L.A. Times forecaster Glenn Whipp has posted a list of ten 2017 films that might become Best Picture favorites among the Gurus of Gold and Gold Derby-ites (and therefore among Academy and guild members) nine or ten months hence. I’ve had most of the same films posted in HE’s Oscar Balloon since last January, but let’s review Whipp’s choices before reconsidering my own:
1. Michael Showalter‘s The Big Sick (Amazon/Lionsgate, 6.23). Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Zoe Kazan. Whipp’s rationale: Romcoms generally don’t end up as Best Picture nominees, but this one is smarter, hipper and more cross-pollinating with Nanjiani co-writing as well as playing himself. Plus L.A. Times critic Justin Chang wet himself when he saw it at Sundance so it must be a Best Picture hottie.
Wells verdict: Sick was the second best film I saw at Sundance (Call Me By Your Name was #1) but it’s looking at an uphill struggle as a Best Picture contender. Not because it isn’t good, but because (a) no one will ever remember Nanjiani’s name much less how to spell it, and (b) Kazan’s character, based on Nanjiani’s wife and co-writer Emily Gordon, gets too angry at him for too long a period — she freezes Nanjiani out for nearly two-thirds of the running time, and mostly because he doesn’t stand up to his dictatorial Pakistani mom by confessing that he has a white, non-Muslim girlfriend. Even after Kazan forgives him at the finale you’re thinking, “What happens when he fucks up the next time? Will she freeze him out for a year or divorce him or hire a couple of goons to beat him up?” Kazan is too much of a hard-ass. The audience is kept in limbo for too long.
2. Chris Nolan‘s Dunkirk (Warner Bros., 7.21). Cast: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Fionn Whitehead. Whipp’s rationale: Dunkirk will probably resonate with boomer-aged Academy members (whose parents were the vanguard of the WWII generation) and Nolan will knock it out of the park scale-wise, verisimilitude-wise, IMAX-wise…expect him to “capture every inch of the rescue’s horror and triumph,” especially with Hoyte van Hoytema shooting and Hans Zimmer scoring.
Wells verdict: The late July release obviously won’t help, and the movie may only register as a logistical or technical triumph if it doesn’t have character arcs and performances that stick to the ribs. Nolan wrote the script so these aspects will be on him. Then again this is his first stab at history and realism, and it therefore might be interesting. Will Dunkirk make the cut? Let’s say “maybe” for now. If Warner Bros. decides against previewing it in Cannes, the know-it-alls will begin to whisper that they don’t quite have the goods.
3. Kathryn Bigelow‘s Untitled Detroit Riots Project (Annapurna, 8.4). Cast: John Boyega, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, Ben O’Toole, Hannah Murray, Anthony Mackie. Whipp’s rationale: For the last six or seven years (i.e., since The Hurt Locker) the rep of director Kathryn Bigelow and producer-screenwriter Mark Boal is that they make nervy, drill-bitty Oscar flicks. Fait accompli. Garlands for the conquerors.
Wells verdict: The Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker put Bigelow & Boal into that presumptive winner category six years ago. If you ask me Zero Dark Thirty should have won Best Picture instead of Argo. The problem is that August 4th release date, which seems to send a signal to the blogaroos that Untitled Detroit Riots might not be an Oscar Derby-type film. But maybe it is. On the Bigelow-Boal brand alone, I’m calling it a Best Picture nominee. (I used to call them Biggy-Boal but no more; can’t think of another snappy term to replace it.) Still, that release date worries me.
4. Joe Wright‘s Darkest Hour (Focus features, 11.24). Cast: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, Ben Mendelsohn as a sweating, grim-faced, Marlboro-inhaling King George VI, John Hurt as Neville Chamberlain, Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill. An obvious tour de force opportunity for Oldman in his portrayal of the legendary Prime Minister who weathered the Dunkirk disaster, toughened British resolve during Nazi bombings, presided over the D-Day invasion and soldiered through to Gemany’s defeat in ’45.
Wells verdict: An almost certain Best Picture contender unless, you know, it sucks. Wright is a truly brilliant director when he has the right material. I haven’t read Anthony McCarten‘s script, although I’m a little bit afraid of this kind of multi-character saga being compressed into a two-hour film. It would probably work better as an eight-hour miniseries.