Oscar Preview: Weekend of Jun. 7-9, 2019

We had three films release this past weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.

The Secret Life of Pets 2

When looking at potential Best Animated Feature nominees, one must look at a number of elements before determining if the film is capable of inclusion. Is it a sequel? If so, was the series a prior nominee in the category or would this be its first? What studio produced the film? And most importantly, how do the critics respond?

Let’s start with the easiest question. Is it a sequel? Yes. That’s a mark against the film. Sequels have, on the whole, been roundly ignored by the Academy. Even Pixar and Disney’s sequels have struggled in this category. The next question is whether the prior film was a nominee. The original The Secret Life of Pets was not. That’s another strike against the film. Of the seven total sequels that have been nominated, only two didn’t have a predecessor nominated. One of those, Toy Story 3, is a special exception since both of the prior films came out prior to the category’s existence and almost assuredly would have won had they been nominated as evinced by the fact that the original was awarded an honorary Oscar. The other, Despicable Me 2 didn’t have the prior film nominated, though the reasons there might have more to do with some thinking the original should have been rather than any perception that the second film was of better quality.

The next question is what studio produced the film. There are only four production houses that have enough of a history with the Oscars that they would be considered strong bets even if they had a less than stellar entry. Aardman has the weakest record followed by Disney and then Pixar. The top studio, though, is the one that’s had a 100% nomination rate, though a 0% win rate: Laika. This one is produced by Illumination, which has a rather lackluster history with the Academy. That’s three hits against the film and the fourth, being its mediocre reviews, pretty much eliminates the film from contention.

Dark Phoenix

The superhero genre has long struggled for acceptance with the Academy. Other than the Christopher Nolan Batman films, none of the major franchises have had a lot of luck with the Academy, the X-Men universe having the hardest time. Apart from X-Men: Days of Future Past earning a Best Visual Effects nomination and Logan earning a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, the X-Men films have never been an Oscar player.

The final film of the refreshed X-Men series is unlikely to parlay its terrible reviews into Oscar consideration. Although the abysmally reviewed Suicide Squad became the first film of either the DCEU or the MCU to earn an Oscar, typically, only the best of these universes have scored with the Academy. Even Wonder Woman couldn’t pull off a surprise nomination, though Black Panther broken all patterns.

Dark Phoenix is neither of those films. The film has some stellar visual effects work, but the category will be overflowing with contenders and there will be no cause for Academy voters to remember this film come Oscar time, so at this point, I’d say its chances are significantly diminished.

Late Night

Funny women Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling take on the late night talk show circuit with their industry satire about the white male-dominated writers rooms whose lack of originality and creativity are bringing down one of its biggest stars (Thompson). When they hire a woman (Kaling) to bring “diversity” to the room, the pair form a strong bond as they reinvigorate Thompson’s flagging career.

The story, which tackles the issues of women and minorities in industries that are controlled by men, specifically white men, is a significant one for modern times and its strong reviews have given it something of a foundation for an Oscar run. A lot of the film’s Oscar potential will depend heavily on two factors: how high its box office can climb and how it can be remembered six or seven months later among other films that will challenge its critical strength.

Late Night has only three realistic chances at Oscar nominations: Thompson in Best Actress, Kaling in Best Supporting Actress, and Kaling in Best Original Screenplay. All of the acting categories are going to be incredibly competitive this year and I don’t suspect either actress will be able to overcome the comedy bias when nominations are announced. Original Screenplay, on the other hand, could be a strong place for it to make a stand for a nomination. Although there are sure to be a lot of able competitors, strong support from year-end critics’ awards could give it a definite boost.

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