By Ryan C. Showers
“Widows,” if any movie, is a recipe for cultural, commercial, and critical success in 2018, it’s this one. The amount of talent in the equation will take you aback.
Steve McQueen is in the director’s seat for the first time since his “12 Years A Slave” won Best Picture five years ago. Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay. Flynn won nearly every critics association for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2014 for “Gone Girl.” This past summer, the second adaptation of her literary work, “Sharp Objects,” found high-yielding life on HBO. The list of producers’ filmographies ranges from other recent Best Picture winners and nominees such as “The King’s Speech,” “Lion,” and “The Revenant.” The film’s editor, Joe Walker, is has a distinguished reputation having cut together powerhouse genre films like “Blade Runner 2049,” “Arrival,” and “Sicario.” The Christopher Nolan-go-to composer, Hans Zimmer, supplied the film’s musical score, following popular work in “Inception,” “Dunkirk,” “Interstellar” and “Gladiator.” And of course, the cast ensemble is made up of some of the most respected and well-known actors of the decade: Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Carrie Coon, Jacki Weaver, Daniel Kaluuya, Cynthia Erivo, and Brian Tyree Henry.
A lot will depend on how well it performs at the box office this weekend and in the weeks to come. Regardless though, one thing is for sure: “Widows” IS a movie worthy of Oscar consideration. Now, all that’s left is to see how many nominations it can actually get.
Even without looking at anything else, the mere conglomeration of talent shows “Widows” has game and too much consistency to fail. Then, factor in the plot of the film: a heist film about four widows avenging their husband’s deaths to get their families out of debt, offering a subtext about the imbalance of power in America. On top of that, it’s being sold as a women’s empowerment movie led by a prominent middle-aged African American woman. It’s completely a movie of the time.
Plots and themes such as these strike a certain cultural sweet spot for audiences and critics in 2018, under a highly regressive, misogynist, and racist Trump administration, and the floodgates of #MeToo having exposed the worst of Hollywood’s most powerful men. “Widows” has identified and tapped into the pulse of the modern pop culture in the same way that “Get Out” and “Wonder Woman” did last year. And like those films, it’s being met with high critical acclaim. Essentially, there hasn’t been a negative review yet. “Widows” has stubbornly staked out territory in the rare consensus in 2018 film criticism. It’s being praised as a highly capable and adept heist thriller.
Everything about its narrative screams “Oscar!*” until you factor in an asterisk next to the praise. The framing around “Widows” after it premiered at Toronto was, “It’s a great, powerful film. You’ll have a blast. But it’s not really an Oscar movie. It’s a popcorn movie.” In fact, in tweets after tweets following its premiere in September, the words “popcorn movie” followed “Widows” like an anticlimactic ending to a thrilling story. Since then, I haven’t really known what exactly to do with “Widows” in terms of my predictions.
At the end of the day, “Widows” is a heist film that was made for commercial revenue. It just so happens to have been marvelously executed with extraordinarily gifted artists behind it. Many people will see it and feel compelled to argue for it to receive nominations up and down the ballot based on its merits, but that doesn’t mean the Academy will acquiesce to the request by fans of the movies, high box office numbers, and woke critical acclaim. “Widows” is the type of movie I want to succeed. Even without seeing it, the intersectional feminist, adult-oriented, studio movie is the type of cinema I crave and want to see rewarded. But I merely remind everyone of the cautionary tale of the last film Gillian Flynn wrote, “Gone Girl.”
“Widows” and “Gone Girl” are very similar in nature, construction, and the people behind the camera. The reviews between the two are comparable, and like “Gone Girl,” “Widows” will likely bring in a high box office return. Now, back in 2014, “Gone Girl” had a tantalizing buzz from October through January. Flynn and lead actress Rosamund Pike won numerous regional critics associations for their work on the film. It was handsomely rewarded by the Golden Globes (four nominations) and the Critics Choice (six nominations), and it was nominated at just about every guild before Oscar nominations.
But when the time came to bring home the big awards of the night, Academy members choked. “Gone Girl” received only two BAFTA nominations and one Oscar nomination, for Best Actress. In retrospect, many pundits accredit the Academy not clicking with “Gone Girl” because it is a genre film. I know the Academy ushered in new and diverse members in recent years, and some believe the new membership will help films like “Gone Girl” and “Widows.” Those same people will cite “Get Out” as a film that went as far as it did because of the new membership. But all those members who voted in 2014 and remain voters today, why will they be seduced by “Widows” in a way that they weren’t by “Gone Girl?”
