AT THE MOVIES
The Awards Season Begins Early in 2018
By Noah Gittell
It may be only September, but we are already deep into awards season. Last month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science announced the creation of a new Oscar recognizing “popular” movies that would exist alongside Best Picture. Critics and fans took to Twitter to shriek their objections, and the Academy swiftly caved, and announced their intention to hold off on the new category – at least for now.
It’s easy to understand, however, why the Academy thought it was a good idea in the first place. Ratings for the ceremony hit an all-time low in 2018, and the Best Picture winner was an esoteric indie that few moviegoers outside of major metropolitan areas had seen. The Academy tried to fix this problem with a new category that would appeal to regular folks. It may not have been necessary. Looking at the upcoming schedule filled with movies that could both garner awards and scare up big money at the box office, Hollywood seems to be self-correcting.
<<A Star is Born>> (October 5)
Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, which counts as Hollywood’s fifth remake of the classic story of love and addiction in show business, is already garnering rapturous praise from critics and insiders. The strongest buzz has been reserved for Lady Gaga’s lead performance. All in all, the film should be a smash. Cooper has already shown the ability to draw an audience from all corners of America (“American Sniper” and “Silver Livings Playbook”). Add in the novelty of superstar Gaga’s debut as an actor, and “A Star is Born” could be the biggest movie of the season.
<<First Man>> (October 12)
As recently as last month, the upcoming Neil Armstrong biopic was slotted as a surefire box-office hit. Then our pesky politics got in the way. Conservatives fumed when they learned that director Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) did not include an image of Armstrong planting the American flag on the lunar surface. Star Ryan Gosling didn’t help matters when he called the moon landing “a human achievement,” as opposed to an American one. In a month, however, I’m betting that America’s angry children will find something else to rant about, and all the factors that would have made “First Man” a hit — Gosling, Chazelle, and the subject matter — will draw them back to the theater.
<<Widows>> (November 16)
Of all the films on this list, “Widows” seems most expertly designed to attract both critical and commercial acclaim. Director Steve McQueen follows up his Oscar-winner “12 Years a Slave” with an elegant crime film that has drawn comparisons to Michael Mann’s classic “Heat.” The film opens with a heist that goes wrong and kills a team of criminals. The crime boss behind the heist then gives their widows a month to come up with the money he lost. With McQueen reportedly tempering his experimental instincts, and a cast featuring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, and Daniel Kaluuya, “Widows” has the potential to attract audiences from every corner of the moviegoing universe.
<<Creed 2>> (November 21)
The original “Creed,” which in 2015 announced with authority the presence of director Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”) as our era’s best studio director, should have been nominated for Best Picture. Seriously, go watch it again. It’s a miraculously entertaining film that also radically revises an iconic white hero into a legendary black archetype. For the sequel, Coogler is sadly gone, replaced by the little-known Steven Caple Jr, but Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are back on board, and the film’s villain – Viktor Drago, son of Ivan from “Rocky III” – ensures that fans of the original franchise will be intrigued. This one looks like another knockout.
<<Backseat>> (December 14)
When the news hit that director Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “Step Brothers”) was helming a Dick Cheney biopic, everyone sort of assumed that the liberal filmmaker would depict the former vice-president as a buffoon. Something tells me that “Backseat” will be more thoughtful and nuanced than people are expecting. Maybe it’s the cast, filled with serious actors like Christian Bale (as Cheney), Amy Adams (as Lynn), and Sam Rockwell (as George W.). Or maybe it’s the mid-December release date, which portends a serious awards season run. If indeed “Backseat” does manage to appeal to both sides of the aisle, McKay will have achieved a rarity in both politics and contemporary filmmaking, although this year it’s not quite as rare as usual.
Also coming: Melissa McCarthy goes dramatic as a famous plagiarist in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (September 19); Rami Malek stars as Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” (November 2); Hugh Jackman stars as political scandal-maker Gary Hart in “The Front Runner” (November 7); Barry Jenkins follows up “Moonlight” with an adaptation of James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk” (November 30), and Mary Poppins returns in, um, “Mary Poppins Returns.” (December 25).