Will this be the year a major blockbuster gets the Academy’s attention?

It’s obviously far too early in the year to seriously talk about the Oscars. There are still five months left in the year, and studios big and small haven’t yet opened the floodgates to allow their Oscar bait and prestige films to wash over critics and fans. We’re still months away from seeing the likes of Suburbicon, Murder on the Orient Express, Darkest Hour, The Papers, The Greatest Showman, and Phantom Thread—not to mention the more offbeat possibilities like The Shape of Water and Downsizing.

Obviously I’m not saying all of these movies are going to be excellent and go on to receive love and adoration from the Academy at the Oscars, but many of them seem poised to. There have been a couple outside shots already released this year, including Jordan Peele’s breakout hit Get Out, The Big Sick, and Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. But what about the blockbusters?

It’s been nearly a decade since the Academy expanded Best Picture nominees from the five nominee limit of other categories. It’s a move that was made to allow some major blockbusters to get recognition alongside the smaller, typical Oscar movies, but it hasn’t really panned out that way. Blockbuster nominees have been few and far between, with films like Inception and Mad Max: Fury Road rarely breaking in among the ranks of dramas and quirky, almost auteur level films. Even then, they’re films made by visionary directors, not more typical genre fare taken to the next level—which is what I’m talking about today.

2017 has seen the release of a couple high quality blockbusters (with more on the way) that are clearly unconventional picks for Academy Awards, but that doesn’t make them any less deserving.

Logan poster
© 20th Century Fox

James Mangold’s Logan, written by Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green, is a long shot to say the least. It’s as much a character drama as it is a superhero blockbuster, though, featuring a more nuanced performance from Hugh Jackman than most superhero movies allow for. Jackman’s Logan has suffered for a long time, and he’s a broken man essentially forced into a redemption story against his will. Jackman brings that pain to his performance throughout the film, from Logan’s personal losses before and after the film’s beginning through the pain and loss forced onto others just for being in his vicinity.

Logan features a story of redemption mixed into a downward spiral, and it’s more akin to Oscar fare like The Revenant than it is to the previous X-Men films. It also features a tremendous performance from Patrick Stewart as the aging, ailing Charles Xavier. Stewart and Jackman obviously have chemistry with each other, but it’s never been better than in Logan.

Here’s my review of Logan.

War for the Planet of the Apes poster
© 20th Century Fox

War for the Planet of the Apes is still fresh, currently less than a week into its theatrical run, but recency bias doesn’t factor in here. War is a tremendous feat in blockbuster storytelling, and Caesar’s arc in it isn’t unlike Logan’s. He’s also a broken character, though this instance is the result of a specific attack in addition to a lifetime of pain and struggling.

It’s a war drama and a character study, a deeply personal story with a massive scale. It’s the perfect combination of summer fun and deep, thought-provoking cinema. The fact that War features possibly the best motion capture performance of all time from Andy Serkis gives it a technical edge in addition to its other (numerous) strengths.

It hasn’t set the box office afire like the typical blockbuster, but it’s a huge movie with a budget to match—and an extremely high level of quality. The fact that it might not get the love it deserves at the box office or awards shows could be one of the biggest bummers of the year.

Here’s my review of War for the Planet of the Apes.

BladeRunner 2049 isn’t out until October, so this section is obviously full of speculation. But the team behind the camera, including director Denis Villeneuve and writers Hampton Francher (a writer on Blade Runner) and Michael Green (yes, the same one with a screenwriting credit on Logan),

Oh, and here’s the (jaw-dropping) latest trailer. Of course you’ve probably already seen it.

 

There’s not much to say about Blade Runner 2049 right now since we have no idea how good the whole thing is, but I’m confident in saying that it could be among the year’s best. Everything we’ve seen so far damn near guarantees it. I’m not even sure it belongs in this discussion, though, considering it has the benefit of a 35 year legacy from its predecessor and it features one of the best filmmakers of the past few years behind the camera.

Notice that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk isn’t on this list. It doesn’t need to be. It’s a World War II story from one of the most consistent and exciting directors of the last twenty years and it’s getting tons of critical acclaim. It’s going to do just fine at the Oscars.

What movies do you think deserve to get some recognition at next year’s Oscars? Do you even care? Let me know in the comments.

 

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