Yesterday Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson posted a 2017 Best Picture projection piece. I’m here to straighten her out on a few things. I’ll post her list of preferred contenders with comments and corrections, and then post my own.
Thompson’s first wrongo is her statement that Nate Parker‘s The Birth of a Nation and Jeff Nichols‘ Loving have emerged as “the biggest Oscar contenders for Best Picture.” The wildly euphoric response to Parker’s film during last January’s Sundance Film Festival is still having its effect. I’m not saying Birth won’t be Best Picture nominated, but it won’t stand up to the second and third waves of scrutiny that will kick in after it screens at the fall festivals and especially after Joe and Jane Popcorn start paying to see it. Loving is a decent film but not a great one. The Oscar pony isn’t the film but Ruth Negga‘s lead performance.
Thompson undervalues Kenneth Lonergan’s “emotionally devastating” Manchester By the Sea (Roadside/Amazon) by ranking it third. As a portrait of human tragedy and vulnerability it is two or three times better than Loving and The Birth of a Nation combined. Lonergan’s writing alone makes it a huge stand-out. And there’s are no performances in Loving (including Negga’s) or The Birth of a Nation that can hold a candle to Casey Affleck‘s turn as a devastated lonely-guy divorcee.
Thompson’s leading Best Picture contenders following the above three:
4. Robert Zemeckis‘ Allied (Paramount). Wells comment: Does Zemeckis make Best Picture contenders any more? Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, WWII espionage and assassination, etc. Feels more “commercial” than anything else.
5. Ang Lee‘s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Sony). Wells comment: Probably.
6. Denzel Washington‘s Fences (Paramount). Wells comment: Probably.
7. Gary Ross‘s The Free State of Jones (STX). Wells comment: Not a chance. They’ve been hiding it. Ross clearly doesn’t “do” Oscar-level stuff.
8. Derek Cianfrance‘s The Light Between Oceans (DreamWorks/Disney). Wells comment: No way. It’s opening commercially on 9.2 — the day that Telluride kicks off. If it had the vaguest Oscar qualifying chops it would be playing at Telluride and opening later.
9. Morten Tyldum‘s Passengers (Sony). Wells comment: Strictly a big-budget commercial space drama. Not a prayer of Oscar contention except for production design, FX, etc. The plot has an ethical problem that will stir a fair amount of debate once it opens commercially.
10. Warren Beatty‘s Rules Don’t Apply (New Regency/Fox). Wells comment: No clue at all but Beatty having described it as a “lighthearted dramedy” doesn’t exactly suggest an awards contender to me. It might be a perfectly fine film. I know it has a good story.
11. Martin Scorsese‘s Silence (Paramount). Wells comment: I’ve been hearing for months it’s going to be a rough sit in terms of physical anguish and torture scenes. Are we talking about the new Revenant?
12. Clint Eastwood‘s Sully (Warner Bros.). Wells comment: Maybe but after Tom Hanks lands his jet on the Hudson where can the movie go?
Wells leading Best Picture contenders:
1. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester-by-the-Sea [locked Best Actor nomination for Casey Affleck];
2. Nate Parker‘s The Birth of a Nation
3. Martin Scorsese‘s Silence;
4. Denzel Washington‘s Fences (Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby).
5. Ang Lee‘s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk;
6. Tom Ford‘s Nocturnal Animals;
7. Steven Gaghan‘s Gold (Matthew McConaughey, Bryce Dallas Howard, Edgar Ramírez);
8. David Frankel‘s Collateral Beauty (Will Smith, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton);
9. Clint Eastwood‘s Sully (Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney);
10. Robert Zemeckis‘ Allied w/ Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard (began shooting in March ’16);
11. David Michod‘s War Machine (Netflix) w/ Pitt as Gen. Stanley McChrystal + Ben Kingsley, Emory Cohen, Topher Grace, John Magaro, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter.
12. Jeff Nichols‘ Loving (Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas);
13. Pablo Larrain‘s Jackie (Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard).
14. Damien Chazelle‘s La La Land;
15. Peter Berg‘s Patriot’s Day (Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons);
16. Niki Caro‘s The Zookeeper’s Wife;
17. Barry Jenkins‘ Moonlight;
18. Warren Beatty‘s No Rules Apply;
19. Denis Villeneuve‘s Story of Your Life (Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg;
20. Garth Davis‘s Lion (Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman — released by Weinstein Co.).
Note: My second favorite film of the year after Manchester By The Sea is Olivier Assayas‘ Personal Shopper. It hasn’t a prayer of being Best Picture nominated, but it’s a knockout.