Join Date: Dec 2009
Re: 86th Annual Academy Awards (2014)
A few more:
"The Great Gatsby"
The last few years have seen big, expensive 3D extravaganzas by legendary directors ("Avatar," "Hugo," "Life of Pi") do pretty well at the Oscars, picking up multiple wins and challenging for Best Picture (though none have yet managed it). Warner Bros has two such films, the first perhaps a dicier prospect. "The Great Gatsby" was one of our predictions last year, but we've cooled on it a little since, not least because the studio delayed it five months to May 2013. Now, a similar fate befell Baz Lurhmann's last Best Picture nominee "Moulin Rouge!" and that didn't harm it too much, but by taking on such a literary classic, he's setting himself up for more of a fall, even with a starry cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire. We hope Luhrmann will pull it off, and if he does, this could be a serious challenger, but it's more execution-dependent than many of these other possibilities.
Warner Brothers' other big 3D film at this point is "Gravity," the belated return of Alfonso Cuaron, which sees Oscar favorites Sandra Bullock and George Clooney stranded in space after their station and ride home are destroyed in a meteorite shower. Much-anticipated despite an eleven-month delay, the film apparently has lengthy takes and impressive effects, and if Cuaron can pull off his script (and there's little reason to think he won't), it should be gripping and awe-inspiring. And Warners seem to think there's hope for it, setting it for an October release date analogous with the date "Argo" landed last year. But will it be read as arty Best Picture potential, or a shiny entertainment-only blockbuster? This writer thinks that, with Bullock and Clooney fronting it, it's going to be more of the former, but there's some disagreement in the team to that effect. Let's also remember WB released "Cloud Atlas" -- another starry, high concept slice of sci-fi -- in the same frame, and it went nowhere...
Since the field opened up to more than five nominees, most years have seen at least one nominee turn up from Sundance ("Precious," "An Education," "The Kids Are All Right," "Winter's Bone" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" all got their start there). This year, the most likely candidate seems to be "Fruitvale," the debut film from Ryan Coogler, which stars "Chronicle" actor Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant, who was killed by a policeman in the Bay Area in 2009. By all accounts, it's powerful and impressively made stuff, and had more than a few people whispering about awards potential, not least The Weinstein Company, who picked up the film. Will it be able to keep their attention over their starrier fare? That's the big question; it would have arguably been better off with Focus Features or Fox Searchlight, who have less awards bait on their plate at this stage of the game. Still, if the others fall...
Among those on The Weinstein Company slate is James Gray's "Lowlife," starring the awards-friendly trio of Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner. Gray has never been an Oscar player (none of his films to date have ever received a nomination), but his critical reputation has grown over his five-year absence, and his new one, a period piece about an immigrant (Cotillard) who falls for a magician (Renner) who hopes to save her from a pimp (Phoenix), has an epic quality to the premise that may help it get more traction. And perhaps more importantly, it has the backing of The Weinstein Company, who picked it up last year. Another Cannes potential, this would appear to be their equivalent to "The Master" for 2013, for better or worse. Gray doesn't have the prior Oscar form that PTA had, but perhaps this film will prove more accessible? Either way, it's one to keep an eye on.
"Grace Of Monaco"
As ever, Harvey Weinstein likes to hedge his bets with awards season -- for every "Django Unchained" or "Silver Linings Playbook," there's a "Killing Them Softly" or a "Quartet" that didn't quite land with voters. The most recent addition to his slate is "Grace Of Monaco," which stars Nicole Kidman as Hollywood star turned princess Grace Kelly. It's a pretty potent story, awards wise, and Kidman is always a boon to potential awards fare, while director Olivier Dahan had Academy success with a biopic before in "La Vie En Rose." Of all the films this year, this might be the biggest question mark quality-wise (Dahan's last film, "My Own Love Song" was dreadful), and there's always the possibility that it might be closer to "My Week With Marilyn" (or worse, "W.E."), but the combination of its central figure, Kidman and the Weinstein Company mean it could be a juggernaut.
"Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom"
There's yet more to watch from The Weinsteins this year, including another recent purchase: Justin Chadwick's "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom." Long in development (Shekhar Kapur and Tom Hooper were both attached at one point), it's a biopic of ANC freedom fighter turned South African leader Nelson Mandela, focusing in particular on his 27 years in Robben Island prison. "The Wire" and "Luther" star Idris Elba plays Mandela, with Naomie Harris as his wife Winnie. The script comes from "Gladiator" and "Les Miserables" scribe William Nicholson, who has Oscar form, but Chadwick's earlier films ("The Other Boleyn Girl," "The First Grader") instill less confidence. As such, we're not convinced that this is more than a performance showcase yet, but it could be a potential curveball. Expect it to surface around TIFF, if not before.
