Oscars 2017 | Eleven Movies That Deserve More Oscar Buzz
Another year ends, another damned Oscar season approaches. We’re only a few weeks away from all the film critics – myself included – declaring the best films and performances of the year, and we’re only a couple months from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences nominating their picks as well. In the meantime all the pundits are speculating wildly about which films and actors are going to win the Academy’s votes, whether or not that even really matters.
The problem with Oscar punditry – especially at this early stage – is that laying odds on who will get nominated, before all of the films have even been seen no less, stacks the deck in the favor of some obvious choices. For example, it’s considered common sense that Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are acting frontrunners for the Civil Rights drama Loving (and as well they should be), but some people are also already speculating that Andrew Garfield will be a contender for Martin Scorsese’s Silence, even though that movie hasn’t screened yet. Sure, it’s a Martin Scorsese picture, and those are usually pretty good, but the Academy has a long history of ignoring Martin Scorsese pictures and besides… maybe this one sucks. It’s possible. And anyway, assuming otherwise just makes it look like we’re all speculating wildly instead of debating these films on their merits, which is admittedly at least partly true.
What we should be doing right now isn’t dedicating our time to predicting the Oscars, which could have the potential side effect of skewing the voters in favor of all the most predictable contenders (if only subconsciously). Instead we should be taking these last few weeks before the awards season to build buzz for all the films and performances that are worthy of Oscar gold but that haven’t been highlighted very much. These talented people and brilliant motion pictures are worthy of entering the awards season conversation, and if the pundits haven’t given them much credit yet, then maybe this will get them started.
So here are our picks for eleven movies and performances that deserve more Oscar buzz. What are you waiting for? Get buzzing!
For Your Consideration: Best Actress (Rebecca Hall)
Christine is a harrowing look at the final days of Christine Chubbuck, a news reporter who committed suicide on live television in 1974. It’s a shocking story that, even more shockingly, invites audiences to get inside the mind of this woman, and not only watch her move steadily towards that horrible inevitability, but also to empathize with her and understand – perhaps too well – why she made that choice.
It’s a brilliant and challenging film from director Antonio Campos, sensitively written and realized by a fantastic ensemble cast, but anchoring it all is a revelatory performance by Rebecca Hall, who transforms into a complicated and polarizing individual, drawing us in and pushing us away, terrifying us and earning our love. In Christine, Rebecca Hall gives the sort of breakthrough performance that Charlize Theron once gave in Monster, or that Hillary Swank gave in Boys Don’t Cry. She doesn’t just deserve an Oscar nomination. It’s too early to say with certainty, but she might just deserve to win.
For Your Consideration: Best Supporting Actress (Kate McKinnon)
Few films have been more polarizing this year than the reboot of Ghostbusters, but the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that Kate McKinnon burst out of the film a full-fledged movie star. As the scene-stealing paranormal investigator Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, the Saturday Night Live standout introduced the world to an extremely extroverted introvert, a woman attracts attention through theatrical eccentricities to hide her obvious discomfort with genuine intimacy. Watching McKinnon do a blowtorch dance was funny. Watching that same character stumble to say just a few honest words of love to her best friends was heartbreaking.
Before Ghostbusters, Paul Feig directed Melissa McCarthy to a breakout performance and an unexpected Oscar nomination. This particular film may not be as awards-worthy, but Kate McKinnon certainly is.
For Your Consideration: Best Supporting Actor (Alden Ehrenreich), Best Costume Design, Best Production Design
Released so early in the year that audiences and critics alike seem to have mostly forgotten all about it, the latest lighthearted comedy from The Coen Brothers was a star-studded celebration of old school Hollywood nonsense, sharply stabbing at behind the scenes studio scandals and absurd political investigations. Sure, Hail, Caesar! was an insider film without shame, but it had plenty of laughs to go around, even if you didn’t get all the in-jokes.
Ordinarily, a film like this would probably only be an Oscar contender for its handsome costume and production design, but Hail, Caesar! also re-introduced the world to the deliriously funny Alden Ehrenreich (after the underwhelming box office reception of the actually-pretty-good Beautiful Creatures). Ehrenreich soars as an enthusiastic cowboy star thrust, ill-advisedly, into a serious costume drama even though he can barely say the hoity-toity dialogue. The scene where the snooty filmmaker, played by Ralph Fiennes, tries desperately to teach this good-natured schmoe how to say a single, solitary sentence is one of the comedy highlights of 2016. It’s a role that almost certainly had a hand in earning Alden Ehrenreich the coveted role of young Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars spin-off movie.
