Oscars: 13 Deserving Contenders From 2017 So Far

2017 Oscar Contenders So Far
Illustration: Variety

As we rapidly approach 2017’s midway point, there are already a number of films that deserve to be remembered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when Oscar ballots go out at the end of the year. Academy voters notoriously have short memories, though it’s hardly their fault alone; studios are so obsessed with back-loading the year with prestige product that in the rush, earlier gems are often forgotten.

So we’re here to help. Perhaps members will take a moment to bear these contenders in mind before the awards season glut finally hits.

NOTE: This list spotlights films theatrically released to the paying public. There have been festival standouts that won’t hit theaters until the coming months, and a number would bear mentioning. Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler are all fantastic in Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” for example. And David Lowery’s vision for “A Ghost Story” makes for one of the greatest motion pictures of the year. But we’ll stick to what will hit theaters as of June 30 for this piece’s purposes.

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Best Picture: “The Big Sick”
Don’t dismiss it just because it’s the funniest movie of the year so far, it’s also the most heartfelt and intelligent. Willing to mix big issues with big laughs, the tone is held together perfectly by director Michael Showalter, the outstanding cast and an excellent script. (JR)
Other Standouts: “Baby Driver”; Get Out”; “Logan”; “Okja”

Best Director: Bong Joon Ho (“Okja”)
Netflix’s Cannes entry is a whole lot of movie, and a whole lot of vision. Director Bong Joon Ho dazzles with his deft kinetic touch while also pulling an impressive performance out of young lead Seo-Hyun Ahn to anchor the zany satire. But as ever, Bong proves a master of balancing tonal shifts, ultimately crafting a moving piece of work. (KT)
 Other Standouts: Sofia Coppola (“The Beguiled”); Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”); Jordan Peele (“Get Out”); Trey Edward Shults (“It Comes At Night”)

Best Actor: Sam Elliott (“The Hero”)
The role of an aging star who never realized his greatness fits Elliott like a glove. It’s also a reminder of how underutilized he has been on the big screen. (JR)
 Other Standouts: Richard Gere (“Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”); Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”); James McAvoy (“Split”); Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”)

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins (“Maudie”)
Hawkins is always excellent and reliable, but she outdoes herself portraying Canadian painter Maud Lewis. Crippled by arthritis, married to a rough fisherman (a great Ethan Hawke), Hawkins allows Maud’s joy to shine through. (JR)
 Other Standouts: Jessica Chastain (“The Zookeeper’s Wife”); Anne Hathaway (“Colossal”); Salma Hayek (“Beatriz at Dinner”); Rachel Weisz (“My Cousin Rachel”)

Best Supporting Actor: Patrick Stewart (“Logan”)
Let’s be honest; take away the superhero element and this would be an Oscar slam-dunk. Stewart’s portrayal of Charles Xavier in waning health with a broken mind will break your heart. (JR)
Other Standouts: Sharlto Copley (“Free Fire”); Ethan Hawke (“Maudie”); LilRel Howery (“Get Out”); Ray Romano (“The Big Sick”)

Best Supporting Actress: Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”)
Jordan Peele’s impressive directorial debut deserves a shout-out in virtually every category, but hopefully no one snoozes on Betty Gabriel’s unsettling work as a housekeeper trapped in “the sunken place.” She etches that inner turmoil across her face with such aplomb you simply cannot look away. (KT)
 Other Standouts: Laura Dern (“Wilson”); Holly Hunter (“The Big Sick”); Dafne Keen (“Logan”); Terry Pheto (“A United Kingdom”)

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Best Screenplay: “Shimmer Lake”
Technically ineligible for Oscars as it didn’t receive a theatrical run, that doesn’t stop this twisty thriller from earning our consideration. What sounds like a gimmick — a crime drama told backwards — proves absolutely essential to telling a fascinating story. (JR)
 Other Standouts: “The Big Sick”; “Get Out”; “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”; Split”

