8 Louisiana-linked movies, people to watch this Oscar season

December 22, 2017

Mike Scott, Nola.com

The 2018 Academy Awards are still months away, scheduled to be handed out on March 4. But don’t think for a moment that Oscar campaigns aren’t already in full swing.

With critics’ groups already naming their favorite films of the year, and a full slate of pre-Oscar award shows about to start flooding the airwaves, this year’s award season is already well underway.

That being said, while the Louisiana film industry hasn’t been as busy this past year as in previous years, there are enough locally connected projects to give New Orleanians a rooting interest in this year’s race to the red carpet.

Here’s a look at locally linked films, filmmakers and performers to keep an eye on as award season rolls on:

 
"Wind River"

Director Taylor Sheridan’s neo-noir Western crime drama wasn’t shot locally and doesn’t star anyone local, but it does have an interesting local connection -- and one that circles back to Hollywood’s ongoing sexual abuse scandal.

It all dates to the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where The Weinstein Company picked up distribution rights to the critically acclaimed film, starring Jeremy Renner as a tracker who becomes involved in a federal investigation into the mysterious death of a young woman on the Wind River Indian Reservation in snowy Wyoming.

Then, a behind-the-scenes twist: In October, Weinstein Company honcho Harvey Weinstein became the subject of a New York Times expose that painted a portrait of a man who had engaged in a decades-long pattern of sexual abuse of women. That prompted producers to sever all ties from Weinstein’s company.

The film’s new financial backer? The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. What’s more, all future proceeds from the film are earmarked for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, a charity for battered Native American women.

While the film’s award-season chances are undeniably hurt by its lack of a big-time distributor that knows how to navigate the politics of Hollywood’s exceedingly competitive award-season landscape, that backstory just might help it catch the eye of voters. As good a film as it is, they might also decide to champion it.

 
"Mudbound"

From the moment it debuted at January’s Sundance Film Festival, director Dee Rees’ New Orleans-shot period piece -- boasting a powerful and timely tale focusing on race in America -- was hailed as an instant award-season contender. All these months later, nothing has chance, and it’s still in the running to score a coveted best picture Oscar nod.

Mudbound Photo: Garrett Hedlund, left, and Jason Mitchell star in director Dee Rees' period drama "Mudbound." (Netflix)

Jason Mitchell

The locally raised actor, who introduced himself to Hollywood with a scene-stealing performance as Eazy-E in 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton,” got a chance this year to show his range as a returning World War II veteran in Rees’ locally shot “Mudbound.” He seized it.

Willem Dafoe of “The Florida Project” appears to be the frontrunner in the race for best supporting actor at this early stage in award season, but don’t be surprised to hear Mitchell’s name cropping up as pre-Oscar awards are handed out.

 
Hong Chau

The actress, who grew up in New Orleans East, isn’t yet getting much award-season attention for her performance in Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” -- but that could be because the film has yet to come out yet, and so hasn’t had much of a chance to build momentum.

While her status as a relatively Hollywood newcomer could work against her, Chau’s performance is such a revelation -- and is so easy to love -- that she makes an intriguing dark-horse candidate to make a run in the race for best supporting actress.

 
"Logan"

In a time of fairly homogenous superhero fare at the box office, director James Mangold’s New Orleans-shot “Logan” stands apart as the rare comic-book movie that dared to break the mold.
While that probably won’t matter a whit to Oscar voters when assembling their best picture field, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that actor Patrick Stewart could earn a supporting actor nod for his latest, moving turn as “X-Men” leader Professor Xavier.

 
"The Beguiled"

Despite its wealth of strong performances, I wouldn’t expect director Sofia Coppola’s New Orleans-shot melodrama to work its way into many, if any, major races. If for no other reason, there’s the fact that it was released in June, which means most voters will have forgotten about it by the time they cast their ballots.

But then, the film did Coppola best director honors at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which few saw coming, so anything’s possible.
All that being said, her “Beguiled” is such a beautiful-looking film that its best chances are probably in the technical categories -- specifically for its costumes, as well as for its and hair and makeup. Award-season groups love to reward period pieces with such accolades, and “The Beguiled” just might catch their eye.

Photo: New Orleans filmmaker Garrett Bradley (pictured) won the won the 2017 Sundance jury award for her 13-minute nonfiction short film 'Alone.' (Photo via blvxmth)
"Alone"

Local filmmaker and Loyola University film professor Garrett Bradley’s Sundance-decorated film, about the effect of mass incarceration on children and families, was recently announced as one of 10 films to make the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ shortlist for this year’s Oscar in the documentary shorts category.

The list will be narrowed down to five final nominees -- which gives Bradley a heck of a chance of hearing her name called out when this year’s Oscar nominees are announced Jan. 23.

 
"The Disaster Artist"

Like “Wind River,” James Franco’s dramatic comedy about the making of the notoriously bad 2003 film “The Room” wasn’t shot locally and doesn’t feature any local actors. But Franco’s character, “The Room” star Tommy Wiseau, claims to have grown up in the New Orleans area. More importantly, Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau is creating buzz as a potential best actor nominee.

It’s also worth noting that New Orleans native Chris Spellman served as production designer on “The Disaster Artist” -- so he could benefit should voters decided to reward the film in technical categories.

Photo: A local film crew at work. (Ted Jackson / NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

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