Shadow and Act 2018 Oscar predictions for black performances and films (Updated)

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October 23rd 2017

The list continues to get smaller, as new information is revealed that influences each prediction. But that also means we're getting into the thick of what is traditionally awards season when it comes to new theatrical openings, learning more about individual titles, and even closer to nomination day (January 23, 2018).

Removed from the list since the last update (May 2017) are:

-- The Mountain Between Us (the Idris Elba drama opened on October 6 to very little fanfare and tepid - at best - reviews, scoring a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

-- Ernest Dickerson’s Double Play (it has yet to be acquired for theatrical distribution in the USA, so it doesn't look like it'll open this year; also, after some international film festival play, it hasn't really registered on any critical scale).

-- The film adaptation of The Personal History of Rachel Dupree (the Viola Davis period drama initially looked like it would be made in early/mid-2017, for a late 2017 release, but it doesn't even appear to have begun filming yet; so we'll look to 2018).

-- Another MACRO-backed project (Charles D. King is on a roll!), the Cynthia Erivo-starring Harriet Tubman feature film which Seith Mann is directing, will likely be a 2018/2019 story.

-- French writer/director Deniz Gamze Ergüven's English-language feature film debut, Kings, which stars Halle Berry, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, but is without US distribution, making it a 2018 story as well.

-- Knock, the Omar Sy-starring French satire (based on the play of the same name, written in 1923 by Jules Romains) is also without US distribution (it opens in France this week); look to 2018, or maybe never, as not every foreign film (no matter the star and acclaim) is guaranteed to receive a theatrical release in the US.

-- And finally, I Am Not a Witch, the much buzzed about debut feature film from BAFTA-nominated Zambian-Welsh filmmaker Rungano Nyoni, which premiered as part of the line-up of the Directors' Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival this year, but is without US distribution at this time, and likely won't be released in the States until 2018.

New additions to the predictions list of possible contenders include:

Get Out Get Out

-- Octavia Spencer is a potential Best Supporting Actress nominee for Guillermo del Toro's much buzzed about The Shape of Water, which has received nothing but heavy praise since it premiered at Venice in late August, as well as after screenings at Toronto and Telluride.

-- A film that I previously ignored (because I didn't think it had a realistic chance of being nominated for an Oscar) is Jordan Peele's Get Out, which has begun picking up some awards season notice where it matters, appearing on a number of early contender lists I've come across, for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director notably.

-- Finally, Margaret Betts (a writer and director - who also happens to be a black woman - that many of you likely have never heard of) may be a contender for the period drama Novitiate (Best Director, Best Original Screenplay), her feature debut.

In terms of what's left to see in 2017, there isn't anything of significance that isn't already on this list, or hasn't been considered. But if you feel differently, please chime in below, in the comments section.

Will #OscarsSoWhite trend again in 2018? It just might, given how little diversity there appears to be in terms of the most likely contenders in each main category, at this juncture. But we can identify a small handful of potentials with respect to Shadow & Act's focus.

Without further ado, here's where we are currently, as of October 18, 2017, in no specific order I should emphasize:

MARSHALL Marhshall

1 - Having already played Jackie Robinson and James Brown, Chadwick Boseman is taking on another real-life icon in a courtroom thriller about Thurgood Marshall. Under the direction of Reginald Hudlin, Boseman stars as the legendary attorney in Marshall, a film that focuses on a case early in the career of the Supreme Court justice, when a nearly bankrupt NAACP sends Marshall to conservative Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur against his wealthy socialite employer in a sexual assault and attempted murder trial. Joining Boseman in front of the camera are Sterling K. Brown as Joseph Spell, the defendant at the center of the above case; Keesha Sharp plays Buster Marshall, Thurgood’s wife; and Josh Gad is Samuel Friedman, the young Jewish lawyer who partners with Marshall on the case. Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens and James Cromwell round out the starring cast. Open Road opened the film on October 13 just in time for awards season. By the way, there’s a second movie featuring Marshall as a young lawyer that’s in the works. Lionsgate is developing an adaptation of Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Devil in the Grove. No ETA on that, however. As for Hudlin's Marshall, its most likely Oscar contention categories are Best Director (Hudlin), Best Actor (Boseman) and Best Supporting Actor (Brown).

Roman J Israel, Esq. Roman J Israel, Esq.

