Oscar Circuit – 2014 Films and Minority Contenders

bradpitt_counselorIt’s March!  We get started right away and over the past few weeks after the Oscar ceremony, I took some brief stabs at some categories.  Those have been tinkered with and will be reflected on the actual Oscar Prediction pages in the next couple of days.  The full listing of predicted nominees is on the sidebar with the list of contenders on the Oscar Prediction pages for Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay, and Animated Feature.

Obviously categories like Original Song are merely speculation because we don’t know what film will have an eligible song attached.  Disney and Pixar films are good for a song or two so that’s always a good place to start.

I’m predicting Ridley Scott’s The Counselor as the balls out Oscar winner for next year.  Scott has never won an Oscar for himself and has already produced one Best Picture winner, Gladiator (2000).  I think this film that stars Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz has a very good chance to make some waves with Cormac McCarthy penning this script.  The film is currently predicted for nine Oscars.

August_OsageCountyI’m hoping the Weinstein can work their magic to bring a long overdue Oscar nomination for Ewan McGregor for his upcoming role in John Wells’ August: Osage County.  Likely to become their Oscar pony, unless Lee Daniels’ The Butler is better received, the adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, has generated buzz for over six months.  Harvey and his arsenal of Oscar campaigners will have their plates full as they look to have a stacked slate that includes Sundance Film Festival winner Fruitvale.  Wells’ film is currently predicted for six nominations.

Playing Walt Disney has Oscar-bait written all over it.  Add two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks into the mix and you have a contender that’s probably penciled in already.  What looks to be a big year for Hanks, he will star as the iconic studio head in John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks alongside Emma Thompson.  Judging on the synopsis, I wouldn’t be surprised however, if this performance gets a supporting campaign due to screen time and to make it easier for Hanks to be nominated or win for his upcoming role in Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips.  Greengrass’ film, which tells the true story of the 2009 hijacking of an American ship, could have the return of Oscar’s favorite lady, the suffering wife, which will be played by Oscar-nominee Catherine Keener.  Hancock’s film is currently predicted for three Oscar nominations while Greengrass’ film is predicted for six.

Many of the staff writers, including myself, were huge fans of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation (2011); a film that many believe could have landed a Best Picture nomination if the released date hadn’t been switched to December 30.  His upcoming film The Past, starring Tahar Rahim and Berenice Bejo sounds very promising.  Could he be this year’s Michael Haneke?

LeonardoDiCaprio_WolfOne thing about Martin Scorsese I cannot deny, he has not made an offensively poor quality film in his over 35 year career.  Sure there have been missteps along the way and problematic scripts that stood out, but he always gets an “A” for effort.  His next project The Wolf of Wall Street brings him and Leonardo DiCaprio back together to create a story about a crime and a New York stockbroker. While I’m not going completely head over heels in the prediction tally, I can see a modest showing for the film as it remains completely unseen.  Many will be rallying for DiCaprio to win his long overdue Oscar, but after missing for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) last year in favor of co-star Christoph Waltz and even the year before in the dreadful J. Edgar (2011) by Clint Eastwood, Leo will have to earn his way back into the Academy’s graces with a powerful performance next time around.  Perhaps this is the one.

There are some contenders who pure bait on paper playing real-life people.  Idris Elba who has been brilliant on the mini-series “Luther” will be playing Nelson Mandela in Justin Chadwick’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.  Along with co-star Naomie Harris, the duo will be searching for Oscar recognition.  Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts have the roles of a lifetime as Grace Kelly and Princess Diana coming our way.  In Grace of Monaco, Kidman will be playing the Oscar-winning actress and directed by Olivier Dahan.  From 10,000 feet, I already see a huge miscast as the first images that have surfaced have Kidman looking very much like herself and not the beautiful Grace Kelly.  Watts seems better suited for her role in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana, which will tell the story about the final two years of Diana’s life.

Antonio Banderas has never found himself on Oscar’s radar.  His closest run could be considered for either of his performances in Evita (1996) or The Mask of Zorro (1998), two performances that no one is crying over.  There were a quiet but passionate few that sang his praises in Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In (2011) but nothing came his way for awards consideration.  In the upcoming film 33 días by director Carlos Saura, Banderas will play Pablo Picasso during his relationship with artist Dora Maar who will be played by Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow.

