Oscars: Screeners Underway, Watch Something Outside the Box

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loveisstrangeOscar season is fully underway.  We are just under three weeks away from the kick off of Phase 1, where all the major studios launch their “For Your Consideration” (or FYC) campaigns, and try to get their best films and performances cited by the right awards bodies.  This week on our weekly podcast, with guest Nathaniel Rogers, he brought up a very good point that until critics awards are given out, it’s still an open race.  We can all assume that someone or something is assured a nomination or win but the tide can quickly shift around here.

I can recall Philip Seymour Hoffman looking like the “default” choice for “The Ides of March” at this point in the season in 2011.  The same year, Vanessa Redgrave was many pundits de-facto frontrunner for “Coriolanus.”  At the end of the day, nothing.   Interesting enough, Jessica Chastain had several films in contention the same year and no one could really gauge or agree which film she would get cited for.  “The Help,” “The Tree of Life,” “Take Shelter,” and “The Debt” were all on the table.  This year, she seems to have a similar, though not obvious problem on her hands.

Screeners have begun to hit doorsteps.  For the Academy, it’s only been “Snowpiercer,” “Love is Strange,” “Magic in the Moonlight,” and “Chef.”  All of which may seem far-fetched for love but did anyone ever think Courtney Hunt was going to breakthrough in Original Screenplay?  You can never tell how a film is being received within the Academy.  “Snowpiercer,” pushed by Radius-TWC, has all the makings of a reception similar to “The Grandmaster.”  Could Production Design, Sound, or a Visual Effects category be in the cards?  There are some that are still singing the praises of Tilda Swinton, who had a decent run with “Only Lovers Left Alive.”  Maybe she can make a surprise go similar to Rachel Weisz in “The Deep Blue Sea,” a film and performance that was widely forgotten until New York Film Critics Circle and the Golden Globes cited them.

“Love is Strange” and “Magic in the Moonlight” are on a large roster for Sony Pictures Classics.  The independent film company has a barrage of contenders that include “Foxcatcher,” “Mr. Turner,” and “Whiplash.”  Though they seem to be their main priority, “Strange,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, has all the makings of a critical awards sleeper.  John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are absolutely fantastic together, and though they likely have no shot to crack an already stacked Lead Actor race, writer/director Ira Sachs may be able to find wiggle room in Original Screenplay.  The film also features a standout performance from Marisa Tomei, who I’d love to see just keep getting nominated at this point in her career.   Funny and emotional, Tomei is one of the true highlights of the first half of the year.  Hopefully, critics remember her when its time to vote.

Woody Allen did not have big go-round with “Magic in the Moonlight.”  Though an all-star cast kept it on people’s radars, many were not receptive, especially after coming off “Blue Jasmine.”  Then again, the writer’s branch adores the man and could throw some worship votes his way.

At this point in the year, I’m playing catch-up on many of the films I missed from the first half of  the year.  Just recently, I finally caught “Maleficent” with Angelina Jolie, a likely contender for Costumes.  “The Fault in our Stars” opened up the tearducts in a way I haven’t experienced in sometime but I stand firmly that the only chance for a mention for the film will be any of the original songs.  Shailene Woodley was fine enough but I felt more taken with Laura Dern’s work than anyone else in the film.

Obvious Child friendshipI discovered the gem that is “Obvious Child” with Jenny Slate, and in a perfect world, she is in the serious running for Best Actress.  An outstanding performance, in a film that is both pure and honest.   Co-stars Jake Lacy and Gaby Hoffman were also exceptional.  While the studio is making the rounds for the Blu-Ray/DVD release, there could be a modest, though deserved, push for Slate and the film in Adapted Screenplay.

I’m usually intrenched with a barrage of documentaries at this point in the year but need to catch up on a few.  I recently caught “The Overnighters,” which was an eye-opening experience on an issue I had no idea about.  “The Internet’s Own Boy” feels like any horror film you’re likely to catch this week on Fear Fest.  And finally “Time is Illmatic” is a raw throw back to my teenage years when rapper Nas ruled the airwaves and my headphones.

The highlight of my week so far was finally seeing John Carney’s “Begin Again” with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, which is out on DVD today.  Carney can do no wrong when he puts his mind to it.  While the songs are fantastic, and Knightley is more than adequate, I was very taken by the work of Ruffalo.  In my annual end of the year awards, don’t be shocked to see this guy run the gauntlet in my Supporting Actor category.  He delivers my favorite performance of his career.  Adam Levine aside, the film really works.  I plan on catching up with “Chef” sometime this week.

In the next week, I’ll be kicking off our annual “Circuit Considerations,” where we highlight the best of the year in various categories that most are probably forgetting.  Oscar is going to do what they want to do but AMPAS aside, YOU, the reader, should seek out many of these things we’ll highlight over the next few weeks.  They’ll be plenty of marketing and time to catch “Interstellar” and “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.”  Trust me, they’ll be in theaters for quite some time.  Take a look around your general area.  Seek out an independent theater.  I understand that many of you live in areas where films like “Birdman” and “Whiplash” STILL are not playing.  Hell, it may even be an hour or more away.  Make a road trip out of it.  See what is playing at those theaters.  If “Citizenfour” is playing, give it a go.  When’s the last time you watched a documentary on the big screen?  Seek out a foreign language contender or an obscure animated feature film.  “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” is surely worth your time and money.  You’re killing two birds with one stone there.  William H. Macy has his directorial debut on screens, “Tracks” is still out in theaters, there’s plenty.  And if you’re an Oscar voter, and reading this, I ask you do the same too.  Don’t watch just the fifteen or twenty screeners your buddy told you to see.  Go back to why you got into the movie business in the first place.  Be moved.

If you can’t do anything I just recommended, go to Netflix.  “The Double” with Jesse Eisenberg is available for you.  As is the doc “I Am Divine,” Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly,” one of Robert Hamer’s favorites from this year “Blue Ruin,” and “Filth” with James McAvoy, who is superb.  Let’s try to get a thing going on this.  The Awards Circuit community is a pretty vocal group, with lots of opinions.  Share what you’re watching this week.  What did you catch by accident and loved?  There’s no better feeling than that, when you discover something you weren’t expecting.

For your enjoyment, before venturing off on this quest, all the technical categories of the Oscar Predictions have been updated, along with Animated Feature, Foreign Language, and Documentary Feature.  Check those out, and make a plan to see all those films as well.  They need your support.

More big reviews coming your way over the next two weeks, with interviews, columns, and more.

Comment down below.

CHECK OUT the OSCAR CATEGORIES:

PICTURE | DIRECTOR | LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE | PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS | ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | FOREIGN LANGUAGE | LIVE ACTION SHORT | ANIMATED SHORT |DOCUMENTARY SHORT