Over a dinner interview in November, “Moonlight” writer-director Barry Jenkins had a question of his own for me.
“How did you know?”
Jenkins wanted to learn why, back in March 2016, I put “Moonlight” on my list of “10 movies we might be talking about at next year’s Oscars.”
I told him how much I enjoyed his debut feature, “Medicine for Melancholy.” And I noted that any movie backed by both A24 and Plan B Entertainment must be pretty special.
Of course, I didn’t remind him that that list of 10 movies also included “Bleed for This,” “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” and “Julieta,” which, combined, earned exactly zero Oscar nominations.
So, yeah … this sort of raw exercise could be charitably called an inexact science and, more realistically, 10 dart throws. But educated dart throws, guided primarily by a filmmaker’s track record and, in a few cases, ecstatic reviews of movies that have already screened at Sundance.
So here are 10 movies we might be talking about at the 2018 Oscars along with their release dates (when known).
“The Big Sick” (June 23)
Director: Michael Showalter
Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Zoe Kazan
Yes, we know it’s a comedy. And not just a comedy … a romantic-comedy.
So why are we putting it on an Oscar movies list? For starters, it’s a smart take on a clash of cultures that the film’s married co-writers, Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, based on their own relationship. (How’s that for an awards season hook?) The ecstatic reviews at Sundance sparked a bidding war, won by Amazon Studios, who’s all in on this crowd-pleaser.
At Sundance, Times film critic Justin Chang called it “an effortlessly funny and charming romance that subtly deepens into a moving portrait of cross-cultural, cross-generational bonds.” Sounds exactly like the kind of movie the academy is long overdue in honoring. Time to get busy.
“Dunkirk” (July 21)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Fionn Whitehead
Nolan’s first foray into history tells the true story of the massive, miraculous evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, in the early days of World War II.
With Nolan there are no half measures, which, given the subject matter, will be entirely appropriate this time around. The 1940 Dunkirk rescue turned what Winston Churchill called a “colossal military disaster” into a “miracle of deliverance.” Shooting with both Imax and 65-millimeter film cameras, we’d expect Nolan’s “Dunkirk” to capture every inch of the rescue’s horror and triumph. Frequent Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer composed the score.
Untitled Kathryn Bigelow project (Aug. 4)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: John Boyega, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, Hannah Murray, Ben O’Toole
Bigelow won the director Oscar in 2010 for her best picture-winning war film, “The Hurt Locker.” Since then, she has made just one movie — “Zero Dark Thirty,” the controversial political action-thriller also nominated for best picture.
Her new movie, like the other two films, features a screenplay by Mark Boal. Details about the film are beyond scarce. They’re almost nonexistent. Apparently, it’s a crime drama set against the backdrop of the 1967 Detroit riot. Given the pedigree — Bigelow + Boal — do you really need to know more?
“Darkest Hour” (Nov. 24)
Director: Joe Wright
Stars: Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn, John Hurt, Kristin Scott Thomas
Gary Oldman plays British Prime Minister Churchill during the dire days of the Battle of Britain bombing raids, early in World War II. And, yes, 2017 is going to be a banner year for stiff-upper-lip British WWII dramas. Keep calm and carry on.
“Downsizing” (Dec. 22)
Director: Alexander Payne
Payne’s last three movies — “Nebraska,” “The Descendants” and “Sideways” — have earned best picture nominations. This one, a reunion with frequent collaborator Jim Taylor (“Election”), is something of a departure from their signature wry dramas. It’s a big-budget (for Payne), special effects-laden drama about a man who decides his life would be better if he shrunk himself down to a very small size. But it’s not a complete departure for these guys because, as Taylor told me a couple of years ago, the movie contains social satire reminiscent of “Election” and “Citizen Ruth.”
Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson project (TBA)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville
Anderson re-teams with Day-Lewis, who won the lead actor Oscar for the filmmaker’s 2007 epic, “There Will Be Blood." Anderson always holds details of his projects close to the vest. What we do know: It’s a drama set in the couture world of 1950s London. It’s rumored to be based on the life of audacious, uncompromising dressmaker Charles James. It’s shooting right now in Britain under the working title “Phantom Thread.”
“Call Me By Your Name” (TBA)
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Sundance audiences loved this gay romance between a 17-year-old (Chalamet), vacationing with his parents in the Italian countryside, and a tall, handsome scholar (Hammer).
My colleague Justin Chang called the movie a “powerfully erotic and affecting love story, albeit one so closely and intimately observed that the term ‘slow burn’ seems almost inadequate.”
Thus far, academy members have been largely immune to Guadagnino’s luscious, sensual work, which includes “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash.” The response at Sundance indicates this could be his breakthrough. Sony Pictures Classics picked it up prior to the festival and will release it later this year.
Director: Dee Rees
Netflix paid $12.5 million at Sundance for Rees’ sprawling, slow-building drama about the tensions between a white farm family and black sharecroppers in 1940s Jim Crow South. The film’s powerful take on racism made it another festival favorite this year. Chang (dude was everywhere) called “Mudbound” a “vivid, dirt-under-the-nails panorama of 1940s Mississippi farm country.” Expect Netflix to give it a huge awards push.
Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Millicent Simmonds, Oakes Fegley
Todd Haynes’ latest adapts Brian Selznick’s beautiful, illustrated novel about a boy and a deaf girl, separated by 50 years, each longing for escape. (Selznick also wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” the source material for Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.”) Haynes cast Simmonds, a 13-year-old deaf actress, as the girl and shot her scenes as a silent film to capture her perspective. It sounds like another ambitious, unconventional effort from one of cinema’s most gifted directors.
Untitled Adam McKay project (TBA)
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Who knows?
Shortly after winning the adapted screenplay Oscar last year, McKay began writing a drama about former Vice President Dick Cheney. As he read about him, McKay says he was astounded both by Cheney’s ambition and the lengths to which he shaped American policy — all from a job that is, historically, inconsequential.
Ever the optimist, McKay hopes to cast and shoot the film in the spring and have it in theaters by the end of the year. (Fingers crossed. He worked similar, accelerated magic with “The Big Short.”) Plan B will produce, along with McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions. That includes Will Ferrell, who has already played George W. Bush on Broadway and “Saturday Night Live.” Hmmm … perhaps one role in McKay’s film has already been cast.