A Minority Influx?

Many speak of it often but I have never spent a lot of my writings about the Oscars focusing on the injustices that befall on minority actors, actresses, and filmmakers as they hand out and even nominate their peers.  To have only Academy Award Winner Halle Berry as the only black actress to win in the lead category is quite disappointing.  I can name many worthy performers that should have won the Oscar in their respective years before and after her winning performance in Monster’s Ball (2001).  Names like Angela Bassett and Viola Davis are screaming in my head.

Could Kasi Lemmons be our first black female director?
Could Kasi Lemmons be our first black female director?

This year, it looks to be a fantastic year for minorities that have their dance with Oscar.  As Best Actress looks to be the tightest category in terms of possible talent, like Best Actor this past year, Angela Bassett has a role in the upcoming musical, Black Nativity alongside Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson, ironically both Oscar-winners.  They are being directed by Kasi Lemmons, most fondly remembered for directing Eve’s Bayou (1997) and as Clarice Starling’s FBI buddy in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991).  Perhaps we could have our first black woman nominated for Best Director if all goes well with this Langston Hughes retelling of the Bible’s nativity story.

The Supporting Actress race has the most potential for our minority performers to be cited.  Adepero Oduye, who delivered one of the most outstanding turns in Dee Rees’ Pariah (2011), will have a role in Steve McQueen’s upcoming Twelve Years a Slave with Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, and Chiwetel Ejifor.  Last year’s Best Actress nominee Quvenzhane Wallis will also co-star alongside Oduye with her Beasts of the Southern Wild counterpart, Dwight Henry.  As aforementioned, Jennifer Hudson and Noamie Harris will get their swings at bat, but what we all need to keep our eye on is Academy Award nominee, Oprah Winfrey for her role in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.  As it looks, she could be playing the wife of Whitaker’s character Cecil Gaines, and if there’s enough emotion and meat behind the role, the one-time #1 television host could be standing at the podium holding her very first Oscar.

Michael B. Jordan and Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer received the lion’s share of positive feedback at Sundance for their roles in Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale, another Weinstein project for 2013.  Spencer’s co-star from Oscar-winning turn in The Help (2010), Viola Davis will have two shots this year with a role in Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal and an unknown part in Ned Benson’s dual cinematic endeavor, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His and Hers.  Could it be makeup time for Davis after her big loss to Meryl Streep last time around?

It won’t be just about the possibilities for African-Americans to get citations; Latinos don’t have it any easier with AMPAS in the acting categories.  There have only been five Latino actors/actresses to win an Academy Award in its 85 year history; José Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), Anthony Quinn for Viva Zapata! (1952) and Lust for Life (1956), Rita Moreno for West Side Story (1961), and Benicio del Toro for Traffic (2000).   After del Toro nabbed his first Oscar for Steven Soderbergh’s classic film, a string of Latin performers were dashing their way on the awards circuit.  Salma Hayek portrayed the complex Frida Kahlo in Julie Taymor’s Frida (2002) while Catalina Sandino Moreno became the first Colombian Oscar nominee for Joshua Marston’s Maria Full of Grace (2004).

This year the talented Zoe Saldana will be looking for citation in Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace co-starring Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson.  It’s believed that Saldana was in contention for James Cameron’s Avatar (2010), a performance loved by many but couldn’t break the ceiling for motion-capture acting that has plagued brilliant performers like Andy Serkis in the past.

michaelpena_chavezIntegral part of standout ensembles like Rent (2005) and Sin City (2005), Rosario Dawson has shown potential to be one of the better actresses working today.  Two upcoming roles in Danny Boyle’s Trance and Diego Luna’s Chavez, could give her the opportunity to be the standout.  Speaking of Luna’s Chavez, the too often ignored Michael Pena will be playing the title role of civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.  Along with slew of talents including Emmy Winner America Ferrara and Jacob Vargas could have a Latin American film contend in the big category.  Only two Latin American produced films have contended in the Best Picture category, Hector Babenco’s Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel (2006).  Both films also had their directors nominated as well.  Although optimistic about the film, there’s no telling if the film will be released this year in time for awards season.