And The Weinsteins have one other film that has plenty of award-winners among its cast, but has one major negative with the potential to weigh it down. On paper, "The Butler" has all the right stuff: the true-life tale of Eugene Allen, the White House butler who served eight presidents, an all-star cast led by Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey as his wife, and an Oscar-nominated director. But much of the all-star cast seems to be made up of stunt casting (John Cusack as Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan, Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower), and that Oscar-nominated director is Lee Daniels, who was eviscerated by critics for his work on "The Paperboy" this past year. He is working from a script by Danny Strong ("Recount," "Game Change"), so there's hope that it might be a little more restrained, but even so, Daniels will probably need to have reined in his excesses for this to earn serious heat.
"The Fifth Estate"
The success of "The Social Network" has been a boon for films dealing with that kind of subject matter, and while we doubt that "Jobs" has anything close to a chance, given its reviews from Sundance, Wikileaks picture "The Fifth Estate" could be one to keep an eye on. Before his "Twilight" diversion, Bill Condon was a familiar Academy face thanks to "Gods & Monsters" and "Chicago," plus producing the show once. And with a script that looks to mirror David Fincher's film in its dissolution of the central relationship of a famous website, and some buzzworthy actors in the shape of Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl (who's also getting attention for his "Rush" performance), this could put him back in the Dolby Theater. The subject matter is timely, but the film's already gathering controversy, and Condon's a patchy filmmaker who's had Oscar misfires in the past ("Dreamgirls" which had eight nominations but missed Best Picture, "Kinsey"), so it's not a home run yet.
Given the generally beloved nature of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence after their success with "Silver Linings Playbook," one would think that a film which reteams them would have a lot of potential for awards attention. And that goes double when it's "Serena," a dark period piece based on the novel by Ron Rash, about a married couple attempting to set up a timber empire in Appalachia in the 1920s. It's certainly a change of pace, but Lawrence's part is a doozy (once marked for Angelina Jolie, when Darren Aronofsky was going to direct), and it has the potential to feel like a Great American Novel of a movie. But it's very much under the radar at this point (it still has no distributor, though it wrapped last summer), and we wonder about director Susanne Bier, whose output of late has been disappointing (although she did win an Oscar two years ago for "In A Better World"). Our gut right now says that this'll be overshadowed by the David O. Russell's film that also reteams Lawrence and Cooper, but if the reviews land, it might could be a force to reckoned with.
One of the benefits of opening up the Oscar field wider has been allowing smaller and foreign films to break through. While it's still something of a rarity (excluding "The Artist") "Amour" was the first foreign-made, foreign-language film to be nominated since "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." As such, we think a dark horse could be "The Past." A team-up of a number of recent foreign-language breakouts ("A Separation" director Asghar Farhadi, who won the Foreign Film Oscar in 2012), "The Artist" star Berenice Bejo, and "A Prophet" actor Tahar Rahim), the plot's mostly under wraps, but seems to involve a romance between an Iranian girl and a married North African man (Rahim) in contemporary Paris. "A Separation" picked up a Best Screenplay nomination as well as its Oscar, and if someone like Sony Pictures Classics pick it up (it's likely to premiere at Cannes), they could give it a similar push to "Amour."
One of the more prestige-happy, high-profile grown-up movies set to hit this year, hopes are clearly high for "The Counselor," the first screenplay written by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy. A brutal crime tale about drugs on the Mexico border, it's directed by A-lister Ridley Scott, and has a top-flight cast including Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz. So why aren't we more excited? Well, for one the script is incredibly violent, making "No Country For Old Men" look like a picnic, and is likely to be quite divisive. For another, Scott's been off his A-game for a while, and isn't the most natural fit for this kind of material. And finally, the big-name cast are, Fassbender aside, not necessarily all that well-matched to their roles (particularly true of Diaz). We live in hope, as do Fox (they've set it for a November release, prime Oscar season), but don't be surprise if this just isn't the Academy's kind of thing.
"A Most Wanted Man"
John Le Carre films might not have been Best Picture fodder of late, but between "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "The Constant Gardener," they've been responsible for a brace of nominations over the last decade or so. Could that continue (or even be exceeded?) by "A Most Wanted Man"? Hailing from Film4, and directed by "Control" and "The American" helmer Anton Corbijn, it follows a Chechen refugee caught up in espionage in Berlin, critiques extraordinary rendition, and has Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Willem Dafoe, Daniel Bruhl and Nina Hoss among the impressive cast. Our gut says that the film may be too politically spiky to make many Academy inroads, and Corbijn's previous films haven't exactly been warmly embraced by the establishment. But stranger things have happened, especially if it lives up to our expectations and gets embraced by critics.
"Dallas Buyers' Club"
The inspirational disease biopic has fallen out of favor in recent years, but Matthew McConaughey has a doozy this year, with this story of Ron Woodroof, who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, given six months to live, only to survive for six years thanks to smuggled non-FDA approved medication, alternative healthcare, and court battles. McConaughey's already got a ton of attention for his weight loss, but we're not quite convinced that this has the legs beyond the central performance -- even "Philadelphia" missed a Best Picture nomination, and director Jean-Marc Vallee ("The Young Victoria") isn't a major figure as yet. But if the film surprises, maybe it'll turn out to be a bigger deal than we think at this stage.