Best Cinematography: “Kong: Skull Island”
Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ simian sequel was a bit of a tonal omelette, but one element that gave it an unexpected level of iconography was Larry Fong’s striking photography. Sunburnt vistas and heat-rippled frames sometimes call back to “Apocalypse Now,” but more often they give the film its own intriguing visual identity. (KT)
 Other Standouts: “Alien: Covenant”; “The Beguiled”; “The Lost City of Z”; “Song to Song”

Best Costume Design: “Wonder Woman”
Speaking of iconography, one of the eye-popping elements of Patty Jenkins’ landmark superhero entry is the iconic image actress Gal Gadot strikes as the eponymous Amazon. But beyond Diana Prince’s well-known threads, there’s a whole array of dazzling outfits on the screen, from the battle gear of Themyscira to 1920s fashion and World War I attire. (KT)
 Other Standouts: “Beauty and the Beast”; “The Beguiled”; “The Great Wall”; “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Best Film Editing: “LA92”
Lest we forget, National Geographic’s Emmy-contending L.A riots documentary is also eligible for Oscar consideration this year. Last year “O.J.: Made in America” garnered some attention for its handling of tons of material, and hopefully reminded voters that documentary editing ought to be recognized. Reams of footage were assembled from countless sources to drive this particular version of the story, which was also covered elegantly by director John Ridley in “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992.” (KT)
 Other Standouts: “Baby Driver”; “Get Out”; “Logan”; “Okja”

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Best Production Design: “Beauty and the Beast”
It’s a tall order to match the stunning animation of the original film, but the “Beauty and the Beast” team pulled it off. Every ornate touch, from the Beast’s castle to the world of Belle’s village, was a visual feast. (JR)
 Other Standouts: “The Great Wall”; “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2”; “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”; “Wonder Woman”

Best Sound Editing: “Baby Driver”
Being something of a musical-slash-actioner, Edgar Wright’s latest owes everything to its soundtrack. But more than that, the precision with which sound is layered and cut to enhance the various tracks scattered throughout gives the film an innervating sense of propulsion. When there’s no sound, you’re desperate for it to scream back. (KT)
 Other Standouts: “Free Fire”; “John Wick: Chapter Two”; “Okja”; “Transformers: The Last Knight”

Best Visual Effects: “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
It’s a pity we can’t throw “War for the Planet of the Apes” (July 14) in here, but more on that in due time. Marvel’s latest installment of the “Guardians” franchise doubles down on rendered environments. When you have a character who at times serves as the actual location (I guess you have to see the film to understand), the sky is the limit on VFX. (KT)
 Other Standouts: “Beauty and the Beast”; “Ghost in the Shell”; The Great Wall”; “Okja”

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  1. Oster says:

    “A Quiet Passion” for everything, including most importantly Cynthia Nixon and the screenplay.

  2. Andy says:

    Hugh Jackman deserves a nomination for Logan just as much as Patrick Stewart. In Logan, it’s not only his best performance as Wolverine but his best in his entire career. His performance, especially (spoiler alert) at Charles’ burial really moved me. Seeing him like this made me cry harder than most of last years’ Oscar nominated/winning films combined. His performance shouldn’t be overlooked.

  3. Alex Meyer says:

    My Oscar choices as of right now would look like this:

    Best Actor:
    Woody Harrelson—Wilson
    Charlie Hunnam—The Lost City Of Z
    Daniel Kaluuya—Get Out
    James McAvoy—Split
    David Oyelowo—A United Kingdom

    Best Actress:
    Jessica Chastain—The Zookeeper’s Wife
    Anne Hathaway—Colossal
    Cynthia Nixon—A Quiet Passion
    Rosamund Pike—A United Kingdom
    Emma Watson—Beauty And The Beast

    Best Supporting Actor:
    Daniel Bruhl—The Zookeeper’s Wife
    Michael Fassbender—Alien: Covenant
    Kelvin Harrison, Jr.—It Comes At Night
    LilRel Howery—Get Out
    Jason Sudeikis—Colossal

