The Invisible Contenders – Where Are We Not Looking?

ralphfiennes_invisiblewomanI love the Oscar speculation game.  Reading into films, performances, filmmakers, productions, etc. and deciding whether there’s “something” there that could gather awards attention.  Every year, there’s a small, out of nowhere film or performance that breaks out in the most mysterious manner.

We’ve often credited Clint Eastwood with executing the late entry contender that steals it all away.  When Million Dollar Baby (2004) was announced to enter the race in late December, heads rolled.  At that point, everything looked aligned for a then Oscar-less Martin Scorsese to gather support and win his long overdue Academy Award for The Aviator (2004).  While the Howard Hughes biopic went on to win 5 Academy Awards, more than any film that year, Eastwood’s boxing film won awards for Best Picture, a second Best Director for Eastwood, a second Lead Actress for Hilary Swank, and a long overdue win for Morgan Freeman.  Eastwood attempted the effect over the years with films like Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), which worked, but misfires with films like Gran Torino (2008) that went virtually ignored.

Around this time of the year, we are due for the unavoidable push backs from the studios.  The event in which a thought-to-be big Oscar contender gets shuffled back to the next year.  Films like Finding Neverland (2004) and The Tree of Life (2011) were able to survive their shifts and still find their way into a Best Picture lineup.  Other films like Shutter Island (2010) and even a better example this year with The Great Gatsby did or will not find themselves shortlisted in the major categories.

With rumors surfacing that Bennett Miller’s upcoming film Foxcatcher could be the latest casualty, I think it’s time to start sniffing around the contenders that we never saw coming.  Another annual thing, a film or performance breaks out of either the Toronto Film Festival or any of the other industry screenings and becomes the word of mouth hit of the year.  Michel Hazanavicius’ Oscar-winning film The Artist (2010) plowed through the season and remained unstoppable.     When I sit down and attempt to dive into Oscar predicting, I tried to capture the pulse or anticipate something that no one would see coming.  We should attempt to identify the Demian Bichir’s or the Jennifer Lawrence’s that come out and become a bonafide contender.

Not too many people are looking towards Ralph Fiennes next directorial project, The Invisible Woman in which he stars as Charles Dickens.  He’s managed to bring in co-star Felicity Jones who broke out in a quiet and confident manner in the indie film, Like Crazy (2011).  Jones will play the young lover of Dickens that remained his secret love until his death.  In addition, Kristin Scott Thomas, who will have lots of fanboys crossing their fingers for her upcoming performance in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, will be playing Jones’ mother in the film.  Maybe the matriarch role will do the trick for her after all.  The Invisible Woman opens December 25.

I’ve listed Carlos Saura’s 33 días starring Antonio Banderas and Gwyneth Paltrow in Lead Actor and Actress all year.  Playing Pablo Picasso and artist Dora Maar should have some type of prestige and Oscar-bait attached.  No U.S. release date has been announced yet and the film has yet to pick up a distributor.  I have a sneaking suspicion on its chances.

michael_pena_chavezPlaying another real-life figure, the talented and always reliable Michael Peña will be playing civil rights activist Cesar Chavez in Diego Luna’s film, Chavez.  The film is written by Keir Pearson who co-wrote the Oscar-nominated Hotel Rwanda (2004) and was nominated along with Terry George.  Pena, who has been long overdue for some spotlight, has continued to show his growth and potential as an actor and leading man.  He remains one of the most integral and memorable parts of Paul Haggis’ Crash (2005), one of the few passable marks of Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center (2006), and a keen eye for comedic timing in Observe and Report (2009).  Last year, his career reached new heights and managed to tap into the human spirit in a way not expressed before in David Ayer’s End of Watch (2012).  I’m hoping this year presents an opportunity for acknowledgment.  The film also stars Emmy winner America Ferrara and Rosario Dawson.  The film currently has no distribution or U.S. release date.

Speaking of Crash, the upcoming film from Peter Landesman titled Parkland sounds like a picture with a large ensemble that could feature a standout or two.  Telling a recounting of the chaotic events that occurred at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital on the day U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the ensemble includes Paul GiamattiJames Badge DaleZac EfronMarcia Gay HardenJacki WeaverJackie Earle HaleyColin HanksBilly Bob Thornton, and Mark Duplass.  There’s more but for the sake of typing, check out its iMDB page.  This could present itself as a contender or fall in line with the unfortunates like Emilio Estevez’s Bobby (2005).  Sad.

Oscar loves biopics, which is seemingly becoming the focus here as newcomer Edda Magnason will star as Swedish singer and actress Monica Zetterlund in Monica Z.  Possible foreign language contender, Lead Actress lends itself to include great foreign performances like Catalina Sandino MorenoFernanda Montenegro, and last year with Emmanuelle Riva.  Another possible breakout star could fall in the lap of Julie Lynn Mortensen in Markus Rupprecht’s upcoming Drawing Home.  A breakout writer/director plus a breakout star could find some traction.  Same goes for the Sundance hit Concussion with Robin Weigert.  A strategic campaign could push her along through the season.

There’s more out there that we haven’t heard of yet and there are more films that we can eagerly anticipate.  We’re keeping our eye on the ball as the year unfolds.    Trust and believe that many of these films will likely either be forgotten entirely or get the 2014 shuffle.  We’re just awaiting the verdict.

Include any smaller films down in the comment section.  We’d love to hear them.  Discuss.