The agonizing wait for Oscar movies to finally show themselves towards year's end is annual gripe of mine. While some years aren't as bad as others, 2016 has thus far proven to be exceptionally back-ended, with nearly every predicted Best Picture contender waiting until the last two months of the year (three months if you include the inevitable January roll-outs) to debut to the public. Only next weekend's limited release of Barry Jenkins' festival darling Moonlight provides us with the faintest hope of a Best Pic nominee that dares to drop before November.
On a more optimistic note, one of my recent pet peeves that's likely not to repeat this time around is the execrable #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. After two consecutive years of exclusively Caucasian acting nominees, the social media furor looks to be potentially quelled by projects like Denzel Washington's Fences, Jeff Nichols' Loving, the aforementioned Moonlight, and the recently announced Christmas release for Hidden Figures, all of which figure in to most pundits' current preictions.
Regrettable as it is to anticipate that the diversity controversy could
be so easily silenced merely by the presence of black actors (how many
nominees in major categories this year do we expect to be Hispanic,
Asian, Middle Eastern...?), I still welcome a year off from this
particular online rage storm.
Meager box office returns have also befallen Mira Nair's Queen of Katwe, which is depressing. It's not that Disney needs the money, but that other studios need to see movies like this succeed so we can get more of them released in the otherwise thin September-October calendar. Charting the rise of Phiona Mutesi (luminous newcomer Madina Nalwanga) from selling maize in the slums of Uganda to impressing the world at international chess competitions, the film feels like a sports movie wrapped in a slice-of-life. Though heavily laced with feel-good cliches, Nair treats her characters and setting with earnestness and empathy, never kneeling to empty exoticism. The performances are earthy and generous, particularly from David Oyelowo as Phinoa's dedicated, idealistic coach, and Lupita Nyong'o as her pragmatic, concerned mother.