Oscar Preview: Weekend of Nov. 22-24, 2019

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

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

In only her third film, director Marielle Heller has proven quite the prolific filmmaker with Oscar attention once again being focused on her.

With her first film in 2015, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Heller established herself as a critic’s darling with superlative reviews, but no Oscar attention whatsoever. That changed with her second film, 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?. The film was equally well reviewed and ended up scoring three Oscar nominations for Melissa McCarthy in Best Actress, Richard E. Grant in Best Supporting Actor, and for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty’s screenplay adaptation of Lee Israel’s autobiography of the same name. While it didn’t actually win any Oscars, it picked up 51 awards throughout Oscar season, which was a sizable uptick from the solid performance of Diary, which won 16 awards from various organizations.

Enter 2019 and her third film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood has earned slightly weaker reviews, but is no less impressive than her prior outings. This time, she’s in the conversation for numerous awards including Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Supporting Actor for Tom Hanks, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. Hanks seems like a solid bet at this juncture and the screenplay has real potential, but Best Picture is a notoriously tough nut to crack, as is the male-dominated Best Directing category. While Heller isn’t likely to show up in the latter category where Greta Gerwig is likely to become the first woman ever to earn two nominations in the category, Best Picture is a better opportunity.

That said, when everything is said and done, I expect the film will probably only earn the one nomination in Supporting Actor, but stranger things have happened.

Frozen II

There’s one general rule for the Oscars: never count out Disney Animation. While the same adage could be applied to a number of animation houses, Disney’s fabled dominance of the category is second only to Pixar’s. The two studios together have won the vast majority of prizes and this year may be no exception.

Frozen II is the $127 million debut sequel to the incredibly popular Frozen from six years ago. The story of a pair of sisters, one with the ability to control the cold, and the other with no powers other than the power of patience and love, won over hearts and minds in 2013, picking up two Oscar nominations and winning both. One of the awards was Best Animated Feature, the other was for the instantly-seminal “Let It Go.”

While the sequel has earned less favorable reviews than the original, it was quite popular with opening weekend audiences and should still compete in both of the aforementioned categories. In the Best Animated Feature category, the film has solid competition, but will almost certainly earn one of the five nomination slots. Whether it can win or not remains to be seen. Critics votes will likely make that determination. On the Original Song front, the film is on a bit shakier ground. While word is there’s no “Let It Go” level mega-hit in the offing, the studio has submitted a single song for consideration and those who are in the know say it’s easily inferior to a different track in the film. While it’s still possible for Disney to pull off a nomination, a win seems unlikely at this point.

Dark Waters

The hardest film to gauge the Oscar chances of is a film by a well regarded director with an uneven Oscar history. Todd Haynes is the director and Dark Waters is his film.

The film follows the literal trials and tribulations of a corporate lawyer working for DuPont who turns to combat the chemical giant when he discovers that the company is dumping pollutants into a local water source and poisoning the hundreds of residents there. Starring crusader Mark Ruffalo as the lawyer, the film has earned solid, largely positive reviews. Its fate almost assuredly lies with critics who have plenty of other options this year.

The issue for Haynes is multifold. He’s directed eight films over a nearly-30-year career as a director. He has a handful of television, short film, documentary, and music video credits, but his primary interest is at the Oscars. His first film to score an Oscar nomination was his third film, 1998’s Velvet Goldmine. It earned a single nomination for Costume Design. His fourth film was Far from Heaven, which was hugely popular with critics, but only earned four nominations and lost all of them. The film had been chatted about as being a Best Picture contender, but that never materialized. His fifth film, I’m Not There, picked up a single nomination for Cate Blanchett in Supporting Actress. His sixth film was also a major contender for Best Picture and scored an even bigger 6 nominations, but was once again, shockingly, omitted from Best Picture. His seventh picture was a dud with Wonderstruck coming nowhere near the Oscars.

His eighth film is less acclaimed than his two earlier Best Picture contenders, suggesting the film won’t compete there and if it cannot compete there, Best Directing is out of the question. Ruffalo could be in play for his performance in Lead Actor, as could his co-star Anne Hathaway in Supporting Actress. The competition is likely too strong for Ruffalo, but Hathaway has a puncher’s chance at Best Supporting Actress, though I suspect she’ll be left out. The film’s best chance at a nomination is the screenplay largely because Adapted Screenplay is rather sparse this year. Ultimately, the film will go home empty-handed, though a nomination or two is within the realm of possibility.

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