Fall is here. That means it's time to make predictions about the Oscar race. I love this part of the season when everything is still wide open, there are so many movies to see, and anything could be nominated. The air is alive with possibility, hope, and the joy of exploration and discovery. Let’s look at the movies vying for the gold.
Six-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close plays a woman who has sacrificed her own ambitions to support those of her husband. Things begin to reach a boiling point as they travel to Sweden where he is to accept the Nobel Prize for literature. Glen Close and Jonathan Pryce both give powerhouse performances. This may well be the movie that finally wins close the gold and nets Pryce his first Oscar nomination. Christian Slater does good work in a supporting role. There may not be enough there to warrant a nomination but it’s definitely a reminder of how good he can be given the right material. This is one of my favorite movies of the year.
Based on an incredible true story, the movie recounts how black detective Ron Stalworth infiltrated the KKK in the 1970s. This is a powerful film about race and politics. Maybe it will be the movie that finally gets Spike Lee his Best Director nomination. John David Washington gives one of the year’s most memorable performances as Stalworth. Adam Driver is good in a supporting role that may not quite warrant a nomination. There’s a theme of him not owning his Jewish identity that isn’t fully explored that might have taken his character further. Regardless, Driver is a good character actor and never disappoints. The movie has a vital ending that hopefully will stay with Oscar voters like it has stayed with me.
Hamilton star Daveed Diggs wrote this movie with and stars with his real life friend Rafael Casal. The movie is about Diggs’ character trying to make it through his last days of probation which are complicated by his troublemaking best friend (Casal) and his witnessing a police shooting. Diggs was good in Wonder but felt wasted as he didn't have nearly enough scenes. It will be exciting to see him as a lead. And it's awesome to see him spitting bars again at the end of the preview.
THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST
This Grand Jury Prize winner from the Sundance Film Festival follows the title character (Chloe Grace Moretz) on her journey once her parents place her in a gay conversion therapy center. I'm glad to see some LGBT representation in the Oscar race. I'm also glad to see filmmakers exposing these "ministries" that have done untold harm to people for generations. (Boy Erased, coming out in November covers similar ground.) Moretz made her name as a child actor playing intense parts in genre films (a vampire child in Let Me In and Hit Girl in Kick-Ass). This role feels like her coming out party, pardon the pun. She does some of the best work of her career here. She stars with Sasha Lane who was the lead in American Honey and Forrest Goodluck from The Revenant who both also give worthy performances. The movie explores the consequences of trying to change that which is unchangeable. This is one of my favorites of the year. I know it will be honored at the Independent Spirit Awards. While it may get buried beneath more prestigious films as the fall continues, I hope at least Moretz’s performance will be remembered when the nominations are announced.
To hear an interview with the director Desiree Akhavan, check out the podcast The Frame here: https://www.scpr.org/programs/the-frame/2018/08/10/18769/
Does including a rom-com on this list seem a bit twee? Maybe. But after the Before series, you can't count out any romance starring Ethan Hawke. Plus another comedy with some romance in it starring Rose Byrne and Chris O'Dowd snagged two Oscar noms a few years back (Bridesmaids). And it's based on a novel by Nick Hornby who’s been nominated twice for his own screenplay adaptations of novels (Brooklyn, An Education). So this is a rom-com with lots of Oscar cred. Hawke manages to be charming even when playing kind of a slob. His character, a washed up rock star named Tucker Crowe, begins corresponding via email with a woman (Rose Byrne) who slams his new album (which he also hates). Through their correspondence and eventual meeting, they both begin to pursue the lives they should be living. It’s not a laugh fest like Bridesmaids but it’s goofier than Brooklyn. It definitely gets points for being a movie for adults with actual drama and emotion. While I prefer it when O’Dowd gets to be the good guy/love interest like in Bridesmaids, he is still fun playing kind of a jerk in this one.
