We had five films release this past weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.
Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg is one of the most consistent directors in Hollywood. In the last two decades, nearly every movie he’s directed has gotten some kind of nomination from the Academy, even his worst reviewed films. Now he’s on the prowl again and there’s a lot of likelihood the film will do well with the Academy.
In spite of the grumbling from a handful of critics, the film is receiving solid reviews and even if the attention is modestly lackluster, there’s no doubt it will be sufficient for Oscar voters not to turn a blind eye. The film will be a major contender in several top-line categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Tom Hanks, Best Supporting Actor for Mark Rylance, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing.
While multiple nominations seem assured at this juncture, few wins are likely to materialize from this list. Additionally, one can easily envision a situation where Spielberg isn’t nominated for Best Director, Hanks isn’t nominated for Best Actor and several of the techs are completely ignored. That’s the nature of the Oscar beast. If it remains a talk of the town for the next two months, it could still be a contender, but if too many other better films emerge between now and then, it could be slowly reduced to single digits for nominations.
While billed a departure for the horror genre, Guillermo del Toro’s film has so far failed to materialize the kind of groundswell support that moves it beyond a tech player.
Del Toro has some experience with the Oscars, having earned nominations for a few of his films before, most notably Pan’s Labyrinth, which also took several awards. This time out, he has a top line cast in Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain, but the reviews came in tepid, suggesting a film that had potential, but didn’t quite work out at the end.
Then the box office arrived and it underperformed heavily. While there might have been a time when people thought it would be a Best Picture contender, those days are gone. It will now be lucky to pick up nods for Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling, all of which seem like pretty solid bets at this juncture.
Beasts of No Nation
Netflix has taken a gamble entering the big screen market. After successfully leveraging its market share to build a successful and Emmy-winning stable of television series, the streaming service is turning its sights on the big screen and the results a mix of winning and losing.
In the win column, we have a film that has earned relatively universal acclaim tackling an under-reported subject of child soldiers in Africa. That combination of strong reviews has made it a rather buzzy title for Oscar consideration. Its losses revolve around the raft of major theatrical distributors who refuse to book the film, making its day-and-date Netflix release its only significant outlet.
Will that stop the Academy from recognizing it? Perhaps. Unlike the television Academy, the motion picture Academy is notorious for its resistance to outside influences. Television actors struggle to get traction come awards time and that may not be the end of it. One of the areas of deepest concern for the Academy and for studios is that day-and-date releases make it easier for viewers to watch at home and not go to the theaters, which is where they make a good deal of money. It also harms movie houses who rely on big opening weekends to power them towards successful years.
This is even more important for smaller venues who focus on specialty fare who won’t be able to make enough money off limited engagements if people can watch it free as part of their streaming plan online. Sure, the audience won’t get the cinematic experience they would on the big screen, but a lot of auds don’t seem to care about that anymore. So, it’s possible the film has a Hotel Rwanda kind of trajectory at the Oscars, but it’s also incredibly possible that Idris Elba will pick up the film’s only nomination for Best Supporting Actor, if he’s pushed there at all.
There are three reasons why Room could be a major player at the Oscars this year. The first is its star, Brie Larson, who exploded onto the scene with the release of her debut feature Short Term 12 and earned dozens of nominations from various critics groups and even carried home a few awards. This is her second major outing and she’s receiving the same level of, if not higher, praise as she did then.
Larson is sure to be one of the prime contenders for a Best Actress nomination this year, but the film itself will need more than just her nomination to break into bigger races, which leads us to reason two. With a single exception in the last several years, the Toronto Film Festival’s audience award has earned a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. That alone gives one the idea that it could be a decent player for consideration. It would then need several other nominations, in acting and writing to make the mention worth while.
The third reason is that it’s getting great reviews. At the time of this post, the film has 60 reviews posted on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not only at an impressive 95% fresh, the average of reviews is 8.3/10, which is far higher than most films that can earn the Fresh rating can receive. Combined with an 82 rating at MetaCritic, you have a film that’s impressing critics, which could give it a boost into awards season, which might also press it on towards Oscar glory. Wins may not be possible, but nominations are growing increasingly more likely.
In 2004, CBS News and Dan Rather ran a piece about then-president George W. Bush’s war record and a potential cover up that suggested that he had far less service than he did. That topic and the subsequent downfall of Dan Rather forms the basis for James Vanderbilt’s film that marks one of two films this year focusing on journalistic investigations and the ramifications of each.
When the film premiered on the festival circuit, reviews were less than stellar. Even with the likes of Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett, the critics didn’t seem that impressed with the story. They typically gave Blanchett solid notices, but Redford wasn’t as universally received. With a film that hasn’t earned much applause from critics, it has become more and more likely that that other film will steal this one’s Spotlight.
That said, all hope isn’t lost. Vanderbilt could still pick up a nomination for his adapted screenplay and Blanchett or supporting players Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid or Elisabeth Moss could also sneak into the acting races. Blanchett has another major contender coming out this year and her nomination will likely be for that. Meanwhile, the buzz on the other three actors isn’t that loud, so they may also be forgotten, leaving the film empty-handed come Oscar time.