The first half of 2017 is now behind us, and so far the year’s best movies include Michael Showalter’s touching and timely romantic comedy “The Big Sick,” Jordan Peele’s incisive horror comedy “Get Out” and Edgar Wright’s adrenalized car-chase flick “Baby Driver.”
If you throw in films that have screened for the press or been unveiled at film festivals, you can add Matt Reeves’ dazzling “War for the Planet of the Apes,” Ruben Ostlund’s Palme d’Or-winning satire “The Square,” Andrey Zvyagintsev’s searing family drama “Loveless,” Taylor Sheridan’s moody suspense thriller “Wind River,” William Oldroyd’s unsettling period film “Lady Macbeth” and David Lowery’s beautiful meditation “A Ghost Story.”
“Apes” will no doubt be a blockbuster, “Get Out” was already a hit and “The Big Sick” and “Baby Driver” have the look of breakouts, but for the most part these are indie gems that deserve nurturing and celebrating.
And that’s why it’s troubling to start examining their Oscar potential – because films like “The Big Sick” and “A Ghost Story” deserve to be embraced without pundits pointing out that the former is a dark horse and the latter probably won’t even register on most voters’ radar.
But pointing out stuff like that, I’m afraid, is part of the job. So is the annual midyear awards forecast, a bit of prognostication hampered by the fact that true awards movies are seldom released in the first six months of the year. Sure, you’ll have occasional exceptions like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – but last year, for instance, “Hell or High Water” was the only Best Picture nominee to have publicly screened by the end of June, and that was at the Cannes Film Festival.
A few other acting awards came out of first-half festivals: Ruth Negga in “Loving,” Viggo Mortensen in “Captain Fantastic,” Isabelle Huppert in “Elle.” But at this point last year, “Moonlight” was barely a blip on the awards radar, “La La Land” hadn’t been seen publicly and the only eventual Oscar nominees to have been released were “Hail, Caesar!” (Best Production Design) and “The Jungle Book” (Best Visual Effects).
Still, it’s foolish to completely write off six months worth of 2017 films. “Get Out” and “The Big Sick,” for example, should both be strong contenders in the Best Original Screenplay race, where smaller and more adventurous films are often recognized – and while they have genre constraints that may well keep them from getting the attention they might deserve as Best Picture contenders, they can’t be written off in that category until we see what else is unveiled this year.
“Baby Driver,” given its over-the-top violence, will likely be even more hampered by its genre and tone, though it’s fun and stylish enough to overcome a lot of resistance.
In the acting categories, “The Big Sick” should be a player, though supporting players Ray Romano and especially Holly Hunter probably have a better shot than the film’s wonderful leads, Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan. Kirsten Dunst might have a shot for Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled,” Nicole Kidman perhaps less of one.
Among the film-festival entries, Jeremy Renner is as good as he’s ever been in “Wind River,” and I would love to see Florence Pugh recognized for her brilliant performance in “Lady Macbeth,” though I know that the Spirit and Gotham Awards are probably her best shot. And I would nominate Rooney Mara just for the astonishing, wordless scene in “A Ghost Story” in which she comes home to an empty house after the death of her husband (Casey Affleck) and eats almost an entire pie in one extended, harrowing sequence.
And it’ll be a real shame if the Actors Branch continues to resist Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performances even after “War for the Planet of the Apes,” which is carried not by the big action sequences but by intimate scenes between Serkis and other actors, some playing apes and others playing humans.
Beyond that, some of the year’s big movies – “Beauty and the Beast,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Wonder Woman” – figure to get consideration in the below-the-line categories.
And maybe we’ll even get to see the impact of the recent changes that opened nomination voting in the Best Animated Feature category to all Academy members. Three years ago, the smaller committee that then handled nominations snubbed “The LEGO Movie,” the year’s most acclaimed animated film. This year, the larger group will have the chance to consider “The LEGO Batman Movie,” and maybe make up for the oversight.