As we launch into the second half of the 2019 movie calendar today with Spider-Man: Far From Home and upscale horror entry Midsommar, we now inch closer to actually coming up with some legitimate Oscar contenders in this year’s Best Picture race. Not that either one of those movies has a prayer for that, or pretty much anything else, come Oscar time as the picture for a Best Picture is about as bleak as it has ever been coming around to the fourth of July holiday. Clearly Hollywood is saving its “bests” for last , or at least until the Fall festivals unleash a boat full of hoped-for-contenders, save for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood opening the end of this month, and already seen in Cannes where the reviews were great, even if it didn’t pick up any awards there. No matter. I’ve seen it and it is a definite Best Picture possibility. But let’s look at the first half of 2019 for any others that have actually already been in theatres.
By this point last year we already had the February 2018 debut of Black Panther which went on to become the first comic book and Marvel movie to land in the Best Pic race, despite that Oscar unfriendly release date. It got seven nominations overall and won 3 Oscars , becoming the only film in the first half to eventually emerge a winner. Isle Of Dogs and Incredibles 2 got Animated Feature nods, First Reformed was up for Original Screenplay, Avengers: Infinity War nabbed just a single Visual Effects nomination despite being the top boxoffice draw of the year, Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One competed in that same category, and RBG was up for Best Documentary Feature and Best Song. In 2017, Jordan Peele’s February release, Get Out took four nominations including Best Picture, and won for Original Screenplay. In 2014 Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was up for Best Picture despite a March release, and won four Oscars along the way.
But 2019? Not looking quite that good yet.
Some pundits point to the massive success, critically and financially, of the big Avengers final bow, Avengers: Endgame, and the film is just hovering under Avatar as the biggest of all time at this point. I did hear from publicists repping the movie in various capacities pushing the idea that this could also be an Oscar contender, but it seems unlikely an Academy that has pretty much completely ignored this series will start the love now. Yes, Black Panther turned the tide for Marvel but it had gravitas, social significance, and a huge campaign. Will Disney do the same here? It is a long shot to get in the top race at best. Acting-wise Robert Downey Jr. is getting buzz in some quarters for his exit as Iron Man but….
Last year Bohemian Rhapsody proved musical biopics using popular songs could be big boxoffice and big at the Oscars where it won four including Best Actor for Rami Malek, and was nominated for Best Picture (its only loss). But it was released in the prime November period, and it will take a very big showing at the Golden Globes and other precursors to put movies like Rocketman or even Danny Boyle’s Yesterday to even land a long shot position in the Picture race, since critics were mixed. Still Rocketman’s Taron Egerton deserves to break into the Best Actor race, and he has a good shot of doing that. Playing iconic singers usually works and he did his own singing as Elton John. Jamie Bell was excellent in support as Bernie Taupin.
Can Toy Story 4 be the one movie to emerge from the first six months with a Best Picture nomination? At 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes it is currently the highest ranking non-docu film on RT. Toy Story 3 did it, while also taking Best Animated Feature. It seems more unlikely to repeat this time around as the latter film was widely considered at the time, nine years ago, the finale of a trilogy. An animated feature nomination is a given though, with competition from March’s How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World probably being the strongest bet from the first half of the year to also land a nod in that category. I would add the delightful The Secret Life Of Pets 2, but critical indifference and box office shortfall (compared to the first one) probably doom it and that’s a shame.
For my money the one movie I have seen that should have Oscar written all over it is A24’s The Last Black Man In San Francisco, a haunting film about a young black man on a quest to find home again, against the realities of gentrification in the neighborhood in which he grew up. The entire cast is awards worthy including star Jimmie Fails, and as his friend, Jonathan Majors should rate serious supporting consideration. This is the little gem that could, and if it can hang on could be the one movie from 2019’s first half (albeit June) to make the Best Picture cut. A24 will have to put big bucks behind that cause though.
Performance wise Jessie Buckley would be a major contender as the messed up Scottish mother pursuing a dream of country music stardom in Wild Rose , but the movie is struggling to find a deserved audience. A Golden Globe Musical/Comedy nod could help. Emma Thompson is sensational in Late Night, but I doubt Amazon will put the needed money behind a campaign for a movie that has not met box office expectations despite the hefty price tag they paid for it in Sundance. Similarly a Globe nod could help. Mary Kay Place was excellent in the very small drama, Diane but it is probably a bigger bet at the Indie Spirits. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart would be a welcome presence at any awards show, but that film’s best Oscar chance lies in Original Screenplay, if anything. I loved Isabelle Huppert in Focus Features’ creepy Greta, but the movie came and went. Lupita Nyong’o made a mark in Jordan Peele’s Us, but I don’t see that film, successful as it was, repeating the Get Out trajectory at the Oscars. It wasn’t in the same league. Julianne Moore was excellent in the English language remake of Gloria, but if the original 2013’s movie’s Chilean star, Paulina Garcia couldn’t crack the Oscars,as she should have, I doubt Moore will have the mojo from the March release.
The always vibrant Documentary Feature race probably has some of the best possibilities to be remembered come voting time including Ron Howard’s Pavarotti, The Biggest Little Farm, Maiden, Echo In The Canyon, and the highly successful Apollo 11 which at 99% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes currently has the highest ranking on RT of any Oscar-eligible 2019 release (Amazing Grace is also at 99% fresh but had a 2018 qualifying run last Fall).
So will anything released in theatres between January 1 and June 30 break through into the Best Picture race? Critical praise can only so far with the Academy crowd, and memories aren’t that long. Time and the quality of the bulk of Oscar contenders still to come in the next six months will tell the tale. Right now I wouldn’t bet the biggest little farm on it but there’s always hope, isn’t there?