Considering how back-loaded the release schedule is when it comes to awards-friendly films, it’s an encouraging sign that there have already been several movies from the first half of 2017 that could easily wind up in the Oscar conversation. True, a couple of them (Mudbound, Call Me by Your Name) premiered at Sundance and won’t get distributed until the fall, but there are plenty that have already dropped, from the art house (The Lovers, The Big Sick) to the cineplex (Get Out, Wonder Woman). Here’s a look at some early Oscar contenders:
The Big Sick
Juno could provide the template for this touching and crowdpleasing rom-com based on the real-life coupling of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. That earlier festival breakout was a sleeper hit (which Big Sick has the potential to be after its first two weeks in very limited release) and went on to score four Oscar nominations and one win (for screenwriter Diablo Cody). Let’s at least recognize Ray Romano for a career-best performance and Holly Hunter for… well, being A-grade Holly Hunter, which is as good as it gets.
Call Me by Your Name
Sundance audiences fell hard for Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-ager about a 17-year-old boy (Timothée Chalamet) who falls for an older man (Armie Hammer) in 1980s Italy. Name could follow Moonlight‘s historical (if, uh, unconventional) Best Picture win, and it has received a mightily awards-friendly release date of Nov. 24. Look out for newcomer Chalamet in all Best Actor races.
Jordan Peele’s biting social satire brilliantly cloaked as a horror movie has been Hollywood’s biggest surprise of the year, both in box-office might and critical love. That should catapult Get Out into the awards discussion, even if some Oscar voters might not be hypnotized into nominating a genre movie for Best Picture. At the very least, we expect Peele to be in the running for Best Original Screenplay, though I’d love to see two-time Oscar nominee Catherine Keener in contention for Best Supporting Actress.
Now 72, iconically ‘stached character actor Sam Elliott (The Big Lebowski, Gettysburg) has finally gotten the leading role he deserves… as an aging Western icon whose career gets a late spark when he inadvertently goes viral. Elliott makes the most of it, delivering a tender, nuanced, heartbreaking performance. While the Oscars could still be a longshot for the never-nominated septuagenarian, he should be in the running for the Independent Spirit Awards and such.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Al Gore’s 2006 PowerPoint-spawned An Inconvenient Truth spurred a national discussion about global warming and won two Oscars as a bonus. The sequel, Truth to Power, premiered at Sundance, and it’s bigger, it’s badder… OK, it’s being recut in the wake of President Trump’s controversial decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, which had prominently figured into the narrative. Still, Truth to Power is an obvious contender to repeat in the documentary realm.
Debra Winger doesn’t make movies very often, but when she does, watch out. The three-time Oscar nominee is a force in this dark romantic comedy about middle-aged spouses both cheating on one another (writer Tracy Letts plays the mister). The indie release didn’t exactly convince audiences to leave their homes, but its distributor A24 has some pull with awards voters after last year’s Moonlight coup.
Dee Rees’s first directorial effort since her 2011 breakout, Pariah, screams “Oscar bait.” It’s a period piece set in the Deep South during WWII about two families — one white, one black — at odds. But here’s the thing: It’s freaking phenomenal. As mentioned coming out of Sundance, you can start handicapping the Best Supporting Actor race based on a quintet of performances in this film alone.
Richard Gere would easily qualify on any list of actors you’d be surprised were never nominated for an Oscar. His decidedly unglamorous, against-type portrayal of desperate wannabe mover-and-shaker Norman Oppenheimer counts among the best performances he’s ever given, so this might be a good time to knock him off those lists.
War for the Planet of the Apes
The buzz is building on the final chapter of the Caesar trilogy, and somehow, some way these movies have continued to get progressively better. It’s not exactly in a position to go all Return of the King and sweep the Oscars as a reward to the series as a whole, but it could garner some attention. Variety‘s Kristopher Tapley has already suggested the Academy should recognize Andy Serkis’s motion-capture mastery with some type of special achievement award. That ain’t a bad idea.
Whether it would actually merit Best Picture recognition is a debate for another day, but there’s no doubt that the film has become a cultural touchstone that has galvanized the movie industry. Can it do what Deadpool couldn’t?
Watch our Role Recall interview with Richard Gere:
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