Oscar Watch: Detroit

Detroit is one of those pictures that’s been earmarked for an Oscar Watch post ever since its announcement. After all, this is the third collaboration between director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal. The first was 2009’s The Hurt Locker and it won Best Picture and made history when Bigelow was the first female to win Best Director. Boal won Original Screenplay and the film received three other technical victories. Their follow-up, 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, received Picture and another Screenplay nod for Boal, though Bigelow was surprisingly not nominated. It also won Sound Editing and was nominated for overall Editing. These collaborations also resulted in a Best Actor nod for Jeremy Renner for Locker and Best Actress nom for Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark.

So it goes without saying that their third teaming merits awards chatter. That picture is Detroit, which opens on August 4. The period drama recounts the Algiers Hotel incident during the city’s riots of 1967. The review embargo lifted today and early notices are positive (it’s at 100% at the moment on Rotten Tomatoes). For those who say the August release date could be problematic, don’t forget that Hurt Locker hit in the summer as well. That said, some critics have said it doesn’t quite measure up with the first two Bigelow/Boal efforts. If there’s any acting attention, perhaps John Boyega could here his name bandied about in Best Actor. There may be a better chance for costar Will Poulter in Supporting (he’s said to be a standout).

Based on very early reaction, the Picture itself, Bigelow, and Boal look to be in the mix for nominations. Yet it doesn’t seem as slam dunk as eight years ago and maybe not even five years ago.

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Oscar Watch: Dunkirk

We are more than halfway through this grand experiment called 2017 and, thus far, there’s been no sure-fire contender for Best Picture released. There are some massive hits that’ll have their admirers calling for inclusion – Get Out, Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes, Logan. There are smaller films that stand shots – The Big Sick and The Beguiled. Truth be told, all of these titles are long shots for being nominated for the big prize with the possible exception of Sick.

However, this Friday looks to change the dynamic with the release of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. The World War II action drama had its review embargo lifted this afternoon and some of the critical reaction has been rapturous. It stands at 97% currently on Rotten Tomatoes and here’s a sampling of the praise: Entertainment Weekly calls it the best movie of the year so far. The Hollywood Reporter says it’s a masterpiece. indieWire says it’s Nolan’s greatest achievement.

Bottom line: it definitely looks as if Dunkirk will be nominated for Best Picture and that Nolan will find himself among the five in Best Director. The film could also play in a host of technical and down the line categories, including both Sound races, Cinematography, Editing, Visual Effects, Original Score, and Production Design. It probably won’t receive much attention in the acting slots and maybe not even Original Screenplay (the gloriously directed action is said to do the real talking here).

If Dunkirk is among the five to ten flicks nominated, it would be Nolan’s second picture to get recognition after 2010’s Inception. As you may recall, a lot of movie lovers cried foul when 2008’s The Dark Knight didn’t end up on the short list. With Dunkirk, it represents the first release of the year that seems more destined for Oscar attention than not.

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Oscar Watch: Baby Driver

Over this holiday weekend, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver has become quite the little engine that could box office success story. The critically lauded mash-up action thriller musical comedy has taken in $30 million since its Wednesday debut, standing out as original programming in a season filled with sequels and reboots.

So the question is: could Oscar notice? While Driver is not normally the type of flick that Academy voters celebrate, there is bound to be a significant contingent of admirers that will push for its inclusion in Best Picture and Director.

It probably won’t happen, but it’s feasible. I’ll also throw out the possibility that it could contend in both Sound races: Mixing and Editing, as well as maybe Editing itself. Of course, the sound races will likely feature heavyweights such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Greatest Showman, Transformers: The Last Knight, Blade Runner 2049 and others. However, much of Driver‘s praise has focused on its pulsating soundtrack throughout.

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Oscar Watch – Spider-Man: Homecoming

When Spider-Man: Homecoming swings into theaters next weekend, it will do so as one of the most critically acclaimed entries of a franchise that began 15 years ago. The superhero reboot currently stands at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes with many critics praising the work of new Spidey Tom Holland and Michael Keaton as main villain Vulture.

Homecoming is the sixth picture of the series. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man in 2002 landed two Oscars nods – Best Visual Effects and Sound Mixing. Its 2004 sequel scored three – Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects (for which it won). The following three efforts – 2007’s Spider-Man 3 and 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man and its 2014 sequel with Andrew Garfield – received zero nominations.

The new web slinger reboot is one of three comic book pics in 2017 that have earned rave reviews, along with Logan and Wonder Woman. I do anticipate there will be significant chatter as to whether one of them becomes the first superhero flick to get a Best Picture nomination. That said, I suspect the bulk of that speculation will center on Wonder Woman and not this. It could manage to be included in Visual Effects, but competition already appears strong with the likes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Dunkirk, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Blade Runner 2049, War for the Planet of the Apes, and others.

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Oscar Watch: War for the Planet of the Apes

The third installment of the current iteration of the nearly 50-year-old franchise War of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t open for two and a half weeks. Yet 20th Century Fox felt fit to lift its review embargo quite early and for good reason.

