Blockbuster bust-up?

This might be the year when mainstream movies shake up awards season

Ever since the omission of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight as a Best Picture contender in 2008, casual film lovers have wondered if mainstream films would ever receive an Academy Award for Best Picture (Alex Gabel writes). The Academy has since doubled the potential number of nominees to a maximum of 10 films, providing some breathing room for non-‘Oscar bait’ nominees. For instance, last year’s Arrival earned a Best Picture nomination, joining a sparse list of sci-fi nominees including Inception, Avatar, and Star Wars. Given the crop of high quality blockbusters this year, can any of them go all the way and win the Oscar for Best Picture?

Blade Runner 2049 (from Arrival director Denis Villeneuve) already has an excellent chance at the technical awards (with longtime Oscar-nominee Roger Deakins looking like he’ll finally win Best Cinematography for his jaw-dropping imagery), but its heartfelt story and great performances could put it in contention for Best Picture or Director.

Other mainstream movies attracting significant Oscar buzz include Nolan’s own Dunkirk, Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. Nolan’s exceptional track record at creating award-friendly films that mainstream audiences love makes Dunkirk almost a lock this point. Get Out and Wonder Woman may end up buried beneath the vast number of more traditional awards contenders not yet on wide release. Depending on how many of these late-year releases the Academy deems worthy, either Get Out or Wonder Woman could receive major nominations. Get Out is probably the favourite of the two, due to its its fresh and unique portrayal of racial tensions in modern society. But I would personally prefer Patty Jenkins to be nominated for Best Director instead, especially after being shortlisted for Time magazine’s person of the year as “the director redefining how the world sees women”.

Some other popular films could make the list too. Logan provided a drastic change of tone from the usual superhero fare, with many calling it this year’s Dark Knight. It’s a truly remarkable post-apocalyptic western which seems likely to receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Patrick Stewart, if anything. Baby Driver lost the little amount of buzz it had following Kevin Spacey’s fall from grace, but you never know: with a director like Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick), even Star Wars: The Last Jedi has the potential to win big awards.

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Moonlight’s success at the last Academy Awards, as the first Best Picture winner to focus on queer African American experience, made last year’s ceremony one for the history books, (Angelica De Vido writes). The 2017 awards season also celebrated an array of other stories which centred on the lives of ethnically diverse protagonists – from the standout Fences and Hidden Figures, to the moving dramas Lion and Loving.

However, the question now remains whether this year’s award season will maintain this momentum, and provide a more diverse offering than the previous controversial #oscarssowhite years.

Among the top contenders for 2018 Best Picture nominations, there is definite trend of movies moving away from the traditional heteronormative white male narrative that dominates mainstream cinema – queer love stories in Call Me By Your Name and Battle of the Sexes; explorations of class in I, Tonya and The Florida Project; and a number of films with fantastic female leads including Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Nominations for Get Out or The Big Sick could also provide a shake-up to the prevalence of ‘white’ narratives among the Best Picture pack.

In addition to Best Picture, questions also remain regarding who will be nominated for Best Director – another category that has historically witnessed an extreme lack of diversity. Will any female directors be in the running this year? The top contenders against the barrage of male directors include Greta Gerwig (for the “100% on Rotten Tomatoes” standout Lady Bird) and Sofia Coppola (for The Beguiled), or indeed even Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins. Shamefully, despite Kathryn Bigelow’s glass-ceiling-shattering Best Director win in 2010, no woman has since received even a nomination, yet alone a win. However, with the strong field of female directors entering the fray this year (including Bigelow herself for the magnificent Detroit), there is a chance that this male dominance will be challenged for the first time in almost a decade.

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A central reason is that the Academy’s prior make-up of largely white, male voters, who continued to vote for films about protagonists who are ‘just like them’, has been challenged due to a recent increase in Academy membership by women and people from a range of ethnic backgrounds. Hopefully, this much-needed shake-up will be reflected in the diversity of nominations, and the Academy will recognise the range of brilliant films that explore human experience in all its richness, complexity and diversity.