Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Surveying The Oscar Field: The 2017 Above The Line Categories (Part 2)

By Michael Schwartz

With the Toronto International Film Festival wrapping up, Oscar watchers are presented with a few more pieces to the awards season puzzle. While still in early stages, the race is officially upon us. Films have debuted, screeners are being sent out, and campaigns are beginning to start up. Now that we have some breathing room before the New York Film Festival at the end of the month, let’s take a look at where the race in top categories stands as of today.  


BEST PICTURE

The Shape of Water

I write this piece just as “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” shockingly wins the TIFF Audience Award. That is often a good sign for a nomination and does a lot to make me think twice about the film’s position in this race (Which I had admittedly downplayed before). 

After receiving rapturous reception out of Telluride, “Darkest Hour” once again played well in Toronto. While the reactions may not have been on the same level as its debut, the film still played well enough to cement its place as a frontrunner in the race. If there was one Telluride title to get a TIFF boost, that would be Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape Of Water”. Audiences continue to be entranced by this sci-fi/romance hybrid, making the team over at Fox Searchlight very confident in their contender. As long as this type of reception continues through regional festivals and into the film’s December release, we have yet another top player on our hands. Making its first appearance in Sundance, “Call Me By Your Name” once again found passionate love from a very vocal group of fans. Audiences are connecting to this film in a way that isn’t different than “Carol” or “Moonlight”. Passion does a lot to ensure a spot in the Best Picture race, and Sony Pictures Classics certainly has the goods to make that happen with this November release.

Meanwhile, “The Florida Project” was another festival holdover to see a fall revival. While some audience reactions question whether or not the film is too small to break into the Oscar race, there is no denying it when it comes to quality. Festival-goers seem to be taken aback by how emotional the Sean Baker film is. Two of the most pleasant surprises from Telluride was the ecstatic reactions to “Lady Bird” and “Battle Of The Sexes”. Not only do both titles play like crowd pleasers, but they seem like the type of material that actors will eat up. The later is set to open in limited release this week, and the Toronto reception just about matched that of Telluride’s. If it does well financially over the coming weeks, I would feel comfortable in declaring it a contender here to stay. Venice raves seem like a fluke for Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing”, which played very similarly between TIFF and Telluride. It has fans, but Paramount is going to have to do a lot of heavy lifting between now and December if the film is to make an impact outside of commercial prospects.

​While “Dunkirk”, “Get Out”, and “The Big Sick” did not play a role in Toronto last week (Although “Dunkirk” was reshown in IMAX yet again at the festival), their status in the race as not changed. All three titles will need to be nurtured over the next few months if they are to break out come guild and critic awards. Only a few question marks remain this year. “Last Flag Flying” will debut at the New York Film Festival alongside Woody Allen’s “Wonder Wheel”. Ridley Scott’s “All The Money In The World” dropped a very promising trailer along with news that it will close the AFI Film Festival in November. And finally, Steven Spielberg’s highly anticipated “The Post” will be one of the very last titles to throw itself in the race. We’ve seen a lot, but there is still much more to come!

Predicted Nominees:

1. The Post
2. The Shape Of Water
3. Call Me By Your Name
4. Dunkirk
5. Darkest Hour

6. Battle Of The Sexes
7. Mudbound
8. Get Out
9. The Big Sick
10. The Florida Project

BEST DIRECTOR

Guillermo del Toro

​In the previous post-Telluride update, I made the case for Christopher Nolan, Joe Wright, Guillermo del Toro, Steven Spielberg, and Luca Gadagnino. All five men still seem to be in good standing for a directing nomination. However, they may need to fend off the emergence of an industry veteran in Ridley Scott. “All The Money In The World” seems to have the legendary director firing on all cylinders. While he does have more misfires than hits lately, Sir Ridley has proven his worth in films such as “Alien”, “Thelma And Louise”, “Gladiator”, and “The Martian”. When he’s on, he is ON! Assuming the new film is as good as the trailer suggests, he can find himself back in the hunt to finally go home with Oscar gold.

