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Awards bait and blockbusters

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Looking ahead to year-end movie offerings

As we come to the end of another cinematic year, certain elements of the Hollywood machine are ramping up into high gear.

Obviously, we’re entering into prestige season, where studios have traditionally trotted out their awards contenders in order to ensure that they are fresh in the minds of voters when balloting takes place.

Granted, that has changed somewhat in recent years – the combination of an expanded Best Picture field and a willingness to recognize more mainstream and commercial fare has led to less specificity with regards to where a film lands on the calendar. This means that films like “Dunkirk” and “Get Out” – which came out ages ago – might get to rub elbows with more recent releases like “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “Lady Bird” and “The Florida Project” as potential award nominees.

Still, the lion’s share of Oscar bait rolls out close to the cutoff date. And there are plenty of interesting ones coming – new stuff from Guillermo del Toro and Paul Thomas Anderson; a textbook Oscar-hunting team-up between Stephen Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep; a dark horse indie that might have the word-of-mouth to push to the top of the heap.

On the flip side, this late part of the year has also become a sort of second summer in terms of blockbuster fare. Films expected to do massive box office are no longer just the purview of June and July – December has now become a perfectly acceptable spot to place your nine-figure franchise powerhouse.

“Star Wars” films have become the poster children for this new normal – they have staked their mid-December claim and, by extension, made it feasible to stack other large releases around them. This year is no different – “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is the latest installment. And Episode VII, rather than sucking the air out of the room, has instead carved a massive niche for Christmas-adjacent blockbusters.

And we’ve got some. The Rock is starring in a reboot of “Jumaniji” and John Cena is voicing the lead in an animated Disney offering. There’s another “Pitch Perfect” movie and a full-on musical starring Hugh Jackman, too. It’s not as packed as the summer, but the big-budget offerings are definitely here.

What follows is a look at some of the upcoming films that are closing out 2017, divided into two categories – “Awards Bait” and “Blockbusters.” This should give you an idea of not only what films are coming our way, but what KINDS of films they might be. Take a look.



Call Me By Your Name (Nov. 24)

This movie has been on the radar for many people as one of the movies to beat when it comes to awards season. This romantic drama is based on the novel of the same name and adapted by James Ivory (of Merchant-Ivory fame); by most accounts, it features some of the most powerful and heartrending performances to grace the big screen this year. Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhbarg have all been lauded for their work here.

“Call Me By Your Name” is by far the smallest movie on this list, but in this age of upset wins by underdogs like “Moonlight,” that doesn’t necessarily matter. It might struggle a bit against some of the more traditional awards-bait, but it’ll get plenty of recognition – it seems to be too good not to.

The Disaster Artist (Dec. 1)

It’s a little weird to think about a good movie being made about making a bad movie – though one could argue that “Ed Wood” meets that description. By all accounts, you can add “The Disaster Artist” to the list. It’s the story of Bizarro auteur Tommy Wiseau and the making of “The Room” – considered by some to be the greatest bad movie of all time. James Franco directs and stars as Wiseau; honestly, that should probably be worth the price of admission.

“The Disaster Artist” has gotten plenty of plaudits on the festival circuit and is likely in the conversation for some awards consideration, though with the exception of Franco perhaps getting an acting nod, it’s probably relegated to the realm of the also-rans. Still, don’t be surprised if it picks up a handful of nominations when all is said and done.

The Shape of Water (Dec. 8)

A dark and weird cinematic fairy tale from Guillermo del Toro? There’s literally nothing else that needs to be said – this one looks great. A mute woman falls for a sea creature held captive in a secret government facility. COME ON. It’s got Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon and Richard Jenkins; it’s just a dynamite cast. And it’s the sort of narrative that lends itself beautifully to del Toro’s sensibilities of visual strangeness – it’s going to look fantastic.

“The Shape of Water” is going to get loads of attention. It’s looking like it might have an outside shot at most Oscar nominations – Best Picture and Director are locks, while nods in three acting categories looks almost as likely. Tons of technical picks are likely in the bag too. It might not get as many as “Dunkirk,” but at worst, it’s a strong second.

I, Tonya (Dec. 8)

Did you want a biopic about disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding? Despite the film being something that no one could possibly have asked for, early returns are that “I, Tonya” is pretty darned good. Margot Robbie stars as the titular Tonya; she apparently spent a whole lot of time on the ice in order to prepare. It’s a weirdo sports movie, shot in documentary style by the guy who directed that Ryan Gosling movie about the sex doll – tell me you’re not in.

“I, Tonya” has resonated with audiences, presenting multiple perspectives in a manner that prove surprisingly sympathetic to Harding. Robbie and co-star Allison Janney are both early favorites to land Oscar nods (for Best and Supporting Actress, respectively); let’s see if they land the triple axel.

The Post (Dec. 22)

This movie has got one hell of a prestigious pedigree. “The Post” is a recent-historical drama about The Washington Post’s efforts to publish the infamous Pentagon Papers in the 1970s. Stephen Spielberg directs a pair of leads that you may have heard of - Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep – at the head of a cast that runs dozens deep in terms of talent. It’s an old-school prestige picture, with all of the trimmings – the kind of movie built to pull down hardware.

