Welcome to the 2018 Awards Profile series, where we talk about films coming to a theater near you at some point this year (at least at this time of writing). 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 through Friday to talk about their awards hopes and analyze the film’s chances for success. If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below. If you missed a movie, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.
FILM: “First Man”
PRODUCERS: Marty Bowen, Damien Chazelle, Wyck Godfrey, and Ryan Gosling
DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures
DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle
WRITERS: Nicole Perlman and Josh Singer (based on the book by James R. Hansen)
CAST: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Christopher Abbott, Jon Bernthal, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Olivia Hamilton, Brian d’Arcy James, Pablo Schreiber, Corey Stoll, Kris Swanberg, Shea Whigham, and more
SYNOPSIS (via iMDB): A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
For filmmaker Damien Chazelle, his directorial career has been nothing but success. His sophomore feature “Whiplash” was an Academy Award-winning breakthrough, while “La La Land” nearly became a recording breaking Oscar winner. Now, in his first move as an A-list director, he’s opted to make a biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong. Taking on a script that Nicole Perlman penned, based on the book by James R. Hansen, which was then re-written by Josh Singer, Chazelle has a giant prestige picture to tackle in “First Man.” On the surface, what’s more awards-friendly than a biopic of an American hero?
Reuniting with Chazelle for “First Man” is none other than Ryan Gosling, who will be playing Armstrong. There’s also a plum supporting cast on hand, including Christopher Abbott, Jon Bernthal, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Claire Foy, Patrick Fugit, Corey Still, and plenty others. There’s also “La La Land” veterans behind the scenes, namely editor Tom Cross, cinematographer Linus Sandgren, composer Justin Hurwitz, and costume designer Mary Zophres. Chazelle also is teaming up with longtime Christopher Nolan production designer Nathan Crowley. Suffice to say; the behind the camera talent is a force to be reckoned.
This early out, it’s hard not to see this as one of the biggest prestige players and probably the film to beat come Oscar time. That’s apparently a potential kiss of death, but the combination of star power and subject matter is hard to ignore. One doesn’t have to strain their brain to see Gosling as a viable Best Actor player, with the movie itself aiming squarely at the Best Picture race. Once again, Chazelle has a project on his hands that could quickly score double-digit nomination totals if all goes well. The possibilities are nearly endless for this one.
If Universal has something on their hands, that’s on the level of “La La Land” or “Whiplash,” look for a massive push when the precursor season begins. They may not be the perfect partner to get this to the finish line (more on that later), but since it’s also a Dreamworks project, there’s cause for optimism. The downsides are up next, but there’s a ton of upside to be found here. “First Man” is one of the contenders this year that, on paper, there’s reason to be bullish. At this early stage, not considering it a significant player is merely foolish.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT SUCCEED:
The problem with being so successful so early on is that people take a sadistic delight in when you fail. Look at how Jason Reitman went from a golden boy to a whipping boy. That danger lurks for Chazelle. “La La Land” is both a blessing and curse. We’ve seen the boy wonder reach some tall heights, but can he sustain it? If “First Man” is good but not as good as “La La Land” or “Whiplash,” will there be a backlash? If that were to happen, it wouldn’t be judged as a good movie, but as a failure. This outing will be a test for Chazelle. Win, and you’re bigger than ever. Lose, and you may end up on a whole other trajectory going forward.
Another point, which has nothing to do with Chazelle, is the distribution. Having Universal behind the movie is a mixed bag, though they’re co-producing with Dreamworks, as mentioned. If they can get a campaign in gear that positions it correctly, “First Man” will benefit. If they drop the ball, it could turn into something like “Unbroken” and deeply disappoint.
For “First Man” to succeed, it will need to be top-notch, quality wise, and also have a campaign that doesn’t set it up for failure. Chazelle, Gosling, and company certainly have the capabilities, so it’s just a matter of pulling it off. The risk of underwhelming is there, but the possibility of a huge Oscar contender looms larger. The movie is currently scheduled for release on October 12th, so we have about seven months to figure it all out. Should “First Man” play the film festival circuit, some questions will be answered. Until then, it’s pure speculation.
POTENTIAL OSCAR CATEGORIES IN PLAY:
Motion Picture – Marty Bowen, Damien Chazelle, Wyck Godfrey, and Ryan Gosling
Director – Damien Chazelle
Actor in a Leading Role – Ryan Gosling
Actor in a Supporting Role – Jon Bernthal, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, and Corey Stoll
Actress in a Supporting Role – Claire Foy
Adapted Screenplay – Nicole Perlman and Josh Singer
Production Design – Nathan Crowley
Cinematography – Linus Sandgren
Costume Design – Mary Zophres
Film Editing – Tom Cross
Original Score – Justin Hurwitz