The Case For Early Best Picture Contenders

There is a decent argument to be made that television was bigger than film in 2017. We posted the trailer for Game Of Thrones season 7 back in March, and sure enough it met the hype. While there was some criticism that season 7 was a little bit messier than past seasons (and more interested in crowd service), it was still a sensational television event. The same can be said of Stranger Things season 2, which was a smash hit on Netflix. We also saw popular new shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, The Deuce, and Mindhunter, to name a few. Can we name as many movies that made an impact this year?

The answer, for most of us who keep a finger on the pulse of entertainment and pop culture, is probably no. However, this is when it’s important to remember the year is far from over. At least a few noteworthy films have come out already, and several more will be heading our way before the end of 2017. It feels like an appropriate time to take stock of the projects that may contend for the top honor at the Academy Awards, and preview the cases that will be made for each of them.

Darkest Hour

Slated for a November 22 release in the United States, Darkest Hour tells the story of Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) coming to power as Britain’s prime minister at the outset of World War II. Specifically, it delves into the story of Churchill’s history-altering decision of whether to attempt to make peace with the Nazis or battle them back. In addition to looking like a powerful historical drama, this film will thrive on what looks to be a career performance from Oldman. The actor supposedly spent 200 hours in a make-up chair while playing the role, and that sort of effort is often rewarded.


Christopher Nolan’s innovative war drama is one of the only potential Best Picture contenders that’s already come out. Unlike Darkest Hour, which approaches World War II from a political angle, Dunkirk recounts the heroic tale of British civilians mobilizing in yachts and fishing boats to cross the English Channel into a war zone and rescue stranded soldiers on a French beach. Many people are already calling this the frontrunner. The cases will be first that it’s about as unique a war movie as we’ve seen in decades, and second that Nolan – recognized by most as one of our most creative filmmakers – has yet to receive a Best Picture nomination for his work.

The Post

The Post will come out in the U.S. just prior to Christmas, and could easily become the frontrunner. Starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep and directed by Steven Spielberg, it will tell the true story of the Washington Post’s race to publish the “Pentagon Papers.” For the case for this one, I’m reminded of a quote by critic Peter Travers last season, when he said that La La Land could be the favorite because it allowed audiences to escape “Trumpmania” for two hours. The Post, a year later, will attempt to succeed by doing the opposite: plunging us into a timely examination of the importance of good journalism in turbulent political times. We’ll have to wait and see if it’s effective.

Call Me By Your Name

Aiming for a November 24 release, this is another film that’s already being considered a contender before many people have seen it. Starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet, it tells the story of a budding relationship between two young men on summer holiday in Italy. The film appears to have scenery beautiful enough to match its powerful subject matter, and should have a chance to sweep audiences away. The case here will again be timeliness, however. With minority groups and the LGBT community having arguably been marginalized in the last year of American politics, Call Me By Your Name could become a valuable celebration.

The Big Sick

If there’s a major dark horse, it’s probably The Big Sick, a summer indie comedy and the passion project of Silicon Valley actor Kumail Nanjiani. Telling the story, in part, of the challenges that people from different ethnic or racial backgrounds can face when dating one another, this too could wind up being pitched as a political winner. That said, The Big Sick could also bring some levity back to Hollywood. Last year we saw a very serious (though perfectly deserving) Best Picture winner in Moonlight, and recently the entire film industry has been thrown into unflattering light in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. The Big Sick winning would not eclipse this nastiness, but it would let us know it’s still okay to have fun with movies.

The Greatest Showman

If there’s a film that could wind up being 2017’s La La Land, it’s probably The Greatest Showman. It’s a project that promises to celebrate performance, revolving around the emergence of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and evidently featuring some incredible song, dance, and acrobatics sequences. And like La La Land, it is an original movie musical. The case here will be oddly like that for The Big Sick: we went serious last year, and things have been dreary lately, so let’s celebrate a pure, fun piece of cinema.

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