2 - Denzel Washington stars in Dan Gilroy’s legal drama Roman J Israel, Esq., the writer/director’s follow-up to his critically-acclaimed indie thriller, Nightcrawler. With comparisons being made to Sidney Lumet’s 1982 classic The Verdict, in which Paul Newman plays a lawyer who attempts to save his own career by taking on a medical malpractice case, Washington leads as an attorney dealing with a major change at his firm when he finds out some unfavorable things about his late partner, and decides to right his wrongs. Jennifer Fox, who produced Gilroy’s brother Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton and Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (both strong, critically-acclaimed dramas; Clayton received multiple Oscar nominations and won one) are also producing Roman J Israel, Esq. So there's talent here both in front of and behind the camera. Among its producers and backers are Charles D. King's MACRO, which also backed Denzel Washington's multiple Oscar-nominated Fences. In terms of most likely Oscar contention categories for Roman J Israel, Esq., Washington, as always, just might be there on Oscar night with a nomination for Best Actor.

3 - Another MACRO-backed film, Netflix acquired Dee Rees’ latest directorial effort, Mudbound for $12.5 million, after its successful Sundance Film Festival premiere in January, where it was met with heavy praise from critics and audiences alike, with some already considering it as a potential Oscar contender for 2018 before the festival even ended. A big-screen adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s 2009 novel of the same name, which is set in 1946 in the wake of World War II, the story follows the fates of two very different families that collide while struggling to make their dreams come true in the Mississippi Delta. When two celebrated soldiers return home, their unlikely friendship complicates the already fraught relationship between the families. This epic pioneer story stars Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund and Jonathan Banks. Netflix will release the film in November, both theatrical and streaming simultaneously, as Netflix has done with other feature film acquisitions it’s made in recent years. Potential Oscar categories include Best Picture, Best Director (Rees), Best Supporting Actor (Mitchell), Best Supporting Actress (Blige), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Rees, Virgil Williams).

Garrett Hedlund, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan appear in Mudbound by Dee Rees, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. © 2016 Sundance Institute |photo by Steve Dietl. Mudbound

4 - Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is a film that I almost removed from the list because it didn't catch fire when it was released in August, the way that one would expect for any Oscar-caliber film to do. But a few members of its ensemble cast continue to appear on awards season expert lists, and probably shouldn't be ignored. Also worth noting, Bigelow and Boal's previous collaboration, Zero Dark Thirty, received five Oscar nominations including best picture and best screenplay, Best Supporting Actor. Namely Algee Smith might be a contender for Best Actor, and John Boyega for Best Supporting Actor. The likelihood for either is not very high, given that it really is more of an ensemble cast drama, and there's some strong competition in both categories. But that's why we play the game, right? Bigelow directed the crime drama from an original screenplay by Mark Boal, which is set against the backdrop of Detroit’s devastating riots that took place over five haunting summer days in 1967.

Detroit Detroit

5 – French-Senegalese filmmaker Alain Gomis' Félicité, is Senegal's submission for Best Foreign Language Film. And while it's not a lock for a nomination in that category, the film has received a lot of buzz since it made its world premiere at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, where it won the Silver Bear – Grand Jury Prize. It's made stops at almost every prestigious, awards season international film festival since then, including the Toronto International and New York Film Festival. The France/Senegal/Belgium/Germany/Lebanon co-production was shot in Kinshasa (DRC) and Senegal, and stars Véronique Beya Mputu, Gaetan Claudia and Mpaka Longi, in a story written by Gomis, Olivier Loustau and Delphine Zingg, that centers around a single mother, the titular Félicité, a singer in Kinshasa living with Samo, her 16-year-old son, who is at risk of losing his leg from an accident, unless she can come up with the money to pay for the operation. It’s Gomis’ 4th feature film in about 15 years, and will be released in USA theaters on October 27.

Félicité FELICITE

6 - Premiering on ABC on April 28, John Ridley’s Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 also received a theatrical release a week earlier, Friday April 21, opening in New York and Los Angeles. This marked the first theatrical release for ABC News. It was a bit early in the year for an Oscar contender release, but one wonders whether ABC and Ridley have had their sites on a potential Oscar nomination for the film, hence what would essentially count as an Oscar-qualifying run, one week before the film premiered on television. Oscar contenders are typically released during the last quarter of the year, but, as you'll recall, this year's Best Documentary Oscar winner (O.J.: Made in America) received a similar limited theatrical run in May 2016. Pegged to the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles uprising, the feature documentary takes a unique and in-depth look at the years and events leading up to the city-wide violence that began April 29, 1992, when the verdict was announced in the Rodney King case. The documentary features exclusive interviews with eyewitnesses and people directly involved in the events from diverse neighborhoods across the city, including black, white, Hispanic, Korean, and Japanese Americans. A team of veteran ABC News journalists join Ridley in the production of Let It Fall, led by producer Jeanmarie Condon, who has been honored for her work on documentaries and in-depth coverage of current events with multiple DuPont, Peabody, Murrow, and Emmy Awards. In terms of possible Oscar categories it might contend for, the Best Documentary Feature is its best bet.

