In a 10.24 column, Variety‘s award-season columnist Kris Tapley notes that nearly 1500 new members have been invited to join the Motion Picture Academy over the last two years. The current membership is somewhere close to 8000, according to Tapley. (A 2.13.17 Gold Derby piece said the tally was 6687). Accordingly, Tapley reasons, the classic definition of a Best Picture Oscar winner is probably undergoing a sea change.
Moonlight beat La La Land, of course, because a significant number of Academy members wanted to refute the “Oscars So White” pejorative that had taken hold a year before. (This, at least, was what happened according to director Spike Lee.) This year, Tapley allows, a pair of films that would normally be relegated to film critic trophies and the Gotham/Spirit Awards — Luca Guadagnino‘s Call Me By Your Name and Jordan Peele‘s “bold sociological satire” Get Out — are definitely in the Best Picture Oscar mix.
And yet, Tapley observes, right now “there is no frontrunner to speak of.” In fact there are four.
There’s Chris Nolan‘s strikingly arty (no lead characters, no conventional story arcs, a sprawling God’s-eye view of warfare) but chilly Dunkirk, which has been at the top of most handicappers’ Best Picture lists since last July.
There’s Call Me By Your Name, which is the only serious “see me, feel me” movie in the Best Picture pack — a palpably emotional dream trip that really washes over and sinks in, and at the same time feels like a sun-kissed Rohmer flick.
There’s Steven Spielberg‘s The Post, which has the earmarks of being the only traditional, “important”-sounding drama aimed at the 50-plus crowd — two big boomer-aged stars (Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks), a political film with an obvious echo that applies to the press-disparaging Trump administration, a serving of journalistic realism in the tradition of Spotlight and All The President’s Men.
And there’s also Greta Gerwig‘s Lady Bird. It was the toast of Telluride, Toronto and the New York Film Festival, and it definitely works on its own personal-recollection terms — an autobiographical tale set in 2002, from a female director-writer in her mid ’30s, about a high-school senior going through trying times with her family (especially her mom) and peers. There’s no question that Lady Bird hits the bull’s-eye with excellent, heartfelt writing and acting, and it’s been shot, cut and designed to near perfection. What more can a relationship film possibly deliver?
The other contenders aren’t happening. It’s only these four, and given my previously stated concerns about two-thirds of Liz Hannah‘s screenplay for The Post being about the reluctance of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (Streep) to stand up against the Nixon administration and fight for the publication of the Pentagon Papers, it might only be three. Who knows?