Pity Oscar voters judging contenders this year? No, envy them

I have been a movie junkie since I rode my bicycle two miles every day for a week to watch the African adventure film “King Solomon’s Mines” in 1950. And I’ve been an Oscar junkie about as long. (“King Solomon’s Mines” was nominated for Best Picture but lost to “All About Eve,” which didn’t even have any animals in it.)

After watching one great movie after another as a citizen in the 1960s and ‘70s, I wheedled my way under a critic’s hat at the Detroit Free Press in 1979 and ever since have bemoaned the weak field of Best Picture contenders compared to that Golden Age. There’s bad timing and there’s my timing.

But this year has the deepest field of quality contenders in a decade. It’s easy to think of the field, as it has been narrowed by critic group awards and guild nominations, in terms of the half-dozen presumed “front-runners” — “Dunkirk,” “The Shape of Water,” “Lady Bird,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Post,” and “Get Out” — but the list of first-rate movies is much longer.

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You can’t count on critics for anything other than strong opinions, so make of it what you will that “Darkest Hour,” featuring the likely Oscar winner for Best Actor Gary Oldman, ranks 46th on a tally of critics’ 10 best lists kept on the aptly-named website criticstop10.com. The Churchill biopic was listed on 28 lists with just one of the staggering number of 589 critics aggregated picking it No. 1.

It probably won’t get a Best Picture Oscar nomination, but 44th?

Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s docudrama “Detroit” won’t make the ballot, either, but it is a very strong, possibly too strong, look at police brutality during the ‘67 Detroit riots and it deserved much better than 39th place (35 lists, one No. 1).

The top 10 of the top 10s are: (1) “Get Out” (378/58); (2) “Lady Bird” (311/37); (3) “Dunkirk” (277/28); (4) “The Florida Project” (258/32);’ (5) “Call Me By Your Name” (244/39); (6) “The Shape of Water” (185/30); (7) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (168/18); (8) “Phantom Thread” (142/16); (9) “Blade Runner 2049” (139/13); (10) “The Big Sick” (128/1).

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Farther down on the top 10 roundup at No. 16 is “The Post,” my personal favorite because of its superb acting and its powerful defense of a free press at a time when the media has never been under greater assault. That I can tell you.

At 17th and 18th are the terrific biopic about Tonya Harding (“I, Tonya”) and the racial post-WWII drama “Mudbound,” both of which could make the best picture Oscar ballot.

Farther down still, at No. 21, is James Franco’s audacious “The Disaster Artist,” the best film ever made about a bad filmmaker, including Tim Burton’s great “Ed Wood.”

DISCUSS All the Oscar contenders with Hollywood insiders in our notorious forums

At 37th is Taylor Sheridan’s “Wind River,” a compelling crime drama set on a snowbound Indian reservation, that was released in August by the Weinstein Company. If not for the scandal that engulfed Harvey Weinstein and the company in October, “Wind River” might have got one of Harvey’s hyper-flexed Oscar campaigns. Instead, the movie was assumed by Lionsgate for the DVD release and it has no trace of Weinstein on it.

Tentpole movies seldom get Oscar attention outside of technical categories, but there are several from last year that rank above most of their preceding installments: at No. 13 is “Logan,” which is the most serious, best and possibly last of the Wolverine series; at No. 14 sits “Wonder Woman,” a heroine hit in the year of the pussy cap and the #metoo movement; and way too far down the list at No. 25, is the brilliant  “Battle For the Planet of the Apes.”

Another terrific action film that is likely to become a tentpole for Sony Pictures is No. 12 “Baby Driver,” which has been buzzed about both for Best Picture and for its Golden Globe-nominated young star Ansel Elgort.

What a year.

Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.

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