Oscar race: What we know and what we don’t know going into Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Oscar race: What we know and what we don’t know going into Aspen

Film history likely won't most remember 2017 as much for anything produced on screen, but instead for the landscape-shifting reckoning that has come in the wake of revelations about sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein invented the modern Academy Awards campaign. Now he has been expelled from it and may end up in prison.

Hopefully, the disclosures about Weinstein and a growing list of other men in Hollywood abusing their power will lead to a better future for the movies — one where women are more equally represented behind the camera, and where actresses don't see their careers cut short by predators such as Weinstein sidelining and silencing them.

Making year-end best-of lists, arguing about the best performances of the year or handicapping the Oscar race as usual seems a bit absurd as 2017 comes to a close. And yet, there is so much worth seeing on the big screen and many achievements worth celebrating.

Aspen Film's Academy Screenings — the annual holiday season binge of the year's best for Oscar voters and the general public — opens on Dec. 19 and runs through Dec. 30.

The lineup includes 29 of the year's best, from Best Picture hopefuls like "The Post" and "Get Out" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" to a robust lineup of eight global titles vying for the Best Foreign Film trophy and documentaries such as the sports doping expose "Icarus" and citizen journalist-made film out of Syria "City of Ghosts."

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Here's a rundown of what to watch for at the Academy Screenings.

WHAT'S GOOD

Well, they're all good. The Academy Screenings lineup was selected by Aspen Film programmer Jane Schoettle, who notes that the Oscar race has been remarkably wide open this year. Often by mid-December, there are already a handful of films that have risen to the top as contenders. Not so this year.

"It is both unusual and gratifying that there are not necessarily dominant frontrunners — in almost every category — in the race towards Oscar," Schoettle says. "I feel this creates an exciting atmosphere for both our 'civilian' audience and Aspen's guild members, encouraging them to delve deeply into our programming and experience these contenders on the big screen."

"Lady Bird" and "The Florida Project" are at the top of many critics' lists, and each is in an afternoon slot at Academy Screenings (Dec. 21 and 22, respectively). Along with "Dunkirk" and "Call Me By Your Name," which aren't playing Academy Screenings, these two are the closest things to frontrunners for Best Picture nominations. All 10 of the primetime movies at Academy Screenings have a shot at the top prizes.

Performance-wise in the primetime slots, ones to watch include Margot Robbie's turn as Tonya Harding in "I, Tonya" (Dec. 19), Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman in "The Beguiled" (Dec. 20), Daniel Kaluuya in "Get Out" (Dec. 29) and Frances McDormand in "Three Billboards" (Dec. 30).

My vote for the best movie of the year is Dee Rees' "Mudbound," an epic about structural racism that does everything great cinema should do — from visual storytelling to its performances to its writing. It's an epic about two families — one black and one white — during and after World War II in rural Mississippi. Released online by Netflix, it received a very limited theatrical release and, as a result, it hasn't been a huge part of the Oscar conversation. The industry still seems bent on punishing great films for being distributed by Netflix, unfortunately. Whether it ends up with a lot of nominations — its best bet looks like Mary J. Blige for supporting actress — I think this will soon be hailed as a classic. Do not miss the opportunity to see it on the big screen at Academy Screenings on Dec. 27.

WHAT WE KNOW

There may not be frontrunners, but early critics' prizes — which have been split among several films — tell us some things about where the Oscar race is heading.

"Get Out" won the audience award at the Gotham Awards and has picked up critics' prizes for direction and screenplay (along with Golden Globes nods for best actor and best comedy, for what it's worth). "Lady Bird" won best film from the New York Film Critics Circle along with prizes for Laurie Metcalf's performance and Greta Gerwig's direction. "Call Me By Your Name" won the top prize from the Los Angeles Film Critics, while lead actor Timothee Chalamet has picked up a bunch of critics awards. Meanwhile, "The Post" (Dec. 28) won best film from the National Board of Review.

The oddsmakers at gold derby.com have Metcalf, playing the mom in "Lady Bird," and Willem Dafoe of "The Florida Project," as prohibitive favorites for best supporting actor prizes — the only pseudo-frontrunners to emerge so far. The odds for Best Actress and Best Actor are nearly even.

"Coco" (Dec. 30) and "The Breadwinner" (Dec. 28) have been picking up best animated film prizes this season.

That's basically what we know. There's a lot more we don't know about this Oscar season.

WHAT WE DON'T KNOW

Responding to the #oscarssowhite backlash and calls for more diversity, the Academy expanded membership by nearly 800 this year, after adding more than 600 new voting members last year. This vast expansion of voters means it's time to toss out conventional thinking about what will get nominated and what will win.

It may also mean that the influence of Aspen Film's Academy Screenings will begin to wane. If the industry heavyweights who spend the holidays in Aspen are no longer among the most vital votes to court anymore, the importance of the series could start to dwindle. Maybe. Time will tell.

There are also a few late releases this year that could shake up the Oscar race. Reviews also aren't in yet for "Phantom Thread," Paul Thomas Anderson's fashion drama that includes Daniel Day-Lewis in what he says will be his final performance.

And other than critics who attended a handful of screenings in New York and Los Angeles, most people haven't seen Steven Spielberg's Pentagon Papers drama "The Post" yet. Some are speculating that it could come in and run away with the Academy Awards. It's surely a player for Best Picture and director — as Spielberg always is — along with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in the leads. In what's sure to be a very political awards season, this story of journalists exposing the lies of the White House, and of a powerful woman in the workplace, could end up being the movie we all need in 2017. Or it won't be that good. But we don't know yet. Let's all talk after Academy Screenings.

atravers@aspentimes.com

IF YOU GO …

What: Aspen Film Academy Screenings

Where: Wheeler Opera House & Paepcke Auditorium

When: Dec. 19-23; Dec. 26-30

How much: $20; $15 for Aspen Film members; Free for Academy voters and members of associated guilds

Tickets: On sale Friday, Dec. 15 at the Wheeler box office and http://www.aspenshowtix.com