Awards Profile 2018: Adam McKay’s ‘Backseat’ from Annapurna Pictures

FILM: “Backseat”
PRODUCERS: Will Ferrell, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adam McKay, Brad Pitt, and more
DISTRIBUTOR: Annapurna Pictures

DIRECTOR: Adam McKay
WRITERS: Adam McKay

CAST: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Bill Pullman, Allison Pill, Bill Camp, Tyler Perry, Lily Rabe, Shea Whigham, Justin Kirk, Don McManus, and more

SYNOPSIS (via iMDB): The story of Dick Cheney, the most powerful Vice President in history, and how his policies changed the world as we know it.

WHY IT MIGHT SUCCEED:

Many scoffed when filmmaker Adam McKay transitioned from studio comedies with Will Ferrell to a baity prestige picture in “The Big Short.” Well, an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay later and McKay is someone to take very seriously. Now, as his next film, he’s opted to make a biopic of ex-Vice President Dick Cheney. Known to some as a supervillain and to others as one of the most influential politicians of all time, McKay has a vast canvas to paint with here. The possibilities are wide-ranging.

McKay has assembled another A-list cast for “Backseat,” including some A-listers he should be pretty familiar with. Christian Bale has the lead role as Cheney, returning to play with McKay. Steve Carell also is re-teaming with the filmmaker, playing Donald Rumsfeld, while newcomers include Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Sam Rockwell as President George W. Bush, and more. Behind the scenes, he’s also got editor Hank Corwin and composer Nicholas Britell back for another round. Handling cinematography is Greig Fraser, which makes for a hell of a team in place. To use a political term, McKay’s cabinet is stocked with the very best, unlike a certain real-life administration.

At this very early stage, one has to look at “Backseat” as a potential frontrunner. A new look at a famous historical figure, that’s right in the wheelhouse of many voters. Just like “Darkest Hour” tackled a divisive figure and scored this year, “Backseat” could do the same. In fact, this film might be able to do better than the five nominations “The Big Short” received, especially if you look at Adams and Bale as early frontrunners. It’s impossible not to see this as one of the bigger contenders right now. Not including it in your predictions is a dereliction of duty if you’re a prognosticator.

Megan Ellison and Annapurna are behind this one, along with Brad Pitt and Plan B Entertainment. Ellison and her company have gone from just producing a steady stream of Academy Award players to attempting to distribute them as well. That could go either way, as you’ll see later on, but the A-list producer is no stranger to the Best Picture race. Nominated four times herself, she’s a force. Furthermore, Pitt’s company is another top-notch production house, helping “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight” to a Best Picture wins, along with helping to get “The Big Short” where it got. McKay and “Backseat” have about as high profile a production group as possible. If nothing else, when awards season rolls around, they’ll be ubiquitous on the scene.

WHY IT MIGHT NOT SUCCEED:

Can lightning strike twice for McKay? “The Big Short” arguably overperformed, so expectations for his follow up are sky high. Everything about this project screams Oscar, but following up an Academy Award winner can go one of two ways. If things go well, as mentioned above, it’ll be an across the board player. Conversely, if “Backseat” is even a half step down, the knives will be out. In that case, then McKay and company could fall by the wayside early on. There is risk in coming off such a surprise success.

Something worth considering is how folks will take what may end up as a partially sympathetic portrait of reviled political figures. To be sure, McKay is strongly liberal and against the policies of Bush and Cheney. That being said, he’s got to be looking for theatrical motivation within them. Audiences will surely be fascinated by Cheney, which includes voters, but will they be able to stomach rewarding something that could be tantamount to rewarding the man? It’s not a fair situation, especially without knowing McKay’s angle on the former Vice President, but it’s a distinct possibility to watch out for.

Teaming up with Annapurna could also go either way for “Backseat” come Oscar time. They’re new on the scene as distributors, having really only made awards play with “Detroit” for Kathryn Bigelow last year. In 2018 they’ll be trying to make their mark, but just as we saw back when CBS Films was new on the scene, sometimes the Academy takes their time to warm up to you. A24 gives hope to all new players out there, but nothing is guaranteed. If Oscar decides to wait to go all in with Annapurna as not just a production company, but a distributor, then “Backseat” could have a tough time cracking through.

POTENTIAL OSCAR CATEGORIES IN PLAY:

Motion Picture – Will Ferrell, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adam McKay, Brad Pitt, etc
Director – Adam McKay
Actor in a Leading Role – Christian Bale
Actress in a Leading Role – Amy Adams (Could go Supporting)
Actor in a Supporting Role – Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell
Actress in a Supporting Role – Amy Adams (Could go Lead)
Original Screenplay – Adam McKay
Production Design – Patrice Vermette
Cinematography – Greig Fraser
Film Editing – Hank Corwin
Makeup & Hairstyling – Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney
Original Score – Nicholas Britell

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