Oscar Circuit: “It’s the time of the season”

The second half of the year is upon us.  The race is about to heat up with big Oscar hopefuls coming down the pike.  Our John Foote will be in attendance at the Toronto International Film Festival and many films will be unveiling themselves to critics alike.  There is a very unclear yet still feasible shape to the race looking from ten thousand feet.

There are internet jitters building for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  With the trailers released and now the film being pushed up to September, it looks as though we may be in store for a master class in filmmaking.  Phoenix also looks to be a lead contender for his first Oscar after delivering in his previous nominated works, Gladiator (2000) and Walk the Line (2005).  Phoenix does have tough competition ahead of him including what looks to be a critical darling-type performance coming from John Hawkes in Ben Lewin’s The Sessions.  Early word is very positive for the film and the turns by Hawkes along with co-stars Helen Hunt and William H. Macy.  Since Hawkes’ initial nomination two years ago for Winter’s Bone, he hasn’t shown any signs of letting up.  He was arguably left off last year in Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene and will be seen later this year in Julia Dyer’s The Playroom and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.  There seems to be a tremendous following and support for him in his current state.  Speaking of Spielberg, we’re still awaiting some type of marketing material for his upcoming Lincoln biopic.  No poster or trailer has been released with very few stills leaked online.  One starts to think if it will even be ready in time.

Taking a look at the next couple of months, the circuit will begin to reveal itself.

September
As his career progresses, Bradley Cooper is looking like a force to be reckoned in the future.  He will star opposite Dennis Quaid and Zoe Saldana in The Words.  An Oscar player?  Not looking based on the trailer but surprises occur every year during the race.  Before we see Henry Cavill star as the Man of Steel, he will play opposite Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver in The Cold Night of Day.  The film tells the story of a young Wall Street trader whose family is kidnapped.

Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Won’t Back Down”

Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallfower starring Ezra Miller, Emma Watson, and Logan Lerman will hit theaters September 14th.  While the film definitely feels younger than what the Academy would typically embrace, it’s always worth watching out for fresh new talent coming down the pike.  Richard Gere is looking to finally land an overdue nomination after missing out for Chicago (2002) in his newest effort Arbitrage directed by Nicholas Jarecki.  The film’s buzz has been nearly mute but there’s always something small that can become something big in an awards race.  Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts starring Elizabeth Olsen will look to gain some traction along Rian Johnson’s Looper with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis that has recently been announced as TIFF’s opening film.

After losing to Meryl Streep last year, Viola Davis will team up with Maggie Gyllenhaal in Daniel Barnz’s Won’t Back Down.  The question has been if Davis or Gyllenhaal will both be campaigned leads or are we looking at someone getting the supporting shaft?  Judging on the trailer, it looks like Davis could get the latter.  Robert Lorenz will be helming Clint Eastwood’s “final” acting performance in Trouble with the Curve along with Justin Timberlake and Amy Adams.  Eastwood’s last acting nomination came from his own Million Dollar Baby (2004), his finest and most note-worthy turn of his career.  He’ll need to top that to be considered a threat especially after winning two directing Oscars and two Best Picture winners.  Some may be inclined to move on to someone different.

And of course, don’t forget about The Master.

Film Most Likely to Be a Contender: The Master
Most Likely Acting Nominee (Male): Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
Most Likely Acting Nominee (Female): Viola Davis in Won’t Back Down
Most Likely Directing Nominee: Paul Thomas Anderson
Most Likely Screenplay Nominee: Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master
Most Likely to Surprise: Justin Timberlake in Trouble with the Curve

October
The month of Halloween may produce many scary trips to the movies and I’m not talking about the horror kind either.  Liam Neeson will be showing off a “certain set of skills” again in the unnecessary Taken 2.  We will also see Ethan Hawke star in Sinister next to Tyler Perry taking over Alex Cross.  We also have Paranormal Activity 4, Fun-Size, and Silent Hill: Revelation 3D.  While all of that sounds like nails on a chalk board Lee Daniels’ will unveil Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, and Zac Efron in The Paperboy.  While the film has received mixed early word thus far, you can never count out a revived love fest for Kidman or Daniels.  Jennifer Garner will be attempting to makeup her snub for Juno (2007) with a leading role in Jim Field Smith’s Butter, a film about an adopted young woman that discovers a talent for butter carving.

Ben Affleck in “Argo”

Ben Affleck will be starring and directing his third feature, Argo with Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman.  While the initial source material suggests we’re in for a political satire, this seems more “baity” than his other previous efforts.  Has Hollywood fully forgiven Affleck for his past efforts?  That’s something I’m trying to figure out.  Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010) only managed to get a sole acting nomination each despite very positive reviews from critics.

Academy Award Winner Colin Firth will be teaming up with Cameron Diaz in Michael Hoffman’s Gambit, the story about an art curator that decides to seek revenge on his boss while falling for an eccentric rodeo queen.  Perhaps a Golden Globe mention can kick start a campaign if the reviews are positive enough.

After being a major hit on the festival circuit and winning Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival, Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere will finally hit U.S. soil.  Being praised for her direction, could we have a female director in the hunt again for a nomination?  Word from the Los Angeles Film Festival and our own Joseph Braverman suggests a possibility.

After impressing the pants off critics and audiences with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Andrew Dominik returns with his follow-up with Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini titled Killing Them Softly based on the book, “Cogan’s Trade.”  After Pitt’s big loss last year to Jean Dujardin, many critics and audiences will be looking for something to reward the leading man in something substantial.  Co-star Gandolfini also has a role in David Chase’s Not Fade Away, the story about a group of friends trying to start a rock band.

After the release of the five-minute trailer, Tom Tykwer teamed up with the Wachowski siblings will be bringing Cloud Atlas starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.  While the trailer suggests we could be in for a visual spectacle, the book suggests some very heavy-handed material.  If the film gets too preachy or runs down the same line as Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006), it could be forgotten altogether.  The big film of the month will likely be Ben Lewin’s The Sessions.  Fox Searchlight will likely be pushing this in a big way.

Film Most Likely to Be a Contender: The Sessions
Most Likely Acting Nominee (Male): John Hawkes in The Sessions
Most Likely Acting Nominee (Female): Helen  Hunt in The Sessions
Most Likely Directing Nominee: Ben Affleck
Most Likely Screenplay Nominee: Andrew Dominik for Killing them Softly
Most Likely to Surprise: Ava DuVernay

November
The thick of the Oscar season!  I love it!  Disney will kick off November with their animated feature, Wreck-it Ralph, something that could unseat Pixar’s Brave, if proven to be any good.  Robert Zemeckis also returns to the big screen to helm Denzel Washington in the thriller, Flight.  By the looks of it, Washington seems to be hinting at the greatness he exhibited in the 90s and early 2000s.

Keira Knightley in Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina”

In Bruges was one of my favorite films of 2008 and my pick for Best Original Screenplay.  I’m looking forward to writer/director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up Seven Psychopaths with an all-star cast that includes Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken.  Early word has been positive for Harrelson’s turn.  Could we have a career win set up for Woody?

Action films will be making their appearances in November as well.  Before he starts belting out glory notes, Russell Crowe will be starring with Lucy Lui in RZA’s The Man with the Iron Fists.  The 23rd James Bond film will be hitting theaters with Daniel Craig back in the lead role.  If Casino Royale (2006) was any indication about how great James Bond can be, Skyfall may surprise us in a few categories.

Director Joe Wright will be teaming back up with Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina with Jude Law and Kelly MacDonald in tow.  Period pieces have always had impressive showings with the Academy before including two years ago with The King’s Speech.  There’s no reason to believe, at least initially, that the tides would change.

And then there’s Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2…yeah I didn’t think so.

Marion Cotillard received stellar reviews around the festivals for her portrayal in Jacques Audiard’s Rust & Bone.  Many saying she’s definitely in the hunt for her second Academy Award.  David O. Russell will be attempting to keep the momentum going following The Fighter (2010) with his dramedy, Silver Linings Playbook starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jacki Weaver.  Christmas will be in November with the voice talents of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, and Hugh Jackman in DreamWorks’ Rise of the Guardians.

Last week, 20th Century Fox released an astonishing trailer for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, adapted from the best-selling book of the same name.  Besides stunning visuals, we could be in store for an emotional and touting story helmed by the Academy Award winning director of Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).  Could there be room for a newcomer in the form of Suraj Sharma?  Could Irrfan Kahn get a long overdue recognition after missing out on performances in The Namesake (2006) and A Mighty Heart (2007)?  Thanksgiving weekend will tell.

There’s always talk about veterans getting due for a career’s worth of terrific turns that never garnered attention.  After hosting the Oscars last year, Billy Crystal will be bringing his comedic talents to the table along with Oscar nominee Bette Midler in Andy Frickman’s Parental Guidance.

And don’t forget about an up and comer by the name of Steven Spielberg directing two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis in the signature role, Lincoln.  What’s been head-scratching, besides the lack of posters or trailers, is which supporting performer can get noticed.  Based on the source material, which our own Robert Hamer has read, David Strathairn might have the more sizeable part that gets awards attention.  There’s also Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also has Premium Rush and a great turn in the summer’s The Dark Knight Rises.  James Spader, who’s had a great career despite no real awards attention.  Tommy Lee Jones, who’s still just as good today as he was twenty years ago playing Thaddeus Stevens.  Jackie Earle Haley, whose nominated turn in Little Children was only the tip of the iceberg.  And Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant, who probably has the “baitiest” role on paper; can he sneak in?  And then there’s the great Sally Field playing Mary Todd Lincoln, the supportive wife which Oscar loves to nominate and career resurgences.

Film Most Likely to Be a Contender: Lincoln
Most Likely Acting Nominee (Male): Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln
Most Likely Acting Nominee (Female): Marion Cotillard in Rust & Bone
Most Likely Directing Nominee: Ang Lee
Most Likely Screenplay Nominee: David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook
Most Likely to Surprise: Wreck-It Ralph

December
Kicking things off in the final month of the year is Roger Michell bringing FDR and a love affair to the screen in Hyde Park on Hudson.  Bill Murray couldn’t look more engulfed in the role based on the trailer and after a big loss to Sean Penn for Lost in Translation (2003); they’ll be looking for a make-up win.  Not to mention he’s been ignored most of his career after turns in Rushmore (1998) and Get Low (2009).  He also delivers a marvelous turn in the indie hit of the summer, Moonrise Kingdom directed by Wes Anderson, which could help.

The thing to keep an eye on is the ladies of Hyde Park and who can claw their way to the top.  Academy Award nominee Laura Linney is perhaps the most overdue by Oscar standards after three nominations on her résumé.  Olivia Williams, playing the role of Eleanor Roosevelt, has been criminally ignored her entire career thus far.  Showing the depth of her acting ability in The Ghost Writer (2010) and adding sprinkles of greatness in An Education (2009) and The Sixth Sense (1999), it’s time for Williams to get her time in the spotlight and the recognition she deserves.  Critics fell in love with Olivia Colman in Tyrannosaur last year and she wasn’t one of the dreadful parts of The Iron Lady.  As Queen Elizabeth, a role played by Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech), Sylvia Sims (The Queen), and even Fred Armisen (Saturday Night LIVE, well technically not the most accurate depiction but you get the point), it’ll be interesting to see what freshness she brings to the character.  There’s also Samuel West portraying King George, recently awarded to Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, which will be shooting for attention.

