I know I had promised a wrap up of last year's Oscar season but its pretty wrapped up already. With that in mind I am instead posting a three part series on upcoming films that may or may not play into this year's awards race. The first two posts will deal with the twenty films that currently have the loudest early buzz attached to them. The final post will cover ten films that don't have as much general buzz yet, but that I just can't wait to see anyway. Let's start with films 20 - 11 on the current buzzometer:
20. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD - opens June 29th
directed by: Benh Zeitlin
written by: Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
starring: Quvenzhane' Wallis
Last year's awards race was frought with coming of age tales about young boys (War Horse, Extremely Loud, Hugo), so why not one focusing on an even younger girl. Beasts of the Southern Wild tells the story of Hushpuppy, a six year old girl who sets out alone to find her absent mother in a world where climate change is unleashing prehistoric beasts upon the world and her father has fallen gravely ill. The film has already won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance as well as the cinematography award and been critically received with fervor that is already drawing comparisons to Slumdog Millionairre and The Artist. Working against the film? Sundance is VERY early in the year (this time last year Martha, Marcy Mae, Marlene and Like Crazy were the toast of the festival) and the film's June release also gives it plenty of time to fade from voter's minds before the screeners start to arrive. A successful appearance at Cannes (?) or a strong box office performance could help to overcome these problems, but that is all conjecture at this point. The lack of experience and star power connected (this is Wallis's acting debut and Zeitlin's first feature length film) could also be a stumbling block. This will, however, be either a contender or one of the film's that is lamented for not having been. It would be so much fun to see Zeitlin triple nominated for directing, screenplay, and score.
19. THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK - opens November 21st
directed by: David O. Russell
written by: David O. Russell
starring: Bradley Cooper, Julia Stiles, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, Jackie Weaver
Director David O. Russell's last film, The Fighter, allowed him to finally break into the Best Picture/Director races but failed to impress me as much as the Academy. This was mostly due to the script, however, as Russell obviously led his four leads to give powerhouse performances. His films that he also scripted have been much more to my liking (I Heart Huckabees and Three Kings particularly) and he returns to double writing and directing duties with The Silver Linings Playbook. The film is a drama centered around a young man who tries to put the pieces of his life back together after release from a mental institution. While stars Bradley Cooper and Julia Stiles have not been awards magnets in the past, they have definitely demonstrated that they have the chops to break through with the right roles. With De Niro and Weaver (can't wait to see her in ANYTHING since Animal Kingdom) as Cooper's parents and a late November release, this film seems poised to play for keeps this year.
18. MOONRISE KINGDOM - opens May 25th
directed by: Wes Anderson
written by: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
starring: Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda
Swinton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman
Wes Anderson's films have danced around the edges of the big races for years securing Animated Feature and Original Screenplay nominations in the past (for Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Royal Tennenbaums respectively) but suffered from the comedy curse when it comes to the Best Picture race. Once again, he seems poised to possibly break in with Moonrise Kingdom, a film about a young couple who runs away together and how the efforts to search for them turn their New England island town upside down in the process. Kingdom is already set to open the Cannes Film Festival just prior to a late May release, mirroring the path followed by the Tree of Life to a Best Picture nod last year. The cast is also filled with awards players (Norton, Murray, Swinton, McDormand, Keitel) many of whom have already proven to work well with Anderson in the past. Anderson's dry quirky brand of comedy seems like it should be more palatable to AMPAS than more broad comedies, and even gross comedy Bridesmaids made a good shot at Oscar last year, so who knows. Whatever the outcome, this movie is definitely on MY must watch list for 2012.
17. LIFE OF PI - opens December 14th
directed by: Ang Lee
written by: David McGee
starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tobey McGuire, Ge'rard Depardieu, Tabu
Even though Lee's last film (Taking Woodstock) fell a little flat, the man who brought us Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon can never be counted out of the Awards races. He returns this year with Life of Pi, based upon the wildly successful novel by David Magee. It tells the story of a young Indian boy who is trapped with a variety of wild animals after a shipwreck. Many have cited that this will be a difficult novel to adapt to the screen and you know what they say about working with children and animals, but Lee is high on the list of directors who should be able to make a go of it. A mid December release date should give the film an excellent shot at awards consideration, should it be well received. It would also be great to see McGuire finally nab a Best Supporting nomination, but we will have to wait and see.
