So now that I've w(h)et your appetite (to match my froggy-skin), with the first ten films in this series it is time to get down to the ten most awards buzzed movies of the year so far. Oscar nominations are still a looong way away, so anything can happen. Films on this list will flop with the critics (Larry Crowne or J Edgar anyone?) and films we have no idea about at this early stage will appear (like a little movie called The Artist did last year in May). Still, I think it is safe to say that several of these films WILL be contenders and most, if not all, of them should at least be highly watchable. So settle in with a frosty bottle of fly juice (or whatever inferior libation you prefer) and let's get started.
10. THE SURROGATE - opens ????
directed by: Ben Lewin
written by: Ben Lewin
starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H Macy
Writer/director Ben Lewin has made a handfull of films in the past, but none of them have really broken through in a way that has made him into a name to be reckoned with. That may all change this year, however, with The Surrogate. In it, he tells the story of a man who has spent his life in an iron lung and now wants to hire a sexual surrogate to help him lose his virginity. It has already won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival as well as a Special Jury Prize for ensemble acting. Its three stars are no strangers to the AMPAS. The Academy may be (or should be) chomping at the bit to reward John Hawkes after his snub for Martha, Marcy Mae, Marlene last year, and the film could provide excellent comeback material for Helen Hunt and/or William H Macy. I myself am particularly looking forward to this one.
9. ZERO DARK THIRTY - opens December 19th
directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
written by: Mark Boal
starring: Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez, Kyle Chandler
Formerly titled Kill Bin Laden, Bigelow and Boal's follow up to Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker tells the story of the military's mission to hunt down the infamous Al Queda leader. They had actually already begun filming before Osama was found and had to stop production to rewrite the ending as history unfolded. Which calls to the forefront the film's greatest advantage (besides its amazing production team and cast): it could NOT be more timely. It is also exactly the sort of film that Bigelow does best, one in a genre that is traditionally male dominated. The cast is also replete with talented up and comers (Strong, Chastain, Edgerton, and Ehle were all either in or dancing on the edge of last year's acting races), so if this film delivers the goods all manner of accolades are possible.
8. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY - opens December 14th
directed by: Peter Jackson
written by: Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Evangeline Lilly, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Billy Connolly
Many pundits seem to feel that Peter Jackson has already been rewarded enough for adapting the tales of Middle Earth to film. The Lord of the Rings series was nominated for a total of thirty Oscars and won seventeen of them. However, considering the care that Jackson puts into these movies it is hard to imagine the first of this two part prequel to that series will not be a powerhouse in at least the technical categories. When you factor in how much of the incomparable cast and production team are returning for these films, the sky may well be the limit. Early delays plagued the production (along with departure of original director del Toro), but with Jackson back at the series' helm expect great things.
7. HYDE PARK ON HUDSON - December 7th
directed by: Roger Michell
written by: Richard Nelson
starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman
Okay, so a LOT (I am CAP happy today) of people feel that Bill Murray is way overdue to win an Oscar. At 61, he has paid his dues and come very close. Playing FDR in a biopic centered around a love affair between the iconin president and a distant, younger cousin (portrayed by three time nominee Laura Linney, whose career has been on an upswing of its own of late) sounds like the sort of role that could do the trick. Add in the always captivating Olivia Williams and Olivia Colman (who many feel was snubbed last year for her work in Tyrannosaur) and you have a pretty good recipe for some acting awards. Director Roger Michell has never really established himself as an awards magnet type in the past, so Picture and Director seem less likely, but that is why the word breakthrough exists. This film seems like a big question mark to me, but Murray's fans are keeping it at the forefront of the conversation.
6. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES opens July 20th
directed by: Christopher Nolan
written by: Jonathen Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S Goyer
starring: Christian Bale, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Liam Neeson, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Juno Temple
Okay, am I going to lose all credibility and be written off as a mere fanboy if I admit that this may be the movie that I am MOST looking forward to this year? I'll keep it to myself then. But seriously, Nolan's Batman trilogy is the smartest, sleekest, and most brilliantly cinematic adaptation of a comic book character (and characters) ever. And so far, it just keeps improving. Nolan excells at transcending genres and, let's face it, the Best Picture field was widened largely in an effort to never let another film like The Dark Knight slip through the cracks. Just look at the cast. And the technical awards? I don't think I'm going out on too much of a limb to say that I could easily see this film getting ten or more nominations when it is all said and done.