Peter Jackson will be returning to Middle Earth in the prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  While there is a definite divide on the site between those who believe and those who loathe this project, it’ll be interesting to see if Jackson can recapture the magic from his other films.

Kathryn Bigelow on the set of “Zero Dark Thirty”

Tom Hooper will be following up his Oscar win with the adaptation of the musical stage version of Les Miserables starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway.  In the trailer, hearing Hathaway belt out the emotional epicenter of the musical, “I Dreamed a Dream” has many calling her the undisputed frontrunner for the Supporting Actress Oscar.  She could be accompanied by co-stars Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks, two actresses with substantial roles in the film.  It’s hard to believe Jackman hasn’t had enough of an extensive enough résumé to bring nominations and citations his way.  If there’s a chance for him to break through, this is the role.

Judd Apatow has shown his dynamic writing style can be richer and more notable than other prestige pictures in a given year.  He’s even managed some citations from the Writers Guild of America for The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) and Knocked Up (2005).  His “sort of sequel” to his 2005 film, has some promise with Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd reprising their roles.  Maybe this new, inventive type of development can bring about a welcomed new genre for sequels.

After Kathryn Bigelow blew our hair back in 2008 in her Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker, her follow-up based on the events surrounding the capture and death of Osama bin Laden is sure to get people, at least Americans, in theater seats.  It also helps that Zero Dark Thirty collects a talented cast including Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain, Chris Pratt, and Jason Clarke.

Buzz seems to be quietly building for Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.  A true story based on a family who gets caught up in one of the most devastating natural disasters of our time, this is sure to not only be a tear-jerking roller-coaster ride but featuring two outstanding actors that haven’t had their proper due with Oscar yet.

Michael Haneke has hit many films out of the park including The White Ribbon (2009), Cache (2005), and The Piano Teacher (2001) although; they perhaps have not had their proper dances with Oscar.  In Amour, his upcoming project that has received some of the best early reviews from festivals, we could have our first Foreign Language Screenplay winner since Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her (2002).  If a critics’ wave comes, don’t be surprised if you see leads Emmanuel Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant among a surprising Lead Actor and Actress lineup.

Christmas time will bring bounty hunters, 3-D dramatic extravaganzas, and double DiCaprio.  Quentin Tarantino will unchain Django in his newest effort, Django Unchained with Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz.  DiCaprio, in his first full-on villainous turn will be looking to secure himself an overdue Oscar.  But one must be careful because Leo will also be in the lead role in Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  With Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire in the signature roles of Daisy and Nick Carraway, they too will be looking for Oscar attention.

There’s also some comedy coming our way in the likes of Seth Rogen and Oscar winner Barbara Steisand in Anne Fletcher’s The Guilt Trip, a film about an inventor and his mother hitting the road to sell his newest invention.

There are also some films without secured release dates that may have a late surge in the race.  Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet will be making a premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.  Word is The Weinstein Company has been quietly screening the film for months and they may have a real contender on their hands especially in the hands of Lead Actress hopeful Maggie Smith.

Kar Wai Wong’s The Grandmasters, the story of Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee, has been something I’ve kept a close eye on all year-long.  This could be something that hits in a big way for performers Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang.  Mike Newell’s adaptation of Great Expectations has Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter in the helm.  Waiting on some early word but at this point, will it even make it out in time?

Another late surge contender might exist in the hands of Robert Redford.  His newest film The Company You Keep has himself returning to screen along with Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, and Shia LeBeouf.  Rumors have surfaced that it might be making a late qualified run and perhaps is the film that takes it all.  Again, it’s only rumors.

Film Most Likely to Be a Contender: Amour
Most Likely Acting Nominee (Male): Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables
Most Likely Acting Nominee (Female): Maggie Smith in Quartet
Most Likely Directing Nominee: Tom Hooper
Most Likely Screenplay Nominee: Michael Haneke for Amour
Most Likely to Surprise: The Company You Keep

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The game has begun!!!