On a regular basis between now and March 4, 2018, when the winners of the Academy Awards are announced, Vulture will consult its crystal ball to determine the changing fortunes in this year’s Oscars race. In our Oscar Futures column, we’ll let you in on insider gossip, parse brand-new developments, and track industry buzz to figure out who’s up, who’s down, and who’s currently leading the race for a coveted Oscar nomination.
Blade Runner 2049
Full reviews are embargoed until tomorrow, but the early social-media reaction to this incredibly shot sci-fi sequel is strong, and some critics are so gobsmacked by the film that they can barely dress themselves afterwards. Blade Runner 2049 could be the Max Max: Fury Road of this year’s race: Arriving so long after the original movie that it can stand on its own merits, it’s the sort of high-level blockbuster filmmaking that the expanded Best Picture field was meant to honor, and it’s being shepherded through this Oscar season by the same studio and awards publicist that guided Fury Road to Valhalla. For his visually dazzling frames, director of photography Roger Deakins may finally win the Oscar that has eluded him for so long, and that coronation could boost Blade Runner 2049’s fortunes further: The cinematography winner almost always comes from a film nominated for Best Picture.
Last Flag Flying
Richard Linklater’s semi-sequel to The Last Detail was mildly received at its New York Film Festival press screenings today; instead of taking the fest by storm, it will likely manage a light drizzle. The story of three former military men who reunite when one’s son is killed in action, Last Flag Flying is skewed toward the Academy’s biggest demographic — middle-aged-and-above white men — and could find more favor with them. Still, this is a big and bustling awards season and it’s best not to start at a deficit.
Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049
Nominated just last year for Arrival, Villeneuve is a serious threat to snatch another nod for his work on Blade Runner 2049, especially since this category likes to make room for major technical achievements. Villeneuve’s biggest issue is that Warner Bros. will be pushing him alongside two of the studio’s other blockbuster directors, Dunkirk’s Christopher Nolan and Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins. Still, that’s a true Champagne problem for WB to contend with.
Richard Linklater, Last Flag Flying
Five-time nominee Linklater will surely appear again on the Best Director short list someday, but I think Last Flag Flying is too much of a meander to rate when this year’s category could be packed with flashy artisans.
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water; Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name; Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk; Steven Spielberg, The Post; Joe Wright, Darkest Hour
Steve Carell, Last Flag Flying
The Last Flag Flying actor getting the most consistent praise is Carell as the man broken up by his son’s death. This is a sensitively underplayed role, if a bit of a repetitive one: Most scenes in Last Flag Flying follow the same formula where Bryan Cranston says something brash, Laurence Fishburne shushes him, and then Carell — in a voice barely above a whisper — tentatively ventures a clue to his emotional state. It’s not yet definitive whether Carell will be campaigned as a lead or in supporting, but there is room for him in both male categories and the difference between this character and Carell’s Battle of the Sexes blowhard will only aid his chances.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger
Gyllenhaal deserves more Oscar nominations than the single one he’s gotten for Brokeback Mountain, and he’s as good as ever as Boston bombing survivor Jeff Bauman in Stronger. Still, the film opened to meh returns in semi-wide release this past weekend.
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name; Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread; Andrew Garfield, Breathe; Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour; Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes
Battle of the Sexes performed sensationally in limited release and the film has an encouraging wind in its sails as it expands to more theaters. A September bow isn’t always easy to sustain for the months-long awards gauntlet, and distributor Fox Searchlight has two other big Oscar contenders to nurture in The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but Stone and her crowd-pleasing, politically attuned film offer Academy voters the most explicit chance to rebuke the current climate until Steven Spielberg’s newspaper drama The Post arrives later this year.
Glenn Close, The Wife
Close received raves for this Toronto Film Festival entry, where she plays a woman who has deferred to her successful husband’s wishes for far too long. Some pundits thought Close could muscle her way into this year’s ultrastacked Best Actress derby, but Sony Pictures Classics wisely decided this week to hold The Wife for 2018, which will let the six-time nominee start that season as a force to be reckoned with rather than a scrappy insurgent. There’s a recent, successful playbook to follow here: The Mike Mills film Beginners also debuted at Toronto and was held until the following year, and co-star Christopher Plummer then went on to win the Oscar.
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water; Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird; Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes; Meryl Streep, The Post
Best Supporting Actor
Bryan Cranston, Last Flag Flying
Some of Cranston’s early notices are downright scathing, with the Guardian calling him “exaggerated and increasingly tiresome, his quips failing to land ad nauseam,” and Slant, in one of the more positive reviews, still noting that Cranston “veers irksomely from gentle charm to irascible hysterics.” It’s not easy to essentially follow in Jack Nicholson’s footsteps — Nicholson’s take on this character in The Last Detail is one of his best performances — and you’ll notice that Cranston’s capital-A acting here is at odds with the naturalistic turns given by his co-stars. Yet I can’t underestimate how much people love Bryan Cranston and want to seize any opportunity to reward him. If he’s category-frauded into the Best Supporting Actor race, as has been rumored, he’ll remain a threat no matter how the movie fares.
Laurence Fishburne, Last Flag Flying
It’s nice to see Fishburne get lots of screen time as part of Last Flag Flying’s primary trio, but his man of the cloth is the film’s least juicy character, used mostly to tsk-tsk Cranston and add ballast to Carell. If the movie had given him more to play, Fishburne could have contended for his first Oscar nomination since 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It.
Best Supporting Actress
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Last week, we named Janney as the prohibitive winner in this category if distributor Neon set a 2017 release for her film I, Tonya, and the fledgling company has now done just that, targeting December 8 as the start of a slow rollout. It wasn’t all good news for I, Tonya this week, though: Neon co-founder Tim League is mired in controversy over his treatment of film bloggers Harry Knowles and Devin Faraci, and while some are calling for League to step down from the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain he runs, the furor could soon affect Neon, too.
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
I’m hearing encouraging things about the new film from Paul Thomas Anderson, which recently locked picture and will be called Phantom Thread unless Anderson changes his mind. A mid-century relationship drama set in the fashion world, it stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville, and I’m told that the women particularly pop. As the female character engaged in a series of intimate power plays with Day-Lewis — the central relationship is so fraught that it’s been likened to Fifty Shades of Grey, though the film is not nearly as sexually explicit — Luxembourg native Krieps may be positioned for Best Actress action, but there’s plenty of room in Best Supporting Actress for her or Manville if that’s the tack Focus takes. Manville came awfully close to an Oscar nomination for Mike Leigh’s 2010 film Another Year, and this could be the Academy’s chance to make it up to her.
Hong Chau, Downsizing; Holly Hunter, The Big Sick; Allison Janney, I, Tonya; Melissa Leo, Novitiate; Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird