2017 Awards Profile: ‘Molly’s Game’ by Aaron Sorkin

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Molly's Game

Welcome to the 2017 Awards Profile series, where we talk about high- and low-profile films coming to a theater near you at some point this year. We will analyze the potential for these films to be players for the Academy Awards, and while many of these have the potential to be recognized, many will not, either by quality or being pushed back to the following year. For the next few weeks, we will bring you a film every Monday and Wednesday to talk about their potential. If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below. If you missed a film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

FILM: “Molly’s Game”
PRODUCERS: Mark Gordon, Lauren Lohman, Amy Pascal
DISTRIBUTOR: STX Entertainment

DIRECTOR: Aaron Sorkin
WRITER: Aaron Sorkin, based on the memoir “Molly’s Game” by Molly Bloom

CAST: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Brian D’Arcy James, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, Graham Greene, Bill Camp, Samantha Isler

SYNOPSIS (via iMDB): Molly Bloom, a young skier and former Olympic hopeful becomes a successful entrepreneur (and a target of an FBI investigation) when she establishes a high-stakes, international poker game.

WHY IT MIGHT SUCCEED: Just look at who is involved with this high-profile project. For one thing, it’s the directorial debut of master screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin also penned the adaptation, which automatically puts the script in contention. Then, take a gander at the cast, led by the trio of Jessica Chastain, Kevin Costner and Idris Elba. This high-stakes (no pun intended) drama checks just about every box at this point. Months out, it seems for all the world like one of the year’s biggest Academy Award hopefuls.

It’s undeniable that Chastain is on the fast track to an Academy Award one of these days, so why not for a juicy role like this one? Molly Bloom is a character that she can really sink her teeth into. The part screams Oscar-worthy, so if Chastain is as good as usual, she should be right in the thick of the Best Actress race. Beyond Chastain, a Best Supporting Actor citation seems easily in the cards for either Costner or Elba. Maybe even both? Getting to see this cast recite Sorkin dialogue is going to be a treat.

Having Sorkin as both writer and director could make this project a way to really showcase Oscar’s worship of the man. After the “Steve Jobs” snub, it might seem like the right time to give him another statue. His win for “The Social Network” isn’t too long ago, but scribes are often rewarded multiple times by the Academy. In particular, this is true of writers who are also directors. Especially if he proves to be a double threat, Sorkin may have to make more room for gold on his mantle.

On paper, “Molly’s Game” should not just be a big contender, but almost a sure thing for a handful of big nominations. Once the decisionmakers decide what the release date should be, we’ll know just how big a deal this one is. Whether it hits a film festival or not, expect a fourth quarter release. This movie has awards season written all over it, so dropping it in the heart of said season simply makes sense.

WHY IT MIGHT NOT SUCCEED: Whenever a writer steps behind the camera, there’s always the question of how their talents will translate. Sorkin is a brilliant screenwriter, but he’s long been dancing around with becoming a director. Before this, he had contemplated adapting the John Edwards exposé “The Politician” as his debut. Was that too ambitious? Could Sorkin be starting off small with something less likely to play with Oscar? There’s no way to know, but there’s always that possibility. Furthermore, are voters automatically going to go for him? They snubbed Sorkin for “Steve Jobs,” so he’s not Teflon.

The plot does sound like the first act of “Boiler Room,” a film not nominated for any Academy Awards. The devil is in the details, but it’s been a while since a gambling picture has attracted Oscar’s attention. The film has to avoid seeming like a “Law and Order” episode, or else voters will move on to other contenders rather quickly. The high end of the spectrum for this is an awards juggernaut, while the low end is a character study too sleight for Oscar. How the material is handled and/or elevated will dictate where it falls on the spectrum.

It’s also worth noting that distributor STX Entertainment has never really had a horse in an awards race. “Molly’s Game” will be their first true shot at nominations. Last year, they had the wonderful coming-of-age story “The Edge of Seventeen” to push, but it was a nonstarter. Apart from that, the company is more associated with things like “Bad Moms” or “The Gift” than prestige fare. Much like how CBS Films struggled to get “Inside Llewyn Davis” to the finish line their first time out, the same could be the case here. Without a release date just yet, there’s reason to be cautious. Stay tuned.

POTENTIAL OSCAR CATEGORIES IN PLAY:

Motion Picture – Mark Gordon, Lauren Lohman, Amy Pascal
Director – Aaron Sorkin
Actress in a Leading Role – Jessica Chastain
Actor in a Supporting Role – Kevin Costner, Idris Elba
Actress in a Supporting Role – Samantha Isler
Adapted Screenplay – Aaron Sorkin
Cinematography – Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Film Editing – David Rosenbloom
Original Score

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Year-In-Advance Oscar Predictions

and see where “Molly’s Game” ranks!