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints"
"Fruitvale" might have been the mostly warmly received film at Sundance, but "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" arguably got the more enthusiastic reviews, even if it was a touch more divisive. David Lowery's feature, following a criminal couple in the 1970s played by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, had some seriously impressive notices (including ours), and seemed to mark the arrival of a new talent in a way that mirrors Benh Zeitlin made his mark with "Beasts of the Southern Wild." It would have to be a "Tree of Life"-style critical favorite to get traction, though, and given that it was picked up by IFC Films, who have very little form when it comes to successful Oscar campaigning, this one probably isn't going to happen to any major extent.
While he got a Best Director nomination at his first time at bat for "Being John Malkovich," for the most part, Spike Jonze hasn't been an awards magnet; none of his three films to date earned a Best Picture nomination, and his last, "Where The Wild Things Are," missed out altogether. Could that change with his new film, "Her?" There's certainly a strong selection of talent involved -- Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Samantha Morton, plus Megan Ellison as producer. But given that the plot involves a man who falls in love with his mobile phone (essentially), we suspect it'll be too quirky to register with the Academy (though Jonze could end up figuring in the Best Screenplay race). At the same time, we probably would have said that about "Being John Malkovich," so you never know....
"Out Of The Furnace"
"Crazy Heart" proved to be a surprise late-entrant into the race a few years ago; it missed Best Picture, but won Jeff Bridges an Oscar. And the new film from its director, Scott Cooper, came close to being another late-breaker this year; Relativity seriously considered pushing the release up into December 2012 in order to qualify. That certainly suggests that the company are confident in the crime drama, which stars Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Woody Harrelson and others. "No Country For Old Men" aside, the genre hasn't had all that much luck with the Academy of late, but Cooper seems to be up their street, and the star power could help. There's no release date as yet, but look for a festival debut and a late-year bow.
You've probably forgotten that Atom Egoyan is an Oscar nominee; he picked up a nod for "The Sweet Hereafter" nearly two decades ago. The prolific Canadian filmmaker hasn't been anywhere near awards season since, but that might change with his West Memphis Three movie "Devil's Knot." The true crime tale is well-worn in the documentary world, but the "Paradise Lost" trilogy and 2012's "West Memphis Three" probably didn't get on the Academy's radars, so the story might be new to them. With a cast including recent winners Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, plus rising star Dane DeHaan, it's certainly got the potential for prestige, and if Egoyan's back on form, this could be a real dark horse.
There are multiple biopics in the works this year, as we've seen already, but one that we're a touch more skeptical of is "Diana," formerly known as "Caught In Flight." Written by Steven Jeffreys ("The Libertine"), and directed by "Downfall" helmer Oliver Hirschbiegel, it focuses on the romance, towards the end of her life, between Princess Diana (Naomi Watts) and surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). Watts' presence aside, we're a bit skeptical about the potential substance of the thing, although the film's apparent focus on her campaigns against land mines might help. Hirschbiegel's been off his game since his Hitler biopic, and we honestly can't see a scenario where this turns out to be more than a showcase for a performance, and certainly not one of the best films of the year. But, hey, stranger things have happened...
"Man Of Steel"
After movies like "Avatar," "District 9" and "Inception" made it through, Oscar attention has rather dried up for tentpole blockbusters, with recent fare including "Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Skyfall" failing to make the cut. And this year's batch seems fairly unlikely to change that, with too many sequels and films of slightly questionable quality. But one to keep an eye on might be "Man Of Steel." The film's shaping up nicely, if the trailers are anything to go by, with impressive cinematography and a Nolan-ish sense of a reinvention of the most iconic superhero in history. It's clearly taking itself seriously, and if the film works (we've heard buzz to the effect that it really does), it could be easier to get some awards traction. It's still a very, very long shot (it's a Superman movie directed by Zack Snyder after all and again, films like this fall short with the Academy more often than they land), but this far out, one worth considering.
"The Way Way Back"
Another Sundance movie that arrived with a ton of buzz is "The Way Way Back," the directorial debut of Oscar winning "The Descendants" screenwriters Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, which premiered in Park City and was snapped up by Fox Searchlight for a near-record sum. A coming-of-age tale starring Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell and Alison Janney, among others, it's been described as "the next "Little Miss Sunshine' " by more than one person. And there's a notable lack of this kind of comedy-drama this early in the awards season game, and it could fill the "Silver Linings Playbook" slot. The said, the movie is getting released in July, so it'll have to play the long game (and be a smash hit), but that worked out fine for 'Sunshine,' so it could well end up in contention.
Also Worth Keeping An Eye On: "The Grandmaster," "The Young & Prodigious Spivet," "Rush," "About Time," "Prisoners," "The Railway Man," "Third Person," "The Invisible Woman," "Blood Ties," "The Place Beyond The Pines," "Blue Jasmine," "Can A Song Save Your Life," "Mud," "The Spectacular Now "