If there’s a film that screened in the mountains at the Telluride Film Festival, and grew legs with attendees, it was Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon” starring Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann and Woody Norman. The A24 feature debuted at the famous Chuck Jones theater on the fest’s opening day, which has become a bit of a good luck charm since movies like “Lady Bird” (2017) and the best picture-winning “Moonlight” (2016) played in that coveted slot. No one initially discussed Mills’ follow-up to “20th Century Women,” which earned him an original screenplay nom — the film’s sole mention. But as the five-day festival continued, the black-and-white picturesque depiction on how we communicate with each other, become a festival favorite.
Mills’ film is not going to appeal to everyone, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that this could be the best screenplay written in the last decade, something the writers branch may recognize. With other fall festivals on the docket, word of mouth could grow, similar to when another Phoenix film, “Her,” premiered at New York Film Festival. At the time, I was a skeptic, thinking the Academy couldn’t recognize such a breathtaking achievement by writer and director Spike Jonze. By the end of the season, the movie ran away with original screenplay, and picked up a very impressive six Oscar noms in total. “C’mon C’mon” could follow a similar trajectory.
Is there more for it though?
It’s only been two years since Phoenix won the Oscar for his menacing turn in Todd Phillips’ “Joker.” He had walked into that ceremony with three prior nominations: “Gladiator” (2000), “Walk the Line” (2005) and what I consider his career best, “The Master” (2012). “C’mon C’mon” now comfortably sits one spot behind his most treasured work. The best actor race could find room for his charismatically subdued turn, but as we observed at Telluride, about a half dozen leading men have emerged as awards candidates, including Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Power of the Dog”), Peter Dinklage (“Cyrano”), Will Smith (“King Richard”) and Simon Rex (“Red Rocket”). The fight will be tough for all.
Norman is one of the greatest finds, and it’s difficult to not be enamored by his whimsical deliveries and touching beats. Freddie Highmore (“Finding Neverland”) and Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) are two of the recent child actors to come up short for Academy love. It will be up to the SAG nominating committee, which is more open to younger thespians, to keep him in the convo.
Hoffman, who got her start as a child actor (we’ll always adore her role in “Sleepless in Seattle”), holds the film firmly together. Supporting actress would be an appropriate place to embrace her work, which essentially reinvents one of Hollywood’s most mundane roles: “woman on phone.”
DP Robbie Ryan has arrived, at least in the sense that every filmmaker is reaching out to see if he can work on their next project. Of the multiple black and white films that have been seen so far this year — “Belfast” and “Passing” — it stands above the fray, but this type of modern camera work is not something the branch typically embraces. Hopefully past monochrome winners like “Roma” and “The Artist” can offer some inspiration.
If the buzz continues to build, “C’mon C’mon” could become this awards season’s little engine that could.