The 90th Academy Awards will take place on March 4, 241 days from today.

Cannes aftermath
The annual Cannes film festival wrapped up May 28, with the Palme d’Or going to The Square, a Swedish film that “explores Swedish art, commerce, politics and national identity.” The big news coming out of the festival, though, was that Sophia Coppola became only the second woman (and first in 56 years) to win Best Director for The Beguiled, starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell. Kidman won a special 70th festival anniversary prize, honoring her for The Beguiled as well as other festival films The Killing of a Sacred Deer and How to Talk to Girls at Parties as well as the TV series Top of the Lake.

(I was excited about Coppola’s win until I read this Vulture article. In terms of prestige, Best Director is really fourth-place; Lovelace won the “third-place” Jury Prize, 120 Beats Per Minute won the “second-place” Grand Prix and The Square won the Palme d’Or. All were directed by men. As the article states, “Best Director is considered such a nonessential prize — unlike those other three — that there have been 12 separate years when the jury decided not to award it … Coppola’s Best Director prize, in essence, is Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote; nice work, but at the end of the day she has to watch some dude be president.” There has only been one female Palme d’Or winner in the festival’s history — Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993.)

There was a minor scandal involving Netflix’s film Okja. Directed by Bong Joon-ho, it is apparently a “fantasy film about a genetically modified pig” starring Tilda Swinton. It had a tough crowd, because people in France and at Cannes particularly have a lot of dislike for Netflix. (“The size of the screen should not be smaller than the chair you’re sitting on,” Cannes jury president Pedro Almodóvar said.) Netflix’s presence at the festival spurred a rule change to require future films in competition to have a French theatrical release. When the movie began to play, there were “loud boos” from the audience (and some cheers); this was enhanced by a technical error that mangled the film’s framing for the first few minutes. Cannes later apologized, though some in the audience claimed it was a conspiracy to sabotage Netflix. (For an article on the grand history of “le booing,” see the New York Times.)

Other highlights included Wonderstruck (directed by Carol‘s Todd Haynes and apparently very good), The Florida Project (according to Variety, a “unanimously adored breakout from the festival’s Directors’ Fortnight sidebar that, if some trusted colleagues are to be believed, could prove an indie sleeper in the Beasts of the Southern Wild mold”) and Good Time (which had a “career peak” performance from Robert Pattinson).

Oscar bloggers agree that while Cannes can bring hype to a film, Cannes can’t usually lead that film to Oscar victory. Looking at Cannes-Oscar history, only one Palme d’Or winner has ever won Best Picture — Marty in 1955 — and the last three winners to even earn Best Picture nominations are Amour (2012), The Pianist (2002) and Secrets & Lies (1996). Oscar bloggers agree that nothing this year seems to be particularly likely to maintain momentum until nominations are chosen next January (“For this critic, it’s been a thrilling festival for cinema, and the quietest one for Oscar buzz in the eight years I’ve been attending,” writes Variety) and Todd McCarthy has several fun, disparaging things to say about the contenders (he considers The Beguiled, for example, “a lackluster rehash of a very good 1971 Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood film that really has nothing new to add”). They generally cite Wonderstruck as the film with the best chances, but I wouldn’t go to Vegas with this one just yet.


Mid-year check-in

Welcome to July, the seventh month of the year. If awards-contending films were released at a steady pace throughout the year, we should have half of our contenders in theaters already. But due to the short memories of Oscar voters, films vying for an Academy Award are typically shown at festivals in the late summer and fall and released to the public in November and December.

What’s out so far that could potentially make it to March 4? An article on Deadline makes the case for Wonder Woman, Logan, War for the Planet of the Apes and Get Out, four films in genres not typically rewarded at the Oscars. (For more on Wonder Woman, see below.) There are a few recent releases making some noise, especially Sundance hit The Big Sick (97% on Rotten Tomatoes) and Baby Driver (97% on Rotten Tomatoes.) And there are some festival releases, like the Cannes films mentioned above. A more niche question looks at standout actors from the first half of the year’s films. Variety lists contenders in all of the categories, including Sam Elliot in The Hero and Sally Hawkins in Maudie. (And Patrick Stewart in Logan, but we’ll see where that goes.)

Hold tight. There are a lot of films still to come, including Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, released later this month.


Spotlight on Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman was released May 15 and has proved to be a box office sensation and critical darling. In its opening weekend, the film took in $103.3 million domestically and $228.3 million in total worldwide. (A few weeks in, it has now made more than $700 million.) Furthermore, the film has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 76% on Metacritic. Some other stats and firsts, largely from here and here:

  • It was the best opening ever for a female director, beating out the openings of the first two Thor and Captain America movies, as well as the first Iron Man (but not, regrettably, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice)
  • It’s the first female-led superhero movie since Elektra in 2005 and the first in the recent DC and Marvel universes
  • It’s the first superhero movie directed by a woman (Gina Prince-Bythewood will soon become the first woman of color to direct one, with the Spider-Man spinoff Silver & Black)
  • Patty Jenkins is only the second female director to make a movie with a budget of more than $100 million (Ava DuVernay will become the third with A Wrinkle in Time)

There was a packed Academy screening (“I’ve never seen more people at an Academy screening,” said one person; “Last time I saw a crowd like this here was for The Force Awakens,” said another) and Jenkins and star Gal Gadot earned big applause. Members’ takes were enthusiastic, with one claiming that it was a “hard film for the Academy to ignore” and that “it could actually garner a Best Picture nomination.”