    Best Supporting Actress:
    Betty Buckley—Split
    Laura Dern—Wilson
    Jennifer Ehle—A Quiet Passion
    Sienna Miller—The Lost City Of Z
    Allison Williams—Get Out

    Best Director:
    Ridley Scott—Alien: Covenant
    Bill Condon—Beauty And The Beast
    Jordan Peele—Get Out
    James Gray—The Lost City Of Z
    Amma Asante—A United Kingdom

    Best Picture:
    Alien: Covenant
    Beauty And The Beast
    Get Out
    It Comes At Night
    Life
    The Lost City Of Z
    A Quiet Passion
    Split
    A United Kingdom
    The Zookeeper’s Wife

    • Vomit @ Emma Watson, but otherwise a pretty nice list for the first half. (Idk, I’d replace her with Melanie Lynskey in I Don’t Want to Live Here Anymore., for example. Or little Ahn Seo-Hyun from Okja, but can’t advocate for that until I see it.)

  4. Dave says:

    “Song to Song” is quite nice as a late-Malick movie, but too long, and it certainly doesn’t deserve any ‘Best Cinematography’ awards…

    True: There are about 10 outstanding shots in it, but often they are from digital GoPro cameras which were not operated by Lubezki, but some assistants.

    And I don’t like that about 90% of the footage is shot with a wide lens…it gets boring after a while and becomes irritating.

    One more thing that Malick / Lubezki should stop doing is using this ‘star filter’ for the sun…it looks distinct, but cheap after a while, because they always use it.

    Malick should take a long break from working with Lubezki and improv filmmaking.
    I want to see carefully crafted stories again, no visual collage anymore.

    • Chris L. says:

      He might be doing as you suggest, with Austrian pacifist drama “Radegund.” At least, Jorg Widmer is listed as DP and there is reportedly a more closely-followed script. I wonder if it’s still on track to be ready for fall festivals.

  5. Lisa says:

    It’s not theatrically released yet, but Lynne Ramsay’s ‘You Were Never Really Here’ could be a contender as best original screenplay or director, as well as Joaquin Phoenix as best male performance.

    • Steve says:

      I really want to see that. Ramsay made a film awhile back called Morvern Callar that was truly unique and haunting.

    • I definitely think Phoenix, Ramsay (at least for screenplay, but maybe as director considering the push for more female director representation), and even the film as a whole will be in strong contention. Hopefully it accrues some critical awards and a good campaign to at least get Phoenix and Ramsay a nomination each. I feel like YWNRH has more hope than The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but A24 has a lot of Oscar pull so maybe that will have a chance in screenplay as well, at least.

  6. sosgemini says:

    Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”): *That Scene* The scene that IMHO nails her a nomination will go down with Judi Dench in Shakespeare and Beatrice Straight in Network for scene stealing fully developed performance with the least amount of screen time. That scene just pops up in my head every now and then and takes me back to being freaked out all over again. *That* is what acting is all about.

  7. Chris L. says:

    I’m sure “Lost City of Z” has no shot at anything, but Sienna Miller is worth a campaign in supporting. First time that an “anxiously waiting wife” role left me with such a lasting impression. I remember Kathleen Quinlan getting a nod in “Apollo 13” for much less. (Of course that was a blockbuster, though.)

    • Dave says:

      Sienna Miller was good, but the real star of “The Lost City of Z” was Darius Khondji’s cinematography, which was outstanding. Everything else could have been better, especially the screenplay, which didn’t translate the amazing events into a compelling narrative. The last act was the weakest part, where it#s the strongest and most moving part in David Grann’s book. And there should have been much more visuals of what the ‘lost city of Z’ looked like: Cinema has to show, not only tell. A missed opportunity & an overrated film IMO.

  8. Steve says:

    For Best Supporting Actor, Kelvin Harrison Jr. in It Comes At Night. An absolutely perfect rendering of a typical teenager inside a horrifying reality.

