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STUDIO CIRCUIT: Did Warner Bros. Send a ‘Sniper’ To Eliminate the Competition?

wb_FYCMore FYC sites have launched and the Studio Circuit series ventures on.  Warner Bros. weighed in with a respective slate that includes “The LEGO Movie,” “The Judge,” “Inherent Vice,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” and “American Sniper.”

Warner Bros. must be walking into the season feeling very confident.  Just last year, with eight films on the table, they took home ten Oscars on the night.  Within a fraction of winning Best Picture with “Gravity,” the money-making company has got to feel compelled to go all the way once again.  Just in 2012, they steamrolled all the major precursors with Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” and they’re looking for it again.

As a matter of fact, since 2006, Warner Bros. has had a Best Picture nominee in an Oscar lineup.  Everything from “The Departed” to “Letters from Iwo Jima” to “Michael Clayton” to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” to “The Blind Side” to “Inception” to “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” to “Argo” and finally with “Gravity.”  That’s insane.  Two of those listed are among some of the most controversial yet WB still managed to hop some heavy competition to get them there.  “Jima” over “Dreamgirls,” or “The Blind Side” over anything, they maneuvered their way right onto AMPAS’ ballots.  I say its hard to bet against them at this point.

Let’s assess the slate.  Take note, other Warner Bros. films like “Godzilla,” “Jersey Boys,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “The Good Lie,” and “This is Where I Leave You” are not listed but may be added to the site during the season (ESPECIALLY “Godzilla,” surely a big technical contender).

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the-judge-robert-downey-jr-robert-duvall-2The Judge
Directed by: David Dobkin

For some it was hard to take David Dobkin seriously.  Up until now, he’s only helmed raunchy comedies like “Wedding Crashers” and “Shanghai Knights.”  When it was announced that he would take on this film written by Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque, and himself, many were skeptical.  With the popularity of Robert Downey, Jr. at an all-time high, inserted the seasoned abilities of Academy Award winner Robert Duvall, optimism set in.

Having its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September was a great way to kick things off for this drama.  The film looked like a strong contender for several prizes along the way, especially with a mid-October release date.  The word out of TIFF was mixed to say the least but co-star Duvall has seemed to rise above all the negativity.  Fast forward to opening weekend, the film debuted at #4 at the domestic box office, bringing in $13 million on a $50 million budget.   The film continues to trek on and the most that anyone can hope for at this point is a Best Supporting Actor mention for Duvall.  In a very weak Supporting Actor lineup, the possibility is surely on the table.  12-time Oscar-nominee Thomas Newman provided the score which is also feasible, in conjunction with his work for Universal Pictures’ “Get on Up.”

MOST LIKELY MENTIONS DURING AWARDS SEASON

Best Supporting Actor – Robert Duvall
Best Original Score

STUDIO PITCH

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are teamed for the first time in the drama, The Judge. Big city lawyer, Hank Palmer (Downey), returns to his childhood home, where his estranged father, the town’s judge (Duvall), is suspected of murder. He sets out to discover the truth and along the way, reconnects with the family he walked away from years before.

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hobbit_battleoffivearmies“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”
Directed by: Peter Jackson

“The Defining Chapter.”  It’s all over the marketing at this point.  With “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Oscar went hard for the final installment, sweeping all eleven categories and tying with “Ben Hur” and “Titanic” as the most rewarded film in Academy Awards history.  With “The Hobbit” series, they haven’t had such luck.  “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” earned three Academy Award nominations two years ago, including a special Scientific and Engineering Award.  This all occurred after receiving mixed praise from critics and audiences. When the second installment rolled around, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” we weren’t expecting much better yet it did exactly the same number of Oscar mentions surprisingly.  With this final installment, we may even see the nomination tally raised a bit for Peter Jackson‘s film.

Acting has never been the series strong point, despite Ian McKellen narrowingly losing the Best Supporting Actor prize to Jim Broadbent for “The Fellowship of the Ring.”  I wouldn’t expect anyone to miraculously stand out now. The techs have always been strong bets.  Production Design, Cinematography, Costume Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, Original Score, and now an Original Song titled “The Last Goodbye” (written by Billy Boyd, Fran Walsh, and Phillippa Boyens).  Is there a narrative where the tech branches say goodbye to the series by citing it nearly everywhere?  Certainly.  “Dreamgirls” currently holds the record for the most Oscar nominations without being nominated for Best Picture (at eight nods).  If it was beloved by so many, could there be room for the film to say goodbye with a Best Picture salute?  That’s a bit more far-fetched but you never know.  Hell, even with a baron Adapted Screenplay race, Jackson and his writing team could find himself listed alongside some of the other big films of the year.

MOST LIKELY MENTIONS DURING THE SEASON

Best Production Design
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Visual Effects
Best Original Score
Best Original Song
Best Cast Ensemble

STUDIO PITCH:

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the Company of Dwarves. The Dwarves of Erebor have reclaimed the vast wealth of their homeland, but now must face the consequences of having unleashed the terrifying dragon, Smaug, upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town. As he succumbs to dragon-sickness, the King Under the Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield sacrifices friendship and honor in his search for the legendary arkenstone. Unable to help Thorin see reason, Bilbo is driven to make a desperate and dangerous choice, not knowing that even greater perils lie ahead. An ancient enemy has returned to Middle-earth. Sauron, the Dark Lord, has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide – unite or be destroyed. Bilbo finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends as five great armies go to war.

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inherentvice_phoenixInherent Vice
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Critics have loved Paul Thomas Anderson for nearly two decades, worshipping and embracing all his great works along the way.  His first feature “Hard Eight” was the writer/director’s poorest showing on the awards circuit.  The film only managed five Independent Spirit Award nominations at the time but the road was paved for many more in his future.  “Boogie Nights’ and “Magnolia” both garnered nominations for Best Original Screenplay, along with one acting nomination.  “Punch-Drunk Love” introduced the world to an Adam Sandler who can really act.  I think we can always thank Anderson for that one.  Cannes gave him Best Director and Sandler scored his sole Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (Comedy or Musical).   Five years later, Anderson meant business and delivered “There Will Be Blood” with a towering performance from Daniel Day-Lewis.  Eight Oscar nominations later, with two wins Best Actor and Cinematography (Robert Elswit), the film stands as one of the most enriching films of the millennium so far.  Five more years later, “The Master” landed on our doorsteps, leaving many baffled and enthralled at the same time.  Some of the best performances of that year were in stars Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams, resulting in all three receiving nominations.

And here we are.  His newest film “Inherent Vice” premiered at the New York Film Festival as the Centerpiece Selection.  Many critics, including myself, admired the work, but once again, are very confused by the source material.  It’s completely up in the air where it can go during the season.  The writers may admire the eclectic style where Anderson presents the material.  Even the Academy at large may admire the zonky aura in which everything is laid out.   One thing is for certain, and that’s the contention of actors Josh Brolin and Katherine Waterston in Supporting Actor and Actress.  The two stand out in completely different ways.  When it comes to Brolin, some of the film’s biggest laughs are thanks to him, and when he’s not on-screen, you are desperately wondering about where he is.  Waterston is more of a tragic, enigmatic persona.  There are so many layers to her character, and you could probably watch the film a dozen times and interpret what she says completely different every time.  She delivers one of the best performances seen this year.  But how many feel that way?

On the technical front, Costumes and Production Design are contending factors.  Composer Jonny Greenwood delivers another compelling score but with several disqualifications under his belt, there’s no telling if he’ll even compete at this time yet.  His score on “The Master” was eligible and they passed.

As the season unfolds, there will be times where the film will look strong.  It will likely pop up with some of major guilds, and may even be a shoo-in for Best Cast Ensemble at the SAG Awards.  Golden Globes may even bite in a big way with the film in the Comedy or Musical category.  This will be one of the mysteries of the season.

MOST LIKELY MENTIONS DURING AWARDS SEASON

Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix
Best Supporting Actor – Josh Brolin, Martin Short
Best Supporting Actress – Katherine Waterston
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Production Design
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design
Best Original Score
Best Cast Ensemble

STUDIO PITCH:

Inherent Vice is the seventh feature from Paul Thomas Anderson and the first-ever film adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel. When private eye Doc Sportello’s ex-old lady suddenly shows up, out of nowhere, with a story about her current billionaire land developer boyfriend (whom she just happens to be in love with) and a plot by his wife and her boyfriend to kidnap that billionaire and throw him into a looney bin…well, easy for her to say. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic ’60s and paranoia is running the day. Doc knows that “love” is another one of those words going around at the moment, like “trip” or “groovy,” that’s being way too overused – except this one usually leads to trouble. With a cast of characters that includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, LAPD Detectives, a tenor sax player working undercover – and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists. Part surf noir, part psychedelic romp.

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legomovie_imageThe LEGO Movie
Directed by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

$257 million dollars domestically.  $468 million worldwide.  The third highest grossing film of the year so far.  96% on Rotten Tomatoes.  If it was another film, we would be penciling this in for Best Picture at this point.  Phil Lord & Chris Miller‘s “The LEGO Movie” was one of the most surprising hits of the year.  Opening in February, before last year’s Oscars even aired, people were already talking this up for this year’s ceremony.  

Lord and Miller have already had a strong year following “LEGO” with the sequel “22 Jump Street.”  They were also a near inclusion with Oscar in 2009 for “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” for which they were nominated by the Golden Globes.  The two are on fire at the moment.

With “LEGO,” they have a unique opportunity to not only runaway with the season in Animated Feature, but if it begins to make a lot of noise, don’t be surprised to read its name in Original Screenplay, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and especially Original Song.  Warner Bros. may put a lot more money behind this and try to crack a few more below the line categories.  If you wanted to use the word “lock” at this point for any film or performance, I’d use it with “LEGO” in Animated Feature (for the nomination).  There’s still a little company named Disney in the wings with a major contender (“Big Hero 6”) and DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”

MOST LIKELY MENTION DURING AWARDS SEASON

Best Animated Feature
Best Original Screenplay
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Original Song – “Everything is Awesome”

STUDIO PITCH:

Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, The LEGO® Movie is an animated film that follows the adventures of Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt), a rules-abiding, perfectly ordinary citizen who is mistakenly identified as “The Special,” the most extraordinary person and the key to saving the world. Drafted into a fellowship of strangers, Emmet embarks on an epic quest to stop the evil tyrant, Lord Business (voice of Will Ferrell), a journey of self-discovery that will require him to summon all of his previously untapped creativity and imagination. The voice cast also includes Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie and Charlie Day, with Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman. The screenplay is by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, from a story by Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman and Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, based on LEGO construction toys. The film is produced by Dan Lin and Roy Lee.

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americansniper_imageAmerican Sniper
Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood has been a staple of awards season since the early 90’s.  Winning two Best Picture prizes with “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby,” the 84-year-old director shows no signs of slowing down.  He’s also found himself in Picture and Director lineups for “Mystic River” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.”  Since “Jima,” Eastwood has misfired or found no love from Oscar with “Gran Torino,” “Changeling,” “Invictus,” “Hereafter,” and “J. Edgar.”  Just earlier this year, he brought the musical “Jersey Boys” to the screen, though critics and audiences were not on board.  

With his upcoming drama about “the most lethal sniper in American history,” Eastwood teams up with two-time Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper.  It’s interesting that the studio decided on a last minute release for the film after the poor showing for “Jersey Boys.”  If anything, that shows immense faith.  There is early word that this is a return to form for Eastwood, and he could find himself in the Oscar hunt once again.

When it comes the acting, Cooper is just on fire at the moment.  Two nominations for “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” he continues to show range and versatility.  In a hot Lead Actor race that includes Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”), Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”), and Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”), Cooper may crash the party in a big way if he shines.  He’s one of those actors that seem destined to win at the moment.  Co-star Sienna Miller will be going for a Supporting Actress slot but there’s no word on her screen time as of yet.  With another turn in “Foxcatcher,” she may be find love along the circuit as the “suffering wife.”

By the looks of the impressive trailer, Cinematographer Tom Stern has seemed to finally use light on an Eastwood set.  Famous for his dark shadows in Eastwood films, this may be something different for once nominated DP (“Changeling”).  

This could be a complete wildcard on the season.  When “Million Dollar Baby” was announced as a late entry, the competition that included Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator” and Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” was thwarted in their tracks.  Imagine if “American Sniper” is a home-run, then strong competitors “The Imitation Game,” “Birdman,” and the still unknowns “Selma” and “Unbroken” will surely have their dukes up.  

MOST LIKELY MENTIONS DURING AWARDS SEASON

Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor – Bradley Cooper
Best Supporting Actress – Sienna Miller
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing

STUDIO PITCH:

From director Clint Eastwood comes American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. But there was much more to him than his skill as a sharpshooter. U.S. Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle, is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname “Legend.” However, his reputation is also growing behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. He is also facing a different kind of battle on the home front: striving to be a good husband and father from halfway around the world. Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, personifying the SEAL creed to “leave no man behind.” But upon returning to his wife, Taya Renae Kyle (Sienna Miller), and kids, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.

Discuss Warner Bros. slate.  Do you think they have a winner in their midst?