Thursday, July 18, 2024

Can New “Gladiator” And “Beetlejuice” Films Turn Ridley Scott And Tim Burton Into Oscar Hopefuls Again?

This fall, two legends seek a return to glory with decades-in-the-making sequels to (perhaps) their most beloved movies. Between Ridley Scott inspiring new hopes with the first trailer to “Gladiator II” on July 9th and Tim Burton somehow getting “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice” to open the Venice Film Festival on August 28th, it would be so easy to believe that Scott and Burton might just be the Scott and Burton of “Gladiator” and “Beetlejuice” again – if only we hadn’t fallen for that false hope so many times before.

If this were soon after 2000 when Scott made “Gladiator” – or soon after 2000, when the Burton of “Beetlejuice,” “Batman,“Edward Scissorhands,“Batman Returns, and “Ed Wood was still fresh in our memory – then there’d be no reason to doubt them making these sequels. But this is 2024, and instead we have to hope that the Scott who made “Napoleon,House of Gucci,“Exodus: Gods and Kings,“Robin Hood,“Body of Lies, and other recent disappointments isn’t making “Gladiator II – just as we have to hope that the Burton who made “Dumbo,“Big Eyes,“Dark Shadows,“Alice in Wonderland, and other 2000s disappointments didn’t also make “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice.”

Yet, no matter how many times the modern-day Scott and Burton have let us down, the hype still revs up with each project that maybe, just maybe, this time will be different. The first trailer, “Gladiator II, seeks to build that buzz for Scott again, showing Paul Mescal’s grown-up Lucius taking up Maximus’s mantle in the Colosseum and challenging the might of a corrupt Rome, while Denzel Washington’s politician uses Lucius’s rage as his own instrument against Rome’s power.

Beetlejuice Beetlejuice and Burton hardly have that kind of hype, especially after their own first full-length trailer. But everything changed when the Venice Film Festival picked it as its opening night film, a mere week before its American premiere on September 6th. Even though no Venice opening night film has been a major Oscar contender since “La La Land in 2016, Variety took that sign and ran with it; its first Oscar projections claimed murmurs that “it’s an awards movie and put Michael Keaton in its first projected field for Best Supporting Actor.

Needless to say, not many awards experts besides those from Variety are willing to take that kind of leap just yet. But, like “Gladiator II,Beetlejuice Beetlejuice is technically a sequel to an Oscar winner, albeit for Best Makeup in 1988. Even if another Best Makeup Oscar in 2024 is all “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice winds up competing for, most fans will probably be happy that it is a respectable sequel to “Beetlejuice – instead of being an embarrassment or forgettable asterisk to its legacy.

In many respects, that is the bare minimum fans can hope for with “Gladiator II as well, which should be an easy request on paper. But, when it comes to the Scott of recent years – much like the Burton of recent years – stuff like that tends to be a tall order. At the least, maybe people can hope that the Scott who made “The Martian and “The Last Duel in between his more divisive failures returns, or hope that the Burton who helped launch “Wednesday into a phenomenon for Netflix carries that momentum over.Although it could be hard to trust Scott and Burton again, they’ve surrounded themselves with people who have much more goodwill to go around. While Scott may not have Russell Crowe back in his Oscar-winning role, he does instead have rising stars/recent award nominees and Internet darlings in Mescal, Pedro Pascal, and Joseph Quinn headlining, to say nothing of Washington in his first supporting role in more than 30 years. If he could get then merely rising stars Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix into the Oscars for “Gladiator, then maybe Scott can pull off a similar double nomination for 2022 Best Actor nominee Mescal and for either 1989 Best Supporting Actor winner Washington or 2024 SAG winner Pascal.

As for “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice, Burton has brought Keaton, Winona Ryder, and Catherine O’Hara all back in their iconic old roles, his “Wednesday star Jenna Ortega joining them, and Willem Dafoe somehow only now appearing in his first Burton movie. Of course, Keaton reprising a character he first played for Burton in the 80s didn’t necessarily work out in “The Flash last year, but it was a cursed production all around that didn’t have Burton or any of Keaton’s former co-stars. This time, he is making a direct sequel to an old Burton classic instead of a multiversal spinoff, with hopefully much more to do besides repeating old catchphrases.

