2016 Awards Profile: ‘Loving’ from Jeff Nichols



Welcome to the 2016 Awards Profiles 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 eight weeks, we will bring you a film every weekday 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.

Directed By: Jeff Nichols

Written By: Jeff Nichols

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Martin Csokas, Nick Kroll and Bill Camp

Synopsis (From IMDB): Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married.

Why It Could Succeed:

Jeff Nichols is quickly becoming the go-to director for audiences seeking authentic “American” cinema. Nichols’s films, often set against the backdrop of close-knit rural communities fraught with familial turmoil, resonate so deeply with Americans because of how poignantly he depicts everyday adversity. Our problems begin with our roots, where we come from and the type of people who raise us to either elevate our society or send it on a backwards trajectory of degeneracy. Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud (a new American classic) have all touched upon this notion that domestic dysfunction consequently impacts our nation’s social climate and vice versa. This seems to be true for Nichols’s upcoming Loving, a civil rights drama that centers on an interracial couple unjustly incarcerated because of their matrimony.

Mud’s strength at the box office gave Nichols his first real taste of mainstream approval, and I can only imagine Loving’s social relevancy and prestige packaging will only enhance his auteur appeal. The recent Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage everywhere combined with the deep racial divide in this country that recalls the turbulent civil rights era enables this particular story the power of universal connectivity. Millions of Americans can relate to the ongoing despair of being horrifically mistreated just because of their minority status, a status which shouldn’t even exist, let alone deny anyone a life of unrestricted happiness. Given the success Focus Features has had with similar human rights dramas such as Dallas Buyers Club, Brokeback Mountain and The Danish Girl, I’m fairly confident Loving is in trustworthy hands, determined to market the film as patriotically essential viewing. After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy opened up a wider discussion of Hollywood’s inability to catch up to the times by telling stories from all walks of life, not just white ones, here comes a movie like Loving that validates the industry’s new mandate.

Why it Could Fail:

If anything’s going to prevent Loving from achieving widespread visibility, it’ll be due to its under-the-radar cast ensemble. Joel Edgerton is a frequent presence in many films both commercial and independent, but he’s yet to achieve household name status. Rarely tasked to headline a film or drive its narrative, Edgerton’s involvement in Loving isn’t going to draw enormous crowds to this romantic tearjerker as easily as heartthrobs Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman or Ryan Gosling could’ve had they been cast instead. Opposite Edgerton is Ruth Negga, an unknown to many unless you’re a video game aficionado or a fan of her screen work from across the pond. Negga has been carving a successful career for herself right under our noses for years now, but Loving will be the first opportunity for many to get a true sense of her talent. If she can’t deliver what’s sure to be an emotionally strenuous role, the movie could stop dead in its tracks before boarding the Oscar campaign tour bus.

I’m also concerned that the studio might dilute some of Nichols’s storytelling and directorial sensibilities in order to carve out the most sentimentally affecting film they can muster. Nichols’s movies are as great they are because of their slow-burn pacing – you don’t find huge doses of blatant melodrama until about midway through when the underlying conflict erupts into instability. Will Nichols’ talents be affected when he’s asked to prioritize subject matter over character-driven narratives meant to unfold organically? That is my worry. Nichols dances to the beat of his own drum, one that’s singular and with a sound that cannot be artificially enhanced. To overshadow his authorship in any way would only damage the sanctity of his art and ultimately this real-life story that’s too important to foul up.

JeffNichols_TakeShelter.jpgAwards Speculation:

I have a strong feeling Jeff Nichols’ Loving might be his Spotlight if we’re to consider earlier-released Midnight Special his The Cobbler. Thomas McCarthy started off the year relatively weak with a first quarter release met with strong distaste, but that was soon an afterthought once the universally acclaimed Spotlight unveiled later in the year. We know how that film turned out, eh? The same might be true for Nichols’s Loving, making it a robust candidate for a slew of Academy Award nominations.

Ruth Negga stands the best shot of landing an acting nomination among the cast — she’s a fresh face to audiences but has built enough career credibility to finally warrant major accolades. Joel Edgerton has been steadily working his way up the thespian ladder for several years now with incredible turns in Animal Kingdom, The Great Gatsby, Warrior and last year’s Black Mass to name a few. Equally intense actors Jeremy Renner and Tom Hardy took awhile to finally get some appreciation, but when they did there was no disputing their worth. Edgerton is on the precipice of following suit and landing his first acting nomination after decades of stellar performances. Michael Shannon, who’s already an Academy Award nominee, barely missed this year for his quietly powerful turn in 99 Homes after landing back-to-back SAG and Golden Globe nominations. He hasn’t been a contender since 2008’s Revolutionary Road, which at the time was considered a shock nomination. After his many film collaborations with Jeff Nichols, it might be time for the acting branch to acknowledge the actor-director pair are as incredible a duo as Scorsese/DiCaprio or O. Russell/Lawrence.

Producer Sarah Green stands a strong chance of nabbing another Oscar nomination for “Best Picture” since 2012 when she was up for producing the immeasurable The Tree of Life. Given the film’s period nature, Loving is also ripe for the second tier recognition in numerous categories. In short: Loving has got to love its early Oscar nods and all the press that will come with such prognostication attention. Let’s see if it lives up to the hype.

Oscar Potential:
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor — Joel Edgerton
Best Actress — Ruth Negga
Best Supporting Actor — Michael Shannon
Best Film Editing
Best Cinematography
Best Original Screenplay
Best Costume Design
Best Original Score

Share your thoughts in the comments or on the message forums!

Check out the first official set of
Year-In-Advanced Oscar Predictions
and see where Loving ranks!