Given the number of times Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel mentioned “Black Panther” last Sunday, you’d think the wildly successful Marvel movie was among the best picture nominees.
Nope. But it will be next year.
The Oscars need “Black Panther” way more than “Black Panther" needs validation from the motion picture academy. With the telecast’s ratings in the tank, down nearly 20% from last year, the show is thirsty for relevance with mainstream viewers. Instead of patronizing moviegoers with a staged stunt during the telecast, how about feting a film they love? It’d sure feel better than Armie Hammer shooting a hot dog cannon in your face.
No superhero movie has ever been nominated for best picture. But then, a sci-fi film had never won until “The Shape of Water” prevailed Sunday night, so there’s evidence that the academy — with nearly 1,500 new members in the past two years and another huge set of invitees to come this year — is embracing a new paradigm in evaluating the kinds of movies that can be considered “best.” (See: “Get Out.”)
With its critical acclaim (an 88 score on review aggregator Metacritic) and astounding commercial success, a “Black Panther” best picture nomination would seem a no-brainer, particularly since director Ryan Coogler’s movie will likely have a strong showing in several crafts categories. Production designer Hannah Beachler’s incredible work making Wakanda a reality? Absolutely! Ruth E. Carter’s killer costume design? Yes! Camille Friend and Joel Harlow’s specific, terrific hair and makeup? Of course. Back-to-back nods for history-making cinematographer Rachel Morrison? That’s a rhetorical question, right?
And you’d imagine that the prospect of Kendrick Lamar and SZA performing “All the Stars” on the telecast would be music to the producers’ ears. Nominate it! Nominate Michael B. Jordan’s achingly moving supporting turn. Nominate Coogler. Check all the appropriate boxes!
So, yes, “Black Panther” has one best picture slot locked down. What other movies might join it? Let’s throw some darts and see where they land.
“Boy Erased” (Sept. 28)
Director: Joel Edgerton
Stars: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe
Edgerton wrote and directed this adaptation of Garrard Conley's “Boy Erased: A Memoir.” Growing up in Arkansas, Conley was outed at age 19 and was threatened with being disowned unless he entered into gay conversion therapy. Hedges plays Conley; Kidman and Crowe are cast as his parents. Edgerton is in the film too, playing the lead therapist. Sure to be the subject of much debate and discussion.
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Stars: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan
Van Groeningen’s 2012 Belgian melodrama “The Broken Circle Breakdown” earned many accolades, including an Oscar nomination for foreign-language film. He’s an interesting choice to helm this story about a father trying to help his meth-addicted son. It comes from Plan B Entertainment, the production company behind “Moonlight,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Big Short” and a lot of other great projects, two of which (the Adam McKay movie and “If Beale Street Could Talk”) are also on this list.
“First Man” (Oct. 12)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy
From “City of Stars” to a man on the moon, “La La Land” collaborators Chazelle and Gosling reunite for a drama about astronaut Neil Armstrong. It’s an intriguing departure for both men, and it’ll be interesting to see how (if?) their indie sensibilities expand the biopic form.
“Mary, Queen of Scots” (Nov. 2)
Director: Josie Rourke
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie
Ronan didn’t win the Oscar for “Lady Bird” but will likely have another shot next year as the academy adores movies about the monarchy. Ronan’s chances of joining Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Katharine Hepburn as women who won their Oscars playing queens will depend on how Rourke, artistic director of London’s Donmar Warehouse theater, does in her directorial debut.
“Oh, you’re in for a treat,” Ronan told me in November. “She’s got the goods.”
“Widows” (Nov. 16)
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Liam Neeson, Daniel Kaluuya
Five years after winning the best picture Oscar for “12 Years a Slave,” McQueen returns with this heist thriller focused on a quartet of women trying to pull off the armed robbery that did in their late husbands. McQueen’s movies are fierce and unflinching, and it’ll be interesting to see how he meshes that uncompromising sense of purpose with a film that looks to be his most commercial project to date.
“Untitled Adam McKay Dick Cheney movie” (Dec. 14)
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell
McKay began writing a movie centered on the former vice president shortly after winning the screenplay Oscar for “The Big Short.” Researching Cheney, McKay says he was astounded both by his ambition and the lengths to which he shaped American policy — all from a job that is, historically, inconsequential.
Bale shaved his head, bleached his eyebrows and put on 40 pounds to transform himself into Cheney. Adams plays wife Lynne (fire up those “It’s time for Amy Adams to finally win an Oscar” stories), with Carell cast as defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Rockwell portraying George W. Bush.
“If Beale Street Could Talk” (TBA)
Director: Barry Jenkins
Stars: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Jenkins wrote "Beale Street,” an adaptation of James Baldwin’s fifth novel, along with "Moonlight” during a focused six weeks spent in Brussels during summer 2013. It’s a love story set against the backdrop of racial injustice in 1970s Harlem, with Jenkins saying it possesses a “huge relevance” to what's happening in America right now.
“The Baldwin was more difficult than ‘Moonlight,’ which is weird because there’s much more material to work with,” Jenkins told me in a 2016 interview. “But it’s James Baldwin, so there’s a pressure to get it right.”
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf
Things we know about Cuarón’s first movie since 2013’s “Gravity”: 1) It’s set in Mexico, probably in 1971. 2) It follows a year in the life of a middle-class family. 3) It might depict the Mexican army’s Corpus Christi Massacre of student demonstrators 4) Cuarón describes it as a universal story incorporating personal elements from his childhood 5) It’s going to be incredible because it’s from Alfonso Cuarón.
“The Sisters Brothers” (TBA)
Director: Jacques Audiard
Stars: John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix, Riz Ahmed
French filmmaker Audiard (“A Prophet,” “Rust and Bone”) makes his English-language debut with this adaptation of Patrick deWitt’s darkly comic, gold rush-era western about sibling assassins hired to kill a likable prospector. The novel is weird and funny and gripping, which, combined with Audiard’s odd, intimate style, could make this something special.