By: Daniel Reynolds
The Oscar noise is starting to pick up now as there are no longer any films we either haven’t seen entirely or in some minuscule part. The last remaining unseen films on this here list — Fences and Silence — came out with new trailers in the past week, while the rest are rolling out faster and harder to get their award narratives going. Brace yourselves.
Owing to this solidification (calcification?) of this year’s Oscar story, we’ve become increasingly locked into our top ten. There are no drop outs this week (though the idea of Sully still puts me to sleep) but there was some jostling on the list. As we enter December, and the final 30 days of the Oscar contention season, this is not nothing.
Here are this month’s Picture Perfect Power Rankings. Time to get serious with the status quo.
The exhaustion you feel in having to consider yet another workman-like Clint Eastwood film for Best Picture. That this one happens to be about an actual working man, and the dignity of a job well done, and, good lord, are you tired yet? I am.
What It Needs: We’re just punching the clock here, nothing to see, move along.
Arrival may end the year as the second most financially successful movie on this list (behind Sully). To my mind, this guarantees its presence here until the nominations are announced. Unlike Denis Villeneuve’s previous films, there’s a gushing, proudly beating heart contained within, and like Gravity (another high-concept science fiction film based around a mother-daughter core), it will garner some Oscar success. But the aliens won’t help it win Best Picture. Sorry.
What It Needs: It needs to just be content within itself.
The response to Jackie has been largely positive, but I can’t help but focus on a couple of the dissenting voices. Is this film actually good? So far, I remain unconvinced. But when you make a biopic about a Famous American, it almost doesn’t matter. Almost.
What It Needs: If only we were living in an age of remembrance, a time when people wanted to make American grea–uh, wait… never mind.
At this point, no matter what Harvey Weinstein is about to try to sell me, I’ll have to see Lion for myself before I consider it more of a favourite. Lion is a story about a man searching for his lost family, and a romance (I assume). But its special-ness does not exactly jump out at me. And I will continue to suggest that director Garth Davis just doesn’t have the range — though I’ve been wrong before. (I’m not wrong here.)
What It Needs: The marketing will be there, thanks to Weinstein. What it needs, at the risk of sounding reductive, is to be an actual good film.
The second trailer for Fences suggests a bit wider world for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. He’s a garbage man, they have a friendly neighbour, they don’t live in their backyard. Try as he might, Washington can’t quite disguise — not even in the trailer! — his film’s theatrical origin. Fences holds strong at this spot, but I remain 50/50 on stage adaptations. They tend to lose something in the leap, and unless the acting is supremely strong (not impossible), we may be looking at a middling affair.
What It Needs: To convince more people that it is not just a filmed stage play.
I’ve now seen Loving and can confirm: your entry into the Oscar Bait Film slot is finally here. This one has it all — historical importance (with some fact fudging), gestures towards an important topic (racism), and a plainspoken, conflict-free conclusion. It feels wrong to say Loving is a bad film. It’s mostly just a middling one (which is exactly what the Academy wants sometimes).
What It Needs: It has to hope no one notices how thin it actually is as a dynamic and cinematic piece of art.
Our biggest mover this month and it owes it all — and I mean all — to this wondrous trailer that recently dropped. We rarely factor historical epics into our “they don’t make’em like this anymore” calculus, but Silence definitely feels like a film they don’t make anymore. Fortunately, “they” doesn’t necessarily include Martin Scorsese, who does his own thing, and it definitely doesn’t include screenwriter Jay Cocks, who’s been largely out of action for some time now. This one could really sing.
What It Needs: Just don’t pay too much attention to those accents. Where exactly is Adam Driver’s character supposed to be from?
So much of Moonlight‘s success now will depend on marketing. It’s cynical to reduce this to a “black” film, a mere response to #OscarsSoWhite. It’s about black people, yes, but it suggests much more in terms of how we consider the intersection of blackness, masculinity and homosexuality. There’s a lot to take in here, and the marketing of Moonlight, a small film relative to these others, will need to embrace that.
What It Needs: Ditto to the above.
Having now seen this film, I feel comfortable giving it a boost into second place. It feels like a near-lock that Casey Affleck will win Best Actor. (Michelle Williams for Best Support Actress is not far off.) And the Original Screenplay award should be Kenneth Lonergan’s to lose. But for all the plaudits, Manchester by the Sea is missing something…
What It Needs: See number one on the list.
1) La La Land
It’s a movie about classic Hollywood, musicals and how the artistic life is worth pursuing. And it’s a love story. Come on, this one is a shoe-in all the way along.
What It Needs: Nothing. It’s 100% going to win.