The 89th Academy Awards aren't even a month in the rearview mirror yet, but already two 2017 releases - the biggest critical darling and blockbuster, respectively, of 2017's first quarter - are causing Academy members and pundits to think about the 90th edition.
Get Out, Jordan Peele's satire on 21st century race relations that had a sneak screening at Sundance in January, opened on Oscars weekend, topping the domestic box office with a $33.4 million haul. (It's now at $133 million domestically.) More importantly, it has a 99 percent favorable rating on RottenTomatoes.com - the best of the year so far, by far - and it would be at 100 percent had notorious contrarian Armond White of The National Review not dumped on it.
Indeed, the film has sparked media commentary of a quantity and quality similar to recent Oscar contenders that also dealt with race - including, of course, last month's surprise best picture winner Moonlight - with The New York Times' columnist Frank Bruni calling it "a movie for the age of Trump - perhaps the movie for the age of Trump" and his colleagues, Pulitzer Prize winner Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham, devoting an episode of their "Still Processing" podcast to a conversation with Peele.
With the backing of producer Jason Blum (a best picture nominee for 2014's Whiplash) and Universal (a major studio which hasn't landed a best picture nomination since 2012's Les Miserables), you can bet that a lot of people will be working very hard to maintain interest in Get Out over the nine months before Oscar voters next get to fill out ballots - although nobody associated with the film would comment for this story.
For a movie this outside-the-box that has gone over this well, one cannot rule out a best picture nomination (although one usually eludes even more optimally timed genre films, excepting March 2014's The Grand Budapest Hotel, March 1996's Fargo and February 1991's eventual winner The Silence of the Lambs), and a best original screenplay nom certainly seems attainable. That may have something to do with why Academy members on both coasts received invitations this week to screenings of the pic.
Almost all major films, and quite a few minor ones, are screened by the Academy for Los Angeles-based Oscar voters at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills or Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood - except for those, like Get Out, that are released during the year's first two months, when the organization uses its screens to show its members the animated, documentary, foreign-language and short films that are vying for Oscars. But, in an unusually early show on confidence in Get Out's prospects, Universal has gone ahead and independently rented out the Linwood Dunn for a screening on Wednesday night, to which it has invited L.A.-based Academy members, and a screening on Friday night, to which it has invited L.A.-based BAFTA members. Additionally, the film will have an official Academy screening for New York-based Academy members on Tuesday night at the Museum of Modern Art.
Meanwhile, a movie targeting a very different audience - families, as opposed to just adults - also is making major waves. Beauty and the Beast, Disney's live-action remake of its 1991 animated hit (based on the fairy tale that also served as the basis for the 1946 French classic), opened over the weekend to $175 million in domestic ticket sales, the seventh-largest figure ever. And it's also sitting at a very respectable 70 percent favorable rating at RottenTomatoes.com, with particularly strong notices for its craft and music elements.
Could Oscar winner Bill Condon's interpretation of the "tale old as time" follow in the footsteps of its 26-year-old predecessor, which landed a best picture Oscar nomination (the first ever accorded an animated film, and at a time when the category firmly was capped at five slots)? It is just the sort of fan-favorite that the Academy hoped to bring into the fold when it expanded the category. And it might just happen. Indeed, sources tell me that the movie played through the roof at Academy screenings in New York on Thursday and in Beverly Hills on Saturday. (The Beverly Hills screening was almost entirely full, although not all in attendance possess a vote, since Academy members can bring up to three guests with them.)
Disney also isn't interested in commenting on its film's Oscar prospects at this early date, but you can bet that it will reinvest some of Disney's massive returns into a campaign later in the year, just as it did last season with the April blockbuster The Jungle Book. As with Jungle Book, best picture may, in the end, be a bridge too far for Beauty and the Beast, but Beast might resonate more than Jungle Book overall, as noms for best costume design, production design, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects all seem well within the realm of possibility. Even likelier, perhaps, are noms for one or two of the film's three original songs - "How Does a Moment Last Forever," "Days in the Sun" and the strongest, "Evermore" - which were written by Alan Menken (who garnered three original song noms and one original score nom for the 1991 version, winning in both categories) and Tim Rice (with whom Menken shares another Oscar for an original song, from 1992's Aladdin).
That's my take, on this early date. If you would like to share yours in our comments section below, well, be our guest!