With “The Northman,” “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” and the continued success of “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” this month has been about action-forward movies that are entertaining and worthy, but might fail to be taken seriously as real “achievements” in Hollywood. Timing has also proven to be an essential factor, and not just for releases, but for when a movie or performance starts gaining momentum.
Studios are only beginning to map out how to roll out their most promising contenders in the second half of the year. At this same point last year, most critics had seen the eventual best picture winner, “CODA” from Apple Original Films, after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Obviously, we didn’t know how far it would go as “Belfast” and “The Power of the Dog” gained momentum. Timing and narratives are paramount, no matter where you think a film stands in the race.
While Apple hasn’t had any obvious contenders so far this year, the good news is that Martin Scorsese is head down on the anticipated “The Killers of the Flower Moon” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jesse Plemons. Notorious for a lengthy post-production process, Scorsese hasn’t released anything except a single still image, so no one knows anything else about it. Variety has exclusively confirmed that despite early rumblings that DiCaprio had switched to a supporting role, he is in fact one of the leads, and will campaign in the lead actor category during the awards season. His co-star Plemons, fresh off his “Power of the Dog” Oscar nom, will campaign for supporting actor. The non-fiction book by David Grann on which “Flowers” is based centers on Plemons’ FBI agent character, but it’s unknown which direction screenwriter Eric Roth and Scorsese will take.
See the updated Oscar predictions: Variety’s Awards Circuit Collective Oscars Predictions
Looking at the current moment, Robert Eggers’ “The Northman,” the epic Viking drama boasting an all-star cast that includes Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman and Anya Taylor-Joy, is now in theaters. While the movie displays another example of Eggers as an exciting and visionary filmmaker and has a more-than-respectable Rotten Tomatoes score (89%), it’s hard to imagine it could mimic the success of epics like “Gladiator” (2000). Nevertheless, it could be a respectable play for distributor Focus Features in the artisan races. “Northman” is a stunning achievement in sound design (even though it can feel like the loudest movie audibly ever constructed) and original score (for Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough). However, it may prove to be too eccentric for mainstream audiences, as the finale brings new meaning to the term “cock fight.”
A24 has to be feeling joyful based on the success of its sci-fi action flick, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” featuring the badassery of Michelle Yeoh. Aside from doing everything in the studio’s power to correct the outlandish Oscar oversight of Yeoh during her career — despite worthy turns in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), “The Lady” (2012) and “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018) — her role as laundry owner Evelyn is far from the only unique element to highlight come awards season. Film Twitter is continuously banging the drum for editor Paul Rogers and cinematographer Larkin Seiple, in addition to the film’s production design, costumes, sound and visual works. We can hope the directors and writing branches of the Academy would be cool enough to consider Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (a.k.a. The Daniels) in original screenplay and directing. The filmmaking duo also co-produced the film with Anthony and Joe Russo, which we can pray helps the quest for recognition.
I’d like to personally ensure that critics and voters don’t neglect the beauty of the performances from Stephanie Hsu as the multi-faceted Joy (she will be on the Emmy circuit for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) and Ke Huy Quan as the supportive husband Waymond (making his return to cinema 30 years after “The Goonies” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”). Supporting actor and actress categories should not be filled without proper viewing of their poignant turns.
Read more on TV Awards: Variety’s Awards Circuit Emmys Predictions Hub
The movie is also a box office smash, crossing the $20 million mark this week. As the studio gears up to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the movie, which is the largest breakout indie since “Parasite” (2019), is on a clear path to becoming one of the studio’s top five highest-grossing films, joinging currently “Midsommar” ($47 million), “Uncut Gems” ($50 million), “Moonlight” ($65 million), “Lady Bird” ($79 million) and “Hereditary” ($81 million).
The success of “Everything” is a chance to consider the Academy’s blindspot for martial arts films. While “Crouching Tiger” raked in a robust 10 nominations 22 years ago, there hasn’t been anything else beyond that (at least in the major categories). Films like “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers” from Zhang Yimou, “Ip Man” from Wilson Yip and “The Raid” from Gareth Evans have been virtually ignored (by regional critics groups as well). For years, there have been calls for the Academy to add a category for stunts, which would be one of the easy and, quite frankly, critical positive changes it can make to its organization and future ceremonies. After the debacle announcing “best popular film,” which was later walked back, honoring the men, women and persons of the stunt community checks off multiple boxes, including racial and ethnic diversity, with a bridge into awarding more blockbuster and audience-friendly titles. Furthermore, they should incorporate those efforts into the ceremony. How exciting would it be to watch Yeoh and the other artists and coordinators put on a live demonstration?
It should be noted that in 2016, the Academy awarded martial arts star Jackie Chan with an Honorary Oscar.
After the success of “Pig,” Nicolas Cage is back on the scene with “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” from Lionsgate. Alongside co-star Pedro Pascal, the Tom Gormican-directed action-comedy may produce decent numbers for the studio. However, it’ll hope to have a long-lasting impression as we head into the second half of the year, even with decent reviews.
Let’s see what comes next.