Oscar Preview: Weekend of Dec. 13-15, 2019

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

Richard Jewell

Clint Eastwood has played the late-year release card so many times that every time he issues forth with a new film late in the year, he instantly joins the Oscar conversation. While the films since American Sniper have ultimately been disappointments with the critics and the Academy, his latest film about has already bested his most recent films in terms of Oscar chatter.

The film, about the Centennial Olympic Park bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, positions titular figure Richard Jewell as a hero who was unfairly railroaded by the media and the FBI in the case. At a time when media and FBI credibility is under constant assault by the factually challenged, the film comes off as an opportunistic screed designed to drive home a right wing narrative. Eastwood is a very prominent Republican, but this is one of his most nakedly political films he’s ever made.

That fact alone is becoming the focal point of the controversy swirling around the film that is doing lasting damage to its Oscar potential. The biggest controversy of all revolves around the depiction of the journalist at the core of the accusations against Richard Jewell, which has earned derision from several corners, especially since the character herself is unable to defend herself, having died in 2001. Her reporting was exonerated by a long-standing court case’s resolution in 2011, which doesn’t help and that fact will also help drive a rejection of the film is Oscar voters’ eyes.

The film has earned quite a bit of praise, which might boost its Oscar chances, but right now, only Kathy Bates in a supporting role as Jewell’s mother has earned earned any sustained buzz for her performance. While there might be a small faction in the Academy that will rally around the film, I ultimately expect that regardless of Eastwood’s legendary status, the film will get few if any nominations.

Bombshell

Another film that has generated a fair amount of buzz due to its tackling of the sexual assault case against former Fox News president Roger Ailes. While the film is earning significant praise for the performances of stars Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie, the film hasn’t generated the kind of reviews that would turn it into a more potent Oscar player.

One of the big issues some have had with the film is how it portrays Fox News and its supporters favorably. In Hollywood, that’s not always the right decision. That said, for women in the entertainment industry, it’s more important that the sleazy treatment of women by Ailes and others in the Fox News orbit is brought to light than it is to nitpick over political differences. In this case, unlike Richard Jewell, the film comes down more heavily on the side of the women than of the repugnant men and their enablers depicted in the film. That it paints right-wing celebrities Megan Kelly and Gretchen Carlson as heroes is rubbing some the wrong way.

That said, Jay Roach is less of a notable Hollywood name than Eastwood, so his film’s Best Picture chances have taken a hit in recent days. However, the film still seems to be chugging along for Theron and Robbie who seem almost assured of nominations in the lead and supporting categories respectively even if praised John Lithgow hasn’t been much in the conversation for his role and Nicole Kidman has picked up a major nomination, but doesn’t seem to be on the ride towards another Oscar nomination like her co-stars.

Uncut Gems

The Safdie Brothers have been bubbling under in the indie circuit for some time and they appear to have finally found the vehicle that might land them at the Oscars. Like the Coen Brothers before them, the Safdies don’t quite have the praise and support that the Coens did, so it’s unclear if this is their Fargo moment or not.

The film stars Adam Sandler in a rare non-comedic performance as a jeweler trying to find a way to pay off gambling debts with an valuable opal he intends to auction off. A crime thriller, the Academy has a love-hate relationship with this type of film and the gritty nature of it might be a turn off to some voters. That said, critics have been heaping praise on the film and it has earned several precursor nominations ahead of Oscar voting.

Sandler hasn’t generated much buzz in the past for his performances, but the number of nominations he’s received to date would suggest this might be his time. The only thing standing in his way is the Academy’s tendency to avoid comedians-turned-dramatic actors. Still, Sandler is one of the few actors to rack up a healthy number of precursors, so he’s still a possibility while the film is in contention for writing, score, and editing nominations.

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