Oscar Circuit: Assessing the Future Landscape for the Acting Categories

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Bridge-of-Spies-Mark-RylanceThe first half of the year is days from closing and the landscape thus far hasn’t offered any early year contenders such as “The Grand Budapest Hotel” last year.  If anything, we’re seeing more unconventional films that are hoping for a dance with the Academy.  “Ex Machina” landed with major love from critics but could go the way of “Snowpiercer” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a superb achievement that will contend in the tech categories but we remain reserved on its chances in the majors.  Pixar’s “Inside Out” has the reviews and the praise to make a serious play in Best Picture however, with our current voting system at AMPAS, it’s hard to see the film cracking a sliding scale.  If AMPAS makes any new announcements about a new voting system, I’ll adjust accordingly.  For the moment, Animated Feature is (dare I say it) “locked” and loaded (so was “The LEGO Movie,” remember that?) for a nomination.

If we look to the future, especially in Best Actor and Best Actress, we have the hopes of another banner year.  For the men, there’s a plethora of movie stars on the horizon.  Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”), Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs” and “MacBeth”), Jake Gyllenhaal (“Demolition” and “Southpaw”), Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”), Johnny Depp (“Black Mass”), Ian McKellen (“Mr. Holmes”), Tom Hanks (“Bridge of Spies”), Brad Pitt (“By the Sea”), Matt Damon (“The Martian”), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“The Walk” and “Snowden”), Chris Hemsworth (“In the Heart of the Sea”), and Will Smith (“Concussion”) will all be looking for room in what’s sure to be another stacked lineup.  Paul Dano (“Love and Mercy”), Michael Caine (“Youth”), Tim Roth (“Chronic”), Ewan McGregor (“Last Days in the Desert”), and Jason Segel (“The End of the Tour”) are sure to find love from critics down the line.

Looking at the women, there’s a refreshing amount of possibilities from areas that Oscar tends to look.

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have already secured some major love out of the Cannes Film Festival for “Carol.”  As two that are described as co-leads, one of them is sure to land in Supporting.  My suspicion is Mara will follow that path.  Marion Cotillard was another name dropped at Cannes for her work in Justin Kurzel’s “MacBeth.”  I suspect she’ll also have a category dilemma from the Weinstein Company about where to play her.  For the time, I think she’s a leading candidate.


There are also a healthy amount of women to draw from thus far.  Lily Tomlin has already lit up three festivals with her outstanding performance in “Grandma,” and it’s the type of work that defines a long career full of memorable turns.  Same said for two-time Oscar-winner Sally Field said to be impeccable in “Hello My Name is Doris.”  Juliette Binoche blazed back onto the scene in a big way in “Clouds of Sils Maria,” a performance that could get a resurgence at the end of the year.

The action/science fiction genre has two prime candidates to dissect in the forms of Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”) and Charlize Theron (“Mad Max: Fury Road”).  The latter is the more likely to stick anywhere in an awards conversation but they’re both prime real estate for possible darlings during the year.  Vikander has several projects this year including “The Danish Girl” from Tom Hooper, “The Light Between the Oceans” from Derek Cianfrance, and “Tulip Fever” from Justin Chadwick.  One of them is sure to stick.

There a few default names that sound like definite contenders, save for their films being absolute trainwrecks.  Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”), Meryl Streep (“Ricki and the Flash”), and Carey Mulligan (“Suffragette”).  The latter two are rumored to be standouts and the cloud surrounding Jennifer Lawrence hasn’t seemed to fade yet.  Those are three names you can bank on at the moment.

In the supporting arenas, things are much more foggy.

The world sits patiently on the first footage and trailer for “The Hateful Eight” from Quentin Tarantino to see which of these seven men we should be betting on.  Internet chatter from those who have read the script have suggested that Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson are your likely standouts.  Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen could be a two-hander for “Steve Jobs” while “Black Mass” has three possibilities in Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, and Joel Edgerton.  Same said for “Bridge of Spies” with Mark Rylance, Billy Magnussen, and Alan Alda.

bradleycooper_adamjonesSpeaking of “Joy,” Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro are also teamed up with David O. Russell again, which should keep their names in the conversation until further notice.  Cooper already has a year lined up for himself with “Adam Jones” from the Weinstein Company, rumored to be a true vehicle for the three-time acting nominee.

On the ladies, it’s all speculative.

Jennifer Jason Leigh (“The Hateful Eight”), Elizabeth Olsen (“I Saw the Light”), Rachel McAdams (“Spotlight” and “Southpaw”), Naomi Watts (“Demolition”), Helena Bonham Carter (“Suffragette”), Julie Walters (“Brooklyn”), Kristen Stewart (“Clouds of Sils Maria”), Jessica Chastain (“The Martian”), Julia Roberts (“Money Monster” and “The Secret in their Eyes”), Melissa Leo and Shailene Woodley (“Snowden”), and Jane Fonda (“Youth”) are all possibilities.  We won’t know for sure.

So what else do we have to look forward to?  Plenty.  Festival premieres and acquisitions are already beginning.  “The Walk” is the opening night film of the New York Film Festival and it’s rumored that “Demolition” might open Toronto.  We have four women directors with high-profile projects this year: Angelina Jolie (“By the Sea”), Jodie Foster (“Money Monster”), Sarah Gavron (“Suffragette”), and Courtney Hunt (“The Whole Truth”).  We also have some minority directors like Antoine Fuqua (“Southpaw”), recently crowned Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“The Revenant”), Guillermo del Toro (“Crimson Peak”), Cary Fukunaga (“Beasts of No Nation”), and Ryan Coogler (“Creed”).  It’s definitely not where we need to be in terms of diversity, but it’s a hopeful rising of fresh, new voices in Hollywood getting their chance to tell a story.

The Oscar Predictions have been updated in all categories.  Chew on them (keep in mind it’s still only June) and discuss your own in the comments below.

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