Welcome to the 2020 Awards Profile series, where we talk about films coming to a theater near you in the coming year (at least at this time of writing). The series analyzes the films and their awards season potential, most notably for the Academy Awards, based on the talents attached, filmmakers involved, and story and source material. Monday through Friday until mid-May, AwardsCircuit will bring you a new and exciting project and discuss its chances for success. If you have a suggestion for a movie we should cover, include it in the comments section below. If you miss a film covered, click on the tag or category for “Awards Profiles.”
FILM: “The Trial of the Chicago 7″
DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Pictures
DIRECTOR: Aaron Sorkin
PRODUCERS: Stuart M. Besser, Matt Jackson, Marc Platt, Tyler Thompson
WRITER(S): Aaron Sorkin
CAST: Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, Mark Rylance, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Thomas Middleditch, William Hurt, Alex Sharp, Caitlin Fitzgerald, John Carroll Lynch
SYNOPSIS: The story of 7 people on trial stemming from various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. (IMDB)
SCHEDULED RELEASE: October 2, 2020
Aaron Sorkin‘s sophomore directorial effort is the very definition of awards bait. After “Molly’s Game,” Sorkin has come aboard to helm “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which has been in development hell for years. Filmmakers like Paul Greengrass, Steven Spielberg, and Ben Stiller have tried to make a movie out of Sorkin’s screenplay, though it took the scribe himself to finally get it over the finish line. An Oscar winning writer, making a large scale second feature, with an A-list cast? It’s hard not to consider that as strong a starting point for a contender as possible. Factor in the important message of political activism that this movie sports and voters are going to smell Oscar catnip.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” couldn’t be timelier. Taking place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, we could be literally only a few month removed from July’s DNC event. If that turns out to be as chaotic as it appears like it might be, a film of this nature will strike a raw nerve. For voters, especially if it appears like Donald Trump is in a position to be re-elected, this might be an opportunity to embrace protest cinema. The era may be different, but the fractured electorate and bleak political climate are strikingly similar.
This cast is rather stellar. Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, Mark Rylance, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Thomas Middleditch, and William Hurt are just some of the names attached. As far as big ensembles go, the Academy can sometimes fall hard for them. We could easily see them go all in on this, especially if the Screen Actors Guild backs it in a big way. A first acting nomination for Cohen (depending on category placement) in the baity role of Abbie Hoffman, as well as a first overall for Gordon-Levitt, might be in the cards.
Paramount Pictures definitely sees this as one of their big Oscar ponies. On paper, it’s impossible not to agree with them. A fancy premiere on the fall festival circuit could cement that. Look for it to perhaps debut at the Telluride, using that as a launching pad to the awards season once it opens in early October. If the reception is strong, the possibilities are nearly endless.
While being timely is a potential boon, it also looms as possibly a challenge. There’s a distinct possibility that Oscar voters just won’t want to deal with the subject matter. Whether it’s optimism or pessimism about the impending election, this film will open mere weeks before America votes for President. That alone represents a challenge. The news and airwaves overall will be inundated with political ads. Will a political movie just be too much?
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” also has the disadvantage of not being a likely below the line juggernaut. Despite being a period piece, the more it takes place in a courtroom, the less those period details will be able to shine. That puts an added amount of pressure on Sorkin’s filmmaking, as well as the cast. They have the track record to succeed, but in order to be a high level contender, they’ll have to exceed. If the film becomes just about Sorkin’s script or one of the performances, that won’t be a recipe for success.
Right now, Sorkin is in a solid position. His movie has a buzzed about script, a phenomenal cast, and timely material. However, the Academy has been moving away from this type of material recently. He’ll have to deliver the goods in order not to get lost in the shuffle. Paramount has faith in this, but come fall, its likely festival bow will be the true first test.
POTENTIAL AWARD CATEGORIES IN PLAY:
- Motion Picture (Stuart M. Besser, Matt Jackson, Marc Platt, Tyler Thompson)
- Director (Aaron Sorkin)
- Actor in a Leading Role (Sacha Baron Cohen)
- Actor in a Supporting Role (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eddie Redmayne)
- Original Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin)
- Production Design (Shane Valentino)
- Cinematography (Phedon Papamichael)
- Film Editing (Alan Baumgarten)
- Original Score (TBD)
POTENTIAL KEY NOTICES FROM OTHER GROUPS
- Best Performance by a Cast (SAG Awards): With such a huge ensemble, SAG seems tailor made for this epic cast. Perhaps a win here could be what cements its strong Oscar prospects?
- Best Original Screenplay (Writers Guild Awards): Aaron Sorkin might be on his way to another Academy Award if he wins this important precursor. It may well be his Waterloo, especially if his work is celebrated, but the cast falls through the cracks.