5. THE MASTER - opens ???
directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
starring: Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Dern
Paul Thomas Anderson has only directed six feature length films over a span of sixteen years but he knocks it out of the park every time. His latest, The Master, is set in the 1950's and follows the ascension of a budding cult leader. Anderson's last film (There Will Be Blood) just missed the Academy's top two prizes. Also note, a charismatic religious "Master" seems like a role perfectly suited to allow Hoffman to knock it out of the park and into another park located several miles away. After last year's cotton candy Oscars, some slightly darker fare is sure to break in this year. Regardless of how the awards race turns out, I expect this to be one of the year's best.
4. DJANGO UNCHAINED - opens December 25th
directed by: Quentin Tarantino
written by: Quentin Tarantino
starring: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Don Johnson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kurt Russell, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Walton Goggins
When Tarantino makes a film it is always a unique event, whether he is embraced by Ampas or not (but he often is, despite the risks he takes or the boundaries he pushes). He shows no signs of growing any more conventional with Django Unchained, the story of a freed slave turned bounty hunter who returns to the plantation where his wife is still a slave. Oh, and it's being billed as an action/western. Likely to be controversial, Django is a real wild card, but Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds both challenged the definition of what it means to be an "Oscar Movie". Jackson and Waltz have both worked very successfully with Tarantino in the past. Also, the director's penchant for reviving the careers of fading stars (Travolta, Greer, Forster, etc) certainly bodes well for Johnson and Russell. If anyone can make Don Johnson hip again, its this man. Add in a whole assortment of OTHER great talent that has never worked with Quentin and this one promises to be FUN.
3. THE GREAT GATSBY - December 25th
directed by: Baz Luhrmann
written by: Baz Luhrmann
starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Tobey Maguire
So...Christmas day at the cinema this year is going to be Leo in Django vs. Leo in Gatsby. Hmm.... Director Luhrman's record is inconsistant and this novel is notoriously difficult to adapt to the screen, but the era of the flappers does sound sort of "Moulinesque" so we shall have to wait and see. Predicting DiCaprio for a nomination has become a regular pitfall for many on the web but the guy is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) actors of his generation, so let's just assume eventually we'll all be right. Yes, Bachir took me by surprise last year too, and I'm a little bitter. As an aside, this will be the first film DiCaprio and close pal Maguire have done together since This Boy's Life in 1994. Mulligan and to some extent Edgerton were also considered near misses last year for recognition, and that should work in the film's favor as well.
2. LES MISERABLES - December 14th
directed by: Tom Hooper
written by: Alain Boublil
starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks
Les Miserables is my favorite musical of all time (well, maybe tied with Cabaret). To say that it is not exactly musical comedy would be an understatement. It is dark and depressing and if it doesn't make you cry by the end either somebody did something wrong or you may be lobotomized or dead (like much of the cast). The casting here is interesting. When I first heard that Seyfried was on board I imagined her more as Eponine, but maybe that's just because I like her and Cosette is a much less interesting character. Cohen and Carter as the Thernardiers are inspired choices and I expect "Master of the House" to be a major highlight here. As a stage play, Les Mes relies largely on the proximity of the live actors and the immersion in the world of the French Revolution to get the audience fully invested in the melodrama and tragedy of it all. This is more difficult to do on a movie screen, but if The King's Speech revealed one great strength of director Tom Hooper's it is the ability to tug at the heartstrings. If he can do the same thing with a much less uplifting story I'll forgive him for beating at least five better movies at the Oscars a year ago. I really will.
1. LINCOLN - opens Dec ? (exact date TBA)
directed by: Steven Spielberg
written by: Tony Kushner, John Logan, Paul Webb
starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Jackie Earle Haley, James Spader, Walton Goggins, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Hawkes, David Straitharn, Hal Holbrook
The Oscars love a biopic. They love a costume drama. They love sweeping historical epics. They love Spielberg. They love Day-Lewis. So why on Earth wouldn't they love Lincoln? It's no wonder that this picture has the most buzz of all this year's offerings at this early point in the game. Of course, Spielberg's War Horse was in the same position last year and wound up winning nothing. It seems like a film tailor-made for awards love, but is that all it is? Only time will tell.
And that is the buzz list, but this is a three part series, and the next part is gonna be my favorite. Coming soon, my ten most anticipated movies that did not make this list. Froggy's "Hops of Faith" if you will. They may not have the focus of as many bloggers and pundits at the moment, but these films have me just as excited as the twenty we have already discussed.
Believe what I have "toad" you,