Even if “Gladiator II and “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice live up to the highest of expectations and cross over from box office hits to award players, there may be too many films of their kind in the field already. When it comes to hit sequels, “Dune: Part Two has already staked its claim in the Oscar race, with “Joker: Folie a Deux – starring Phoenix 24 years after he received his first Oscar nomination for “Gladiator – possibly following suit, starting with its own rumored Venice premiere.

It might be too much to ask for, and perhaps too damming, if three or even four blockbuster sequels are significant factors in the 2024 Oscar field. In any case, Scott, in particular, has been too divisive for the Academy these days, just like he is for audiences in general.

Despite all those Scott fans who still insist that “Napoleon,House of Gucci,Alien: Covenant,” “Prometheus,“Kingdom of Heaven, and others are misunderstood classics, it has usually taken them years to be reappreciated. Yet, ever since “Gladiator and “Black Hawk Down in the early 2000s, only “The Martian – and perhaps “American Gangster with its Best Supporting Actress nomination for Ruby Dee – has broken through as a Scott film adored enough right away to get major Oscar attention.

Of course, when “Gladiator came out in 2000, it had been nine years since Scott’s last awards season hit, with 1991’s “Thelma and Louise. Despite making flops and/or divisive films for the next nine years, with “1492: Conquest of Paradise,“White Squall,” and “G.I. Jane, Scott roared back with “Gladiator and began the second wave of his career. Now, once again, a “Gladiator film seeks to stop Scott’s nine-year losing streak, whether creatively or in Oscar season.Burton hasn’t been close to the Academy’s radar since “Sweeney Todd in 2007, and the biggest Oscar impact his classic films made was a Best Supporting Actor win for Martin Landau in 1994’s “Ed Wood. While Scott has at least gone back and forth between blockbuster filmmaker and attempted Oscar hopeful for decades, Burton has primarily stayed in a blockbuster-driven lane, with perhaps “Big Eyes and “Big Fish as his exceptions these last 20 years. “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice had no expectations of being anything different, at least until Venice and Variety put newfound bullseyes on its back.

Gladiator II has had those kinds of bullseyes since it was greenlit, as any sequel to a Best Picture winner would. Then again, with all the ups and downs its director has gone through in the past, and with the two main actors and characters who made “Gladiator such a hit unable to come back, any hope for this sequel is a very cautious hope. However, that may be better than the worst-case scenarios likely feared for Burton and Beetlejuice’s reunion, no matter what Venice and Variety have hyped up.

Scott and Burton spent the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s building themselves up among the most daring directors and visual artists of their time. But, for much of the later 2000s, 2010s, and these early 2020s, that is not the Scott and Burton we have seen much of – and yet, the buildup for “Gladiator II and “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice is daring us to believe once again. Is making sequels to their decades-old classics really all it will take to bring them back to creative life and give them new life and attention from the Academy as a bonus?

Those who saw and hated Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year can already say that trusting legendary directors who haven’t made a classic in many years has backfired badly. For that matter, they can also make that forewarning if Clint Eastwood’s “Juror No. 2 does open in 2024. Though, for the moment, Scott and Burton are the next ones locked to try and reverse this trend, and their own recent creative and award season fortunes, this fall.

If “Gladiator II goes the way of “Napoleon,House of Gucci, and others like them, and if “Beetlejuice Beetlejuicegoes the way of “Big Eyes, “Alice in Wonderland, and others like them, it can’t be said that we couldn’t possibly see it coming. On the other hand, if they do come anywhere close to going the way of “Gladiator and “Beetlejuice – and if the Academy takes notice – then Scott and/or Burton may just be the comeback story(ies) of Oscar season.

Are you excited for “Gladiator II” and “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice?” Do you think either of these films will bring their respective filmmakers back to the Oscar race? Please let us know in the comments below or on Next Best Picture’s X account and be sure to check out Next Best Picture’s latest Oscar predictions here.

You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on X at @Robertdoc1984

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