Oscar Futures: How High Can First Man Fly?October 13, 2018
Photo: Universal Studios
On a regular basis between now and February 24, 2019, 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.
Festival viewers were over the moon for Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic, and the love hasn’t waned now that the movie’s opened. First Man’s grounded take on the space race got a rousing reception at a VIP screening I attended recently, and the film’s earned raves from every star in the critical firmament except Richard Brody. However, one small note of caution — even positive reviews like Peter Travers’s note that some viewers may find First Man “too remote or cool to the touch.”
A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born was projected to make around $30 million in its opening weekend. It pulled in nearly $43 million. A recent Academy screening was jam-packed, with lines worthy of a new iPhone, and some would-be attendees were turned away at the door. (“I have never seen that — ever,” a veteran publicist told THR.) Team Star is so confident in its chances that they’re even submitting the film as a drama to the Golden Globes. Basically, if A Star Is Born’s Oscar campaign was in A Star Is Born, right now we’d be at that montage where Lady Gaga bangs a tambourine onstage. But there’s still plenty of movie to go at that point, and as Awards Daily’s Sasha Stone notes, becoming the Oscar front-runner this early means getting a target on your back that won’t go away for four months.
Damien Chazelle, First Man
This category tends to go to the filmmaker who’s managed the most outstanding technical achievement, and even those who find First Man slightly cold concede that Chazelle, the youngest-ever Best Director winner, pulled off a monumental feat. I was curious how the film’s moon-landing sequence would play in theaters smaller than the IMAX venue it screened at in Toronto, but my second viewing at a basement theater in midtown had the audience rapt, too.
Paul Greengrass, 22 July
Greengrass’s latest docudrama, a re-creation of Anders Breivik’s 2011 terror attacks in Norway, has critics praising his technical acumen even while they wonder why the movie needed to be made. He’s been nominated once before (and directed another Best Picture nominee), though 22 July being a Netflix movie introduces two major hurdles: (1) The streamer already has a strong contender in this category in Alfonso Cuarón, and (2) how many viewers streaming the movie at home will be able to make it through its opening massacre?
Damien Chazelle, First Man; Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born; Alfonso Cuarón, Roma; Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite; Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Ryan Gosling, First Man
The savvy take on First Man seems to be that Gosling’s chances aren’t as strong as you might think, since the movie paints Neil Armstrong as such an emotionally closed-off loner. But I think that underscores just how much of this movie is Gosling’s face. His closing credit received a huge round of applause at the VIP screening I attended, and I think it’s possible that, just as Armstrong was carried toward the moon on the back of a gigantic rocket, Gosling could reach his third nomination riding Academy affection for this film.
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
This Freddie Mercury biopic is just starting to screen, and GoldDerby’s Tom O’Neil came out of his viewing convinced the Mr. Robot star will be Bradley Cooper’s strongest competition in the Best Actor race, as long as voters can look past the fact that he doesn’t do his own singing. Just like Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody is submitting in Drama for the Golden Globes, though that move comes with slightly more risk for a lower-profile film: It could score some crucial noms and surf the added prestige boost to Oscar glory, or be snubbed entirely.
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born; Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate; Ryan Gosling, First Man; Viggo Mortensen, Green Book; Robert Redford, The Old Man and the Gun
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Kindergarten Teacher
Oscar fans love to complain that Gyllenhaal got her only Academy Award nomination for Crazy Heart, one of the weaker parts in her filmography, so they’ll be happy to see she’s earning great reviews for her “beautifully nuanced” performance in a more difficult role. She’ll have to raise the profile of this Netflix release if she wants to break through, and she’s been trying, sitting for Q&As at the opening night of the Hamptons Film Festival last weekend, as well as with New York’s own David Marchese.
Rosamund Pike, A Private War
After this biopic of war correspondent Marie Colvin screened at TIFF, THR’s Scott Feinberg dubbed Pike the newest entrant in the Best Actress race, with one caveat: “The biggest awards-related question about A Private War … is not whether Pike does awards-worthy work, but whether Aviron Pictures, David Dinerstein’s new distribution company, can get awards voters to see it?” They’re doing their best: Pike and co-star Jamie Dornan made the trip out to the Hamptons to promote the film, and the actress landed the cover of Cristina Cuomo’s new wellness glossy The Purist, which was as ubiquitous at the festival as Lululemon. But reviews of her performance have so far been mixed.
Glenn Close, The Wife; Viola Davis, Widows; Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born; Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Emma Stone, The Favourite
Best Supporting Actor
Timothée Chalamet, Beautiful Boy
Beautiful Boy went into Toronto with high hopes, but the muted reception there suggested the movie might only be a player in the acting categories. Whatever they think of Felix Van Groeningen’s film, critics agree that young Chalamet, playing Steve Carell’s drug-addict son, turns in another fantastic performance. “With moments reminiscent of James Dean, the ne plus ultra of these roles, Chalamet both echoes the best of what’s come before and makes the part his own, allowing us to feel we’ve never seen a character like this,” the L.A. Times’ Kenneth Turan writes. “If you want to witness what honesty, authenticity and a remarkable gift can accomplish, this is the place to go.”
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
There was a little bit of mystery about how Green Book would sort out its two actors, Oscar-wise: Though they’re both leads, no film has managed two Best Actor nominations since Amadeus. Rather than try to beat history, Universal has decided to slot Ali, who has slightly less screen time than Viggo Mortensen, in Supporting. In a film that’s all about the power of interracial friendship, it’s not a great look, but it probably is the savvy play.
Mahershala Ali, Green Book; Timothée Chalamet, Beautiful Boy; Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born; Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther
Best Supporting Actress
Claire Foy, First Man
The ovation for Foy’s credit at my showing of First Man was almost as big as Gosling’s, and the actress was the belle of the ball at the post-screening reception. Foy is going to be pounding the pavement all season long, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s got the most showy emotional scenes of anyone in the movie. Her delivery of the phrase “bunch of boys” is already iconic.
Natalie Portman, Vox Lux
Another bit of category confusion: Portman plays the older version of the film’s protagonist, but she doesn’t show up until an hour in. Neon recently gave Vox Lux a December release and this week the distributor revealed that Portman’s world-weary pop star would indeed run in Supporting. The film’s graphic violence and, shall we say, “European” sensibilities may make it a hard sell for the Academy crowd, but Best Supporting Actress feels very unsettled right now, and Portman’s got a better chance of sneaking through if she’s not going up against Gaga.
Amy Adams, Vice; Olivia Colman, The Favourite; Claire Foy, First Man; Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk; Rachel Weisz, The Favourite