NEW YORK, July 20, (AP): The stranglehold that autumn prestige films have on Oscar season just might be wilting in the summer sun.
Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic “Dunkirk” hits theaters Friday, but the overflowing reviews have already made it abundantly clear: It’s a major Oscar contender and a best-picture front-runner — even in July.
And “Dunkirk,” which analysts expect to debut this weekend with $60 million-plus in domestic ticket sales, might not be the only box-office hit to crash this year’s awards season. The zeitgeist-grabbing sensations “Get Out” and “Wonder Woman” could also be players come Academy Awards time.
It is, of course, exceptionally early to handicap the Oscars. And it’s far from uncommon for early breakouts to recede once the fall film festivals start firing out heavily anticipated releases from Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors. Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson and Alexander Payne are just some of those waiting in the wings this year.
But any influx from the rest of the calendar year would be a welcome change of pace for an awards season that has in recent years only further solidified as a predominantly September-December affair. Last year, August’s “Hell or High Water” was the earliest best-picture nominee.
Aside from spreading out what are potentially some of the year’s best movies, any awards love for the likes of “Dunkirk,” “Get Out” or “Wonder Woman” would give the Oscars something it has often lacked in recent years: major release crowd-pleasers.
“It’s not really a factor for us, the awards thing,” says Emma Thomas, producer of “Dunkirk.” “This film we primarily thought of as an entertainment. For us, we make films for audiences. My feeling is always: If your film works and people engage with it, anything that comes later is a huge bonus.”
“Dunkirk” may bear the look and seriousness of an Oscar season film, right down to the wool coats. But shot in 70mm IMAX, it also has much of the visceral spectacle of a summer movie. Thomas and Nolan have also previously had success July. It’s when they released “Inception” (which earned eight Oscar nods and won four awards) and “The Dark Knight.” The Oscar oversight of the latter, released in 2008, was seen as a major motivation for the expansion of the best-picture category the next year from five nominees to up to 10.
“We’ve had very good luck in July in the past and we like this date. It’s an accessible movie,” said Thomas. “When you put movies at the end of the year, you’re sort of saying something about it. You’re almost limiting it, in a way, and we don’t want to limit the film.”
The Oscars haven’t been without crowd-pleasers. “La La Land” made more than $440 million globally. “Hidden Figures” charmed North American audiences to $230 million. The year before, the May-released “Mad Max: Fury Road” crashed the Academy Awards with 10 nominations and six wins.
“Dunkirk” may be a similar force in craft categories. Its ensemble nature may leave less room for acting attention, though recent Oscar-winner Mark Rylance is a standout. More notably, Nolan seems likely to finally land his — some would say overdue — first directing nomination. He has already earned the praise of fellow filmmakers like Rian Johnson (who called the film “an all timer”) and Jon Favreau (“believe the hype”).
Other summer movies might also shake up the Oscars. The acclaimed romantic comedy “The Big Sick” has the backing of Amazon, which last year similarly acquired “Manchester by the Sea” at Sundance and made it an Oscar heavyweight. “The War for the Planet of the Apes” even has some buzz, including pleas for considering Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the ape Caesar. Such an honor, while unlikely, would be a game-changer in an increasingly digitized movie world.
Jordan Peele’s horror sensation “Get Out” ($252 million worldwide after opening in late February) could well be the first horror film nominated for best picture since 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” At the least, Peele should be a likely nominee for best screenplay.
Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” has been an even bigger box-office dynamo and earned nearly as good reviews as “Get Out.” Whereas Peele’s film was received as landmark film for its fusion of genre with a satirical critique of race in America, “Wonder Woman” set a new record for top-grossing film by a female director. Jenkins and star Gal Gadot could well be in the hunt. The unlikely awards run last season of “Deadpool” suggested voters may be open to awarding a superhero film.
Get ready to know the name Tiffany Haddish. If there were such a thing as Comedy Oscars, she would win for “Girls Trip .”
Like Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids,” Haddish steals this film from her big-name co-stars: Queen Latifah, Regina Hall and Jada Pinkett Smith. All four actresses have shining moments of comedy and heart in director Malcolm D. Lee’s ode to female friendships, thanks to the winning script by Kenya Barris (“black-ish”) and Tracy Oliver (“Barbershop: The Next Cut”), but Haddish emerges as the most memorable. She has a scene with a grapefruit that will go down in the annals of hilarious movie moments.
The “Girls Trip” here is to the Essence Festival in New Orleans. A group of friends who called themselves the Flossy Posse back in college in the ’90s travel there for a long-awaited reunion after one of their members, self-help guru Ryan (Hall), is invited to give the festival’s keynote speech. She’s joined by her longtime besties: Journalist Sasha (Latifah), who runs a celebrity-gossip website; Lisa (Pinkett Smith), an uptight, divorced nurse with two young children, and brash, outspoken Dina (Haddish), who hasn’t stopped partying since graduation.
Ryan and her retired football star husband Stewart (Mike Coulter) have billed themselves as the couple that has it all, and they have a lot riding on her Essence appearance: They’re poised to sign a major corporate contract at the festival that would bring them Oprah-level success. Their agent (Kate Walsh), who insists on awkwardly using street slang, warns Ryan against getting too “turned” over her girls’ weekend, lest she jeopardize the deal.
The posse’s trouble begins when Sasha receives a paparazzi picture of Stewart. Could it be the perfect couple isn’t so perfect after all? What about their lucrative contract?
The women in “Girls Trip” are so distinct and well-drawn, they’re universally relatable. Everyone has a wild friend they wish was like Dina or one as tightly wound as Lisa. Many of us know people so driven they might compromise their personal standards to achieve more public goals.
If only we were all as glamorous as Sasha, who consistently rocks incredible hairdos, as composed as Ryan or as riotous as Dina, who’s like Id personified. Her enumeration of what she plans to do to Stewart in revenge for his scandalous photo is another scene-stealing moment. Her plans are so graphic, they can’t be printed here. The Flossy Posse is #friendshipgoals.
“Girls Trip” definitely earns its R rating. There’s crude language, overt jokes, drug references. And, girl, is it funny. Nothing is gratuitous. The story is both outrageous and realistic, grounded by the women’s friendship.
Because the film was actually shot during the Essence Festival, there are countless cameos. Look for Mariah Carey, Maxwell, Ava DuVernay, Terry McMillan, Iyanla Vanzant, Morris Chestnut, Faith Evans, Common, Diddy, Ne-Yo, Doug E. Fresh and many others.