We’re just a few months away from the fall festival circuit and award-season movie jamboree, which is why there have been so many f*cking trailers in the last week. The latest addition is for another automatic contender, First Man. It’s the re-team of Ryan Gosling and Damien Chazelle, following La La Land, and it’s about Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission. First Man looks specifically focused on the overwhelming danger of the mission, and the enormous risk Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins took. No word yet if they’ll mention the bags of sh-t left on the moon.
Of course this looks great. We know Chazelle knows how to make a good-looking movie. And Ryan Gosling has the focused intensity, stare-into-the-middle-distance thing down pat. Zero complaints about how any of this looks. And like Kathleen, I’m already penciling in Gosling as an easy tip for a Best Actor nomination, and Chazelle for another directing nod. And maybe Claire Foy, too, as Janet Armstrong? She’s playing the stressed wife of a Great Man. The Academy LOVES stressed wives of Great Men, almost as much as they love ingénues. She’s a shoo-in.
We’ve seen some good trailers in the last week for early Oscar contenders, but we still don’t know how award season is going to shape up. We don’t know what will be ready for fall festivals, and what won’t, so we don’t know who all the contenders really are, and we don’t know how any of this will play to audiences. A Star Is Born looks like it could straddle the popularity divide between audiences and critics, and Matthew McConaughey is making a run at it, and don’t forget Widows, which might also appeal to wide audiences and the Academy. But we don’t know yet how any of this will actually play.
First Man should be a no-brainer—America loves astronauts! Except we don’t. Not anymore. Neil Armstrong spoke at my commencement at USC, and at least half of the people I knew were disappointed we didn’t get a “celebrity”. He’s Neil F*cking Armstrong! HE WALKED ON THE MOON! And people were literally like, Ugh, who even is he? And that was more than a decade ago. In the intervening time, has America’s imagination been reignited by space and astronauts? No. Sure, some of us love space, and the internet + podcasting has opened up new communities for enthusiasts. But NASA has been defunded almost to the point of uselessness and there is not a significant youth movement to reinvest in space. We’re content to let space exploration become the province of bored billionaires.
Maybe, if First Man is really good, it could remind people and/or introduce them to the wonder of space. That’s the best-case scenario. That it’s amazing and beautiful and moving and provides an experience for the generations who didn’t get to watch the moon landing live (sort of how Saving Private Ryan defines World War II for those who didn’t live through it). Or maybe it falls flat because not enough people care about space exploration anymore. The big questions facing First Man are 1) do enough people care about this story to support this movie, 2) why is it coming out in 2018 and not 2019, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and 3) will they mention the dozens of bags of sh-t they left on the moon?