Predicted Nominees:

1. Christopher Nolan – “Dunkirk
2. Steven Spielberg – “The Post”
3. Joe Wright – “Darkest Hour”
4. Guillermo del Toro – “The Shape Of Water”
5. Luca Guadagnino – “Call Me By Your Name”

6. Dee Rees – “Mudbound”
7. Ridley Scott – “All The Money In The World”
8. Denis Villeneuve – “Blade Runner 2049”
9. Paul Thomas Anderson – “Phantom Thread”
10. Greta Gerwig – “Lady Bird”

BEST ACTOR

Joaquin Phoenix

​If Gary Oldman was already a lock in Telluride, he is even more so after TIFF. Not since Helen Mirren or Colin Firth has a potential player seemed like such a certainty. Must be something about those royals. As for his competition, that’s another story. “Call Me By Your Name” star Timothée Chalamet charmed press and industry members in Toronto, while Jake Gyllenhaal seems to have found his spot in the mix as a Boston Marathon bombing victim in “Stronger”. Even though “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” did not leave Toronto with raves, star Denzel Washington received strong enough notices to propel him into the race. His name alone should be enough to guarantee a slot. While we won’t know anything about Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread” until late in the race, a stealth contender in Jake Gyllenhaal seems to be stealing the spotlight. His portrayal is said to have found the sweet spot between subtle and “Oscar bait”. While the award won’t be his to win this year, it moves Gyllenhaal even closer towards a future victory. We have yet to see Tom Hanks in “The Post”, Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread”, and Bryan Cranston or Steve Carrell in “Last Flag Flying.” History shows that all three performers are not to be ignored. Barring any true surprises such as Andrew Garfield (“Breathe”) or Hugh Jackman (“The Greatest Showman”), this seems to be the race in a nutshell. I hope Mr. Oldman is clearing space on his mantle.

Predicted Nominees:

1. Gary Oldman – “Darkest Hour”
2. Daniel Day-Lewis – “Phantom Thread”
3. Jake Gyllenhaal – “Stronger
4. Timothee Chalamet – “Call Me By Your Name”
5. Joaquin Pheonix – “You Were Never Really Here”

6. Tom Hanks – “The Post”
7. Denzel Washington – “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
8. Andrew Garfield – “Breathe”
9. Steve Carell – “Last Flag Flying”
10. Hugh Jackman – “The Greatest Showman”


BEST ACTRESS

Kate Winslet

​WOW! WOW! WOW! WOW! WOW!

The 2017 Best Actress race may even be more competitive than last year. How in the world were we blessed with such a rich lineup of women to consider? The problem with this category is that once you set prime players in place, there are still another half-dozen or so contenders left off who could have made it in any other year. Breaking it down, there is no world in which Meryl Streep misses. While we haven’t seen “The Post” yet, her role and name alone are too much to ignore. Next up is Kate Winslet, who is said to have delivered a performance in “Wonder Wheel” on the level of Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”. One of the most respected actresses in the business today is Jessica Chastain, who just needs the right role to win her a well overdue Oscar. She may have found that role in Aaron Sorkin’s very well received poker drama “Molly’s Game”. Next in line is Sally Hawkins, who is stealing hearts in “The Shape Of Water”. Barring any Amy Adams level snubs, I don’t see how she misses with such reviews. And rounding out the five is current winner Emma Stone for playing Billie Jean King in “Battle Of The Sexes”. When voters love you, they REALLY love you (See Tom Hanks or Eddie Redmayne). Is that not enough? Let’s consider Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”), Michelle Williams (“All The Money In The World”), Daniela Vega (“A Fantastic Woman”), Annette Bening (“Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool”), Judi Dench (“Victoria & Abdul”), Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Mother!“) and the wildcard of them all, Glenn Close in “The Wife”, a small TIFF title that is said to find the six-time nominee turning in one of her finest performances. If the film finds the right distributor and 2017 release date, Glenn could come and crash the whole crazy party. This year is just an embarrassment of riches!