For Your Consideration: Best Picture, Best Director (Chan-wook Park), Best Actress (Min-hee Kim), Best Actress (Tae Ri Kim), Best Adapted Screenplay (Seo-Kyung Chung & Chan-wook Park), Best Cinematography (Chung-hoon Chung), Best Costume Design, Best Production Design
It can be difficult to tell which foreign film productions will take the Oscars by storm, and eventually appear in multiple categories outside of the Best Foreign Film slot. But this year, if anything can – and should – it’s The Handmaiden, a sumptuous historical thriller directed by South Korean iconoclast Chan-wook Park. It’s an ambitious feminist drama about a young thief enlisted to help bamboozle a wealthy heiress into marrying a con man, who plans to steal her money and then immediately have her committed to an institution. All does not go according to plan, of course, because the thief – posing as a mere handmaiden – falls in lust with the heiress, and the feeling turns out to be mutual.
The Handmaiden is an R-rated, vicious motion picture. Sensual and brutal, but expertly crafted in every respect. It’s the most gorgeous period piece of 2017, with note perfect performances from each member of the cast, and a screenplay full of unforgettable twists and turns. It may be too twisted for the Academy to fall in love with, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that The Handmaiden definitely deserves to be a contender.
For Your Consideration: Best Director (Karyn Kusama), Best Original Screenplay (Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi)
Small thrillers sometimes earn big Academy Award nominations, especially in the screenplay categories where their subversive twists are easily recognized. (See recently: Ex Machina, Nightcrawler, In Bruges.) This year there’s at least one universally acclaimed thriller that fits the bill, a smart and emotionally raw motion picture that pulses with paranoia and purpose. That film is The Invitation, and it tells the story of a man invited to a dinner party by his ex-wife and her new husband, only to gradually come to the realization that something horrible is happening… something he can’t quite put his finger on.
It would be easy to dismiss The Invitation as little more than a slick potboiler, but Karyn Kusama’s engrossing direction reveals much more than a simple switcheroo. The Invitation is a profound rumination on trauma, recovery, and the insidiousness of a group mentality. Hell, the ending alone ought to make it worth squeezing into the Original Screenplay category, and although the Academy might have a hard time finding room (it is, admittedly, an increasingly impressive year), Karyn Kusama deserves buzz for Best Director too.
For Your Consideration: Best Supporting Actor (Peter Sarsgaard)
Pablo Larraín’s bold biopic tells the story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s distraught final days at the White House in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s assassination, with time running out for “Jackie” to plan a funeral fitting for an American icon, and to take advantage of her one last chance to secure her husband’s legacy. Jackie is justifiably earning praise for Natalie Portman’s leading performance as a woman torn between human grief and superhuman responsibility, and Larraín’s film might also be a contender for Best Picture, Best Director, and a host of other categories as well.
But one performance which has been mostly overlooked so far amidst all that Oscar buzz is the one from Peter Sarsgaard, drinking up his screen time as Robert Kennedy. Aided by some expert makeup, Sarsgaard transforms into the Attorney General and brother to the deceased president, who has to undergo almost as much traumatic push-and-pull as the First Lady, but who has fewer scenes in Jackie to make an impact. Peter Sarsgaard pulls it off impressively, making what could have been a relatively minor character in the story of Jackie into a meaningful counterpoint, a fascinating figure who could have carried a whole movie by himself too.
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP
For Your Consideration: Best Actress (Kate Beckinsale), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Bennett), Best Adapted Screenplay (Whit Stillman), Best Costume Design
It seems likely that Whit Stillman will earn his second Academy Award nomination this year, for his fabulously witty adaptation of Jane Austen’s unpublished novel Lady Susan. Best Picture and Best Director sadly seem like long shots, especially against the more dramatically portentous competition emerging at the end of the year, but his adapted screenplay will almost certainly be recognized if nothing else.
But even that would be a shame, because Love & Friendship also features some dynamite costumes and production design, and two of the best performances of the year. As a widow who manipulates her way out of the poorhouse and into the lives (and sex lives) of an upper class community that loathes her, Kate Beckinsale gives her finest performance. She’s an elegant spider who cannot be caught in her own web, deviously plucking at the threads. Meanwhile, Tom Bennett delivers the year’s kookiest character, a “bit of a rattle,” who is absolutely thrilled at the concept of peas and who becomes oddly enamored of turning The Ten Commandments into a multiple choice question. Brilliant, the both of them.
