By: Daniel Reynolds
There are those who are quick to argue it is too early to discuss the Oscar race. It’s still September, they say; we haven’t seen half of the movies in contention, they opine; isn’t there something more important you could be doing, they assert. With TIFF, that venerated Oscar prognostication service (also an international film festival), in the books, I say to those people, calmly but with force: it is never too early.
For the rest of the Oscar season, which includes the rest of 2016, early 2017 and the announcement of the nominations, right up to the air date of the festivities themselves, the Same Page is proud to bring you these monthly power rankings for the award of Best Picture. This is no small matter.
The Oscar race does indeed start here. And we intend on finishing it. Now, the first ever top 10:
On paper, this film should be a lock: passion project, directed by Martin Scorsese, led by Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, and Andrew Garfield. But then you gaze a little harder: a three hour long film involving Jesuit priests and the Japanese in the 17th century that’s been in development on-and-(way)off since 1991? Jay Cocks, who hasn’t written a movie in over a decade, is the scribe? Just last week a release date was finally nailed down, but Scorsese is still nowhere close to finishing the post-production on this one.
So yes, the silence on this film is deafening.
What It Needs: Something — anything — to show some proof of life.
The latest from Denis Villeneuve, who broke into the Oscar discussion with Incendies and never quite went away, looks large scale remarkable. But if we’re being honest, it is difficult to imagine a situation where a movie about aliens visiting Earth will lead anyone to Oscar glory. Yes, even with Amy Adams, Forest Whittaker and Jeremy Renner. Arrival is in the discussion right now, but I suspect, like Villeneuve’s other almost there films — Sicario and Prisoners — it’ll drop out by the end of the year.
What It Needs: To be about aliens less. Good luck with that one.
8) The Birth of a Nation
I, uh, don’t know how to address this. The Birth of a Nation was flying high — it was purchased for an ungodly sum ($17.5 million) and had been rolling as the presumptive favourite for most of 2016. Then a couple of things happened. One, more critics saw it and started questioning its perceived quality, even while acknowledging the film’s important subject matter. And two, actor/director Nate Parker, well…
What It Needs: No easy answer here. I honestly don’t know.
Perhaps I’m bias seeing as how this is the lone movie on this list I’ve actually seen, but Moonlight deserves a shot. Yes, it doesn’t have any big name actors as such. (Though Mahershala Ali is about to break out, Janelle Monae is radiant, and Naomie Harris may snag a nomination for herself.) And Barry Jenkins is not exactly a name director. (Though he was lauded for his debut film Medicine for Melancholy.) But it’s coming-of-age story is actually something quite new, offering powerful and moving images in a painfully contemporary context.
What It Needs: For people to listen and give it a chance.
How’s this for a turn of events: playwright August Wilson resists having his play, which opened in 1987, adapted to the big screen unless an African-American can direct it. So, it sits for sometime. Then, enter Denzel Washington, semi-fresh off of performing in the revival of said play, to stand both behind and in front of the camera. Then, add Viola Davis. Now we’re talking serious Oscar contender. I mean, watch this.
What It Needs: The hubbub around The Magnificent Seven to die down so Denzel can focus on more important matters.
5) Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Despite it’s oddly specific and verbose title, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk has some serious pedigree behind — a much-lauded book, Ang Lee behind the camera, a stellar cast, topical-ish subject matter. It stands at the middle of this list as it hasn’t been seen yet (outside of a trailer). And, as Lee has now down multiple times, he’s balancing the entire movie on a unknown central actor, which can be good (Life of Pi) or not-so-good (Taking Woodstock).
What It Needs: This one needs that old Ang Lee magic to be on hand.
You could see this one coming from a mile away. Harvey Weinstein pushed Lion into his usual award-hopeful slot on November 25th. And thus began the campaign. If you’ve thought at all about Lion — earlier this year, or during its TIFF screenings — you probably thought, at least for one brief flickering moment, of Slumdog Millionaire. This is the obvious hope (as the early reviews have been wishy-washy).
What It Needs: For people to continue to like what they like, world without end, amen.
I suppose director Jeff Nichols should worry about having two films in the race to split the vote. I kid — his Midnight Special from earlier this year has already been lost in the sturm und drang of the changing movie seasons. Not so with Loving, a film getting largely superlative reviews, and working through subject matter (interracial marriage!) that’s just a tad more pertinent than his previous project’s concern (alien saviour boy).
What It Needs: This one feels like something of an underdog for the Best Pic. Not a bad place to be.
2) Manchester by the Sea
Somehow, we made it. It’s 2016, and we’ve cleared the blast radius of Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, the one film he’s made in the past 15 gotdamn years. The TIFF reaction to Manchester by the Sea was amped up. I don’t even have to read more to know it’ll be well-written and thoughtful film imbued with good performances. That’s the Lonergan way and I’m just glad he’s back.
What It Needs: Kenneth Lonergan. Everybody loves that guy!
1) La La Land
I won’t dance around the facts here: La La Land, the much anticipated new film from Damien “Whiplash” Chazelle is the Best Picture frontrunner as of right now. It won the Audience Award at TIFF, it stars two lovable, Oscar-nominated actors on the cusp of something special, and it has a huge nostalgic quality (singing and dancing!) which, for all the recent turnover in the Academy, still counts for a lot. It’ll be tough to knock La La Land off the number one perch.
What It Needs: To keep this tempo.