Omara Portuondo_Papi Oviedo005 (l to r) Omara Portuondo (vocals) and Papi Oviedo (Tres player) perform in the documentary BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB: ADIOS, a Broad Green Pictures release. Credit: Dragan Tasic / Broad Green Pictures Buena Vista Social Club: Adios

7 - Well-timed, I imagine, given the Obama administration's announced intentions to re-establish relations with Cuba. Although there's still no clear indication of whether the current admin under Trump will continue what Obama started, or reverse whatever progress has already been made. Broad Green Pictures' follow-up to the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary Buena Vista Social Club, which catapulted Cuba’s vibrant music and culture onto the global stage, opened in USA theaters on May 26. Titled Buena Vista Social Club - Adios, Academy Award nominee Lucy Walker directed the sequel. This time around, with the band on their final and hugely ambitious world tour, the 5 original band members take audiences on an intimate journey, revealing their personal and professional highs and lows since the 1999 film, while remembering the infamous and beloved band members no longer with us. The tour culminates in a series of homecoming concerts in Havana. Set against the political, social and cultural backdrop of this rapidly evolving time in Cuban history, this film cements the legacy of the band, the musicians and the music, at the end of an era. The original 1999 film was an Oscar nominee, and this sequel could very well be one as well in the Best Documentary Feature category.

The Shape of Water The Shape of Water

8 - Octavia Spencer is a potential Best Supporting Actress nominee for her performance in Guillermo del Toro's much buzzed about The Shape of Water, which has received nothing but heavy praise since it premiered at Venice in late August, as well as after screenings at Toronto and Telluride. An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War-era America circa 1962, the story follows lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins), trapped in a life of isolation, working in a hidden high-security government laboratory. Elisa's life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment. The fantasy adventure film set for a December 8 release in the US.

9 - A film that I previously ignored (because I didn't think it had a realistic chance of being nominated for any Oscars) is Jordan Peele's Get Out, which has begun picking up some awards season notice where it matters, appearing on a number of early contender lists I've come across, specifically for Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture and Best Director. How realistic are the film's chances in either category? It's anyone's guess at this point; genre films are very rarely considered for Oscar, and it was released early enough in the year that it may no longer be on the radar of some voters who are buried in typical awards season fare currently. But that could change if distributor Universal mounts a strong Oscar campaign for it, and so far, I haven't really seen much of one. But in a time when diversity is of utmost importance for the industry, there's a chance that a film like this might sneak into either of the above 3 categories; especially Best Picture, since its a 10-selection category.

10 - Finally, you may not be familiar with Margaret Betts (a writer and director, and a black woman); but you should get familiar, as her feature directorial debut - the period drama Novitiate - has drawn much critical praise on the international film festival circuit, including stops at Sundance and Toronto, and may be a contender in the Best Director and Best Original Screenplay categories (she wrote and directed the film). Starring Oscar winner Melissa Leo and relative newcomer Margaret Qualley, the film is set in the early 1960s, during the era of Vatican II, and follows a young woman in training to become a nun who struggles with issues of faith, the changing church and sexuality. Sony Pictures Classics will open Novitiate in US theaters on October 27. We'll certainly be watching for what Ms. Betts does next.

In closing, in terms of what's left to see in 2017, there isn't anything of significance that isn't already on this list, or hasn't been considered. There are no more top film festivals to look forward to this year, where new films might premiere; and release dates are pretty much set for everything else, unless those films still without US distribution suddenly are picked up and set for release in the next 2 1/2 months, which I think is unlikely. But if you feel differently, please chime in below, in the comments section.

Will #OscarsSoWhite trend again in 2018? It just might, given how little diversity there appears to be in terms of the most likely contenders in each main category, at this juncture. But we can at least identify a handful of potentials with respect to Shadow & Act focus.

A final list will be published by the end of this year.

by Tambay Obenson on October 23rd 2017
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