A MONSTER CALLS
For Your Consideration: Best Picture, Best Director (J.A. Bayona), Best Supporting Actress (Felicity Jones), Best Adapted Screenplay (Patrick Ness)
It’s unclear whether the Academy will fully embrace A Monster Calls, a therapeutic fantasy about a young boy with a dying mother, who is visited in the night by a fantastic beast. It sounds treacly but A Monster Calls is an astounding work of art, one that forces its characters and the audience to confront hard truths about death, dying and the grieving process. If you’ve ever suffered the loss of a close family member, the film will strike you as genuine despite – or rather, because – of its fantasy elements.
If those fantasy elements don’t become a hindrance in the Oscar race, A Monster Calls – which doesn’t debut for another month, but which made a big splash at the Toronto International Film Festival – could be a serious contender for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. But perhaps most impressive is Felicity Jones, as the protagonist’s dying mother, who has her own tragedy to deal with, even though we only catch glimpses of her private struggle. We see her character in her moments of strength, as she strives to leave her son with positive memories and to impart words of love and wisdom that will carry him throughout his life. Her penultimate scene contains some of the finest acting of the year, and she gives a speech that has the power to heal. Felicity Jones delivers, beautifully, and she deserves all the praise she can get.
THE NICE GUYS
For Your Consideration: Best Original Screenplay (Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi)
Shane Black’s spiritual successor to the critically acclaimed, cult favorite Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is in many respects a more affable motion picture. Russell Crowe stars as a thug for hire who enlists a slimy private detective, played by Ryan Gosling, to help him solve a missing person’s case that also somehow involves hardcore pornography and the automotive industry. It’s a fast-paced and incredibly entertaining mystery that earned accolades but not a lot of money at the start of this year’s odd, and often lackluster summer season.
Sure enough, Crowe and Gosling are bright, shining stars and Black knows exactly how to utilize their strengths, but the real attraction here is the screenplay for The Nice Guys. Shane Black and his co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi have concocted a rollercoaster of a storyline, packed with unlikely connections and fascinating characters, many of them equally capable of selfless humanity and despicable selfishness. The Nice Guys deserves a Best Original Screenplay nomination purely on its own merits, but if the Academy decides to apologize for snubbing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang it could have a big leg up on this year’s competition.
POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING
For Your Consideration: Best Original Song (“Humble,” “Mona Lisa,” “Ibiza,” “Incredible Thoughts”)
One of the funniest films of the year came out with an impressive pedigree – The Lonely Island, comedy musicians and Saturday Night Live alumni extraordinaire – but it made very little impact in theaters. That’s a shame, because Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a consistently laugh out loud satire of contemporary pop music, celebrity culture and concert films, packed with one gut-busting song after another.
Indeed, the songs from Popstar are so funny that – if the musicals La La Land and Moana don’t completely dominate the Best Original Song category – the Academy should seriously consider honoring at least one of them with a nomination. The problem of course is, which one? “Humble” is catchy as hell, and its inherent irony is easy to pick up on, even in passing. Meanwhile, “Mona Lisa” is a delightful satire of young artists who aren’t as worldly as they think they are, “Ibiza” stretches single joke its limits (without ever breaking it), and “Incredible Thoughts” is a twisted kaleidoscope of absurdity, as overblown as it is ludicrous. “Humble” probably has the best shot at a nomination, even though an Oscar win would be fairly unlikely against less ridiculous competition, even if Popstar had been as popular as it deserved to be.
For Your Consideration: Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Eggers), Best Supporting Actor (Ralph Ineson), Best Supporting Actress (Kate Dickie), Best Original Screenplay (Robert Eggers), Best Production Design, Best Costume Design
The Academy rarely rewards the horror genre, but when it does it almost always favors classy productions. Robert Eggers’ colonial period piece, about an isolated family of Puritans succumbing to religious paranoia, certainly fits the bill. It’s a solemn and severe motion picture that directly confronts fundamentalist fervor and hypocrisy, featuring stellar performances from a cast that mostly deserves all the Oscar buzz they can get.
Meanwhile, Robert Eggers’ distinctive screenplay captures a particular era with more accuracy than audiences may be immediately comfortable with, the production and costume design is unsettlingly realistic, and if there’s an honorary award we can bestow on that goat, we should probably set it aside right now. The Witch is one of the most acclaimed horror movies in years for a reason, and as a serious period piece, it is also well within the Academy’s wheelhouse. Hopefully at least one nomination is in The Witch‘s future.
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Top Photo: Columbia Pictures / Amazon Studios / Universal Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.