Oscar Beat: Which Films from the First Half of 2017 Might Be in the Awards Race?

     July 12, 2017

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Annnnnd we’re back. It’s been a few (oh so quiet) months since our last edition of Oscar Beat, but 2017 is already halfway over, which means it’s time to start getting back into awards season gear. I know, I know—it’s too early! But the fall film festival circuit will be here before you know it, launching frontrunners, setting off conversations and controversies, and we’ll be full speed ahead all the way through the Oscars ceremony next March.

So before things get hot and heavy, I wanted to take a minute to look back on the first half of the year and consider which films—if any—might be in the awards conversation to come. One thing of particular note this year is that the game has changed (and the players aren’t the same).

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Image via Universal Pictures

The most recent Oscars ceremony saw tried-and-true prognostication tactics fall one right after another, and with the Academy adding a record-number of voters this year with even more diversity, by the time the next voting period rolls around 20% of the Academy will be made up of voters added in just the last three years. That’s a massive sea change, and could signal more Moonlight-sized surprises ahead. So while movies from the first half of the year have a much harder time sticking in the Oscar conversation, the old rules may very well be out the window.

The likeliest contender at this point is Get Out, writer/director Jordan Peele’s wildly successful “social thriller” that tackles racism with wit and tact. It’s one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, and even if it doesn’t break through to the Best Picture race, I’d be surprised if Peele wasn’t a contender for Best Original Screenplay. It’s one of those films that everyone has seen, everyone loves, and—most importantly—has something to say about the world we live in.

There’s also The Big Sick, which is currently expanding its limited release weekend-by-weekend, bolstered by positive reviews. The romantic comedy hails from writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, who wrote the story based on their true-life stranger-than-fiction story about their courtship. It’s admittedly early in the year, but I’d say the film is a potential contender for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, and should be one for Best Actor (Nanjiani) and Best Supporting Actress (Holly Hunter) as well. The Academy usually doesn’t go crazy for romantic comedies, but this could be an exception.

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Image via Lionsgate

Auteur-driven films aren’t solely relegated to the second half of the year, as James Gray’s The Lost City of Z and Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled both picked up strong notices if not exactly stellar box office for the former. Whether they have a strong showing during awards season will likely depend on how heavily Amazon Studios and Focus Features opt to push the two movies when the fall season arrives, but they’re certainly ones to keep on your radar.

Under the “critically acclaimed” column we also have Edgar Wright’s wholly original Baby Driver, which overperformed at the box office opening weekend and stands at a robust 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Below-the-line nominations are absolutely likely (and worthy) for Best Sound Design, Sound Editing and Best Editing, but I’d also throw the film into the ring for Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. Admittedly it’s an uphill battle in the major categories for a “genre” movie, but hey, if Mad Max: Fury Road can crack into the Oscars, why not Baby Driver? And while we’re at it, Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis absolutely deserve a mention for their stunning turns in Colossal.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

Speaking of genre, while the superhero trend has yet to give us a Best Picture nominee, that could change this year depending on which way the wind blows. James Mangold’s Logan redefined “dark and gritty” with a genuine Western spin on the genre, boasting terrific performances from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. It’s an uphill battle for any genre movie in the bigger categories, but again the Academy makeup has changed so we could see a shift depending on how crowded the end-of-year season gets with serious dramas.

But honestly, the blockbuster that I think has the best chance of getting a Best Picture notice at this point is Wonder Woman. Positive reviews are key, which this one definitely has, but more than that Wonder Woman broke through the zeitgeist to become a movie everyone was talking about. It’s a powerful film that speaks to the current state of our world, and that it means so much to so many people could certainly propel it through the second half of the year. If Wonder Woman hits big with the Academy (and that’s a big “if”), Best Picture and Best Director nominations would certainly be warranted, in addition to the film’s sure-to-be big splash below the line in categories ranging from sound to visual effects to possibly even costume design.

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Image via Warner Bros.

Indeed, films like Alien: Covenant and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will likely show back up again in the crafts categories. Whatever you think of Alien: Covenant, the production design and cinematography are undoubtedly stunning, and ditto to the production design and costumes in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. All three of these blockbusters will also likely be in the running for visual effects and the two sound categories alongside other bombastic fare like Kong: Skull Island. And though it was kind of D.O.A., I have to single out the tremendous craftsmanship of Gore Verbinski’s horror thriller A Cure for Wellness—if there were any justice, that’d absolutely be in the crafts conversation.

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