DON'T WORRY, HE WON'T GET FAR ON FOOT
Confession: I've always been a fan of Joaquin Phoenix. (He played Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, for crying out loud!) But I'm really in love with the run of movies he's been on lately. His scenes with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the Master are so rich, two great actors playing off of each other's energy. They make one of Hoffman's last films one of his best. Spike Jonze's Her was amazing. Inherent Vice may have been my favorite movie of the 2014-2015 Oscar season. It's the only movie I saw three times in the theater that season (and would have seen more if it had played longer). And it's not a short movie. Few other actors probably would have stepped up to star in such a strange, funny, romantic film. So I'm excited that Phoenix has three shots at Oscar gold this season. You Were Never Really Here came out in April and is now on digital and DVD/Blu-ray. I haven't gotten to see it yet. And I still have to wait for the dark comedy Western The Sister Brothers to come out. But I have seen Phoenix's portrayal of real-life cartoonist John Callahan and it is probably the most vulnerable I have ever seen him on screen. You feel the fear and hopelessness he feels when he is in the hospital, opening up to Rooney Mara, after he has become paralyzed. Minor SPOILER: You get to see him go through Step 9 of the 12 steps. Watching a character on screen FORGIVE people in this day and age is a revelation in itself. It's really emotional, touching, healing stuff. Jonah Hill plays his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor and also shows more vulnerability than we're used to seeing from him. As much as I love Hill's comedy, I would love to see more roles like this for him now that he's shown people this side of himself. He's still funny but he's also very real and natural. Look for nominations for both actors.
A STAR IS BORN
Lady Gaga's first leading role is one of the most highly anticipated events of the fall. Will this remake earn her a Best Actress nomination like it did for Judy Garland? Will previously Oscar-nominated actor Bradley Cooper join the exclusive club of Oscar-nominated actor-directors for his directing debut? And which movies are going to lose to this one for Best Original Song?
A biopic about Neil Armstrong might not seem like a likely follow up to La La Land. However, ambition is a major theme of director Damien Chazelle's work. The trailer for First Man, much like Chazelle's first feature, Whiplash, asks us to consider the price of ambition. Ryan Gosling returns for another collaboration with the director and the fruit of their labors may earn him another shot at Oscar gold.
THE HATE U GIVE
This adaptation of the bestselling 2017 YA novel may score first time nominations for lead actress Amandla Stenberg and director George Tillman Jr. The story concerns a teenage girl who witnesses her friend being killed in a police shooting and who she becomes in the aftermath. This book was a juggernaut for the young adult market and this is a highly anticipated movie. Common and Issa Rae have strong supporting roles. However, the powerhouse is Russell Hornsby. He was so good in Fences but no one seemed to talk about his performance. I’m glad to see him get the kind of amazing role he deserves and knock it out of the park. This will be remembered as one of the all-time great screen dads, up there with Atticus Finch. This is a beautiful, powerful film, one that will take your breath away at moments. This has perhaps impacted me more than any other film so far this year.
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Melissa McCarthy may well change her career path with this dramatic role and a bid for a second Oscar nomination. (Her first nomination was for her hilarious turn in Bridesmaids.) In this biopic she plays biographer turned con artist Lee Israel. Marie Heller whose directorial debut Diary of a Teenage Girl was well-respected may get her first directing nom. Richard E. Grant is getting positive buzz as Israel’s partner in crime Jack and may get a Best Supporting Actor nomination
Oscar winner Julianne Moore plays an opera singer whose voice may have the power to inspire peace. Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe plays the businessman who is in love with her. They are both hostages in this thriller. The trailer is gripping. This reminds me why I hate the “it’s their time” Oscar campaign narratives. I wish Moore hadn’t won for the schmaltzy unmemorable Still Alice. I much preferred the movie she made the next year: Freeheld. This also looks like a potentially worthier performance.
MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS
Saoirse Ronan plays the title role against Margot Robie's Queen Elizabeth. Although they only have a single scene together, the trailer for this historical drama looks fierce as these two Oscar nominees go head to head. Which they may well do in the Oscar race too. The studio has chosen not to submit this one to film festivals which is where buzz usually builds for this kind of movie. So rumors have started that it may not be very good. I maintain that it may be a sleeping dragon like Titanic. Santa's holding this one back until December unfortunately. So I'll just have to play the trailer on repeat until Christmas comes.
