The State Of The Oscar Race At The Midpoint

With the month of December finally here, the middle of Oscar season has arrived.

The final month of the year marks an important distinction for films racing to compete for awards, as it puts them right after the ever-important film festivals like Venice, Toronto and Telluride and into the thousands of theaters nationwide. Not only are they competing for the hearts of cinephiles in Hollywood and New York—they’re competing for the dollar and compliments of moviegoers everywhere.

This year that’s achieved mixed results.

Leading the pack is the powerhouse A Star is Born, the Lady Gaga vehicle helmed by four-time Academy darling Bradley Cooper. The film has achieved notability not only due to its critical acclaim (the film currently holds a strong 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), but with strong box office numbers—the film has grossed more than $350 million as of current print, well beyond its modest $36 million budget.

It helps that the film is still in theaters two months after its October release, continuing to market itself as the musical driver of films (as opposed to Bohemian Rhapsody, the polarizing Queen biopic). That gives it legs against  films like Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Beautiful Boy, two films that started strong during awards season but began to quickly fizzle out.

That also hurt films like Damien Chazelle’s First Man, the eagerly-awaited follow up to his back-to-back run of Whiplash and La La Land. The film came out of festivals with strong word of mouth, but when it came to box office expectations, the film underperformed domestically (part of this could’ve been due to a pre-release controversy, in which right-wing politicians derided the film for not showing the American flag being planted into the moon).

However, that doesn’t mean that Cooper’s film has the Academy Awards swept away. It still faces chief contenders in films like Green Book (a segregation story starring Mahershala Ali), which has only expanded its box office as it continues to premiere. There’s also the arrival of late entries into the race, with films like Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns (which has generated strong buzz during its early screenings) and Clint Eastwood’s drug epic The Mule, which has the legend pulling double-duty on both sides of the camera.

Also still in the mix is Marvel’s (and, through them, Disney’s) Black Panther. The film has largely shifted in and out of Oscar buzz since its premiere in February, unusual for a film that premiered so early in the year. However, with its predominantly black cast and cultural impact (along with a reprise in Avengers: Infinity War), the film has established strong legs, with Disney hosting screenings for the film to refresh Academy audiences and push them toward voting.

There’s still much to be seen throughout the season, especially as the results of precursor awards like the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and other guild ceremonies come to light. But with studio powerhouses taking charge, this season looks to incorporate the best of the past seasons in a diverse Best Picture catalog.

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