Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 has been hailed as one of 2017's finest films, and it potentially could have a large presence on this year's awards circuit. Oscar season is now in full swing, with several of the fall festivals either completed or underway. Already, movies like The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are thought to be legitimate contenders for numerous nominations, and there are other hopefuls that have yet to screen (like Steven Spielberg's historical drama, The Post). Over the next few months, cinephiles will try to predict the Best Picture lineup, always keeping an eye out for dark horses that could find a way into the race.
The long-awaited Blade Runner sequel could become one of those unlikely candidates, especially after it earned widespread positive reviews that praised everything from its craftsmanship to its thought-provoking story. While some felt 2049 was boring, the general consensus is that Villeneuve somehow delivered on his promise to make a faithful Blade Runner followup - one that expanded upon the universe and themes established in the original. Though 2049 is unfortunately struggling at the box office, it has a passionate and supportive following, which certainly bodes well for its Oscar prospects. But how far can the film go? Is it destined to just dominate the technical categories, or can it make some noise in the top tier races?
A Technical Marvel
Blade Runner 2049's easiest shots at Oscar gold come in the below-the-line categories, as just about everyone is in agreement the film is masterfully constructed. Using Ridley Scott's vision of a dystopian future from the first film as a jumping off point, Villeneuve recreated the world with modern technology, fully immersing his audience in something that was primarily practical, but still sci-fi. The production design is state-of-the-art, and Roger Deakins' cinematography is characteristically pristine. After being nominated so many times without a victory to his name, many are hoping this is the year the legend finally gets his Oscar. 2049's visual effects are also jaw-dropping, seamlessly blending real-world and CGI elements and pulling off some impressive feats.
2049 should easily match its predecessor's total of two Oscar nominations, which came in the Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects categories. Those two aspects of Villeneuve's film are unanimously praised, with many admiring the grand sets and scope of the picture. Star Ryan Gosling said that while he was shooting the movie, he could see "where the money was going" in regards to the design, and it's clear the $150+ million budget was well-spent. Deakins is a shoo-in for a 14th nomination, and the sound editing/mixing teams should also be recognized for their efforts. It also wouldn't be surprising to see Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch get a nod for their work on the original score, which paid homage to what was done by Vengelis on the first film while also standing on its own. There's always a film or two that dominate these categories, and Blade Runner 2049 has all the makings of one.
Where we stand in the race right now, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk represents the greatest challenge to 2049 in the crafts. The World War II epic was hailed for its own impressive technical merits, providing audiences with a different kind of experience in a very familiar genre. Coincidentally, both were distributed domestically by Warner Bros., so it will be interesting to see how the studio handles its campaigning. On-paper, Dunkirk is the more "traditional" Academy choice, but as we'll illustrate shortly, the notion of what constitutes as an Oscar movie is changing. WB will surely play the overdue card with Deakins, and sci-fi films usually find support from these branches, due to their portrayals of otherworldly environments. It's true the first Blade Runner didn't find much love in the Academy, but that film was released at a time where Scott's opus was divisive and polarizing. In the decades since, many an industry professional has great reverence for Blade Runner and its impact on movies.
That Blade Runner 2049 should dominate the technical categories (at least in terms of nominations) shouldn't come as a surprise. The larger question here is if it can land any of the above-the-line prestige categories. The double-whammy of being a sci-fi film and a sequel is a big hurdle it has to clear, but there is a precedent here - one that caught even the studio off-guard when it managed to break through and become one of the ones to beat.
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