WELCOME TO MARWEN
Steve Carrell has been acting his heart out over the last several years, sometimes in multiple films, almost as if he is doggedly pursuing the Oscar he richly deserves. From The Way, Way Back to Foxcatcher to Freeheld (a personal favorite) to The Big Short to Battle of the Sexes, he's turned in an array of performances that prove he's more than just Michael Scott or Gru. Based on a true story, Carrell plays a man coping with the effects of being the victim of a hate crime. He retreats into a miniature world he builds by hand, a Belgian town circa WWII. Confession: I'm a total Robert Zemeckis fan so I'm really looking forward to this one. It just ain't Christmas until I watch at least a little bit of The Polar Express each year. And The Walk was among my top picks for Oscar love a few years ago and remains one of my favorite Joseph Gordon-Levitt performances. (If you get the chance to see it on a big screen, go for it!) The trailer for Marwen is visually stunning.
This is Steve Carell's second entry in the Oscar race this season. Based on the separate memoirs of David Sheff and Nic Sheff, Carell plays a father watching his son descend into addiction and trying to help him out of the downward spiral. This may be one of the most heart-wrenching films about addiction since Requiem for a Dream. Making it harder to watch is that the boy we all fell in love with in Call Me By Your Name, Timothee Chalamet, plays the son. Bring tissues.
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Director Barry Jenkins follows up Moonlight with this adaptation of a James Baldwin novel. (Baldwin's voice can be heard narrating part of the trailer.) Newcomer Kiki Layne plays a pregnant woman trying to prove her falsely imprisoned fiancé is innocent of rape. It's nice to have a year with several strong black casts and creative teams (Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Sorry to Bother You). Regina King is getting good buzz in a supporting role and may receive her first Oscar nomination.
THE HAPPY PRINCE
Rupert Everett directs and stars in this biopic about the end of Oscar Wilde's life. While most stories about Oscar Wilde, such as the play Gross Indecency, end with his imprisonment for homosexuality, this is where the movie begins. The title comes from one of Wilde's fairy tales. Everett makes an excellent Wilde in the trailer, exuding Wilde's wit and charm but also expressing his melancholy. I wish my Uncle Bill were alive to watch this one with me. I know it would spark hours of conversation about the great author's writing, his impact on those that came after him, and "the love that dare not speak its name."
This movie covers similar ground as The Miseducation of Cameron Post but from a male character’s perspective. Judging from the trailer, this movie seems to have less of the playful rebellious spirit of Cameron Post and is a more solitary and isolated experience. And possibly a harder sit. The trailer shows more serious abuse. I think it is wonderful to see Lucas Hedges having such a thriving career after Manchester By the Sea, that he has not been just a flash in the pan. (He is also starring in Ben Is Back and has a supporting role in Mid90s.) Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and Joel Edgerton all look great here. Kidman has another strong maternal part after Lion. Russell Crowe has a scene near the end of the movie that peole are calling Oscar-worthy. This movie comes out in November and hopefully it will get to stand on its own without too many comparisons to Cameron Post. They are both stories that need to be told. The Oscar race is big enough for both of them.
Keira Knightley may rack up her third Oscar nomination for this biopic about the bisexual writer Colette. I'm shameful in my love for movies about writers and writing (Wonder Boys, Finding Neverland, Adaptation, etc.). And this one already has two great quotable lines in the trailer. ("No one can take you away from yourself." "The hand that holds the pen writes history.") I'm happy to see some bisexual representation in the Oscar race this year. Writer-director Wash Westmoreland also wrote and directed Still Alice which won Julianne Moore an Oscar. Maybe lightning will strike twice and he’ll help Knightley bring home the gold this time.
THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN
This is reportedly Robert Redford's final film. Will the Academy be able to resist the sentimentality of nominating him for this movie? Probably not if they watch the trailer, because it's amazing. This trailer has the feel of a 1970s movie that already exists. It just feels right. Plus, he was unfairly ignored for his portrayal of Dan Rather in Truth (an underrated movie that was one of my favorites that season) and he deserves one more shot at being recognized for his acting ability. (His sole Oscar win is as director for Ordinary People.) Tom Waits may get a nomination for his supporting role as one of Redford’s aging bank robbing buddies.
