Each Wednesday through the week of the 2019 Academy Award nominations on Jan. 22, Take 2 is handicapping the Oscar rush with The Award Chase.
The Academy can be fickle when it comes to choosing the Best Picture winner. In most cases, it sways toward the past, as it has in this half of the 21st century with “Gladiator,” “The King’s Speech” and “12 Years A Slave.” Contemporary themes like the ones seen in “The Departed,” “Crash” and “No Country for Old Men” will also collect hardware. But very few times will an Oscar be granted to storylines connected to current events. The exceptions are “Spotlight,” the 2015 movie based on the 2001 Boston Globe investigation of the Catholic church, and “The Hurt Locker,” the 2009 film set during the war on terror in Afghanistan as it was still happening.
This year, there are a number of titles that tackle the headlines, whether it is based on a true story or if the plot mimics what’s happening in the country. However, four themes stand out with the following contenders:
Middle Eastern conflicts and attacks on the press
Previous Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike stars as war correspondent Marie Colvin in “A Private War.” Based on the Vanity Fair article, “A Private War” focuses on the American journalist as she covered the Middle East for the Sunday Times. Colvin was best known for sporting an eye patch after she lost her left eye while under attack in Sri Lanka in 2001, and was later killed by an explosive while covering the unrest in Syria in 2012.
“Blindspotting” is a dramedy starring Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal as lifelong friends whose bond is put to the test when one (Diggs) of them is finishing his probation and the other (Casal) buys a gun that can mean trouble for both of them. The film examines how each of them walk through society differently and how their actions affect those around them.
“The Hate U Give,” based on the 2017 young adult novel, tackles the issue of police-related shootings of unharmed blacks. Starr (Amandla Stenberg) floats between two worlds – one that’s in a poor and predominantly African-American neighborhood and one at a private school filled with privileged white teens. When her best friend, Khalil (Algee Smith) is killed after a police officer pulled him over for a traffic violation, Starr is conflicted on what to do next and what her actions will do to her family.
“Monsters and Men” is also a police shooting drama where a witness, Manny (Anthony Ramo), who records the act and a black officer, Dennis (John David Washington), wrestle to go forward with what happened. Manny has a promising future as a high school baseball player that’s at stake, while Dennis faces what stepping up will do as he is up against his brothers in blue.
Teen drug addiction
Past nominees Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet are father and son in “Beautiful Boy.” Based on the 2008 best-selling memoir, David (Carell) watches his son, Nic (Chalamet), battle as a meth addict.
“Ben is Back” with Lucas Hedges and Oscar winner Julia Roberts shows the impact of addiction on a family. Ben (Hedges) returns home for the holidays instead of staying in rehab, and his mother (Roberts) is overjoyed to have her son back while everyone else is skeptical about his level of recovery.
Teens coming out
Two sides of teens identifying their sexuality are told in “Boy Erased” and “Love, Simon.” The dram “Boy Erased” is based on the 2016 memoir of 19-year-old Jared (Lucas Hedges) who comes out to his Baptist pastor father (Russell Crowe) and his mother (Nicole Kidman). Their reaction is to send him to a gay conversion therapy program to keep him in their grasp or not accept him or his sexuality. “Love, Simon” is a teen romantic comedy of high school teen Simon (Nick Robinson) who has yet to come out of the closet. He is also fighting a blackmailer who threatens to out him to the entire school.