As all this happens, more contenders begin creeping out of their limited release hidey holes. I caught up with one such contender this afternoon, The Weinstein Co.'s big hopeful Lion, which hasn't been that healthily represented in first half-dozen-or-so critics awards, but the Academy will rectify that.
The movie is pretty great.
It could easily have succumbed to the typical 'true story' trappings of lesser Oscar bait, but writer Luke Davies and director Garth Davis thoughtfully distill the thematic substance of their source material -- the saga of Indian adoptee Saroo Brierley, who used Google Earth to track down his long lost family 25 years after being separated -- and channel it into a graceful, focused two-act drama. The second act plays almost like a stream-of-consciousness between objective reality and memory, evocatively realized through a rich collage of image and sound (Robert Mackenzie has delivered one of the year's finest mixes here, sure to go overlooked by the CAS and Academy). The performances are quietly effective too. Nicole Kidman, as Saroo's adopted mother has been chalked up as a likely Oscar nominee for weeks, and Dev Patel would be a surefire Best Actor contender if he were in more than half the movie.
I also took the week to catch up with some art house hits from earlier in the year, although to label David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water as "art house" would be a misnomer. His neo-Western is highly accessible entertainment, but with more on its mind than any of 2016's mainstream offerings. Taylor Sheridan's script, in particular, sings on multiple levels as political parable, masculine satire, or exploration of the power dynamics between oppressors and the oppressed;
A marked improvement over his sharp but otherwise hollow screenplay for last year's Sicario.
Stay tuned this week for reactions to the Globe and SAG nominations.
[UPDATE: Catching up with more winter releases]
Despite impressing many a critic at the fall festivals, Jackie is a harder sell to the public (and, one assumes, the Academy) for reasons that are pretty apparent upon viewing. The first English language feature from celebrated Chilean auteur Pablo Larrain is less about America's most fashionable first lady than a chilly essay on legacy and image, scaffolded about a wrought iron from Natalie Portman and underlain by a suite of unique funereal dirges from Mica Levi. Excellent though it is, its meandering psychological vibe hasn't exactly lit awards season afire.
Passengers is... eesh. I guess it's watchable to a point (thanks mostly to Guy Hendrix Dyas' sleek production design), but it's also colossally dumb and borderline creepy. The theoretical chemistry between red hot A-listers Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence does not materialize. The whole thing almost feels like a half-assed spinoff of WALL-E, except with human beings who aren't nearly as cute or expressive.