We had four films release this past weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.
With only three prior films under his belt, acclaimed director Steve McQueen is one artist who Hollywood needs to take more seriously. Although he earned several nominations for his film 12 Years a Slave, he wasn’t honored for Best Directing even though his film won Best Picture. Typically, those awards go hand-in-hand. His prior film saw Michael Fassbender deliver an acclaimed performance that was utterly ignored by the Oscars.
That brings us to Widows, a genre departure for the filmmaker as it tackles the popular heist genre with a twist wherein the widows of bank robbers carry out one last job their husbands had been planning prior to their deaths. Although the film’s opening numbers weren’t great, the film has received high praise from critics, which means that it goes into Oscar season with a slight advantage, one that might not translate to double-digit nominations, but which might secure it several high profile ones.
The film will be in the running for a Best Picture nomination though McQueen is unlikely to pull in a Directing citation. Viola Davis is sure to contend in Best Actress while co-stars Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo aren’t generating much buzz. The film is also sure to be a contender for Film Editing while the adapted screenplay by Gillian Flynn and McQueen is a solid, but not guaranteed potential nominee in that category. That’s about as far as the film has decent prospects, though cases could be made for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing categories and Cinematography if nowhere else. A lot will depend on how voters respond to it and if it can build word of mouth into a stronger box office success than it currently looks to be.
It’s hard to believe that the director of Dumb and Dumber and its sequel, There’s Something About Mary, and Shallow Hal is being talked up as a potential Best Directing nominee, but that’s exactly where we’re at as Peter Farrelly entered the fall with a film labeled as a frontrunner after winning the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The story of a working class white bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) becomes a chauffeur for a black pianist (Mahershala Ali) on his tour through he deep south in the 1960s was well received coming out of the festival and has received largely positive reviews. Last week, a fly flew into the film’s ointment when Mortensen slipped up by saying the “N” word at a panel for the film. He has since apologized and Ali has accepted it, but the whole affair blew up fast and hot and an apology acceptance suggests that the entire affair didn’t sit well at all.
Now, with a pitiful opening weekend at limited theaters, the film might be losing a bit of steam. Although some have compared the film to Driving Miss Daisy, it was clear when that film released almost thirty years ago, it was an incredibly popular film, opening to much larger numbers and becoming the year’s 9th biggest box office performer. Apart from the box office, reviews seemed to be stronger in 1989 for Daisy than they are for Green Book today and the shift in culture in the intervening years suggests that this film isn’t nearly the progressive lightning rod as it might have been even twenty years ago. Today, it feels rather tame and although a viable topic, there are other movies this year that could benefit from this film’s failure to catch fire, like Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. And after Lee’s anger over his 1989 film Do the Right Thing not even securing a Best Picture nomination, better yet losing out to a film he considered too tame at the time, it could be the ultimate rebuke for Lee to take the crown over this film.
At Eternity’s Gate
Another film that did poorly at the box office this weekend, but for which such poor performance isn’t as damaging, At Eternity’s Gate is the latest film to look at the life of Vincent Van Gogh, this film specifically his later life. Starring Willem Dafoe as the legendary painter, Julian Scnabel’s first film in eight years, and first since 2007’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly to enter the Oscar conversation has only one real shot at a nomination.
Dafoe has been a well respected actor for years and the Academy is surely itching to recognize the thespian for his long career of solid work. Additionally, the Academy loves biopics of real people, having themselves given Kirk Douglas an Oscar nomination for playing Van Gogh in 1956’s Lust for Life. Countless actors have earned nominations and even won for such feats. When the film debuted earlier this year at, fittingly, the Venice International Film Festival, there was a lot of talk about Dafoe as a strong Best Actor contender.
However, as that early attention faded, so too has talk of Dafoe as a major contender. Now, it appears he might be lucky to be nominated. That said, I suspect that if he is nominated, a groundswell of support might build for him and an Oscar could be in the cards. That’s especially true considering the dearth of other potential Best Actor winners. As to other categories, the film could make a play for Cinematography, Production Design, and Costume Design, but I suspect that Dafoe’s nomination might be it for the film unless the precursors start swinging heavily in its direction.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
The Harry Potter series had always struggled with the Oscars as fantasy was still thought inconsequential enough to merit consideration. Although the series eventually started picking up a handful of creative nominations, it wasn’t until Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them that the Wizarding World finally claimed an Oscar winning for Best Costume Design.
Set in the 1920s, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up where the prior film left off and that might be as adequate a description of its Oscar chances as anything. Shifting from New York City to Paris in its second outing, the period designs are still on display, making it a strong contender for repeat nominations both in Costume Design and its other nominated category Production Design. The problem is that consistency isn’t always the Academy’s concern and while the prior Potter films appeared in a regular array of categories, including the two above plus Visual Effects, none of the nominations were common between films.
That said, the film still has a strong chance at nomination, including in Best Visual Effects this year where it wasn’t nominated previously. There’s lots of competition and this film’s weak response from critics and audiences might hinder its chances more than help. So, exactly-repeated nominations aren’t likely, but one or two categories might be within reach.