Oscar Preview: Weekend of Through Mar. 11, 2018

We had six films release since the beginning of the year with the potential for Oscar nominations.

Paddington 2

The sequel to the surprise family hit of 2014, Paddington 2 opened to rave reviews, bettering its predecessor. Featuring Hugh Grant in several disguises as a thief who steals the rare pop-up book that Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) had intended to buy for Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday.

The film was not just a hit with critics, it even managed to pick up three British Academy (BAFTA) Award nominations for Adapted Screenplay, British Film of the Year, and Supporting Actor for Grant. The film also received five nominations from the London Film Critics Circle with Grant winning the Supporting Actor prize and Sally Hawkins picking up the award for Best British/Irish Actress, which she won for this film as well as The Shape of Water and Maudie.

The first film was poorly handled in its release and stumbled through the year-end awards of 2014 with little attention. Its strong showing at the BAFTA awards suggests that it’s of high enough quality that it could make a showing at this year’s Oscars, thanks to its 2018 theatrical release. That said, the film underperformed at the box office and it has to go through nearly eleven months before having a chance at any critics awards and may not be remembered after all that time.

Black Panther

Currently trailing The Avengers, the current box office champ of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, by $60 million and pulling up to its staggering fourth week atop the box office, Black Panther is one of the biggest hits of the year and may well be the box office king by year’s end. Combine that fact with the impressive reviews from critics and the A+ CinemaScore and this is likely to be crowned the film of the year.

That fact alone may boost the film’s profile going into Oscar season, possibly becoming the first superhero film to earn a nomination for Best Picture. While I cannot see them nominating the cast, I could see Ryan Coogler, who’s already drawn plenty of acclaim for his films Fruitvale Station and Creed picking up a Best Direction citation and a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay alongside writing partner Joe Robert Cole. Fill that in with below-the-line citations including a likely second nomination for Rachel Morrison, who this year became the first woman nominated in Cinematography, and you have the makings of a strong Oscar performer.

Winning may be the challenge. Although this could be the film to break the perceived “Oscar type” barrier that has inhibited blockbusters like this in the past, I can’t see it winning Best Picture and most of the below-the-line categories are going to be won elsewhere. I could, however, see Coogler taking the directing prize for his achievement.

Annihilation

Director Alex Garland surprised everyone when his film Ex Machina not only managed Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Visual Effects, it won Visual Effects over very stiff competition. For his second film, Garland has put forth Annihilation, a massive sci-fi film about a biologist who goes into an alien environment on earth in order to figure out what happened to her husband beyond the barrier.

The film, which features a number of prominent actresses trying to figure out the hostility or friendliness of whatever aliens inhabit the contaminated zone, has received stellar reviews, Garland going two-for-two with the critics. That could bolster the film’s chances at year-end awards, but what it won’t do is impress Oscar voters. Oscar voters, while a bit more in tune with critics than the public, are sometimes more like the public than they are the critics, going for populist entertainment over critically acclaimed work.

The film was a box office bomb, taking in an abysmal $26 million and earning a horrible C rating from CinemaScore. Audiences clearly did not take to the film or like it very much, which will probably remove it from the conversation for the remainder of the year. While the guilds and technical branches of the Academy will rescue it, most likely in the sound categories and Visual Effects and maybe the distantly possible Production Design category, it will struggle for those spots and may ultimately be ignored for them.

A Wrinkle in Time

Four years ago, director Ava DuVernay came into Oscar season a heavy favorite for consideration for her Civil Rights Movement drama Selma about Martin Luther King Jr. and his march from Selma to Birmingham and the events that followed. With David Oyelowo in the lead, it was thought that the film could not only provide DuVernay with an Oscar records, the first black woman nominated for Directing, but also pick up several nominations on its way to a Best Picture victory.

Unfortunately, the release was botched and the film came away with a scant two Oscar nominations: Best Picture and Best Original Song. It won the latter. That stinging defeat was amplified two years ago when her acclaimed documentary 13th went up against the juggernaut O.J.: Made in America, a film of dubious eligibility since it was produced for television. It won both an Emmy and an Oscar. DuVernay is currently one of the most acclaimed directors working today and the fact that she signed on to direct a Disney film seems at odds with her more independent streak.

Making money will help her do the projects she wants, but only if the film is a success. Unfortunately, A Wrinkle in Time, a film I thought would be a surefire major contender this year, was maligned by critics and is finishing second at the box office behind Black Panther. While she’s the first woman of color to be given the reins of a potential blockbuster, it looks like her film is going to disappoint at the box office and thus diminish its chances at the Oscars. That said, there’s little about the film’s technical achievements that couldn’t still be honored. From Production Design to Costume Design to Makeup & Hairstyling to the sound awards to Visual Effects, the film still has plenty of opportunity.

Thoroughbreds

It probably isn’t the kind of film the Academy embraces, but Thoroughbreds has been earning excellent reviews and should end up an indie hit, possibly scoring several Spirit Award nominations at the end of the year.

The story of a heiress who wants to murder her abusive father, is far from the typical fare the Academy likes to recognize. It also has a flippant comedic flare that might rub some voters the wrong way. That said, it’s solid $1.2 million debut gives it some gravitas and end-of-year support could bolster its profile enough to at least enter the Original Screenplay race.

It definitely won’t win even if it’s nominated and being nominated is the most challenging part of the film’s Oscar chances, especially considering its release window so early in the year.

The Death of Stalin

More likely to compete in Original Screenplay thanks to its author’s past success, The Death of Stalin could put Veep creator Armando Iannucci back into the Oscar race with his Russian drama about the fight for power in the abrupt political vacancy caused by the death of Communist stalwart Joseph Stalin.

With stellar reviews, The Death of Stalin may tickle the Academy’s funny bone, especially considering its subject matter and the current state of affairs with a Russia that seems keen on returning to the era of Khrushchev and Stalin. Iannucci’s television program has been a strong player at the Emmys and he was previously nominated for In the Loop nine years ago.

The film’s biggest hurdle is releasing too early in the year. While it has achieved praise from critics, they must continue to love the film by year’s end and give it plenty of attention or else it might fade into obscurity. Original Screenplay is probably its only real chance at an Oscar nomination, but with support in December from critics, it could make the final five.

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