The best in movies so far Kidman, Gere, “Big Sick” are on top
Earlier this year, I wrote a column about awards season as a crucial, often profitable way to draw attention to smart, wellmade films that cater to adult, non-comic-book-obsessed audiences.
The advantage of that business model has been the preservation of the kinds of movies that, in the absence of “earned awareness” award campaigns and Oscar prestige, Hollywood might not make anymore. The downside, as I noted, is a dramatically lopsided movie year, wherein filmgoers are starved for quality material at the multiplex until October, at which point keeping up with good movies is akin to drinking from a fire hose.
The reason studios hold back the good stuff is that they’re afraid movies that appear early in the year will be long forgotten by the time academy members submit their nominations. And it’s true: Every year, worthy movies that open in the late winter and spring are denied the boxoffice boost of their latebreaking brethren. Last year, the Colonial-era thriller “The Witch,” the drone-era thriller “Eye in the Sky” and erotic comedy-drama “A Bigger Splash” became deserved art-house hits, each of them superbly crafted and featuring memorable performances from the likes of Helen Mirren, the late Alan Rickman, Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes. But they opened before summer, meaning that, by Oscar-time at least, they were nonstarters.
The academy has largely washed its hands of the backloading problem, insisting it’s up to studios to realize that the calendar has 12 months. That’s true but, as we head into the second half of 2017, what more perfect time to hold a midyear mini-Oscars, if only to recognize work that will deserve to be considered six months hence?
Ladies and gentlemen, herewith are my humble nominations for the year’s best so far, proffered in the hopes that, come next January when the final shortlists are decided, they won’t go unnoticed.
Best screenplay: For wit, clever structure and genuine surprise, we’ve been spoiled for choice so far this year, with such winning comedies as “Colossal,” starring Anne Hathaway as a woman coming to terms with her own anarchic power, and the World War II satire “Their Finest,” about a British propaganda team staging a dramatization of Dunkirk. The actress Zoe Lister-Jones — already a seasoned writer — delivered a breakout directorial debut working from her script for “Band Aid,” about a couple working through grief and estrangement by making music together. Azazel Jacobs cast a similarly observant eye on the challenges of long-term intimacy in “The Lovers,” a rueful portrait of infidelity starring Debra Winger and Tracy Letts.
Best director: Although superheroes and effectsdriven spectacles are often overlooked in this category, at least three such films this year have been executed with exceptional chops, taste and ingenuity: James Mangold’s “Logan,” Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” and Matt Reeves’ “War for the Planet of the Apes.” I would add James Gray to the list for “The Lost City of Z,” an engrossing, fascinatingly dreamlike portrait of British explorer Percival Fawcett that deserved far more attention from viewers than it received.
Best actor: Along with the aforementioned Letts, who portrays a wandering husband with just the right mix of oblivious humor and infuriating narcissism in “The Lovers,” let’s please not forget Richard Gere’s on-point portrayal of a noodgey New York fixer in the Manhattan bagatelle “Norman,” or Liev Schreiber’s touching portrayal of a bruised boxer in “Chuck” or Sam Elliott’s one-man master class in screen acting in “The Hero.” Chris Pine embodies the term “supporting actor” in “Wonder Woman,” as does the sublimely funny Bill Nighy in “Their Finest.” In “Colossal,” Jason Sudeikis performs a crafty take on the millennial “cool guy” that went from sunny to subversive at the pop of a beer.
Best actress: Cynthia Nixon imbued the poet Emily Dickinson with litfrom-within spirit in the otherwise starchy “A Quiet Passion.” Continuing a magnificent run including her nominated turn in last year’s “Lion” and the HBO series “Big Little Lies,” Nicole Kidman once again proves her bona fides in Sofia Coppola’s Civil Warera horror film “The Beguiled.” Rachel Weisz elevates the otherwise humdrum “My Cousin Rachel” with a tricky performance that’s both sympathetic and quite possibly malign. Hayley Squires is shattering in Ken Loach’s British drama “I, Daniel Blake,” in which she plays a desperate single mother navigating poverty and punishing public bureaucracy. And no one will forget Betty Gabriel’s unsettling, astonishingly well-calibrated interpretation of Georgina, the domestic worker with a stunning secret in Jordan Peele’s breakout February horror hit “Get Out.”
Best picture: Fans of “Get Out” will note that I have mentioned that movie only once so far. That’s because I believe that, along with the bracingly funny and sensitive romantic comedy “The Big Sick,” it has genuinely strong chances of being rewarded next year. Both films at least deserve recognition for their smart, novel screenplays — but, considering “Get Out’s” impressive commercial success and “The Big Sick’s” similarly promising prospects, it looks like they might go the distance to compete for the biggest prize of all. Let’s hope that, as they fill out their ballots, academy members sharpen their memories along with their pencils.