Predicted Nominees:

1. Jessica Chastain – “Molly’s Game”
2. Meryl Streep – “The Post”
3. Sally Hawkins – “The Shape Of Water”
4. Emma Stone – “Battle Of The Sexes”
5. Kate Winslet – “Wonder Wheel”

6. Frances McDormand – “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
7. Margot Robbie – “I, Tonya”
8. Saoirse Ronan – “Lady Bird”
9. Judi Dench – “Victoria And Abdul”
10. Glen Close – “The Wife”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Jason Mitchell

​Just like the Best Actress race, Supporting Actor has a wide range of viable contenders from the veterans to the underrated. Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) and Michael Stuhlbarg (“Call Me By Your Names”) seem to be safe bets as loving father figures in audience favorites. After pulling off two surprising nominations in nine years, Michael Shannon has proven himself to be an industry favorite, which means that his role as a scene-chewing villain in a Best Picture frontrunner makes him impossible to ignore for “The Shape Of Water.” Speaking of villains, the always great Sam Rockwell received his share of praise as a racist police officer in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. Rockwell has been in the trenches for years and is finally on the brink of full stardom as he prepares to play President George W. Bush for Adam McKay next year. This nomination would certainly make a nice prelude to even bigger things to come in the future. As for the final slot, that’s where we have an open field. Consider the following…Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI in “Darkest Hour”, Steve Carell, Lawrence Fishburne or Bryan Cranston (“Last Flag Flying”), Richard Jenkins (“The Shape Of Water”), Mark Rylance (“Dunkirk”), Idris Elba (“Molly’s Game”), and Armie Hammer (“Call Me By Your Name”). The one I would be willing to bet on, however, is Kevin Spacey in “All The Money In The World”. Buried under heavy makeup and an unrecognizable accent, the two-time winner seems to be “in it to win it” as J. Paul Getty, the billionaire who famously wouldn’t pay kidnapper’s ransom in order to save his grandson. We will know more as the season emerges, but the trailer last week seemed to spell good news. As always, this is a very fluid category worth paying attention to.   

Predicted Nominees:

1. Michael Stuhlbarg – “Call Me By Your Name”
2. Willem Dafoe – “The Florida Project”
3. Sam Rockwell – “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
4. Jason Mitchell – “Mudbound”
5. Ben Mendelsohn – “Darkest Hour”

6. Kevin Spacey – “All The Money In The World”
7. Armie Hammer – “Call Me By Your Name”
8. Richard Jenkins – “The Shape of Water”
9. Idris Elba – “Molly’s Game” 
10. Bryan Cranston – “Last Flag Flying”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Allison Janney

​As of now, there are three surefire contenders in the Supporting Actress race – Melissa Leo (“Novitiate”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) and Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”, assuming the TIFF breakout hit receives a 2017 release). While not nearly as deep as Supporting Actor, the rest of the category has some movement. Hong Chau is said to be the breakout in “Downsizing”. Even if the film itself isn’t everyone’s favorite, she certainly has fans on both sides. Former winners Holly Hunter (“The Big Sick”) and Octavia Spencer (“The Shape Of Water”) are well liked enough to make strides on the campaign trail. Following them is Kristin Scott Thomas (“Darkest Hour”), Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), Brooklyn Prince (“The Florida Project”), and Tatiana Maslany (“Stronger”). The nice thing about this category is that all strong performances in contention have screened already. Now it is just a matter of determining who gets in, and who stays out. Stay tuned!

Predicted Nominees:

1. Melissa Leo – “Novitiate”
2. Laurie Metcalf – “Lady Bird”
3. Allison Janney- “I, Tonya”
4. Mary J. Blige – “Mudbound”
5. Holly Hunter – “The Big Sick

6. Kristen Scott Thomas – “Darkest Hour”
7. Hong Chau – “Downsizing”
8. Tatiana Maslany – “Stronger
9. Michelle Pfeiffer – “Mother!
10. Brooklyn Prince – “The Florida Project”


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

All The Money In The World

​What initially seemed like a paper thin category may now open itself up thanks to potential category fraud. That is assuming that “Darkest Hour” and “All The Money In The World” try to pass themselves off as adapted screenplays. In the case of the former, writer Anthony McCarten has written a companion book to be released alongside the film. That would make for an easy nomination here. Aside from those two question marks, the race boils down to James Ivory’s “Call Me By Your Name”, Aaron Sorkin’s “Molly’s Game”, Richard Linklater’s “Last Flag Flying,” (Which hasn’t screened yet but will by the next time I write my follow-up) and Dee Rees’ “Mudbound”. More developments here as the season progresses.