I can’t stop talking about minorities without throwing out the most ignored race of them all, the wonderful Asian actors.  Even when Oscar really loves an ambitious Asian film like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), stars like Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh are still ignored throughout the season.  Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang will go for a dance with Oscar this year in Kar Wai Wong’s The Grandmaster, which tells the story of Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee.  Maybe the Weinsteins will open AMPAS eyes to this market.

Five Things to Be Excited For in 2013

  • joaquinphoenix_herOscar Nominated Director Spike Jonze will be helming the Joaquin Phoenix starring film, Her, about a man who falls in love with a computer program.  Oscar-nominated actresses Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Samantha Morton will co-star.  While Phoenix has another role in James Gray’s Lowlife, perhaps a friendlier Oscar vehicle, this eclectic character looks like something that’s right up his alley to shine.  After a loss that remains a mystery to me still this past ceremony for The Master, I’m on board for anything that contains the talented Phoenix nowadays.
  • There’s no Latin director in need of a career pat on the back other than Alfonso Cuaron.  His stamp and usage of Cinematographer Emmanuelle Lubezki on his dark and emotional Children of Men (2006) showcased his capabilities at their highest peaks.  There are also many on this very site that believe he directed the best Harry Potter film of the franchise.  I cannot attest to that.  His upcoming film Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, sounds like an ambitious effort that could land him in the league A-list directors working today.  Said to be opening with an 18-minute take and pushing the boundaries for visual effects, this could be a treat for all movie lovers.
  • Three-time Academy Award nominee Michelle Pfeiffer has never won an Oscar which is very surprising when you look at it on paper.  The 54-year-old actress closest dance with Oscar was in 1990 for her lead turn in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989).  Losing to Jessica Tandy didn’t give her any goodwill that would follow her to a makeup win later in her career, even after being nominated for Love Field (1992).  In the same category as Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Glenn Close, there’s no telling if Pfeiffer will ever win in her career.  Since Oscar has been on this young, “hot” girl kick in Lead Actress, there’s no definite answer if they’ll contend for the prize again.  Pfeiffer will star in Luc Besson’s Malavita, a role that could kickstart a campaign to reward the veteran actress.  Julianne Moore is working a lot this year with performances in The English Teacher and What Maisie Knew.  Glenn Close only has one chance this year and it’s highly unlikely it’ll even come out.  Close is set to star with Brit Marling in The Grace that Keeps This World.  Finally, Annette Bening will have two roles in the comedy Girl Most Likely (formerly “Imogene”) with Kristin Wiig and Arie Posin’s Look of Love with Robin Williams and Ed Harris.  It’s exciting to see the possibility of the “old-school” actresses changing the Lead category back in favor of the talented, not just the good-looking.  My eye is on Pfeiffer.
  • willsmith_winterstaleWill Smith.  He’s such an odd situation of an actor that once seemed destined for Oscar glory but hasn’t had it happen yet.  After two nominations for Ali (2001) and The Pursuit of Happyness (2005), the question is what does Smith need to do to get back on the radar?  Obviously films like Hancock (2008) and After Earth are not it.  He’s made an attempt in Gabriele Muccino’s Seven Pounds (2008) but was dismissed by poor reviews for the film.  The former “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” star leads his films quite well but is never “loud” enough to go the distance.  I suggest a standout, supporting performance could do the trick for the star.  Enter Akiva Goldsman’s directorial debut Winter’s Tale, a large ensemble that tells a fantasy story set in 19th Century and present-day Manhattan and revolves around a thief, a dying girl, and a flying white horse.  Many actors that include Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and William Hurt, if Smith can stand out in a special way, they’ll be begging him to come on stage to accept.  All we need is a finished film with a 2013 release for it to happen.
  • I love John Carney’s Once (2007) in a way I haven’t loved many films in my cinematic lifetime.  Expertly written and directed, Carney touched some of the deepest parts of my heart with his homage to film and song.  His next effort, Can a Song Save Your Life? starring Oscar-nominees Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, and Hailee Steinfeld sounds like something that could recapture the magic of his Oscar-winning film for Original Song.  One can have high hopes and the only thing turning me off to the project is Adam Levine, a personal annoyance that may remain constant for all-time.

What are your predictions?  What are you excited for?