In a Tough Year for Indies, A24 Writes Strong Awards Script

Small dis­trib­u­tor aims to once again com­pete in screen­play races as ma­jors throw their weight around

Variety - - Top Billing | In Contention - Kristo­pher Tap­ley In Con­tention

It might seem that New York-based in­die dis­trib­u­tor A24, two years af­ter claim­ing a best pic­ture vic­tory with Barry Jenkins ’“moon­light ,” and a year re­moved from the suc­cess of Greta Ger­wig’s “Lady Bird,” is set for a low-key Os­car sea­son in 2018. Films like Bo Burn­ham’s “Eighth Grade,” Paul Schrader’s “First Re­formed” and Ari Aster’s “Hered­i­tary” cer­tainly echo the small-but-ac­claimed par­a­digm of pre­vi­ous play­ers, but they and Jonah Hill’s “Mid90s” are un­likely to catch fire in the Academy’s top race. It will be par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult to gain a foothold with the ma­jor stu­dios roar­ing back this year with films like “Black Pan­ther” (Dis­ney), “Green Book” (Uni­ver­sal), “A Star Is Born” (Warner Bros.) and “Wi­d­ows” (Fox).

Nev­er­the­less, here’s a bit of Os­car trivia for you: A24 has se­cured at least two screen­play nom­i­na­tions in each of the past three years, in­clud­ing three in 2016. Some of them, like Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’“the Lob­ster,” Mike Mills’“20th Cen­tury Women” and Alex Gar­land’s “Ex Machina,” proved to be pleas­ant sur­prises. So don’t by any means count out the six-year- old com­pany for a run at some se­ri­ous bling. There is a solid quar­tet of films to work with, one that per­fectly rep­re­sents A24’s artist-haven swag­ger.

Schrader’s pic­ture, about a priest deal­ing with self- doubt, was the first into the­aters, ar­riv­ing in May, half a year af­ter un­spool­ing at the 2017 Venice and Tel­luride film fes­ti­vals. The un­com­pro­mis­ing 72-year- old writer- direc­tor has not been so well-re­ceived since his 1998 drama “Af­flic­tion,” which won James Coburn a sup­port­ing ac­tor Os­car and earned Nick Nolte a nom­i­na­tion in lead. But Schrader was not rec­og­nized by the Academy for that film or, for that mat­ter, any of the cin­e­matic mile­stones he’s helped con­jure through­out the years, from “Taxi Driver” to “Rag­ing Bull.” That could change this time around, and the cam­paign is cer­tainly bank­ing on in­dus­try good­will — on top of the gen­uine ac­claim “First Re­formed” has gen­er­ated in its own right — to bring him his first- ever Os­car bid.

But in an orig­i­nal screen­play cat­e­gory that is fill­ing up fast with con­tenders like “The Favourite ,”“green Book ,”“roma” and “Vice,” Schrader could find him­self duk­ing it out with sta­ble mate Burn­ham for a spot. Burn­ham, a Youtube sen­sa­tion, dropped “Eighth Grade, “his di­rec­to­rial de­but, at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val ahead of a mid­sum­mer re­lease that drew rave upon rave. It’s ex­actly the kind of film — a com­ing- ofage dram­edy about an in­tro­verted teenage girl — that grabs the writ­ers branch’s at­ten­tion ev­ery year in lieu of much love else­where (not that lead ac­tress Elsie Fisher isn’t bril­liant and de­serv­ing of se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion). Boots Ri­ley’s racially and po­lit­i­cally tinged “Sorry to Bother You” at An­na­purna is an­other ex­am­ple.

But who knows how that orig­i­nal screen­play cat­e­gory will un­fold? There’s cer­tainly a world where both “Eighth Grade” and “First Re­formed” find pur­chase in the field, mak­ing good on A24’s dou­ble- dip­per track record. “Hered­i­tary” and “Mid90s,” how­ever, are taller or­ders all around.

Hill’s movie, a per­sonal ode to his So­cal skate­board­ing youth, is a lit­tle gem per­fectly suited to its dis­trib­u­tor. But it failed to reg­is­ter any nom­i­na­tions from the In­de­pen­dent Film­maker Project’s Gotham Awards in New York, and turned out just one no­tice from West Coast Film In­de­pen­dent’s Spirit Awards last week, so it’s bringing up the rear with this group. “Hered­i­tary,” which earned Gotham nods for break­through direc­tor and lead ac­tress (Toni Col­lette’s sweat-in­duc­ing per­for­mance get­ting the love it de­serves), has a lit­tle more go­ing for it. Genre bias may not be much of a hur­dle with the Academy any­more; we’re com­ing off a year dom­i­nated by films like “Get Out” and “The Shape of Wa­ter,” af­ter all. But hor­ror, and par­tic­u­larly grue­some hor­ror like “Hered­i­tary,” seems like it will con­tinue to strug­gle.

Ul­ti­mately, A24’s slate of con­tenders this year is a stel­lar one worth fight­ing for. What’s more, it feels like yet an­other ex­ten­sion of the com­pany’s iden­tity. Awards-sea­son peren­nial Fox Search­light seems like the only other com­pany that can boast as much from all its years on the cir­cuit. Maybe the votes will be there for these films; maybe they won’t. But come what may, here’s hop­ing A24 will keep on keep­ing on.

It will be dif­fi­cult to gain a foothold in the best pic­ture race with the ma­jor stu­dios roar­ing back into the mix.”

Write Stuff A24’s “First Re­formed” and “Eighth Grade” are both films that could do well in the screen­play cat­e­gories.

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