Oscars With Josh #2: The Race Has Begun

With the release of Sully in theaters and the premieres of many others at the various festivals, we now have some official direction the 2016 Oscar race is taking. Click beyond the jump to read this week’s edition of Oscars With Josh.

Three Festivals, Three Countries, Many Contenders

Throughout the year, bloggers and pundits attempt to make predictions based on announced films. When acclaimed filmmakers like Ang Lee (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) or Clint Eastwood (Sully) have confirmed release dates, we know to predict them. Other than that, predictors are blind. The race doesn’t take shape until this week every year. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is happening at the writing of this post, and both the Telluride and Venice Festivals wrapped up last week. Though folks have given predictions throughout the year, it is this week where the race officially begins.

After coming close to major awards last year with Sicario, Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival looks to the heady sci-fi film most expected it to be. I wrote about the film’s Oscar chances here, while Collider’s Adam Chitwood broke down the film’s prospects as well. He’s not sold on the Picture/Director nominations, but there is widespread agreement that Amy Adams is looking at a nomination for her leading role.

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Before Telluride, unless a Spring/Summer release has the goods (i.e. Grand Budapest Hotel), Sundance is our only indicator of what to expect at the Oscars. Throughout 2016, much has been said about both The Birth of a Nation and Manchester by the Sea, both of which have garnered the “frontrunner” mantle, mainly due to lack of competition. Coming out of Telluride though, it looks as though La La Land is the film to beat.

The festival has propelled Emma Stone into consideration and the film is at the top of most pundit’s lists. Due to the nature of musicals, it is possible for La La Land to not only get the above the line nominations (acting, directing, writing), but we could be looking at 10+ nominations when we consider all of the technical categories as well.

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Making its debut at Telluride, but also hitting theaters this weekend, is Sully. Clint Eastwood’s latest is an extremely well made film that displays the power of everyday heroes. There is a scene in Sully that confirmed it is a good movie for me. It is the scene in which the plane has already landed in the Hudson, the passengers are on the wings and in life rafts, and the Coast Guard and NYPD spring into action to help everyone to safety. Make no mistake, the film struggles to add dramatic weight to the real life story. The entire plane sequence is (famously) 208 seconds, and if we’re being honest there isn’t too much real-life drama before or after the event. Yes, they make the story about the investigation determining if the landing was the best course of action, but that is really not what the film is about. The film is a powerful portrayal about how Americans band together in times of crisis. Even with the lack of hardcore plot, the film’s technical aspects are amazing and the emotion drawn from the event makes for a moving experience.

While festivals can confirm the quality of films we are already expecting (I guess we should be bringing some tissues to A Monster Calls, which just premiered at Toronto), it can also launch the buzz of unknowns. While La La Land looks to be the big winner of Telluride, Moonlight burst on to the scene to rave reviews of a new powerful film to look out for (see below). Out of the eight Best Picture nominees last year, only one was released in theaters before Telluride (you guessed it, Mad Max: Fury Road). Though it is unfortunate that the system has been built for four months of non-stop releases, it is what it is. Telluride has kicked off the race, and we know have some players to be paying attention to.

National Board of Review Update

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There are tons of precursor awards that are handed out totally separate from the Oscars. Each state (or metropolitan area) has its own critics group that will hand out awards. The Broadcast Association of Film Critics Association (the “Critics Choice Awards”) and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the Golden Globes) both hold televised events for their awards. Then their are the guilds, where the editors, the cinematographers, the actors (SAG), the directors (DGA), and the producers (PGA) vote on the best in their respective fields.

This is where the “race” aspect of the Oscars come in. Much like a political campaign, Oscar voters are given a narrative to believe in beyond the quality of the film itself, buzz needs to be built, and positive buzz is built in these precursor awards. We will be paying close attention to the guilds, those voters are inside the system and many of them will actually vote in the Academy Awards, the others, it is all about momentum and the narrative that is built. While some hold more weight than others (LAFCA, NYFCC), the critics really hold no bearing on the Oscar voters besides the positive momentum that is built in these awards. This leads us to the National Board of Review (NBR).

The NBR was founded in 1909 and started handing out awards in 1930. They normally name their winners in the first week of December, giving them the clout of starting the Oscar conversation before anybody else. Since 2001, their Best Film has always been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars (with the exception of 2014’s A Most Violent Year). It was a big deal when they named Mad Max: Fury Road best of 2015, it confirmed that the smart blockbuster would in fact be an awards player (the film ended up winning six Academy Awards while also earning Best Director and Best Picture nominations).

Well, after the Critics Choice announced their nominations would come out on December 1st, the NBR took the plunge and confirmed that their awards would be handed out on November 29th. For better or for worse (most likely worse), the NBR wants to keep their brand of being the first out of the gate. I like the NBR, they nominated The Hateful Eight and Creed last year when others ignored them, but this is the equivalent of doing your Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving. While they will definitely still be starting the conversation, films like Martin Scorsese’s Silence and Ben Affleck’s Live By Night (both are expected to be given limited openings in the last week of December) will be excluded from their awards.

Weekly Spotlight: Moonlight

I started this column with a breakdown of 10 Oscar Contenders, obviously there are more than that. Each week I’ll take a look at another film we should all be paying attention to with regards to the Awards race.

Moonlight is written and directed by Barry Jenkins and will be a different take on the standard “coming of age” drama. The three-act structure of the film will follow Chiron as a child (Alex Hibbert), then as a teen (Ashton Sanders), and end during his late 20’s (Trevante Rhodes). Moonlight looks not only to give a fresh perspective on the African-American experience, but looks to be a powerful tale of a young man dealing with his sexuality in the midst of a culture that is not so embracing.

The movie exploded on to the scene at Telluride this past week. Sasha Stone (Awards Daily) remarked on the film, underestimate the film at your own peril. Point taken. The critical response out of the festival circuit is extremely positive, Moonlight has jumped into my most-anticipated list and we should expect it to be a big player this year. Moonlight is scheduled for release on October 21.

Best Picture Predictions (as of 9/12/16)

  1. La La Land
  2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  3. Manchester by the Sea
  4. Silence
  5. Moonlight
  6. Sully
  7. Fences
  8. Arrival
  9. Loving
  10. The Birth of a Nation

Other Contenders:

  • A Monster Calls
  • Hell or High Water
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Snowden
  • Live By Night
  • The Founder
  • Nocturnal Animals

Special thanks to the following folks/sites (I’m pretty much just rewording what they have already said):

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