2016 Awards Profile: ‘War Machine’ from David Michôd

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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: David Michôd

Written By: David Michôd, based on the book The Operators by Michael Hastings

Cast: Brad Pitt, Emory Cohen, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, RJ Cyler, John Magaro, Keith Stanfield, and many more

Film Synopsis (via Coming Soon): War Machine concerns a four star, “rock star” general (Pitt) whose lethal reputation and impeccable track record vaults him to command the American war in Afghanistan.

Book Synopsis (via Amazon): In the shadow of the hunt for Bin Laden and the United States’ involvement in the Middle East, General Stanley McChrystal, the commanding general of international and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was living large. His loyal staff liked to call him a “rock star.” During a spring 2010 trip, journalist Michael Hastings looked on as McChrystal and his staff let off steam, partying and openly bashing the Obama administration. When Hastings’s article appeared in Rolling Stone, it set off a political firestorm: McChrystal was unceremoniously fired.

In The Operators, Hastings picks up where his Rolling Stone coup ended. From patrol missions in the Afghan hinterlands to senior military advisors’ late-night bull sessions to hotel bars where spies and expensive hookers participate in nation-building, Hastings presents a shocking behind-the-scenes portrait of what he fears is an unwinnable war. Written in prose that is at once eye-opening and other times uncannily conversational, readers of No Easy Day will take to Hastings’ unyielding first-hand account of the Afghan War and its cast of players.

Fury movie premiere Why it could succeed:
Brad Pitt‘s production company Plan B has had more or less impeccable taste of late, helping get some big time awards players off of the ground. Their recent output has included The Big Short, Selma, and 12 Years a Slave, not to mention The Departed and The Tree of Life in previous years. Pitt and Plan B know a good project when they see one, so attaching himself to this one is an initial sign of quality. That just takes into account Pitt as a producer or producing partner too. Let’s not forget that he’s a top tier A-list actor as well, with similarly strong taste, as you’ll note from his involvement in many of those titles above. He’s in the prime of his career and making excellent choices. Besides Pitt’s current pedigree, there’s also the fact that David Michôd is quite the emerging filmmaker, having blown many away with his directorial debut Animal Kingdom. He also directed the divisive yet compelling film The Rover, as well as having penned the quirky movie Hesher. This pairing would be a great starting point for any flick, but when you consider that it’s a satirical look at the leaders of America’s military campaign in Afghanistan, that just ups the game. Oscar has been more open minded about comedies of late, as noted by the success of The Big Short and Birdman, so something sharp edged and powerful but still humorous like this could really do some damage if the quality is there. With Pitt leading a cast that also includes the very talented likes of Emory Cohen, RJ Cyler, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, John Magaro, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter, and Keith Stanfield, there’s huge potential for awards related success here with War Machine.

Why it might not:
The elephant in the room here is obviously the fact that Netflix is putting this one out. Despite strong critical acclaim and solid precursor attention for their inaugural feature run last year with Beasts of No Nation, they were shut out by the Academy. Now, past performances aren’t necessarily indicative of future failures, but there did seem to be a slight bias against the streaming service in 2015. Perhaps it was just the bad luck of the draw, as the film scored elsewhere besides with Oscar, but until Netflix succeeds with AMPAS, there will be the specter of this failing hovering over their heads. Things bode well for them here with Pitt and Plan B to back a huge campaign, but there was no shortage of campaigning last year either. Assuming voters do indeed take to the satirical tone on display here, and that might be at least a medium sized if, it’ll be up to Netflix to change the perception surrounding them. If that doesn’t happen, War Machine might suffer and we could very well see another shut out come to pass.

Awards Speculation:
If everything during the season breaks the right way for Michôd and Pitt, then War Machine stands a chance to be one of the biggest contenders for Oscar attention this year. Obviously, we’ll see a major campaign for Best Picture launched, as well as one for Best Actor in the hopes of getting Pitt his first acting win, but look out for Michôd as a force potentially in Best Director as well. Depending on the content of the film, Best Supporting Actor could be in play for one of the other cast members, either Emory Cohen, RJ Cyler, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, John Magaro, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter, or Keith Stanfield, though there’s no way to know about that right now. More likely perhaps is Michôd scoring in Best Adapted Screenplay, at least if the movie is good. On the technical category front, the flick has across the board possibilities, including Best Production Design, Best Cinematography (the film is shot by Dariusz Wolski), Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. It’s probably a long shot to assume all of these, but if the quality is there, anything is possible. I can see the argument for betting against this one, but at this early juncture, I think War Machine has to be looked at a potential awards season juggernaut. Once it nails down a firm release date, we’ll know better, but just on spec, I don’t think you can dismiss this one at all. It’s a legitimate contender.

War Machine will be distributed in theaters and made available for streaming by Netflix at some point in 2016, likely during the heart of awards season.

81p7u7pejtLPotential Nominations:

Best Picture
Best Director (Michôd)
Best Actor (Pitt)
Best Supporting Actor (Cohen, Cyler, Grace, Hall, Magaro, McNairy, Poulter, and/or Stanfield)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Michôd)
Best Production Design
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design
Best Film Editing
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Best Original Score
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing

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