A funny thing happened on the way to the Oscars: A bunch of movies with a wicked sense of humor stormed awards season.
The Academy Awards race will always be dominated by prestigious dramas like last year’s best picture winner Moonlight, but in 2017, “there does seem to be a little bit more of a comedic bent to several of the top contenders,” says Dave Karger, special correspondent for IMDb. “None are ‘ha ha’ funny, but they have satiric or quirky elements that really help bring out the more serious issues.”
The most memorable movie from the first half of the year, acclaimed horror hit Get Out, uses humor as “a fantastic counterpoint” to Peele's exploration of racism, Karger says. The “sillier relationships” in coming-of-age tale Lady Bird (now showing in New York and Los Angeles, expanding through November) and Tonya Harding biopic I, Tonya (in theaters Dec. 8) showcase interesting mother/daughter dynamics — and Oscar-ready performances by Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Margot Robbie and Allison Janney.
Kumail Nanjiani's autobiographical The Big Sick chronicles how a life-threatening disease brought him and his wife together. And the “applause-worthy one-liners” delivered by best actress favorite Frances McDormand in the small-town tragedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (in theaters Friday in New York and L.A., expands to additional cities throughout November, goes nationwide Dec. 1) “are a wonderful antidote to the tragedy and heartache her character is going through,” Karger says.
Unlike the usual crop of Oscar fare, there's a fan-friendliness to these films because of the way they blend humor with relevant issues, according to Erik Davis, managing editor for Fandango.com and Movies.com. Three Billboards examines violence against women, I, Tonya takes on domestic abuse, and The Big Sick explores interracial coupling and its effect on families.
"The more accessible the nominees, the more attention they’re going to get and the more talked about they are," leading to more interest in the actual Oscars themselves, Davis says.
Somber fare such as World War II films Dunkirk and Darkest Hour (Nov. 22), as well as Guillermo del Toro’s period fairy tale The Shape of Water (Dec. 8) and Steven Spielberg’s journalism drama The Post (Dec. 22), currently top awards prognostication site GoldDerby.com’s predicted best picture nominees, though Three Billboards, Lady Bird and Get Out aren’t too far behind.
Lady Bird boasts an extraordinary perfect score from critics on RottenTomatoes.com, Three Billboards surprisingly snagged the audience award at Toronto Film Festival (an important bellwether, according to Karger) and Get Out has had consistent industry support since its release in February, says Tom O’Neil, GoldDerby founder and editor. “Yes, it’s shocking that’s made the list as a horror movie, but it’s more shocking it’s made the list as a comedy. It’s going to do well this season and that’s strange.”
Adds Karger: “Usually, there’s that funny one in the mix. It’s rare that you have three or four.”
O’Neil also points out that this crop of quasi-comedies are having their moment because of the mood of the country right now: “Hollywood’s looking for a light tonic during these trying Trump times, to offset all the drama in Washington and in real life.”
Karger figures that because "our world is pretty absurd right now, movies that have a touch of absurdity in them, but also have something to say, will be appealing."