Predicted Nominees:

1. Call Me By Your Name
2. Molly’s Game
3. Last Flag Flying
4. Mudbound
5. All The Money In The World

6. You Were Never Really Here
7. Wonderstruck
8. The Disaster Artist
9. Victoria And Abdul
10. The Beguiled

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Three Billboards

​As per the trend in recent years, a bevy of riches here. “The Post”, “Get Out”, and “The Shape Of Water” all seem like sure things. Based on either concept, name, or love for the film. Filling in the other two slots can prove to be a challenge though. Consider “Lady Bird”, “The Florida Project”, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, “Wonder Wheel”, “Battle Of The Sexes”, “The Big Sick”, “Downsizing”, and even Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread”. And if “Darkest Hour” and “All The Money In The World” do indeed stay original, be on the lookout for them as well.

Predicted Nominees:

1. The Post
2. The Shape Of Water
3. Darkest Hour
4. Get Out
5. The Big Sick

6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
7. Lady Bird
8. Wonder Wheel
9. Phantom Thread
10. The Florida Project

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Coco

​Unfortunately, 2017 seems to be the weakest year in this category’s history. That isn’t to say the films are bad, but there are so few viable contenders. Though it hasn’t screened yet, I would be stunned if Pixar’s “Coco” didn’t run away with the Oscar gold. All signs suggest that this is yet another winner from a quality studio. It also helps that the film about a Mexican child is opening in politically charged times. Additional mainstream contenders include “Ferdinand”, “The Lego Batman Movie”, “The Boss Baby”, “Cars 3”, and “Despicable Me 3”. But looking at smaller titles, expect to hear noise about “The Breadwinner” and “Mary And The Witch’s Flower”. 

Predicted Nominees:

1. Coco
2. Ferdinand
3. The Breadwinner
4. The Lego Batman Movie
5. Cars 3

6. Mary And The Witch’s Flower
7. Loving Vincent
8. Captain Underpants
9. The Lego Ninjago
​10. Despicable Me 3


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Faces Places

I predict (and hope) that Agnes Varda’s latest film “Visages/Villages” walks away with the big prize. Varda is receiving an honorary Oscar this year but deserves a win as well for her legendary career beginning with the rise of the French New Wave. Also, keep an eye on crowdpleaser “Step”, Netflix’s “Icarus“, Ferguson doc “Whose Streets“, and “City Of Ghosts”, about anti-ISIS activists. A timely bunch as usual.  

Predicted Nominees:

1. Icarus
2. City Of Ghosts
3. Faces Places
4. Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken
5. Whose Streets

6. Step
7. Visages/Villages (Faces/Places)
8. Jane
9. Bobbi Jene
​10. Hell On Earth: The Fall Of Syria And The Rise of Isis

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

The Square

Angelina Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father” lit up the festival circuit with the best reviews of her directorial career so far. Expect the Cambodian drama to factor heavily into the race. Also, a festival favorite was Israel’s “Foxtrot”, which many viewers at both Telluride and Toronto considered among the best of the fest. Factor in Cannes holdovers “BPM”, “Loveless” and “The Square” for a general idea of how the always unique race will be shaping up.

Predicted Nominees:

1. First They Killed My Father
2. The Square
3. Foxtrot
4. Beats Per Minute

5. Happy End

6. A Fantastic Woman
7. In The Fade
8. The Divine Order

9. The Dark Wind
​10. Thelma

What are your thoughts on the race so far? Are you looking forward to certain contenders more than others? What have you made of the festival circuit? Any dark horses not named here? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to take a look at our current Oscar predictions in the above the line categories below!

BEST PICTURE

BEST DIRECTOR

BEST ACTOR

BEST ACTRESS

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

You can follow Michael and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @mikemovie

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