Could a superhero movie really get nominated? It all comes down to the recent changes in Best Picture voting. Take it away, Sasha Stone:

The closest a superhero movie ever came to being nominated was The Dark Knight. After it was excluded from a Best Picture nomination, the Academy sensed a public backlash, so they expanded their Best Picture list to ten nomination slots and ten nominees for Best Picture. Voters chose ten movies on their nomination ballots. The new freedom that they had with ten openings allowed voters to step outside their wheelhouse and pick a wider variety of films, like long-neglected sci-fi genre, lower-budget indies, perhaps even superhero movies and animated features (no animated feature has been nominated since they shrunk the nominations ballot back to five choices).

But the change lasted for only two years as many voters complained that they had trouble naming more than five; others felt ten was pushing it. So a compromise was struck. Each voter ranks five films, but the Academy advances those with the mo passionate support, nominating any film ranked the highest on at least 5% of all ballots. So the final number of Best Picture nominees can end up being between five and ten, depending on how those #1 votes were distributed. Ever since this compromise system was enacted, there have only been eight or nine nominees. Because this process (by design) tends to exclude movies which lack deep support, with few exceptions the nominated films have returned to more Academy-friendly fare — same range of taste, just more of them.

So even though there are up to 10 nominees, it’s not all that likely that Wonder Woman will be one of them. Anne Thompson played it “safer” and just predicted nominations for Gadot (Best Actress), Chris Pine (Best Supporting Actor) and Jenkins (Best Director). I am hugely skeptical, but if October comes around and we are still talking about this, I am always looking for an Oscars-related Halloween costume.


Spotlight on Wonder Man (it’s Daniel Day Lewis)

On June 20, out of nowhere, Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he was retiring. Day-Lewis is considered to be one of the best living actors and remains the only man to win three Best Actor Oscars (for My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood and Lincoln). (Jack Nicholson and Walter Brennan each have three Oscars, but some were in supporting.) He has already finished filming Phantom Thread, which will be out this year and is now, presumably, his last film. His spokesperson, Leslee Dart, put out a statement:

“Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor. He is immensely grateful to all of his collaborators and audiences over the many years. This is a private decision and neither he nor his representatives will make any further comment on this subject.”

This is not the first time that he has disappeared. Between The Boxer in 1997 and Gangs of New York in 2002, he reportedly moved to Italy and became a shoemaker. No one knows the reason this time around, but Amy Poehler has a theory.

“Obviously he’s not getting the parts he wants, he’s feeling nervous,” she said. “We all go through it.”

(Please watch the entire video. She and Seth Meyers somehow delve into potato chip-related conspiracy theories about his retirement.)


Spotlight on Wonder People (Academy invites)

At the end of June, the Academy invited 774 new members to join the club; if everyone accepts, this will increase the total membership by 10% to 8,427. The invitation list is the largest ever for the Academy. Last year, 683 invitations were issued; the year before, there were just 322; and in the previous decade, there were as few as 115 invitees. This decision is clearly part of an ongoing campaign to increase the diversity of the Academy membership, following two years of #OscarSoWhite. The new list is 39% female (bringing overall female membership from 27% to 28%) and 30% people of color (bringing minority membership from 11% to 13%). Nominees ranged in age from Elle Fanning, 19, to Betty White, 95.

People were generally supportive of the decision, though there were some detractors. It all comes down to who you spotlight in the new membership lists. The Los Angeles Times mentions some foreign filmmakers long unnoticed by the Academy (like Kleber Mendonça Filho, Takashi Miike and Hong Kong humanist Ann Hui) while Scott Feinberg mentions invitees that are very new to the scene (like Gal Gadot and Jordan Peele) and those more famous for TV (like Leslie Jones and Jon Hamm). There was some confusion on Twitter about seeming Oscar favoritism toward the Chrises — Evans, Hemsworth and Pratt got invites but Pine did not. (Turns out Pine was invited in 2015.) There was also some confusion for me when I saw Viggo Mortensen’s name on the list — you automatically get an invite if you are nominated for an Oscar, and Viggo was nominated for Eastern Promises in 2007. According to the Los Angeles Times, he was actually invited for the first time in 2004 but declined, with a representative announcing that “Viggo does not like judging art officially.”


Other news

  • Oscars host: Jimmy Kimmel will be returning as host for the 2018 ceremony. This probably has more to do with what network he is on than how well he did last year.
  • Salma Hayek and mariachi: In the best news coming out of Cannes, Salma Hayek flew in a mariachi band from Paris (?) for a party with all of the famous Mexicans.
  • Pasek and Paul and EGOT: This year, the duo has won a Tony for “Dear Evan Hansen” and an Oscar for the song “City of Stars” from La La Land. Grammys are easy for composers, and they apparently have written a song for The Flash. See here for the “ultimate” EGOT list.
  • A24: A well-written GQ article discusses the studio behind Moonlight, Ex Machina, Room, The Lobster, The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers.
  • Rotten Tomatoes: IndieWire argues that Rotten Tomatoes has ruined film criticism.
  • Oh Tom Cruise, what happened? Tom Cruise was nominated for three Oscars in a decade, for Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Jerry Maguire (1996) and Magnolia (1999). Grantland looks into these movies in the context of The Mummy, the terrible recent Tom Cruise movie.
  • Academy governors: New governors have been chosen, including Whoopi Goldberg. I don’t really have enough interest or time to read this article.
  • Emmys and Oscars: The Academy Awards are often nominated  for Emmy Awards for outstanding special class program category but lose the Emmy to the Tony Awards.

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