“Widows” is the type of film that is tricky to place in the Oscar field. It’s the type of movie that has a shot to be nominated in ten categories, where a legitimate campaign and argument can be made for a nomination. The problem is, it’s on the bubble for the majority of those ten categories. Nothing for the films safely in prediction spots one, two, or three for any category. It’s arguably in the fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh spot for many categories. If you play the odds, there’s as much of a chance it goes home with 10 nominations as it does zero. Maybe we’ll know more once phase 2 really gets going after it’s been released to the public on Friday and it racks up some critics association nominations.
Here are the following categories where “Widows” could possibly play. They’re all possible, but none of them are secure.
Best Picture – It’s probably lingering between spots 8 and 12, circling around with (or just behind) the likes of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “Black Panther.” Given the way Best Picture nominees are voted in, it’s tough to see enough voters ranking this in first place on their ballots to make it in safely.
Best Director – A lot of people have McQueen in their 7-10 spots in the predicted top 10 for Best Director. Personally, I think he’s a long shot. The directing branch will turn their noses up at the genre aspect of the film.
Best Actress – This is the most jammed packed of any category this year. In a weaker year, Davis would be very likely, like Pike was for “Gone Girl.” But given the competing performances, I think she appropriately fits in the 6-8 spots. She’s in the conversation due to her powerhouse acting abilities and her stature in the business. I worry that the emphasis on her character will be diminished by the ensemble nature of the project, whereas other Best Actress contenders lead their own character studies. I see a world where her star power garners her shortlist mentions at the Golden Globes and SAG awards, but then she’s dropped for more less blockbustery contenders at BAFTA and the Oscars.
Best Supporting Actor – Kaluuya led the wave of initial buzz for the film. Many saw him as a potential lone nomination for the project and as in a favorable position to ride the coattail of his Best Actor nomination last year. But now the film is being screened for more people, many of whom are saying his role is too small and elusive to gain traction.
Best Supporting Actress – Debiciki and Erivo have received wonderful mentions in reviews, and they’re for sure in spots 8-12 in Best Supporting Actress, but this is the category in which I have the least confidence. The top 6 in Best Supporting Actress (King, Adams, Stone, Weisz, Foy, and Kidman) are iron clad.
Best Adapted Screenplay – Flynn wrote the best adapted screenplay of the decade in “Gone Girl,” which had a mammoth profile from the popular following of the book and the rave critical reviews for the film’s script. And she still missed in 2014, a weak year for this category. If Flynn couldn’t get in for “Gone Girl,” we need to proceed with extreme caution about her chances for “Widows,” given that it’s equally a genre film and 2018 is a particularly strong year for the category. “BlacKkKlansman,” “A Star Is Born,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” have a firm footing with the writing branch, and “The Hate U Give” has a strong case to make. It’s difficult to imagine “Widows” can upend any of these five, plus bids from “First Man” and “Boy Erased.” I would say, the script plateaus at spot 6, just outside being nominated, or it just squeaks by if “The Hate U Give” doesn’t materialize.
Best Film Editing – Now here is where I think the film’s strongest chance is. Working against it is, this category is usually made up of Best Picture nominees. But in its favor, occasionally, wickedly edited films like “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” “Baby Driver” and “Se7en” show up in Best Film Editing. Given the nature of the film and Joe Walker’s shrewd skills in “Arrival” and “12 Years A Slave,” this seems like a possibility. The competition will be tough, but I think it’s in spots 5-7, just in or right outside the category.
Best Cinematography – This category shows up a lot in the analysis of people who have seen the film, yet, like Best Adapted Screenplay, there are already more high-profile candidates filling the frontrunning positions. At best, I think it ranks at spot 7, well outside the top 5 nominees and the two on the bubble spots. This category may be an overreach for the film.
Best Sound Mixing & Best Sound Editing – This year’s sound categories are very crowded. However, the sound design has been raved by those who have seen it. These categories are another place, like Film Editing, where it’s safest to reward a genre film. Nailing down both categories is possible, though tough to accomplish, due to the high volume of Best Picture contenders and films that feature music in Sound Mixing. I have it in spots 4-5 for both categories, and if it just gets in one of the categories, I suspect it’ll be Sound Editing due to the film’s action sequences.
Best Original Score – Zimmer is a masterful composer, and just having his name on the project is enough to consider him for a nomination. However, reports indicate the score may not be used enough throughout the film to be in strong contention.
It’d be a shame to waste a film like “Widows,” for it to play the odds on nomination morning and end up being completely shut out despite all the acclaim and awards potential. Realistically, a trajectory like “Gone Girl” or “The Town” makes the most sense, where it gets a single nomination. But I could also see it going the way of “Sicario” and end up with three below-the-line nominations. Or perhaps it follows in the steps of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and manages to perform above and below the line. Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Editing feel like a feasible quest for “Widows.”
What do you think? How many Oscar nominations do you think “Widows” can receive and how many do you think it will ultiamtely get? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below and be sure to check out of current Oscar predictions here.
You can follow Ryan and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @RyanCShowers