While there’s no doubt that the landscape of awards season has changed significantly over the past decade or two, “The Post” is a no-doubter. It’ll almost certainly be on the short list for all the biggies – Picture, Director, Actor and Actress – and that certainty might boost its chances in other categories. They won’t hit double-digit nominations, but half-a-dozen seems very plausible.

Phantom Thread (Dec. 25)

On the other end of the awards-bait continuum from something like “The Post,” we have this one, the latest from filmmaking mastermind Paul Thomas Anderson. Plus, it stars Daniel Day-Lewis, and we know what kind of greatness can happen when those two get together. All we really know is that it is set in the world of 1950s British fashion, because of course. Day-Lewis got all method with fashion stuff, because of course. Oh, and rumor has it this is it, the acting swan song for Day-Lewis, so there’s that.

“Phantom Thread” is going to have the film folks in a tizzy. It’s got a good shot to garner a lot of awards acclaim – Day-Lewis is a nomination lock, while Anderson and the film itself have reasonable shots at nods. Oh, and expect at least a couple of technical awards – costume design in particular will almost certainly happen.



Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dec. 15)

Yeah. On a list of blockbusters, the “Star Wars” movie is always going to be at the top. And make no mistake – that is as it should be. We’re getting Episode VIII here, directed by heretofore relatively small indie guy Rian Johnson, who apparently did such good work that he’s being entrusted with an entire non-Skywalker “Star Wars” trilogy to do with what he will. Obviously, this movie will make all of the money, but word is that it’s actually pretty good too.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is going to give us the Luke Skywalker goodness that we’ve been craving. Daisey Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver and the rest bring a hell of a lot of talent to the table. And the middle one is almost always the best one – could we be looking at the “Empire” of the new films?

Ferdinand (Dec. 15)

Anyone familiar with the story of Ferdinand the Bull is almost certainly eagerly anticipating this Disney offering. The voice cast is led by John Cena – who has a real shot at a B-plus The Rock-style crossover stardom – as the titular unfairly maligned bull with a gentle soul. It’s an across-the-board excellent cast – Kate McKinnon, Babby Cannavale, David Tennant are just a few of the talents joining Cena on this project. Plus, it’s Disney, so it will be beautiful to look at while it tugs your heartstrings. And hey – maybe Cena sings!

“Ferdinand” is an animated Disney movie, one that looks to be the primary new animated offering for the holiday season. It will make approximately all of the money. Sure, it’ll get a nomination for Best Animated Feature or whatever, but really, it’s about butts in seats. No bull.

The Greatest Showman (Dec. 20)

This is one of those movies that could conceivably fit in either category. There’s an argument for “The Greatest Showman” as both awards-bait AND blockbuster, but it’s just a touch more blockbuster-y to my mind. It’s the story of P.T. Barnum’s rise to fame through the creation of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It’s also a full-on movie musical, with songs by noted songwriting duo Pasek & Paul coming off their Oscar wins for “La La Land.” Hugh Jackman is Barnum, while he’s joined by Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson and more.

“The Greatest Showman” has been floating around for years, but now it’s finally here. A showy show-biz musical opening at Christmas is likely box office gold. Sure, it might get some awards attention – particularly from the Golden Globes, if I had to guess – but really, it’s a blockbuster at heart.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Dec. 20)

I’ll be the first to admit that every trailer I’ve seen for this film leaves me confused as to what it wants to be, but it’s got The Rock in it (sorry, Dwayne – you’re forever The Rock to me), so I’m in. In what is being billed as a sort of re-imagining of the original “Jumanji,” this movie features kids getting sucked into a video game where they’re represented by their avatars – avatars that just happen to be Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and The Rock. Adventurous hijinks ensue.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” has a formula that will certainly work. It’s kid-friendly and it has The Rock in it, with a hat-tip to an old favorite to bring in the nostalgia crowd. Sure, this movie might not be all that good, but it will make a ton of coin at the box office, which is what blockbusters are all about.

Pitch Perfect 3 (Dec. 22)

Oh look, you guys – it’s another “Pitch Perfect” movie. While the odds of the third time being the charm seem pretty slim, we can still hold out hope that this franchise will go out on a high note. The stars are all back; this time around, they discover that despite their World Champion status, there’s no money in a capella. But then they get tapped to do a USO tour for reasons that are doubtless incredibly convoluted and go back to their mouth music ways.

You might scoff at the notion of “Pitch Perfect 3” as a blockbuster, but the previous two movies combined to do over $400 million at the global box office. That’s real money even for Hollywood. Expect this one to be the least enjoyable, but most profitable of what hopefully remains a trilogy.

Father Figures (Dec. 22)

We’re surprisingly light on big comedies this winter – big original comedies, anyway. So with apologies to the Morgan Freeman/Tommy Lee Jones/Rene Russo “old people shenanigans” movie “Just Getting Started” and the more Awards Bait-oriented Alexander Payne/Matt Damon team-up “Downsizing,” we’re going with this one. Owen Wilson and Ed Helms as brothers trying to track down a long-lost dad will likely prove to be savvy counterprogramming.

“Father Figures” has a solid cast – Glenn Close, Christopher Walken and J.K. Simmons are among the others involved. Plus, up until two months ago, its title was “Bastards.” In a lackluster stretch for comedies, this one looks like the most likely box office victor.


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