'Hell or High Water': An Oscar movie for the changin' times

'Hell or High Water': An Oscar movie for the changin' times
Ben Foster, as Tanner Howard and Chris Pine, as Toby Howard, in "Hell or High Water." (Lorey Sebastian / CBS Films / Lionsgate)

The last time a Republican won the White House but lost the popular vote, the Oscars tilted toward escapist fare. Will history repeat itself 16 years later?

Welcome to the Gold Standard, the newsletter from the Los Angeles Times that helps guide you through the ins and outs of the awards season leading up to the Oscars.


I'm Glenn Whipp, The Times' awards columnist and your newsletter host.


Many people are seeing movies a bit differently these days after the election of Donald Trump. Ben Affleck told me Wednesday night that he'd like to go back and dial down a few scenes in his upcoming gangster pic, "Live by Night," because they "feel almost too on the nose." He's referring to the film's themes of immigration and race as seen in the movie's setting of Tampa, Fla., in the 1930s, where, Affleck says, "minorities and immigrants — the people who built this country — were scapegoated."

Ben Foster, Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges star in "Hell or High Water."

Affleck isn't alone in seeing movies with new eyes. I wrote about how Trump's election might affect the ways academy members view the year's awards movies and how the Oscars could look a lot like they did in 2001, when "Gladiator" won best picture. You can read the story here. It also includes my latest predictions, taking into account AFI Fest screenings of "The Comedian" and "Miss Sloane." I also offered some thoughts about why "Hell or High Water" is the film that really speaks to this year's climate of outsider politics. The August release — easily one of the year's best movies — will be out on DVD next week.

Nicole Kidman stars in "Lion."
Nicole Kidman stars in "Lion." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)


The uplifting drama "Lion" tells the true story of an Indian man trying to find his family after 25 years of separation. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and, since then, has racked up numerous audience prizes at festivals in Austin, Texas; Chicago; Denver; and Mill Valley, Calif., to name but a few. (It was runner-up to "La La Land" at Toronto.)

I spoke to Nicole Kidman, who plays the woman who adopts the young Indian boy and loves him unconditionally as he becomes obsessed with finding his former family and making his identity whole. Kidman gives a beautiful performance in the movie and has much to say about the subject of motherhood — something she's obsessed with, in a healthy way. You can read the profile here.

Emma Stone stars in "La La Land." (Dale Robinette / Lionsgate)
Emma Stone stars in "La La Land." (Dale Robinette / Lionsgate) (Dale Robinette / Lionsgate)


Basically it boils down to this: The lead actress category is bursting at the seams with worthy work and the lead actor category is largely bereft of the kind of towering performances that usually populate the field. I break down the four Oscar acting races here.


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