Oscar Preview: Weekend of Sep. 20-22, 2019

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

Ad Astra

In recent years, sci-fi has played a significant role at the Academy Awards. Films like Arrival, The Martian, Gravity, Her, Inception, District 9, and Avatar managed Best Picture nominations in the expanded Best Picture slate, giving Oscar chances to major directors working in a more Academy-friendly medium than perhaps they were used to.

For Denis Villeneuve (Arrival), Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), and Christopher Nolan (Inception), their science fiction efforts gave them their first Best Picture citations. while Ridley Scott (The Martian), Spike Jonze (Her), and James Cameron (Avatar) each made major returns to Academy favor with theirs. Only Neill Blomkamp (District 9) didn’t have a career prior to his sci-fi success.

Director James Gray would fall into the former category of a well respected director finally making it to the big time, but Ad Astra wasn’t nearly the success that these other films were. With the exception of Her, all of these sci-fi spectacles made over $100 million at the box office, with all but Arrival and District 9 topping $200 million. For Ad Astra, the former possibility remains a pipe dream while the latter is all but impossible with its meager $19 million opening.

Gray’s opportunity here is minimal. While the film might show up in some tech categories, I suspect the well received film won’t be on the top of most Oscar voters’ watch lists, which will mute its potential, ultimately leaving it out of the top-end categories.

Downton Abbey

A television series being adapted to the big screen is a common historical occurrence, but it’s seldom done with the original cast. Films like Mission: Impossible, 21 Jump Street, and myriad other older shows have found the big screen leap to be a mixed bag of success.

The rarity is a show that takes the original cast and brings them back. Star Trek and Sex and the City are two of the few success stories and the former tried some 15 years after the show was on television. Downton Abbey went off the air a mere three years ago, however, the adventures of the Crawley family and their downstairs staff, have managed to make a successful jump to the big screen.

With a $31 million opening, Downton Abbey is a success. The 84% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes gives it a level of gravitas that Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Sex and the City did not. However, the Academy has been notoriously stingy when it comes to awarding productions that originated on the small screen. In spite of a handful of well reviewed Star Trek movies, its Oscar successes were few and far between.

While I wouldn’t expect much from Downton Abbey in above-the-line categories, it could be nominated in some of the craft categories like Production Design, Costume Design, and Makeup & Hairstyling. There’s even some chatter about vaunted two-time Oscar winner Maggie Smith earning a nod for her Emmy-awarded portrayal. I wouldn’t put much stock in those rumors. Though I wouldn’t entirely rule it out.

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