The last time there was a movie year without a World War II-themed film? That would be 1938 — the year before the war (at least in Europe) technically started. So dominant has WWII been as a movie topic, in fact, that nobody really bothers trying to figure out what comes in second. Time travel? Zombies? Mobsters? Nobody cares.
This year, however, is quickly shaping up to field the most competitive slate of WWII-themed awards contenders since 1987 when The Last Emperor went 9 for 9 in its Best Picture Oscar run. Other WWII-themed contenders that year included Louis Malle’s Au Revoir Les Enfants, John Boorman’s Hope and Glory and Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun.
So far, 2017 has given us two Dunkirk-themed contenders — Their Finest and, of course, Christopher Nolan’s odds-on Oscar favorite (for the moment) Dunkirk — as well as one movie about a famous author scarred by his war service (the J.D. Salinger tale “Rebel in the Rye”) with another about a similarly-tortured famous artist (the eponymous Tom of Finland) due in October. All are expected to fare well during awards season.
None, however, have stirred quite as much awards buzz as Darkest Hour, in large part because of star Gary Oldman’s dazzling disappearance into the persona of Winston Churchill which has made him the strongest odds-on favorite in the Best Actor category since Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln turn. Incredibly, such a nomination would only be Oldman’s second, following his nominated 2011 performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Given the familiarity that audiences suddenly have with Churchill — thanks to John Lithgow’s impressive turn on Netflix’s The Crown and Brian Cox’s considerably less impressive, albeit earnest performance in the year’s earlier Churchill — Oldman is also benefitting from a certain amount of “pre-recognition” momentum of the sort typically reserved for Marvel movies.
The new trailer doesn’t exactly expand on the first — nor could it, really, since we already know the story — but it does suggest that Focus is in it to win it, and with the ensemble cast of Dunkirk highly unlikely to field anyone in the Best Actor category, any kind of Dunkirk sweep on Oscar night would make it easier for Oldman to simply ride Nolan’s coattails.
Then again — could Darkest Hour compete with Dunkirk for the bigger prize? Director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) is no slouch, and with a script by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) we could be looking at a WWII-themed horse race.
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