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 Profile.”
FILM: “News of the World”
DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
PRODUCERS: Elizabeth Gabler, Gary Goetzman, Gregory Goodman, Tom Hanks, Gail Mutrux, Tore Schmidt (Executive Producer), Steve Shareshian (Executive Producer)
WRITER(S): Luke Davies and Paul Greengrass (based on the book by Paulette Jiles)
CAST: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Mare Winningham, Michael Covino, Fred Hechinger, Chukwudi Iwuji, Neil Sandilands & Thomas Francis Murphy
SYNOPSIS: A Texan traveling across the wild West, bringing the news of the world to local townspeople, agrees to help rescue a young girl who was kidnapped. (IMDB)
SCHEDULED RELEASE: December 25, 2020
Coming off a season of Tom Hanks love, there’s little reason to believe the train will be abruptly stopping. It took Hanks almost twenty years to get another Oscar nomination, and if it were not for Brad Pitt, he very feasibly could have his third Oscar on his mantle. With a highly emotional story on the page, Hanks will be the front-and-center of this film. The description instantly draws comparisons to his characters in “Saving Private Ryan” and “Road to Perdition.” Returning to the lead category, Hanks sells this film and its surprising holiday release date. However, Universal very nearly won Best Picture with this release date last year. If there’s a studio to bet on, having Universal in your corner helps.
The last time that Hanks collaborated with Paul Greengrass, “Captain Phillips“ became a surprise Best Picture nominee. Unfortunately, the two of them seemed to be the only two without recognition at Oscar, despite considerable precursor support for each of them. While “Captain Phillips” did not win any Oscars, it received three craft nominations for the sound categories and editing. It also picked up Barkhad Abdi, a seemingly unknown actor, and pushed him into the race. With a screenplay nod for Billy Ray, “Captain Phillips” seemed to have broad support across the Academy.
On paper, the “Captain Phillips” comparison feels exceptionally apt. Outside of Hanks and Greengrass, the cast is full of potential breakouts. However, other than Mare Winningham, there are almost no recognizable names. Greengrass has a strong track record of pulling unknown actors out of their shells and getting worthy nomination performances out of them. On paper, Helena Zengel feels like the breakout Oscar nominee in Supporting Actress (there’s potential for category fraud here). Zengel already starred in Germany’s Oscar submission in 2019, “System Crasher.” That film is already available on Netflix for those looking to get ahead on her career.
The writing pedigree of the film also bodes well. Luke Davies earned an adapted screenplay nomination for “Lion” at the 89th Academy Awards. The book in question, written by Paulette Jiles, was a National Book Award nominee in 2016. Greengrass will take a look at the script as well, and given his journalistic background, that certainly cannot hurt.
Below the line, there are plenty of reasons for excitement too. The sound team features Rachael Tate, the only woman nominated in the sound categories last year. The costumes come from Mark Bridges, fresh off his fourth Oscar nomination for “Joker” last year. All of Bridges’ nominations, including his wins for “Phantom Thread” and “The Artist,” came in the past decade. David Crank has five career nominations with the Art Directors’ Guild but has yet to convert to Oscar. Is this his year?
Perhaps most intriguing is the pairing with William Goldenberg. The five-time nominee already has a pedigree of building intense films, including his Oscar victory for “Argo“ and “Zero Dark Thirty“ coming in the same year. Goldberg worked with Greengrass on the harrowing “22 July“ and if Greengrass needs to add tension, he’s got the best crew available to build it organically.
The release date indeed remains a concern. “1917” made the late leap, but it was also a technical masterpiece. While Greengrass could certainly aim for a big swing, the story may not support that effort. Luckily for Greengrass, a Best Picture nominee has released in December every year in the last decade. “News of the World” could nab that nomination.
However, this December appears to be particularly busy. “The Last Duel” is also releasing on Christmas. That film is also a period piece with a veteran director (Ridley Scott) and features the Ben Affleck/Matt Damon reunion we’ve been waiting for. One week earlier, Steven Spielberg returns with “West Side Story,” Denis Villeneuve releases his version of “Dune,” and Eddie Murphy releases the long-awaited “Coming 2 America” after his flirtation with Oscar last year. If “News of the World” can be finished early, it might be beneficial to move it up. The late November timeframe could be a perfect match for the Western, separating it from the December holiday release scramble.
Another issue facing “News of the World” will be the genre. Based on the novel, the film takes place during reconstruction and is undoubtedly a Western. “Hell or High Water” earned its nomination in 2016, but even then, it was more of a heist thriller. Last decade, “The Revenant,” “True Grit,” and “Django Unchained” each cracked the lineup. With less than half of the decade even featuring a Western, that could hurt “News of the World.”
Finally, the unknown cast is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it could create a feeling of something fresh and new. Oscar likes to crown new stars, and there are a few that could pop in this film. However, it also means that some people will ignore it. Combined with genre bias and negative attitudes towards Westerns, this could spell trouble. This becomes even more dangerous when released against movies with stars. A bad box office will not help.
POTENTIAL AWARD CATEGORIES IN PLAY:
- Motion Picture (Elizabeth Gabler, Gary Goetzman, Gregory Goodman, Tom Hanks, Gail Mutrux, Tore Schmidt, Steve Shareshian)
- Director (Paul Greengrass)
- Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks)
- Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Corvino)
- Actress in a Supporting Role (Helena Zengel (Category placement?), Mare Winningham)
- Adapted Screenplay (Luke Davies and Paul Greengrass)
- Production Design (David Crank)
- Cinematography (Dariusz Wolski)
- Costume Design (Mark Bridges)
- Film Editing (William Goldenberg)
- Makeup and Hairstyling (To be announced)
- Sound Mixing (To be announced)
- Sound Editing (Rachael Tate, Kevin Penney)
- Original Score (To be announced)
POTENTIAL KEY NOTICES FROM OTHER GROUP
- Best Director (BAFTA): Greengrass has scored three nods from BAFTA for direction. He even got a nod for “The Bourne Ultimatum” (with “United 93” and “Captain Phillips” earning his other two nods)
- Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (SAG): Could Hanks get his second individual SAG prize? He won for “Forrest Gump” in 1995 in what was the very first SAG prize in this category. It would be great to see him return to the stage 26 years later.
- National Board of Review (Top 10): If “News of the World” is going to break late, it needs to get this. “1917” nabbed to start its run towards Oscar. More than anything, it will mean that groups have this on their watchlist.