  9. Jlear says:

    James McAvoy for Split

  10. I think the second half of the year, as usual, wiill see the majority of the nominees……the one exception I will call out is Patrick Stewart, I think his nomination is fairly solid. Baby Driver as a nomination for best editing is also a good call.

    • @DJ Speaks Movies: Quite frankly, no I don’t. He wouldn’t be the first to be overlooked for being in a franchise film. Take, for instance, Alan Rickman. There was talk about him getting an overdue nomination for the final Harry Potter film, which was a moving performance, conclusion to his character arc, and very sympathetic. Yet the bias against a film like that tainted his chances, quite unfortunately. Maybe Stewart will have better luck, but it’s easier to think Stewart has a smooth ride now. But there are a bevy of supporting actor contenders on the horizon (James Franco, Ben Mendelsohn, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Ray Romano, Steve Carell if he goes supporting, maybe Sterling K. Brown or Garrett Hedlund, Idris Elba or Joaquin Phoenix who also have lead options)….And several have already premiered, so it’s gonna be a massive race. As of now, I’m just saying Stewart is far from solid. And judging by what’s to come, I wouldn’t bet money that he’ll make the cut. That being said, I’d love it if he does!

    • Stewart’s nomination is far from solid. Deserving, yes. Possibly remembered via critics’ awards, yes. But use some foresight into the fall. Stewart will need a massive campaign + screener push in order to convince enough Academy members to place him on their ballots.

      • I take your point fully but I’d still be confident that he done enough to still be in the memory come ballot time. Do you not think he’ll get the push needed when the time comes?

  11. The Great Wall for VFX? Yikes.

  12. Ged says:

    If you are giving out awards for the best performance rather than sentiment, you have to move James McAvoy to the top of the best actor list. He is levels above the competition here, genre film or not.

  13. LQ says:

    Kris Tapley never stops complaining on Twitter about other people`s premature Oscar hot takes and here we are, with his premature Oscar hot takes.These kind of articles are ridiculous and exhausting.Can`t we at least wait until the Fall to start speculating about possible nominees?.

    • These aren’t predictions, nor does the article amount to speculation. It’s a list of a few things we think deserve to be remembered, and we do it every year. Meanwhile, I’ll continue complaining on Twitter about people making actual predictions as early as March. Hopefully you can bear it.

  14. Rooney Mara says:

    *rolls eyes* at 98% of these. I guess it must be a slow day at Variety, and Kris must earn his paycheck. although I agree that A Ghost Story is a masterpiece.

    • Happily I earn my paycheck through countless other enterprises here at Variety. But Oscar trolls gotta troll, so kudos for earning yours.

      • Rooney Mara says:

        lol always so defensive! Gotta love you, baby cake$. Btw, you forgot to mention: Rooney Mara for Best Actress, and Casey Affleck for his 2nd consecutive Oscar (A Ghost Story). And Cathy Moriarty, best supporting actress for Patti Cake$. I guess you didn’t go to Sundance this year.

      • It’s cute to me that responding equals “defensive” to those who’d rather get in their anonymous licks and move on without hearing back.

        “Patti Cake$” hasn’t opened theatrically yet. Do please note the clearly stated criteria.

  15. BringBackDailyVariety says:

    I think “Annabelle Creation” for Best Picture.

  16. Alex says:

    It will be a travesty if Kristen Stewart is snubbed for Personal Shopper, as she was for Clouds of Sils Maria. Unfortunately, it is unlikely she will be in contention at all due to IFC’s incompetence.

    • Steve says:

      Agreed. This is actually my pick for performance of the year so far. Hopefully, it puts a stake through the heart of “Kristen Stewart can’t act,” for good.

  17. monaco says:

    No Jackman and Mangold for LOGAN! That would be a travesty! LOGAN would be nowhere without them! I suggest that you rethink your choices!

  18. jmunney says:

    A Cure for Wellness for Cinematography, though.

    • Dave says:

      That’s true!

      It’s not a strong picture, but it looks awesome!

      Bojan Bazelli is a master & long overdue for an Oscar nom.

      I’m a fan since “King of New York” (1990).

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