Five and a half months ago MCN’s David Poland assessed what appeared to be the Best Picture contenders of the moment. And then I assessed Poland’s assessment (“Poland’s Rightos & Wrongos”).
We both saw Three Billboards as a likely nominee (although I mainly saw it as an acting vehicle) but we were both wrong on the Best Picture chances of Get Out. And neither of us foresaw that The Post would be shut down by the Academy’s newer, younger voting bloc (representation, identity-politics, “let’s give somebody else a chance”) because it seemed too boomerish and traditionally Oscar-baity.
Poland asserted that Aaron Sorkin‘s Molly’s Game had a “legit” Best Picture shot, but I said no way. He also said that Guillermo del Toro‘s The Shape of Water had a “good chance” of being Best Picture-nominated. I said I loved the Sally Hawkins Johnny Belinda factor (i.e., giving a silent performance) but noted that others have called it under-written with too many plot holes. And I was much more enthusiastic about Lady Bird.
Just re-read this (Poland’s spitball picks vs. my reactions) and consider the perception gaps:
Poland claims that “only two movies came out of North American premieres at TIFF with legit Best Picture hopes” — Aaron Sorkin‘s Molly’s Game and Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. HE response: It would be great if Three Billboards makes the grade but Poland knows it’s primarily an acting nomination platform for Frances McDormand (Best Actress) and Sam Rockwell (Best Supporting Actor). The chilly, hyper-aggressive Molly’s Game has its moments (i.e., Idris Elba‘s climactic rebuttal to prosecutors, Jessica Chastain and Kevin Costner on the park bench) but it hasn’t a prayer of being BP nominated…forget it.
Poland’s biggest wrongo is declaring that Luca Guadagnino‘s Call Me By Your Name has a “punching chance” of being a Best Picture contender. This rapturously received, Eric Rohmer-esque love story has a good to excellent chance — trust me. Everyone I talked to in Toronto called it a triple or a home run. Okay, it might fall short if the guilds and the Academy membership decide to vote against that sun-dappled, lullingly sensual, Rohmer-ish aesthetic or if they don’t want to go gay two years in a row or if it’s regarded as too Italian or some other chickenshit beef.
Two Poland-approved locks: Darkest Hour, Dunkirk. HE response: Dunkirk, absolutely. Darkest Hour is a stirring historical drama and nicely composed as far it goes (HE is a longtime Joe Wright fan), but it could have been released in 1987. It’s a Best Picture contender for 50-and-over squares and sentimentalists. Which doesn’t mean it won’t be nominated — it’s just a mezzo-mezzo contender.
Poland says Lady Bird is likely but not locked. HE response: Yes, agreed, but if Greta Gerwig‘s film isn’t nominated the Academy membership will have spilled more brown gravy on the tablecloth (i.e., “You guys didn’t even nominate the toast of Telluride ’17?”)
Poland says only two of the following big-namers — Steven Spielberg‘s The Post, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Phantom Thread, Ridley Scott‘s J. Paul Getty kidnapping movie, Clint Eastwood‘s foiled-train-massacre drama and Denis Villenueve‘s Blade Runner 2049 — will be nominated.
HE response: The Post is totally locked, the PTA is a maybe, and the other three feel dicey to me, especially Blade Runner 2049.
Poland’s Good Chancers with HE thoughts in parentheses: Victoria & Abdul (a Judi Dench Best Actress nomination waiting to happen), The Big Sick (unlike Darkest Hour, The Big Sick is a here-and-now movie that reflects the culture of 2017…a witty, low-key, human-scaled dramedy), Molly’s Game (not a chance in hell…too rapidly paced, too aggressive, smart but cold, doesn’t breathe), The Shape of Water (love the Sally Hawkins aspect but others have called it under-written with too many plot holes), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (initially seems a touch too violent and profane for serious Best Picture contention, but takes a surprising turn around the three-quarter mark and becomes, against all odds, a film about acceptance and compassion).
Puncher’s Chance, says Poland (HE thoughts in parentheses): Baby Driver (get outta here), Call Me By Your Name (not a puncher — belongs right alongside Lady Bird as a likely BP nominee), The Disaster Artist (inside-baseball indie flick for hipsters — strictly a Spirit Awards nominee, if that); Downsizing (imaginative concept, excellent FX and a great first act, but award-wise it pretty much died at Telluride)
In-The-Game Longshots, says Poland (HE thoughts in parentheses): Battle of the Sexes (a decent tennis film, connects four or five times, hasn’t a chance), Beauty & The Beast (WHAT?), Detroit (not this time, Jose), First They Killed My Father (a second helping of concentration camp porn from Angelina Jolie and her third film in a row about innocents being horribly treated by brutal governments), The Florida Project (yes!…great little flick with spirit and heart…why not?), Get Out (everyone bow down to the winner of the John Carpenter Smartly-Crafted Genre Award of 2017), Mudbound (exudes delicacy and compassion but is too muddy, too grim and too atmospherically claustrophobic, and that Mississippi Burning-type ending…yeesh), Wind River (thumbs-up, respected), Wonderstruck (not a chance in hell), Wonder Woman (made a lot of money, a big score for Jenkins & Gadot…that’s it).
By the way: It’s worth noting that roughly 20 days after Poland’s piece appeared, that historic N.Y. Times piece about Harvey Weinstein’s appalling history of sexual abuse broke. A couple of weeks later the #MeToo movement was launched. And then on 10.20 the concept of speech police, “purity guillotines” and a resurgence of Maximilien Robespierre-like mindsets was raised by former Hollywood Reporter editor Janice Min on Real Time with Bill Maher. And it was off to the cultural races. How quickly and forcefully the world and the psychology of the entertainment industry changed.