By Josh Tarpley
Though I knew the Academy Awards and would tune in to the ceremony from time to time, I didn’t start following the Oscar race with intent until the 2010 season (“The Social Network” v “The King’s Speech”). After you have gone through your first season, you know how the game works and you are able to make predictions based on so many other factors than just “is this a good movie.” Release dates, a studio’s campaigning history, festival debuts, controversy behind the scenes, critics reactions, industry reactions, is a producer willing to bribe 85 foreign journalists who happen to have a televised awards show second only to the Oscars?
There is a lot we take into consideration as we play the predictions game, but one thing is for certain about 2017 that is separating it from recent years, we are still without a frontrunner…and that is a great feeling.
As it goes with all Oscar norms/expectations/”rules,” of course there are exceptions to the “frontrunner” rule, but generally speaking we would have one by now. After Telluride/Venice/Toronto the field of Oscar players can finally be slimmed from our exhaustive lists down to the 20 or so that will actually contend for the win. This is where some folks tune out of the coverage due to the consensus. Though they didn’t win, both “La La Land” and “Boyhood” were overwhelming frontrunners and it ended up being to their detriment. After “Spotlight” and “12 Years a Slave” made their festival debuts, it became obvious to a lot of people that they may have just seen the Best Picture winner.
A frontrunner helps shape the conversation each year. “Can ‘The Imitation Game’ challenge ‘Boyhood?’” or last year: “Can ANYTHING challenge the Second Coming that is “La La Land?’” Once the bar has been set, we can compare/contrast/discuss other movies in relation to it. This year is different. Yes, we still have contenders that debuted earlier in the year, critical darlings making the festival run, and some that will not be seen until the last moment in November/December, but we have crossed the Telluride/Venice/Toronto threshold and not a single movie has been thrust into frontrunner status.
Let’s take a look at five films that most pundits agree will receive a Best Picture nomination, but no one is confident in declaring anything to win (i.e. none are frontrunners). As far as predictions go, these could be considered the Top 5, here are the pros and cons as they head into the bulk of Oscar season:
- Early release, started building momentum outside the typical Oscar window
- Period piece/war film (picks up support from older academy members as well as tech voters)
- The “Christopher Nolan has been overlooked” narrative
- A technical achievement in the same vein as “Gravity” or “The Revenant”
- Early release. We all know how this game works, Oscar films debut at festivals in September and hit theaters in November/December
- While the period war film may have been a slam dunk in year’s past, voters are changing
- Though it may be historically accurate, there is a strong possibility of a residual #OscarsSoWhite backlash against the film.
- Like “Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour” checks the “period piece” box, with the added bonus of being a biopic.
- Unlike “Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour” debuted at Telluride to great reviews and will build momentum through its November release right into the voting period.
- The double whammy of “Gary Oldman has been overlooked” combined with what looks to be a game changing central performance.
- Politically, voters may want to reward a film that highlights how a leader correctly reacted to an international crisis (as oppose to what we see in the news everyday).
Bottom line, is this the year that we see the definition of what makes an “Oscar Movie” change? I remember the day the 2010 nominations came out. “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech” were duking it out all season, and “The King’s Speech” ended up with 12 nominations. After recent winners like “The Departed,” “No Country For Old Men” and “The Hurt Locker,” pundits were correct in saying, “the Oscar Movie has returned.” While “Darkest Hour” looks to be a great film we feel safe predicting lots of nominations for, its “sameness” holds it back from claiming the frontrunner status.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
- An unconventional love story featuring a stellar ensemble cast.
- Though genre bias has held back many films, thoughtful sci-fi has always been the sweet spot for Academy voters.
- The “Guillermo del Toro has been overlooked” narrative
- When compared to countless historical dramas, something as original as “The Shape of Water” could rise to the top
- With its strong technical component, this could join “La La Land” with support from accross the industry and 12-14 nominations
- Have you guys read about this film? Apparently it is pretty out there
- At any moment, the genre bias could kick in and “The Shape of Water” only ends up with some tech nominations
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
- A central love story that promotes the message of inclusivity and “love is love”
- A Sundance debut with buzz building throughout the festival season (the film hits theaters November 24)
- Three strong performances at its core (Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg)
- “Moonlight” proved that the Academy is open to a gay romance and non traditional films can win the top price.
- On the flipside, “Carol” proved that the Academy might not be as open to gay romance and non traditional films as we might have thought.
- We have already seen some pundits introduce the “there’s no stakes” idea, especially when we are comparing this love story to historical epics from World War II.
- Sometimes the Academy likes to go big, and “Call Me By Your Name” could just be too small for their tastes this year.
Let’s discuss “The Post” real quick. I took it out of my top spot in my predictions and I’m not sure what it will take for me to put it back in there. Though I’m not confident in what will win, there are several aspects keeping “The Post” from that frontrunner status. Yes, on paper this is the Oscar movies to end all Oscar movies. Spielberg, Streep, Hanks, period piece, journalism movie, a historical political drama that is actually about today. All the pieces are there, the only problem is no one has seen it AND no one will see it until the day before National Board of Review (if I had to guess).
Though it is hard for an early release to enter the Oscar race after its initial buzz (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel”), recent history has proved that it is just as hard for a late entry to build its narrative in the weeks before voting begins. It has been 10 years since we have seen a Best Picture winner debut (either theatrically or festival) after mid September (2006’s “The Departed”).
“The Revenant” is the best comparison for “The Post” this year. Yes, we can expect both films to garner over 10 nominations, but the narrative around each movie is limited to a couple of weeks as opposed to nuanced discussion for months. Another factor is that the film is the home run we all expect it to be and it immediately takes on the curse all frontrunner’s face. It is completely possible the film debuts, we love it, we praise it, it shoots back to the top of predictions, only to find itself getting the “does it really deserve it” narrative that “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Boyhood” and “La La Land” all faced.
Though we don’t have a frontrunner this season, that is not an insult at all. On the contrary that makes this an incredibly exciting season. There will definitely come a time where the race takes a very limited shape with two movie duking it out, but until then let us enjoy the openness of the race. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” just won the TIFF audience award, there is real discussion surrounding the Best Picture chances of “Get Out,” it is totally possible that “The Florida Project” (not “Call Me By Your Name”) is the true successor to “Moonlight.”
What do you all think? Do you think there is a frontrunner at this point in the season? Do you think “The Post” can overcome its late debut for Best Picture win? Let us know in the comments below.
You can follow Josh and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @JoshTarpley7