With the exception of curious oddities like The Artist or jackpot favorites like Return of the King or Slumdog Millionaire, Best Picture Oscar winners tend to deliver some kind of capturing or vacuuming of the American current — a piece of the culture, the experience, the heartbeat, the anxieties, the hustle, the broken dream. Spotlight, American Beauty, The Hurt Locker, Crash, Million Dollar Baby, No Country for Old Men, The Departed, A Beautiful Mind — all of these films have flirted with this general element, as did many of their competitors (The Social Network, Brokeback Mountain, Traffic, In The Bedroom, Sideways, Capote, Michael Clayton). So which 2016 films fit this profile? Which appear to have the basic ingredients (at least aspirationally) of a Best Picture winner?
Damn few, and possibly fewer than that. I don’t know anything (who does?) but I have a fairly good nose for this stuff, and right now I can’t smell any films on the 2016 slate with any kind of serious Best Picture jangle. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it agin — 2016 looks and feels weak.
Two days ago I posted my latest 2016 roster riff (“Likely 2016 Quality Contenders: Second Pass”). I’ve refined it since and re-classified a few films on the list, but boil it all down and there seem to be only four or five films that fit HE’s Best Picture paradigm, at best, and not even these when you think twice about them — David Gordon Green‘s Stronger (real-life guy’s recovery from the Boston marathon bombing tragedy), Ang Lee‘s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, John Hancock‘s The Founder (biopic of McDonald’s kingpin Ray Kroc), Jodie Foster‘s Money Monster (political thriller) and Gary Ross‘s Free State of Jones (historical race-card drama).
Uh-Oh Factors: (a) David Gordon Green doesn’t do Oscar-friendly (anyone see Our Brand Is Crisis?), (b) Ang Lee might be slightly out of his depth with the downish-sounding Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk, (c) the story of Ray Kroc sounds a little ho-hummy and predictable, (d) the basic plot driver in Money Monster (financial TV personality is held hostage by a viewer who lost all of his money after following a bad tip) sounds tight and confining, and (e) Ross has made a couple of decent mid-range social dramas (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville) but he’s not & never will be an award-season power hitter; plus he has a lifetime demerit for directing the first Hunger Games.
I would have fiddled with the notion of Oliver Stone‘s Snowden being a contender along these lines, but Open Road’s decision to bump it out of a late ’15 release probably meant something. Early last year Warren Beatty‘s still-untitled Howard Hughes film looked like it had a certain intrigue, but the continuing absence of a title and a still-undecided release date (despite the film having been completed last June) are unsettling indicators.
I realize, obviously, that the Academy will eventually pick a few Best Picture favorites and then one of them will win, but what could it be? I was eyeballing Spotlight last year at this time (I knew it had the makings) but right now I see nothing on the 2016 horizon. Help me out.
Joel and Ethan Coen‘s Hail Caesar! will be very good, of course, but it’s one of their dry knucklehad comedies — strictly for fun.
The fact that Martin Scorsese‘s Silence is going to debut at the Berlin Film Festival tells you it’s not going to be “audience-friendly”, but then we knew that before. Prepare for one of Marty’s suffering-through-agony movies.
I’m already wincing at the thought of sitting through Zhang Yimou‘s The Great Wall, which is being described as a highly costly action-fantasy “blockbuster”…good fucking God.
Woody Allen‘s 1930s period film (Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively) will be, of course, a Woody film, and that means it’ll stay there.
Damien Chazelle‘s La La Land, a musical, sounds cool but experimental, indie-ish. Ditto David Michod‘s War Machine and Richard Linklater‘s Everybody Wants Some.
If the Gods were with him during shooting, Juan Antonio Bayona‘s A Monster Calls will probably be an exceptional horror thing.
Derek Cianfrance‘s The Light Between Oceans seems like possible agony to me, but I know nothing.
It goes on and on like this. Nothing seems all that formidable or heavyweight. But it’s early, of course.