Oscar Circuit: ‘Dope’ and ‘Me & Earl & the Dying Girl’ Emerge as Awards Contenders

dope_earl_pictureLast year “The Grand Budapest Hotel” looked like at best, an Original Screenplay contender for the Oscars.  When the critics started handing out prizes, and then the guilds chimed in, we had a legit Best Picture contender that co-led the nomination tally.  At this point last year, no one would have guessed such a feat, especially for a Wes Anderson film.

This year, it feels all too similar that not too many films have emerged as “legimate” contenders in any Oscar category.

The year has offered two directorial achievements from minority filmmakers and they are two films still currently in theaters: “Dope” by writer/director Rick Famuyiwa and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

Famuyiwa, whose past credits include “The Wood” and “Talk to Me,” has many buzzing about his work.  A seemingly refreshing take on life in Los Angeles, the film has also generated star-making reviews for newcomer Shameik Moore.  As the film will struggle to stay afloat throughout the summer and fall, with bigger studios releasing more “Oscar-bait” flare, if enough people swell around this honest portrait, who knows how far “Dope” can go in the awards race.  The film has muscled up just over $11 million so far at the box office.  Open Road Films could have a hit on their hands, with enough faith.

When it comes to “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” the Sundance hit already had people lining up for it on opening day.  Distributor Fox Searchlight has done an impeccable job marketing it, and letting the general public know that it exists.  Though the box office doesn’t exactly reflect that, with $1.8 million in just 354 theaters, perhaps it can garner a late summer following.  Gomez-Rejon, who’s had his spotlight at the Emmys last year with two nominations for “American Horror Story: Coven,” seems to be taking a backseat to the praise of the film as screenwriter Jesse Andrews has garnered the lion’s share.  With a few inks siting the work of Supporting Actress Olivia Cooke, is there a possibility for it in other major categories?  The push will determine that.  As we’ve seen with other coming-of-age films like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” no matter how magnificent you may be, you often still get categorized as “the teen movie” and have a harder time being taken seriously.

celluloid_ceilingsAnd if you feel passionate about the lack of female directed films in contention this year and EVERY year (as you should be), then the 30-minute documentary “Celluloid Ceilings” should infuriate you even more.  Hopefully eligible for Best Documentary Short this year, the informative film focuses on the lack of opportunities for female filmmakers in our industry.  With interviews from Catherine Hardwicke, director of “Twilight” and “Thirteen” to Lexi Alexander, director of “Punisher: War Zone,” it’s an eye-opening look at the state of the Hollywood machine and the increasingly dyer urge to change it.  It’s a must-see for all lovers of cinema.

(You can watch the full film at the end of the post.)

But there’s been more to year than just those films.

In Animated Feature, we know that “Inside Out” feels all but assured a nomination, if not a win depending on what else can emerge (“Minions,” “The Good Dinosaur,” “Peanuts,” etc.).  The question is if the film really stands a chance at a Best Picture nomination?  It’s an answer I’m not sure many of us know, no matter how much we convince ourselves we do.  Disney will go for it regardless.

In the acting races, there’s a few more entities.

We know that many of the later year films that premiered at Cannes, such as “Carol,” “Youth,” “Brooklyn,” and “MacBeth” are going to be something to watch but from ACTUAL theatrical releases, there’s not much going on in terms of deemed “frontrunners.”

LOVE AND MERCYLove and Mercy” has found a following in many critics especially for Paul Dano and John Cusack in their portrayals of Brian Wilson.  If they were both to be nominated, they would be the third set of actors to be nominated for portraying the same person.  Coincidentally, the first two times were both by Kate Winslet in “Titanic” (opposite Gloria Stuart) and “Iris” (opposite Judi Dench).  To an older Academy member, the film may resonate even more based on the material, likely keeping the film in contention for a Best Picture nomination.

Mad Max: Fury Road” is still the talk among critics (especially when you attend screenings) and the tech categories look all for the taking.  With the recent announcement that the Academy is sticking with the sliding scale, George Miller’s rock and roll action thriller should still stand a formidable chance in the major categories including Best Picture.  We can only hope for the same consideration for lead Charlize Theron.

Ex Machina” from Alex Garland is about to be released on Blu-Ray, which should help with the small sci-fi film being seen by voting bodies.  Oscar Isaac’s name is still being thrown around for Supporting Actor consideration while others are on their hands and knees praying for Alicia Vikander in Lead Actress.  In the case of the latter, she’ll have many more baity projects this year that can become her representation (“The Light Between Oceans” and “The Danish Girl” in particular).  We’ll keep it on the tracker for possible Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Makeup & Hairstyling, and Visual Effects consideration.

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart are bubbling somewhere between contending and forgotten for their works in “Clouds of Sils Maria.”  Binoche, a former winner, hasn’t been nominated since “Chocolat.”  In between then and now, the only work that people have really taken notice to is her stunning performance in “Certified Copy.”  When it comes to Stewart, she’s still fighting against a stigma of being just another teen actress.  Though her “Twilight” years seem to be firmly behind her, her work is still leaving doubters on the table.  She’s already made history by winning a Cesar Award but I’m unsure if she’ll really be able to stand toe-to-toe with some of the fall films that will be generating bigger buzz in bigger films.  You never know though.

With a box office like the one “Jurassic World” has delivered the past three weeks, I wonder where the film, if anywhere, will land in terms of an awards conversation.  Is it something we should keep an eye on for Visual Effects just by default?  Does the creation of the roars for Indominus Rex give it a leg up in Sound Editing?  That’s a bit trickier but worse things have happened in an Oscar landscape.

If you missed the updated Oscar Predictions from last week, take a look and chime in on them with your own take in the comments.

Watch “Celluloid Ceilings” here: