Awards Profile: A Most Violent Year

A  most violent yearDirected By: J.C. Chandor
Written By: J.C. Chandor

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Ashley Williams

Synopsis (From IMDB): “A thriller set in New York City during the winter of 1981, statistically one of the most violent years in the city’s history, and centered on a the lives of an immigrant and his family trying to expand their business and capitalize on opportunities as the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built.”

Why It Might Succeed:
Immigrants, crime, violence, love and family?! Wow, this gangster/crime drama formula sure hasn’t proven successful with AMPAS in the past, has it? If you’re one of the few individuals in the world who’s never watched 1972’s The Godfather, my sarcasm might be lost on you…as will my patience with your film ignorance. Both Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and its sequel received “Best Picture” honors at their respective Oscar ceremonies, and even the blasphemous Godfather Part III managed to nab a nomination for cinema’s top prize in 1991. The gangster film, when done correctly, has the perhaps the biggest shot of winning over The Academy next to WWII dramas, especially if a high-profile cast comes along for the violent plunge.

A Most Violent Year’s director, J.C. Chandor, is already an established name in Oscar history. His original screenplay for 2011’s Margin Call earned him an Oscar nomination in the category, immediately putting him on the map as an upcoming director worth paying very close attention to. For his followup film All is Lost, starring Robert Redford as an experienced sailor who fights for his life on the Indian Ocean, critics once again sang Chandor’s praises alongside pundits and notable film buffs, many of whom predicted Chandor was one film away from hitting it big at the Academy Awards. A Most Violent Year seems like the project that’s mainstream enough to draw unanimous love for the talented newcomer on all fronts. Personally speaking, I myself have yet to truly enjoy J.C. Chandor’s work since both Margin Call and All is Lost are devoid of feeling despite their ambitious undertakings. Chandor is one of those directors many probably admire more than outright love, mostly because he’s such a conceptual risk-taker — his fresh, creative grip enriches the current state of cinema and provides a nice counterbalance to the paint-by-numbers franchise filmmaking that’s dried out Hollywood’s ingenuity as of late. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the eclectic, open-minded people at A24 Films are so intrigued by Chandor and have taken it upon themselves to support his latest cinematic vision.

Jessica Chastain puts her game face on.
Jessica Chastain puts her game face on.

It also doesn’t hurt matters that the cast is filled with actors who were either “robbed” an Oscar nomination or a coveted win. Previous nominees Jessica Chastain and Catalina Sandino Moreno had their vocal supporters during their respective awards season, as did snubbed stars Albert Brooks (Drive), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) and David Oyelowo (The Butler). Film connoisseurs and AMPAS voters alike know who these individuals are; they know how talented they are, and now they’re in a position to correct the wrongs they might have made in the past. Given how baity a project like A Most Violent Year seems, I don’t see why accolades couldn’t be spread throughout the cast, which is where a key SAG nomination could make all the difference for this film’s “Best Picture” Oscar prospects. Plus it’s set in the 1980s, a decade that was more fun to watch on film than live through in person, so I can’t see why this edgy crime drama — made by a director who is coming into his own as a new “Master of Cinema” — can’t find major success following its rumored November 12th, 2014 release date.

Why It Might Not Succeed:
As much as I champion A24’s willingness to give obtuse, esoteric films the proper theatrical showcasing they deserve, the infant studio’s highest grossing film to date is cult favorite Spring Breakers, with a respectable but not monumental $31 million. In other words, I can’t confidently say they’re a hit-making studio because the box office numbers, unfortunately, don’t lie. If Roadside Attractions couldn’t make much of a profit off Chandor’s All is Lost and had no interest in heavily promoting the film for awards season due to a lack of financial resources, I can’t imagine the even tinier A24 Films making much of a dent with A Most Violent Year. The film’s success ultimately rides on its star involvement and Chandor’s respected name.

One of our finest new auteurs gets hit feet wet in the gangster genre.
One of our finest new auteurs gets his feet wet in the crime drama genre.

There’s also another conundrum A Most Violent Year faces. What if it’s too mainstream, too hungry for Oscar to come a-knockin’? Chandor has the career he does because the critics have been on his side since the very beginning, demanding that anyone who cares about the future of quality cinema should check out a Chandor flick. If Chandor, God forbid, backpedals and gives us a cookie-cutter genre film with little to no auteur meat on its bones, you can bet critics will make sure Chandor knows how utterly disappointed they are in him. That’s one of the downsides of being a well-respected auteur. When you try to worm your way into the mainstream fold as a means of expanding your reach, you instantly get branded as a traitor. Auteurs like Tarantino and Scorsese are the exception to this unforgiving rule, but imagine if David Lynch or David Cronenberg were to make a James Cameron-esque film? They would be crucified! Just look at this year’s Noah, a film in which even Darren Aronofsky’s biggest defenders (like yours truly!) couldn’t overlook some major blunders upon his transition into commercial fare. Chandor has to stay true to his artistry if he wants A Most Violent Year to make the lasting impression I’m sure he imagines it will have. Rushing the film before 2015 (I believe Chandor’s still in the process of filming) might not have been the best idea, especially after just coming off a recently completed film project. Because then you make half-assed things like American Hustle, The Counselor and To the Wonder.   But we remain hopeful.

A Most Violent Year is scheduled to be released November 12, 2014.

Oscar Potential:
Best Picture
Best Director — J.C. Chandor
Best Actor — Oscar Isaac
Best Actress — Jessica Chastain
Best Supporting Actor — Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo and/or Alessando Nivola
Best Supporting Actress — Catalina Sandino Moreno
Best Original Screenplay — J.C. Chandor
Best Production Design
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Film Editing
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Best Costume Design
Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Check out the on-going updates to the official Oscar Predictions and discuss “A Most Violent Year” in the comment section.