Oscar Circuit: Studios Already Lining Up for the Academy Awards

bradleycooper_joyThe first set of fall festivals have announced their lineups in the form of the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals.  Awards season is nearly here and with films starting their peaks earlier then ever before, studios are already in full swing in planning their campaigns, believe it or not.  The Oscars are the goal and there’s nothing to stand in their way.

Opening the 72nd Venice Film Festival on September 2 will be Baltasar Kormákur’s “Everest” and the rumors around the mill is that Universal Pictures may have a formidable contender on their hands with the survival tale.  Two days later, the Telluride Film Festival will kick off with a lineup that won’t be announced until the press arrive but you can get hints of it based on the TIFF lineup, which begins on September 10.  

In those eight days, we’ll get lots of clues to the season and what it may or may not bring.  Most of the conversations being held at this time is merely speculation but there are lots of big wigs in the industry that have shared some “thoughts” and “opinions” on what may be on the horizon.  

After winning Best Picture last year with “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” Fox Searchlight is back with three solid-looking films that can gain traction.  They are the Sundance hit film “Brooklyn” by John Crowley, “Youth” by Academy Award winner Paolo Sorrentino, and “A Bigger Splash” by Luca Guadagnino.  While all may seem small in terms of taking the top crown, Fox Searchlight made a machine out of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” last year resulting in the most nominated film of the year.

There are other “top dogs” who are feeling very confident about their chances.  Focus Features has both Tom Hooper’s “The Danish Girl” and Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette.”  Both said to be strong, the studio will have lots of places to check off in multiple categories with both pictures.  Can Eddie Redmayne become the new Tom Hanks?  Can Carey Mulligan finally make it back into Oscar’s graces?  All these questions will be answered soon enough.

Warner Bros. will shoot for the stars with George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” but they have other toys like Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea,” Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” (another Venice entry), Patricia Riggan’s “The 33,” and David Gordon Green’s “Our Brand is Crisis.”  If anything the technical merits of their films have more than a solid shot with the branches.  

by_the_sea_pitt_jolieUniversal Pictures (as its been said before) looks to have one of the strongest hands of the year.  Their top pony looks to be Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” but they also have Angelina Jolie’s “By the Sea,” and the aforementioned “Everest” to work with.  It should also be worth mentioning that they have two of the biggest financial successes of all-time, in the same year, with “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7.”  Not sure if either of them will go the way of awards but you can look at Sound or Visual Effects for possibly entries.

After taking a year off, Sony Pictures has some promising projects with the New York Film Festival opener “The Walk” from Robert Zemeckis, the next installment in the James Bond franchise “Spectre” from Sam Mendes, and the next directorial effort from two-time Oscar-winner Jodie Foster titled “Money Monster.” My bets are on Foster’s film being the smarter choice.

Sony Pictures Classics is positioning itself for a promising year with an October release set for James Vanderbilt’s “Truth” with Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford.  They’ll also be juggling Marc Abraham’s “I Saw the Light” with Tom Hiddleston (a film that is creeping up my most anticipated radar), Paul Weitz’s “Grandma” (more than a push than just Lily Tomlin; enter Screenplay and Supporting Actor Sam Elliott), and Laszlo Nemes’ “Son of Saul,” which debuted at Cannes to rapturous praise.

SPC isn’t the only smaller indie company coming to play this year.  Besides Universal, Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions will bring Peter Sollett’s “Freeheld” to Toronto, and have Michael Grandage’s literary period piece “Genius,” Denis Villenueve’s “Sicario” and Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy” to play.  In the case of “Love & Mercy,” a first half of the year film that has people still buzzing, don’t be shocked if it starts picking up serious citations for Lead Actor Paul Dano and Supporting Actress hopeful Elizabeth Banks.

Open Road looks strong with Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” especially after debuting a powerful first trailer that gave warm feelings of “The Insider.”  They also have Oliver Stone’s “Snowden,” (if the *old* Stone returns), Ben Younger’s “Bleed for This” (another boxing movie this year?), and John Hillcoat’s “Triple 9.” (if it finds a release this year.)  A24 Films has Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” with Brie Larson and Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” for a nice push for Supporting Actor push along with a slew of techs.  New guy on the block Broad Green Pictures will distribute Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes” with Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, which premiered at TIFF 2014 to great praise for the performances.

20th Century Fox failed to ignite the Academy in a big way for “Gone Girl” last year but they’ll have Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “The Revenant,” (still currently shooting), David O. Russell’s “Joy,” (not the biopic we once thought) and Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” to mix things up this year.  I’d be shocked if at least one of them doesn’t do the job.

Oscar master Harvey Weinstein already seems positioned to push Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” for both commercial and critical success but as its normally seen, he looks to have more than he can handle at the moment.  Cannes launched Todd Haynes’ “Carol” in all major categories as did Justin Kurzel’s “MacBeth,” but he also has John Wells’ newly titled “Burnt” (formerly “Adam Jones”) and Justin Chadwick’s “Tulip Fever.”

bridge-of-spies-tom-hanks-slice-600x200Finally, and probably the most lively of the hopefuls is Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies,” which hopes to break Walt Disney’s 50 year strike out in the Best Picture category.  The last Live Action film from Disney to be nominated in the top category was “Mary Poppins” in 1965.  They’ll be going for broke this year with an Academy favorite in the director’s chair, a recently snubbed Lead Actor hopeful in Tom Hanks, and a barrage of supporting players that could go any way.  Early word is recent Emmy-nominee Mark Rylance and Billy Magnussen could be the standouts.  In partnership with Pixar, they also have two frontrunners in Animated Feature with “The Good Dinosaur” and “Inside Out.”  In the case of the latter, they could have more with Original Screenplay, Original Score, and the Sound categories.

Films without distribution are being looked at with reservation but some seem destined to be picked up.  Look at mentions for Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead” (the NYFF closer and future frontrunner in Best Actor), Stephen Frears’ “The Program,” Jocelyn Moorhouse’s “The Dressmaker,” Sean Penn’s “The Last Face,” Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans,” and Courtney Hunt’s “The Whole Truth.”

The Oscar Predictions have been updated, as seen in both the individual pages and the sidebar.  The tech pages will get their full update in the next few days.  In terms of the awards season future, our own Shane Slater will be on hand in Toronto to deliver reviews, Mark Johnson is shuffling from Ohio to Telluride for us this year, and of course Joey and I will be front and center in New York.  Before you know it, we’re in the thick of the race and we have lots of great things planned (How did we get here so fast?).  The Six Spot series will be making its way back after the Emmys, as well as special awards-centric pieces on the race, both past and present.

Looking forward to another fantastic season here at Awards Circuit.  Enjoy the ride.

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