The calendar says November 30 but for film critics it’s already the end of the year. The New York Film Critics Circle is gathering as I write to vote on the year’s best efforts (even though a few year-end films, notably The Last Jedi and The Greatest Showman, haven’t been shown to critics yet). This week the National Board of Review, which isn’t a critics’ group but a club of film enthusiasts, gave its top award to Steven Spielberg’s Christmas release The Post, with its stars Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (as Kay Graham) being honored with Best Actor and Actress respectively. The film is an unabashed prequel to All the President’s Men set during some tense days in 1971 when the Washington Post (of which Graham was owner-publisher and Bradlee was editor) was undergoing an IPO and trying to match the New York Times’ blockbuster series of stories on the Pentagon Papers. The paper gets caught up in a high-stakes legal case when the Times is hit with an injunction not to publish from the Justice Department (which claimed the Pentagon Papers, an internal government series of policy discussions about the Vietnam War, jeopardized national-security interests). Graham and Bradlee learn from their lawyers that if their stories on the Papers have the same source as the Times’ series (which they did), then they could be held in contempt, which potentially could brand them felons, which in turn would prevent the company from owning TV stations (as it then did). The film will be marketed as a timely story about the fight for the First Amendment, which in turn will make it attractive to Oscar voters as a kind of rebuke to President Trump (though there are no obvious references to Trump in the film). The supposed threat to the First Amendment Trump represents is overplayed in my opinion, but Oscar voters will be looking for a way to express their opposition to him and no other film released this year is a better opportunity to do that.
So The Post is a strong contender for year-end honors, though it is artistically too straightforward for some critics (who love ambiguity). My guess is the Oscar race is between it and Call Me By Your Name, a gay love story set in the Italian countryside in the early 1980s that features an extraordinarily appealing performance from the trilingual young actor Timothée Chalamet as a teen discovering his sexuality while striking up a flirtation with a grad student played by Armie Hammer. Dunkirk looks like it is going to be nominated across the board for technical Oscars and seems like it could win Christopher Nolan a Best Director Oscar — for which he has never even been nominated. I don’t think it will win Best Picture because I doubt it will strike Oscar voters on an emotional level.