Oscar Contenders – Part 2: 10 to 6

If you are anything like me, the Q4 of the year is the most exciting period of the calendar in terms of release dates. This is when the studios are ready to bring out the big guns for their Oscar campaigns, when the festivals have previewed future films and awards buzz is now real. Q4 means the Academy Awards are almost here.

But, whilst is interesting to speculate who will win this year’s golden statues, today I propose a different exercise: if the ceremony were to happen next week, who would come out on top? More often than not, films released outside the specific “awards’ season” window get overlooked by the Academy (and everyone else, really…) when it comes to consideration. This is, perhaps, due to the fact that the best films of the year all come out around this time of the year, but 2017 has been a little different as some films have been creating a buzz since as far as January! So, with that in mind, welcome to the WMMOW Awards! (working title…)

First, a bit of house cleaning, I’ll be following the Academy’s rules, so my consideration are of films that were released in US cinemas between January 1st and October 15th 2017. Secondly, whilst I consider myself to have seen a reasonable amount of films this year, I haven’t seen all the films this year. Thirdly, whilst I try to have an objective view towards how films are made, they are, to their core, pieces of art that affect different people in different ways so this is, ultimately, a personal article. Now that we’ve done all the paperwork, let’s crack on!

mother! – Paramount Pictures

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Director: Darren Aronofsky
Staring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer
Producers: Scott Franklin, Ari Handel, Darren Aronofsky

And this is where I lose half the readers. Look I’m not here to convince you that this film is great. I actually find it easier to understand reasons why people don’t like mother! than the other way around. This film is insane, the howl of an artist who was in a very dark place and had to express himself in some way. But, more than that, mother! is a film that pushes the boundaries of what can and cannot be shown in a cinema and how it can be shown. It’s a film that can’t be summarised, a film in which no sequence can be explained without talking about everything that came before. Does it have too many metaphors? I don’t know. How many metaphors is too many metaphors? Do we live in a world in which everything exists isolated from everything else and nothing is connected? No. The same thing happens with mother!. I think your enjoyment of the film lies on what you think of the third act, which I can only describe as cinematic madness. If you’re on board with it, you’ll like mother!, if you’re not on board then you’ll probably zone out/leave the cinema/turn the film off by this point. But you can’t deny that, from the moment Bardem’s character starts giving autographs, you are experiencing something that you’ve never really experienced, something new, something that is breaking all the rules of what you thought cinema was. And that should be celebrated.

Oscar nomination? No chance in hell. Pun intended. Even though the film has been praised by some of the Academy members, the general audience’s reaction will ultimately kill mother!’s Oscar chances. Jennifer Lawrence might get a nomination, though.

A Ghost Story – A24

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Director: David Lowery
Staring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck
Producers: Toby Hallbrooks, James M. Johnston, Adam Donaghey

There is something truly special and beautiful about David Lowery’s A Ghost Story. Whether it be the sense of post-horror or the progressive escalation from a personal tragedy to the cosmic poem, this is a film with an incredible, if uncomfortable, message. Not unlike mother!, A Ghost Story seems to be coming from a place of questioning Mankind’s place in the world but, unlike mother!, this film reaches a much more focused and beautiful message.

Oscar nomination? Unlikely. A Ghost Story simply hasn’t created enough stir amongst the industry. Maybe a Best Cinematography nod?

Wonder Woman – Warner Bros. Pictures

Director: Patty Jenkins
Staring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston
Producers: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Richard Suckle

When all is said and done, Wonder Woman will be the most impactful film of 2017. To deny this is to not fully understand the extent of this film’s success. Patty Jenkins, who hadn’t directed a film in 14 years, when she led Charlize Theron to an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, was chosen to direct the first female-led superhero film in 12 years for a character who has been around since 1941. And the film blew everyone away. Wide critical acclaim, box office records and chatter about the possibility of Academy nominations are simply some of the accolades Wonder Woman has enjoyed since premiering back in June. But more important than numbers and milestones, legacy is what this film has going for it. The overwhelming messages that Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot received upon the release of the film, thank you messages, stories of how Wonder Woman had helped people and inspired them, how they finally felt represented, that’s something unlike anything in the genre. Is it the best superhero film of all time? No, I don’t even think it’s the best of the year (more on that later), but it’s undoubtedly the most important and we can only hope it will usher in a new mentality towards equality in the film industry.

Oscar nomination? History is against Wonder Woman. No superhero film has ever been nominated for Best Picture. That being said, I believe this year is the genre’s best chance at a main category nomination.

Raw – Focus World
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Director: Julia Ducournau
Staring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Laurent Lucas
Producer: Jean de Forets

In what may be the best year for horror films of the century, none has been more visceral than Raw, the French-Belgian silent hit about a vegetarian vet student forced to try meat for the first time. The name of the film fits it like a glove, as it has both meaning to the story and the way Julia Ducournau shoots it. This is an incredibly violent and sexual coming of age tale, framed around ever-present elements of red colour. Despite that, everything is cold and brutal, yet involving to the point of almost giving you a physical reaction you wouldn’t expect from a film. I am not surprised of the reports regarding people fainting during screenings at TIFF. The image of Justine, brilliantly and genuinely portrayed by Garance Marillier, doing THAT for the first time is the closest I’ve been to throwing up in a cinema. And whilst the gruesome elements are probably what stays with you long after the film is done, Raw is a powerful story even without them. There’s an idea of legacy and ancestry that the script explores in such an interesting and different way, and that is what makes Raw transcend its genre.

Oscar nomination? If the film is France or Belgium’s entry for Best Foreign film, I believe there’s chance for a nomination and potential win, but nothing beyond that.

What do you think? 

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