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.
Have we already seen the movies that will rule the Oscars this year? Will they be remembered come nomination time? While we are knee-deep in award season, usually starting in late September, the movie calendar is year round, and so have been the offerings of quality work. To kick off this season’s Award Chase, here is a month-by-month look at releases that may gain traction.
What family movie earned a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and beloved by #FilmTwitter? It’s England’s favorite bear in “Paddington 2.” Like the prequel, however, it did not rake in the big bucks at the box office, earning just over $40 million in its two-month run.
This was perhaps the strongest February for movies in years. Thanks to the success of February 2017 release, “Get Out,” which was nominated for four Academy Awards, more film producers and studios are seeing February as a good month for films.
“Black Panther” was a box-office phenomenon – earning $202 million during its opening weekend, creating a cultural movement and stacked with great performances by Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira. Craft categories like production design, costume design and makeup and hairstyle are almost a lot. However, when the Academy announced this summer that it was introducing a popular movie category, there was outrage that the Academy would automatically give the Oscar to “Black Panther,” dismissing the movie’s impact. But next that move is now delayed until the 2020 awards ceremony, it can be seen as being just as competitive as any other film.
“Annihilation,” starring Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, was a critical hit when it was released a week later, but it failed at the box office. The movie adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer novel is a science fiction thriller of a group of women sent to explore a wooded area after a mysterious glow and substance appear. Director Alex Garland struck gold in 2014 with “Ex Machina,” winning a visual effects Oscar. Don’t be surprised if “Annihilation” is in the ring.
A wicked, biting delight invaded theaters for a short time but made a big impression in March. “Thoroughbreds,” starring Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy and Anton Yelchin in his final role, is the dark comedy involving two severely disturbing friends who use violence to solve their problems. Cooke at least deserves recognition for her performance as a teen whose lack of feelings makes her a loose cannon, and the screenplay is clever and daring.
Another unhinged performance comes from Claire Foy in Steven Soderbergh’s iPhone-shot film, “Unsane.” Foy plays a woman who unknowingly commits herself to a mental hospital where she believes she sees her stalker working as a nurse. Foy has several other roles under awards consideration, including “First Man” and “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” but this started a good movie year for her.
Wes Anderson’s “The Isle of Dogs” will most likely make it into the animated feature category, but the writer/director has had good luck with spring releases. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was released in March 2014 and would later be nominated for nine Oscars, winning four.
This month brought along an early start for the summer movie season with the debut of “Avengers: Infinity War,” and while its box office numbers were greater than “Black Panther,” the reviews were not as strong. However, a surprise hit emerged before the Marvel megahit debuted. “A Quiet Place” won audiences over with director/actor John Krasinski and Emily Blunt as a couple trying to protect their family from horrifying monsters.
April also brought along smaller movies that have the Oscar bait that so many have in the fall. “Chappaquiddick” stars Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy and the tragic crash involving Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). Joaquin Phoenix’s award-winning performance as a damaged hired gun in “You Were Never Really Here” made its way into U.S. theaters.
“First Reformed” began its short theatrical run in arthouses before expanding in June. Ethan Hawke gives one of his best performances ever as a conflicted reverend leading a shrinking congregation as the New York church approaches a milestone anniversary. After years of recent failures as a director, Paul Schrader redeems himself with this gripping drama about faith, addiction and pain. It’s anchored with great showings by Amanda Seyfried and Cedric Kyles (better known as Cedric the Entertainer).
This month was a mixed bag of high expectations (“The Incredibles 2”) and low results (“Sicario: Day of the Soldado”). At least the Disney Pixar production did not disappoint with its quality storyline and great musical score. The upgrades were certainly worth the 14-year wait for this sequel.
The independent drama, “Leave No Trace,” captured audiences this summer with performances by Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie as a father-and-daughter team living off the grid in Oregon as the father lives with post-traumatic stress disorder. Director Debra Granik’s previous work, “Winter’s Bone,” was released in July 2010, was later nominated for four Oscars and turned Jennifer Lawrence into a star. Could lightning strike twice for Granik?
Mid-summer offerings can be hit or miss in July, but the month delivered two quality surprises. “Mission Impossible: Fallout” had critics and fans calling it one of the best action movies ever, a rare feat for a franchise on its sixth installment. The last time Tom Cruise was up for an Oscar was for supporting actor in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 drama, “Magnolia.” If 2018 is the year of the action flick, with “Black Panther” and “Avengers:Infinity War” leading the field, can “Fallout” be close behind?
July also saw film festival darling “Sorry to Bother You,” the directorial debut from California rapper Boots Riley. The craziest trip to the movies this year stars Lakeith Stanfield as a telemarketer who enters the bizarre world of capitalism and selling out as he moves up in the business. Perfectly casting with Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer and Omari Hardwick and tons of creativity can get the comedy on the awards’ radar, but its weirdness could also hinder its chances.
Fresh off a successful run at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Spike Lee released “BlacKkKlansman,” based on the real-life story of a black Colorado police who became a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Performances by John David Washington, Adam Driver and Topher Grace earned acclaim, and critics pointed out the parallels between the storyline and today’s political atmosphere. Lee, who received an honorary Oscar in 2016, had not been nominated for an Academy Award since his 1998 documentary, “4 Little Girls.” “BlacKkKlansman” walked away with two awards at Cannes in June and was up for the Palme d’Or. Let’s see if this momentum will carry on through January.
“Crazy Rich Asians” revived and redefined the romantic comedy and was a box office hit. Constance Wu is charming as a Chinese American visiting the ultra-rich family of her boyfriend (Henry Golding) in Singapore. An adapted screenplay nomination is possible as it’s based on the beloved Kevin Kwan novel.
Unlike previous years, September has taken August’s place as the month where movie studios dump their summer season rejects. Very, very few titles stand out from this month, with the exception of “The Old Man & the Gun,” what is said to be Robert Redford’s final acting role before retiring. Based on actual events, Redford plays a man who escape San Quentin at age 70 and went on to commit a string of robberies and other crimes. The film expand this Friday.
Studio seem to have decided to spend September at film festivals like Venice, Toronto and New York to promote their sure things instead of investing time in titles that are just plain “meh.”