has a 96 Metacritic rating and 97% with critics on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the highest-rated film out of all the award contenders so far this year. So will that love from the critics transfer into recognition for the film during the upcoming Awards season? Could it be this year’s dark horse in the Oscar race?

Undoubtedly, the film will perform well at the various UK film awards. It has already been longlisted for British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) for Best Debut Director, Best Debut Screenwriter, and Best Breakthrough Performance for Charlotte Wells and Frankie Corio, respectively (nominations to be announced tomorrow). Expect it to also feature at the BAFTAs with nominations (and potential wins) in the Best Debut by a British Writer, Director, or Producer and Best British Film.

Its success in the American circuit will ultimately come down to the film’s US distributor, A24. Of course, they have a history of taking a film produced by Barry Jenkins all the way to the Oscars with “Moonlight.” Still, certainly before last week, their eyes were presumably firmly focused on their campaigns for “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and Brendan Fraser’s Best Actor for “The Whale.” Will a strong showing at the regional critic associations see them take stock, recalibrate and give “Aftersun” a stronger FYC push? If A24 focuses their efforts, the film’s best chances of success lie in the Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor Oscar categories.

Much of the film’s power comes from Wells’s screenplay. It does not spoonfeed its audience. Instead, it trusts them to put the pieces together to understand why the main character is revisiting this particular memory. Also, with parts of it inspired by elements from her childhood, it provides an endearing hook for potential voters, which they might latch onto.

With the Best Actor category, it is widely held opinion that four of the five spots will be taken by Brendan Fraser, Austin Butler, Hugh Jackman, and Colin Farrell (though this can obviously still change). Many critics are currently predicting Bill Nighy for “Living” for the fifth and final slot, but Paul Mescal could emerge as a real contender if critics groups push him hard enough. Like Nighy, his performance is quiet and internal but no less powerful than any of the other featured actors. He is a star on the rise following “Normal People,” “The Lost Daughter,” and various other projects for which he’s been receiving consistent notices. If he picked up a string of critic awards and worked the in-person Academy screening circuit, he could get over the line come March.

The race has only just begun, but this is one film whose success could prove to be a slow burn (pardon the pun). Aftersun typically refers to a product applied to the skin after exposure to the sun. Similar to the sunburn one brings home as a reminder of a good holiday, Charlotte Wells’ “Aftersun” looks set to leave its indelible mark on voters this Awards season.

Have you seen “Aftersun” yet? If so, what did you think of it? Do you think it will keep building momentum up until the Oscars or is it destined to be recognized by only the critics and independent award shows? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account and be sure to check out NBP’s latest Oscar predictions here.

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