The headline sounds a tad cynical but I mean it. Variety‘s Guy Lodge is right on top of what’s happening right now, and hats off for his being first. Because Dunkirk, a long-presumed Best Picture nominee, suddenly seems to be faltering and wobbly-kneed, and the great-guns assumption that Gary Oldman‘s broadly actorish performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour is locked to win is suddenly in question. It may be, in fact, that Oldman isn’t the front-runner any more, and that Call Me By Your Name‘s Timothy Chalamet might be elbowing him aside. Maybe.
That, at least, is what Lodge seems to be suggesting and what HE’s insect-antennae are conveying as we speak.
Today was the day I realized that Dunkirk, which almost everyone has had at the top of their Best Picture roster since last July, isn’t happening any more. The complaint about Dunkirk lacking a traditional arc and not delivering anything in the way of affecting mainstream emotion has always been out there, but now the critics aren’t standing up for it either. It may eventually be Best Picture-nominated (it seems inconceivable, still, that the Academy would brush it aside in this respect) but winning is out of the question. That much is certain, and what a shock to confront this.
Because in the back of my mind I’ve always been saying, “How can a film like Dunkirk, a film that delivers such amazing scope and intensity and you-are-there realism, and which swan-dives so grandly and decisively into a groundbreaking, time-flipping narrative approach…voters will have to come back to it in the end. It’s too powerful, too overwhelming to be dismissed.” Now I’m starting to realize that the Dunkirk current isn’t there, and that perhaps it never was.
It also hit me today that Chalamet is arguably more of a Best Actor frontrunner than Oldman, at least among the somewhat younger and more progressive, alive-in-the-present-tense crowd. The older, better-safe-than-sorry contingent has been hearing “Oldman, Oldman, Oldman” for several weeks now, but Chalamet has won Best Actor trophies with the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and that really means something. At the very least the Best Actor situation is now a horse race.
Lodge appears to believe that Chalamet is to the 2017 Best Actor race what Isabelle Huppert was to the 2016 Best Actress race — the most frequently awarded contender before Emma Stone came along and took the Best Actress Oscar. Maybe so, but at least things are suddenly more interesting.
Lodge responds: “Not saying that at all — just that the faction most inclined to vote for Oldman, as with Emma Stone last year, hasn’t chimed in yet.”