Oscar Preview: Weekend of Oct. 6-8, 2017

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

Blade Runner 2049

In 1982, following the success of his classic 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien, director Ridley Scott became the first director to dip into the well of Philip K. Dick novels to adapt his short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep into a feature-length film called Blade Runner. While the film didn’t receive huge support upon release, it has since been elevated into the canon of great science fiction films. It was also the recipient of two Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration and Best Visual Effects.

35 years later, current wunderkind Denis Villeneuve has brought to the screen a sequel to that Scott legend. Pulling in the original star, Harrison Ford, Villeneuve brings in Ryan Gosling as a young Blade Runner rushing to uncover a dastardly secret. With a superb MetaCritic score of 81 and an 89% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes (8.2/10 average rating) along with an audience rating of A- from CinemaScore, the film is certifiably a critical success. The only problem is, the box office didn’t respond accordingly. Pulling in a surprisingly light $31 million. That might not be too much of a hindrance as it could still have tremendous legs as word of mouth spreads. Audiences have given the film an 8.7 rating on IMDb, catapulting it into the list Top 100 best-rated films of all-time.

For its Oscar prospects, it all depends on how the critics support it come awards time. The film is already certain to feature in the majority of tech categories, but as it tries to break out beyond that, it may fall to Villeneuve’s Oscar reputation to launch it into the top categories. Since his film Incendies earned a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination, he’s been quietly bubbling under Oscar’s radar. Although Prisoners was well received by audiences, the Academy didn’t fully embrace it (nominated only for Roger Deakins’ cinematography), nor did the well received indie Enemy. However, it was 2015’s Sicario that became his first film to pick more than a single nomination and put him in the forefront for eventually being better recognized by the Academy. Once again Deakins was nominated for Best Cinematography, but the film also managed nods for Original Score and Sound Editing.

The following year, Arrival finally earned him a Best Director citation, along with seven other Oscar nominations, including a win for Best Sound Editing. Unfortunately, Deakins wasn’t on board for that, the Best Cinematography nomination honors having gone to Bradford Young. However, Deakins is back for Blade Runner 2049 and with likely nominations for the original film’s Art Direction and Visual Effects categories, citations in Cinematography, Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Original Score are also likely. With seven creative nominations in tow, a Best Picture nomination seems much more likely, especially with critical support. An Adapted Screenplay nomination could also be in the offing, especially since that category seems a bit light this year, and even Ford could earn a career-based Best Supporting Actor nomination.

The big question will be can two technical masters earn Best Director nominations for films that are incredibly unlikely to win Best Picture? Surprisingly, Villeneuve might have a better shot than Christopher Nolan, who has yet to break into the category. In the end, I think Nolan is more safe in the category than Villeneuve, but if critics start heaping praise on the film and the box office chugs along through November, Blade Runner 2049 might just pull Villeneuve along in recognition for his achievement of shepherding the film to all of its other nominations.

The Florida Project

Indie director Sean Baker has been quietly making a name for himself on the specialty scene. Although he didn’t really capture anyone’s attention until 2012 with his film Starlet, it was iPhone-shot feature Tangerine about the lives of two transgender women in Los Angeles, that brought him to the forefront. Apart from his unique way of filming the picture, he gained significant traction for employing actual transgender women for the roles instead of relying on cisgender men for the parts. This earned him street cred in a number of circles and the result saw the film earn four Spirit Award nominations with a win for Supporting Female Mya Taylor, the actress who earned most of the film’s acting recognition.

Baker followed that 2014 film up a year later with a film that almost no one talked about: Snowbird. However, two years later, he’s back and receiving some of his best reviews to date for The Florida Project, a film about a young girl and her adventurous summer. The film has a superlative 97% on Rotten Tomatoes (8.6/10 rating) and a 94 from MetaCritic. Those scores suggest a film that is incredibly well received. The problem is that the Academy just isn’t in the habit of recognizing independent cinema of its type. That doesn’t mean the film won’t be a competitor.

Baker is likely at this point to be a competitor for a Best Original Screenplay nomination and the film is a dark horse contender for a Best Picture citation. However, the only category anyone can say with certainty that the film will be recognized is Best Supporting Actor. Screen legend Willem Dafoe, who earned his first Oscar nomination 31 years ago for Platoon and was recognized more recently in 2000 for Shadow of a Vampire is the kind of career actor the category was created for. That he’s receiving terrific notices certainly ups his profile. With a rather meager competition surrounding him, a nomination seems like and an Oscar is increasingly likely unless something comes along late in the year that blows him out of the water.

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