James Gray's Ad Astra received positive reviews, but what are its chances at this year's Oscars? Historically, the Academy has a tendency to stay away from sci-fi pictures (at least in the major categories), though there have been some notable exceptions over the past few years. Gravity, The Martian, and Arrival are recent examples that come to mind, and at the outset of the fall festival season, there were those who believed Ad Astra might be a contender in that vein. It combines big-scale, grand filmmaking techniques with an intimate, personal story about families and humanity.
It's no secret Ad Astra was subject to multiple delays, due to the extensive visual effects work required to complete the film and the Disney/Fox merger becoming official this year (Ad Astra was one of the finished Fox films Disney inherited). Normally, when movies keep getting pushed back like that, it's a bad sign in terms of its quality. Fortunately in Ad Astra's case, it's an exception to the rule. Following a world premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, Ad Astra continued to receive good reviews as it entered theaters. But will that critical reception be enough to launch it into the Oscar race?
Right now, Ad Astra's best shots at nominations are in the below-the-line categories. Lots of reviews praised the film's technical aspects, including the aforementioned visual effects, cinematography, and production design. Ad Astra is a technical marvel meant to be seen on the biggest of screens, with Gray demonstrating impressive vision in his portrayal of outer space. The director's painting on a large canvas here, and just about everyone who's seen Ad Astra is quick to laud the craftsmanship behind it. The film is absolutely beautiful to look at, and it would be surprising if it didn't score some technical nominations during the season. Whether or not it's the favorite in any of those fields is a different discussion, but Ad Astra should be recognized with at least nominations.
Another celebrated aspect of Ad Astra is Brad Pitt's performance as Roy McBride. The actor rises up to the challenge of carrying the film on his shoulders, with an understated and nuanced turn. Some viewers may find Roy emotionally distant at times, but Pitt is able to channel the character's underlying humanity and hits all the right emotional beats. However, Best Actor is as crowded as it's ever been this year, and Pitt's going up against the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Adam Driver, Joaquin Phoenix, and more. It seems unlikely Pitt will crack the Lead Actor lineup with the intense competition. If he's going to be nominated this year, the better odds are on Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino's latest is expected to be a big player across the board, and there could be a big push to get Pitt his first acting Oscar there instead. Also, Pitt's noted he's abstaining from campaigning publicly, which may hurt his overall chances.
Ad Astra's Best Picture odds are virtually nonexistent at this point in time. While the film has its fair share of fans, it seems to be lacking the widespread support and passion necessary to contend for the Academy's top prize. In order to earn a Best Picture nomination, a film needs to receive 5% of first-place votes on the preliminary ballot, and it's hard to see Ad Astra beating out titles such as Marriage Story, Jojo Rabbit, and others for those votes. Fox also has Ford v. Ferrari this year, an old school crowdpleaser that earned positive reviews out of Telluride and Toronto. For the studio, that film feels like the safer bet for a Best Picture nomination. It's a title Disney is particularly excited about, so they'll likely prioritize it on the campaign trail. Ad Astra will likely be gunning for the technical categories and nothing more.
- Ad Astra (2019) release date: Sep 20, 2019