2018 Awards Profile: Mimi Leder’s ‘On the Basis of Sex’ from Focus Features


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: “On the Basis of Sex”
PRODUCERS: Robert W. Cort
DISTRIBUTOR: Focus Features

DIRECTOR: Mimi Leder
WRITERS: Daniel Stiepleman

CAST: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Kathy Bates, Jack Reynor, Stephen Root, Cailee Spaeny, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston, and more

SYNOPSIS (via iMDB): The story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her struggles for equal rights and what she had to overcome in order to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.


If there’s any potential 2018 contender that’s of this moment, it’s this one. “On the Basis of Sex” is a biopic of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who would go on, in spite of sexism, to become a United States Supreme Court Justice. Helmed by Mimi Leder, making a return to feature films after a number of years spent directing peak television, this could be one of the year’s attempts to get Oscar to notice more offerings not made by just white men. Getting to tell the story of Ginsberg is a plum one for Leder, who could be back in major filmmaking with this. Her movie “Deep Impact” is criminally underrated, so she’s certainly got the chops.

Casting Ginsberg is essential to the success of the flick, and Leder has a hell of an actress in the role of Felicity Jones. Paired with Armie Hammer, Jones should be able to have a potentially iconic role here. They’ll be joined by Kathy Bates, Jack Reynor, Stephen Root, Cailee Spaeny, Justin Theroux, and Sam Waterston, among others, but Hammer and Jones seem like the central figures. Of course, Jones will be front and center as Ginsberg, and rightly so. At the same time. Hammer playing the supportive spouse is a nice role reversal, one with some potential. This early out, it’s not hard to see Jones in Best Actress and Hammer in Best Supporting Actor is a pair to be reckoned with.

Inspirational biopics have long been Academy Award crack, so looking at how Ginsberg rose to the Supreme Court has potential. If the script by Daniel Stiepleman gives Jones ample opportunity to spread her wings, watch out. Having been nominated once before, Jones could be due to go ahead and win if this is as strong a match of actress and material as it seems. Then, the possibilities extend on. Having a potential frontrunner in Best Actress can only help “On the Basis of Sex” with voters.

Focus Features is handling this one, giving “On the Basis of Sex” the prestige distributor it needs. Focus has a lot on their plate, including “Black Klansman,” “Boy Erased,” and “Mary Queen of Scots,” so they’ll have to make some choices. It’s hard not to see Ginsberg’s biopic being one of their best bets with Oscar, but that remains to be seen. At this early juncture, “On the Basis of Sex” is a presumptive Academy Award player with a lot to like about it.


Perhaps this is too on the nose and safe? Ginsberg is a hero on the left, so there’s certainly an interest, but what about her story will Oscar latch on to? If the inspiration is on point, that won’t be a problem. The film needs to be a cut above though, especially as biopics become more offbeat and unique these days. Compared to recent contenders like “I, Tonya,” for example, there’s a chance this comes off too safe. Voters still like safe, but that could be less the norm than usual. That’s something to watch out for.

Jones may very well contend even if “On the Basis of Sex” is only decent, but anything else might end up beyond its reach. Leder has never been a prestige filmmaker (“Pay It Forward” was her attempt), while this is the first published work by scribe Stiepleman. Neither of those things means that the film won’t be a player, but they’re just factors to consider. Jones may well have to pull the movie along. If she’s up to snuff, that could end up meaning some solid nominations. If not, the flick could be one and done, or worse…shut out entirely.

A strong film festival debut will be essential here. Without a firm release date yet, Focus can decide wherein 2018 to drop it. The smart play would be to go to the Telluride Film Festival, potentially kicking off Oscar season. If they go to the Toronto International Film Festival, it could end up getting lost in the shuffle. In that case, a push to the 2019 season isn’t out of the question. For now, “On the Basis of Sex” is certainly one of the more obvious Academy Award contenders this year, though one that isn’t without its blemishes.


Motion Picture – Robert W. Cort
Director – Mimi Leder
Actress in a Leading Role – Felicity Jones
Actor in a Supporting Role – Armie Hammer
Original Screenplay – Daniel Stiepleman
Production Design – Nelson Coates
Cinematography – Michael Grady
Costume Design – Isis Mussenden
Film Editing – Michelle Tesoro
Original Score