2018 Awards Profile: Jason Reitman’s ‘The Front Runner’

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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 film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

FILM: “The Front Runner”
PRODUCERS: Helen Estabrook, Aaron L. Gilbert, Jason Reitman, and more
DISTRIBUTOR: No distribution yet

DIRECTOR: Jason Reitman
WRITERS: Matt Bai, Jay Carson, and Jason Reitman

CAST: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Kaitlyn Dever, Ari Graynor, Sara Paxton, Kevin Pollak, Courtney Ford, Bill Burr, and more

SYNOPSIS (via iMDB): American Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1988 is derailed when he’s caught in a scandalous love affair.

WHY IT MIGHT SUCCEED:

During discussions of the many individuals who nearly became President but never even made it to Election Day, the big name, aside from Bobby Kennedy, is Gary Hart. Now, filmmaker Jason Reitman has made a movie about Hart’s infamous 1988 campaign. “The Front Runner” not only is an incredibly baity story for Reitman, but it also could very well mark his return to prestige filmmaking. On the surface, this seems like a big-time awards player. Oscar could finally come calling for the director.

Reitman was once seen as an inevitable Academy Award winner. In fact, he very nearly took Best Adapted Screenplay for “Up in the Air” almost a decade ago. Since then, he’s been up and down, but “The Front Runner” could return him to the ceremony. Between this and his upcoming “Tully” (which has been generating strong buzz), a comeback may very well be in order.

For this film, he’s picked a great leading man in Hugh Jackman. Jackman will be playing Hart, while Vera Farmiga is his wife Lee Hart. Also on hand in the cast are Kaitlyn Dever as their daughter Andrea, Sara Paxton as Hart’s mistress Donna Rice, and a supporting cast that includes J.K. Simmons. That’s a nice core to start with, along with his longtime cinematographer Eric Steelberg behind the scenes. Reitman’s movies are all incredibly well cast, and this one is no exception.

Jackman has the potential to be a big contender here in Best Actor. Already once an Oscar nominee in this category, playing Hart gives him the possibility of actually winning the statue. The Academy has long had a soft spot for biopics of this sort, so factor that in with Jackman’s likability and there’s a lot to like here. In terms of early favorites in the category, he’s up there.

“The Front Runner” could turn out to be especially timely too. The first politician to really see his career ruined by an affair exposed by cable news, Hart was a victim of the 24 hour news cycle. Whereas John F. Kennedy saw his dalliances ignored, Hart’s was covered and saw his chances at becoming President go up in smoke. In many ways, he was a precursor to Bill Clinton. Now, with Donald Trump embroiled in a tawdry scandal, voters might look back on this story as stage one in an evolving world.

If Reitman delivers, look for “The Front Runner” to contend. There’s just too much here that’s compelling to an Oscar voter. We’ll have to see who picks the movie up, as it’s currently without distribution, but that could just leave it in a prime position late in the year. Time will tell, but in this writer’s opinion, this film is one of the biggest awards hopefuls of 2018.

WHY IT MIGHT NOT SUCCEED:

“The Front Runner” is the type of prestige picture that voters haven’t been embracing as much lately. Even fictionalized stories of this ilk haven’t caught fire, as “The Ides of March” only received a single Oscar nomination. The Academy won’t ignore it on its surface, but just being this kind of film won’t be enough. Reitman is a strong enough filmmaker to pull it off, but nothing is guaranteed. If the movie doesn’t receive strong notices, look for it to quickly be shrugged off.

As much as its timely nature could be a pro, it could turn out to be a con as well. Trump fatigue is a real thing, both in terms of media and the news in general, so perhaps voters just want to tune it all out? Any reading of the movie will lead back to the current President, so that complicates things. It’s an extra potential albatross around the film’s neck. Even if the quality is there, if Academy members don’t want to deal with it, they could look elsewhere for horses to back.

Without distribution yet, this is a real X-factor, one way or the other. We may be able to tell a lot by who picks it up. The more high profile a company, the better its chances will be. Of course, if distributors are waiting for a film festival reception to set the tone, that’s a high risk, high reward situation. “The Front Runner” might also end up delayed into 2019, depending on who acquires it. All that remains to be seen, but when you don’t have distribution locked in, it’s hard to be dead set on it scoring a ton of nominations.

POTENTIAL OSCAR CATEGORIES IN PLAY:

Motion Picture – Helen Estabrook, Aaron L. Gilbert, Jason Reitman, etc
Director – Jason Reitman
Actor in a Leading Role – Hugh Jackman
Actress in a Leading Role – Vera Farmiga (Could go Supporting)
Actor in a Supporting Role – J.K. Simmons
Actress in a Supporting Role – Vera Farmiga (Could go Lead) and Sara Paxton
Adapted Screenplay – Matt Bai, Jay Carson, and Jason Reitman
Production Design – Steve Saklad
Cinematography – Eric Steelberg
Costume Design – Danny Glicker
Film Editing
Makeup & Hairstyling
Original Score

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CHECK OUT THE FIRST OFFICIAL SET OF
YEAR-IN-ADVANCE OSCAR PREDICTIONS
AND SEE WHERE “THE FRONT RUNNER” RANKS!