War is receiving some of the best reviews of a series that already garnered considerable acclaim and box office success. The film stands at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, outpacing the 81% of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and 90% for 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Its solid worth of mouth should make War a potent force at multiplexes on July 14th.

Which brings us to whether or not the picture could swing into the minds of Academy voters. In one sense – it’s seemingly inevitable. Both Rise and Dawn were nominated for Best Visual Effects Oscars and it would be very surprising for War not to follow suit. When it comes to other categories – probably not. Even though this threequel is getting the most fawning notices from several critics of the trio thus far, a Picture nomination seems unlikely.

Finally, I would expect some chatter for Andy Serkis and his motion capture work as Caesar. Yet an acting nomination for him also probably isn’t the cards. Even with its considerable reaction so far, it appears Visual Effects will be War‘s sole nomination.

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Oscar Watch: Wonder Woman

So what’s a superhero movie gotta do to get a Best Picture nomination? That question has yet to be answered. 2008’s The Dark Knight was a gloriously reviewed box office juggernaut that still failed to get attention from the Academy (save for Heath Ledger’s posthumous Best Supporting Actor win). Last year’s Deadpool was a game changer in the genre that started to gain momentum towards the end of award season (including for star Ryan Reynolds). Again – no Oscar love materialized.

This weekend, Wonder Woman took in a fantastic $100 million in its opening weekend. It also garnered some of the best reviews the comic book genre has seen – 93% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. It set the box office record for a picture directed by a female (Patty Jenkins). And Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the title character is drawing many raves.

Could the Academy notice? My gut feeling – doubtful. I wouldn’t be surprised to see lots of chatter in the coming months about its possibility to be the first superhero flick to nab a Best Picture nomination. Yet I feel in 2018 that we’ll still be speculating about what could be the first.

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Oscar Watch: The Beguiled

Sofia Coppola burst onto the film scene with two highly regarded directorial efforts – 1999’s The Virgin Suicides and 2003’s Lost in Translation. The latter scored multiple Oscar nods, including Picture. Since then, Coppola has been off the awards radar screen for the most part (2006’s Marie Antoinette did win Best Costume Design).

Yet Coppola’s name came up over the weekend as her latest, The Beguiled, won her the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The period piece drama/thriller is actually based on a novel that served as source material for a 1971 Clint Eastwood flick. Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning headline.

The Beguiled hits stateside screens on June 23rd and reaction from the French fest was positive. It stands at a decent 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. If it manages to over perform at the box office, perhaps there could some chatter for Coppola getting Academy attention, though it’s doubtful. One wild card could perhaps be Kidman, who seems to garnering some raves for her performance. And who knows? Perhaps a Costume Desjgn nod.

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Oscar Watch: Wind River

Taylor Sheridan has been quite the hot screenwriter as of late with 2015’s Sicario and last year’s Hell or High Water, for which he received an Oscar nomination in Original Screenplay. His latest is Wind River, a thriller involving a murder case at an Indian reservation. It also marks his directorial debut and its buzz from both the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals could receive awards attention.

Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Jon Bernthal headline River, which rolls in stateside in August. Reviews have been solid thus far and it stands at 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. I would say it stands a fair, but not overwhelming shot at being this year’s Hell or High Water – which scored four Academy nods including Best Picture.

Wind River very likely won’t reach that number, but the possibility exists for a second straight Original Screenplay recognition for Mr. Sheridan.

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Oscar Watch: You Were Never Really Here

As the Cannes Film Festival culminated today with its awards ceremony, we may have a legitimate Best Actor contender and then some with You Were Never Really Here. The film, written and directed by Lynne Ramsey (in her first work since 2011’s acclaimed We Need to Talk About Kevin , casts Joaquin Phoenix as a war vet trying to save a girl from a sex trafficking ring. Early reviews indicate it’s tough stuff, but well worth it and it sits at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Mr. Phoenix won the Actor prize for his work and it immediately vaults him into contention for his fourth acting nomination. The same could end up holding true for Ramsey, both for her direction and adapted screenplay from the Jonathan Ames novel it’s based upon. Best Picture is also not out of the question.

It remains to be seen whether Amazon Studios can garner the attention for this in the way it managed to for last year’s Manchester by the Sea, but they’ll surely try.

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Oscar Watch: Good Time

The Cannes Film Festival showcased a rather unexpected potential player in the awards derby with the crime drama Good Time, which debuts stateside in August. The film comes from indie directors Ben and Josh Safdie and finds Twilight star Robert Pattinson as a bank robber trying to break his brother out of jail. Barkhad Abdi and Jennifer Jason Leigh are among the supporting cast.

Early word of mouth for the A24 offering has been quite positive. It stands at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and it was reportedly greeted with a six minute standing ovation in Cannes. Much of the praise has been awarded to Mr. Pattinson. If the pic is able to break out in any substantial way in the U.S., he could emerge as a dark horse candidate for Best Actor and the Original Screenplay could get some buzz as well.

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