The box office woes are far from the whole story about the three awards-worthy films that opened or expanded over Thanksgiving weekend – MGM/UAR’s “Bones and All,” Sony Pictures’ “Devotion” and Walt Disney’s “Strange World.” Despite low financial returns, the studios are forging ahead in their bids for Academy Awards attention, as they should.
The cannibal feature “Bones and All” struggled to bring audiences to the theaters despite the star power of Timothée Chalamet. Still, for those who love it (spoiler alert: me), it’s one of the year’s best films, with its bloody embodiment of teenage love, meticulous crafts and high-caliber performances that elicit a passionate response.
It might not work for voters who are squeamish about severed fingers and blood dripping on nice furniture, but the film won prizes for its director Luca Guadganino and best young actress for star Taylor Russell when premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Both would be more than inspired nominees by the Academy.
Guadagnino, a one-time Oscar nominee for best picture for the coming-of-age drama “Call Me by Your Name” (2017), shepherds one of his most vigorous directorial efforts with a singular vision that’s utterly sincere. In addition, the Italian auteur hopes to break into the documentary feature race with “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams,” a portrait of legendary shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo from Sony Pictures Classics.
Russell, who grabbed Hollywood’s attention with the under-appreciated “Waves” (2019), proves she’s a leading lady, ready to take on more complex roles such as a Maren, a young woman who ventures out to locate her mother in hopes of finding the answer to her “condition.” The best actress field will be crowded with big names and talent, but there’s a pocket of support for her that could materialize further.
Fresh off picking up three Independent Spirit noms – which included a supporting nom for Mark Rylance, the only actor that can make wearing underwear briefs a cinematic artform, I’m praying the film can continue its forward momentum this awards season including makeup and original score by two-time winning duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
In the case of “Devotion,” the Academy has a true crowd-pleaser as one of the year’s selections. A nice callback to ’90s action flicks, the war film about two Naval officers’ friendship during the Korean War feels like something that would play on TNT and TBS every year and become the quintessential Saturday afternoon “Dad movie.” This is a total compliment.
The movie is categorized as “the other” airplane movie that also stars Glen Powell, referring to “Top Gun: Maverick.” Airplanes and Powell are two things the films have in common, but “Devotion” offers its own pleasures.
Co-star Jonathan Majors shows that the narrative that movie stars are fading away could be premature… some are simply still coming into their own. Directed by J.D. Dillard, the movie boasts beautiful crafts such as Wynn Thomas’ luscious production design, sound and visual effects. Most notable is composer Chanda Dancy’s beautiful score, heightening each action scene and dramatic beat. It’s worthy of serious consideration by the music branch and would make Dancy the first Black woman ever nominated for original score. Plus, the original song “Not Alone,” co-written by star and songwriter Joe Jonas, provides a hefty dose of inspiration.
Finally, “Strange World” is going the route of “The Good Dinosaur” and will become one of the studio’s few financial losses in the last few years. That isn’t due to the quality.
With very little marketing, Don Hall’s colorful gem features everything that would have Bill Maher call this the “wokest movie of the year,” featuring a white dad, Black mom and LGBTQ son in a movie about climate change. It’s a Trump supporter’s worst nightmare. But, when given a chance, this tender story about family, acceptance and our negligence towards Mother Earth is a new type of animated adventure that will mean so much to so many in the years to come.
It’s likely not as exciting as other animated feature contenders like “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” and “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” but could still be a strong possibility to land in the field.
To the Academy and industry voters, don’t let the headlines about the “bombs” keep you from giving these films (or any films) a proper shake. That’s also the case for earlier releases such as rom-com “Bros” with Billy Eichner and meditative epic “Three Thousand Years of Longing” by George Miller.
Money can’t be the only measurement of success and artistic meaning in the industry. Just ask any cinephile about “Children of Men” (2006), “The Iron Giant” (1999) and “Fight Club” (1999).