16. BRAVE - opens June 22nd
directed by: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
written by: Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews
starring (voice): Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connelly, Craig Fergusen
Unless it is the sequel to their worst reviewed movie ever (cough...Cars 2...cough), the latest Pixar feature must always be considered a serious contender for Animated Feature at the very least. This year they bring us Brave, the story of Merida a Scottish princess and archer who is propelled into adventure in an attempt to fix problems she has brought upon her kingdom. It also marks the first Pixar feature with a female lead character. What you can see of the animation from the early stills is encouragingly gorgeous. Both of the directors are relative newcomers to the role (although Chapman did direct Prince of Egypt) but have long histories with film and animation, and they have some great voice talent to work with. Only time will tell if the picture has the goods to break out of the animated ghetto, but if the field is wider than five this year, expect it to at least generate a lot of buzz about a Best Picture nomination.
15. TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE - opens September 28th
directed by: Robert Lorenz
written by: Randy Brown
starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman
Yes, we've all been burned the last few years by putting Clint Eastwood projects on our lists of early contenders, but this is a dramatic change of pace. Eastwood is turning over the director's chair to long time collaborator Robert Lorenz and making his first acting appearance since 2008's Gran Torino (which was meant to be his final film as an actor) and his first acting appearance under another's direction since In the Line of Fire almost twenty years ago. In Trouble With the Curve he stars as an aging baseball recruiter who takes his daughter (Adams) with him on one last road trip. Once again, we could be looking at Eastwood's swan song as an actor and that could be too much for the Academy to resist, even if sports films are often a hard sell (and we just had a baseball film last year).
14. UNTITLED TERRENCE MALICK PROJECT - opens ???
directed by: Terrence Malick
written by: Terrence Malick
starring: Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, Amanda Peet, Ben Affleck, Javier
Sure it doesn't have a release date or even a title yet and Malick's films are synonymous with post production delays, but its currently scheduled for 2012 so we'll put it on the list and keep our fingers crossed that we see it this year. This writer/director's films almost always factor into the year end awards in some capacity and two of his last three have garnered Best Picture nominations from the Academy. This film is being billed as a romance about a man reconnecting with a girl he knew in his hometown. Of course, with Malick that is sure to be a less simple tale than it sounds like on the surface. While this picture is likely to be a contender in Picture, Director, Cinematography and possibly Original Screenplay (Score?, Editing?), the acting prospects are a bit more sketchy no matter how brilliant some of the performances might be. You see, NO ACTOR has EVER gotten an Oscar nomination from appearing in a Terrence Malick film. Strange but true.
13. GRAVITY - opens November 21st
\ directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
written by: Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron, Rodrigo Garcia
starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
The story of an astronaut stranded alone in mid-spacewalk, the rest of her crew dead, desperately struggling to get back to safety, Gravity promises to be the acting challenge of Sandra Bullock's life thus far. She is reportedly in almost every frame of the movie, and her and George Clooney in a much smaller role are pretty much the whole cast. Fans and critics alike have been anxiously awaiting director Cuaron's follow up to the widely acclaimed Children of Men. Movies set in outer space typically have a difficult time with the Academy (outside of historical dramas), but this could be the film to break through. One thing is for sure, it is an excellent chance for Sandy to prove that her Best Actress win was more than a one-shot fluke.
12. ARGO - September 14th
directed by: Ben Affleck
written by: Chris Terrio
starring: Bryan Cranston, Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Titus Welliver, Taylor Schilling
Ben Affleck's directorial efforts have played very well with critics and to some extent the Academy although neither Gone Baby Gone nor The Town quite managed a Best Picture nomination. Maybe the third time will really be the charm. Argo is the story of a CIA mission to rescue Americans trapped in Iran during that nation's revolution. Both of his previous efforts have garnered acting nods, so this might be excellent news for John Goodman who is surely due for his first nom (especially with appearances in two other high profile awards pics likely to be released this year).
11. Anna Karenina - November 9th
directed by: Joe Wright
written by: Tom Stoppard
starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Emily Watson, Kelly MacDonald
There have already been a dozen or so film adaptations of the classic Tolstoy novel going all the way back to 1910. However, the writing/directing team here is very strong, the cast has the makings of a stellar ensemble, and period dramas are right in the Academy's wheelhouse, so who can say? At the very least, this film should be a strong contender for Art Direction, Costume, and Make-up. Knightly, also, has been steadily building her award creds in recent years, so if she nails this, Best Actress could well be up for grabs as well.
And that's it for now. I will soon return with films ten through one, and they should have a little something for most tastes. The top ten has historical biopics, fantasy, musical numbers, new adaptations of classic characters, political intrigue, action, and a "Western" where the hero is an escaped slave.
Feeling fresh as a tadpole,