Mahershala Ali follows his Best Supporting Actor Oscar win with a lead role. Here, he plays a concert pianist who hires an Italian driver/bodyguard (Viggo Mortensen) to escort him through a tour of southern states in 1962. The title refers to a travel guide black people at that time used to avoid danger. The trailer has a feel-good vibe to it. Ali displays a natural dignity. It's interesting to see two-time Oscar nominee Mortensen playing a character that is below his real-life intelligence when we're used to seeing him in leading man roles where he's often the charismatic hero (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, A History of Violence). This won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Actor Paul Dano makes his directing debut with this adaptation about a sixteen-year-old boy watching his parents' marriage fall apart. Dano told Entertainment Weekly that the character "doesn't say much, he just kind of witnesses" and that Ed Oxenbould was the only actor they would have cast. When you see his wide, sad eyes in the trailer, you understand why. There is something transfixing about his face. Academy Award nominees Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal play the parents. Mulligan was wonderful in the overlooked Far From the Madding Crowd, one of my favorite romances of the past decade. Gyllenhaal, like Steve Carell, almost seems to be going after his Oscar with a vengeance. Nightcrawler, Nocturnal Animals, and Stronger all could have been nominated. And I haven't even seen Southpaw. The Academy has failed to recognize Paul Dano's talents as an actor despite his amazing turn as a young Brian Wilson in Love and Mercy. Perhaps they will honor his achievement as a director instead.
WHAT THEY HAD
Movies about Alzheimers are among my least favorite sits when it comes to Oscar bait (Still Alice, Away From Her). But if I have to watch one, I'm glad it's with this cast. Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, two-time Oscar nominee and personal favorite Michael Shannon, Oscar nominee Robert Forster, and Gwyneth Paltrow's mom. Just kidding. Blythe Danner gave a fine turn in I'll See You in My Dreams three summers ago. This looks to have more humor than most films dealing with Alzheimers. I'm all for any movie that finally gets Michael Shannon his Oscar. Shannon got passed over for his turn as the villain in The Shape of Water last year, a movie with so many good performances that people failed to celebrate both him and Michael Stuhlbarg. I've rooted for Swank ever since Boys Don't Cry. Forster is sweet as the husband who is still in love with his wife and who does not want to give her up. And Danner seems to fit her role well: the parent becoming child once more. But I'd rather see her as a romantic lead again.
THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER
Oscar nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in this remake of an Israeli film. A teacher becomes obsessed with a student whom she thinks has a talent for poetry that is beyond his years. The trailer is suspenseful and even disturbing. However, Gyllenhaal's character makes some good points about how artists used to be respected versus how they are treated now when colleges are cutting theater programs and the government is cutting funding for the arts. Expect this to be a misunderstood film. People are already labeling Gyllenhaal’s character a “pedophile'" in Youtube comments. Sigh.
Oscar winner Steve McQueen's follow up to 12 Years a Slave is this action thriller based on a UK TV show. On the podcast Little Gold Men, the commentators talked about how the trailer should be more fun. I have to agree. EVERYTHING. IS. SO. SERIOUS. Only McQueen could make the crime drama this morose. Never count Viola Davis out, though. She can and should get nominated just for reading the telephone book. Even though she just won for Fences, she could get another nomination. Anything is possible for this powerhouse actress.
ON THE BASIS OF SEX
Oscar nominee Felicity Jones plays a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she argues one of her important early cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals. Fans of the documentary RBG will recognize the case as being about a male caregiver. Jones is playing someone who is a living hero to many. If that isn't Oscar bait, I don't know what is.
MONSTERS AND MEN
This is the third movie this season that deals with a police shooting (along with Blindspotting and The Hate U Give). As with the other two, the main character struggles with doing what they feel is right as it will have negative consequences for their life and the lives of those around them. What I like about this one is that it also shows the cop's home life, what he is struggling with, how he is trying to defend his actions. Instead of a straw man, we may get more of a three dimensional character. Kind of like how we end up aching for both the undercover cop and the undercover gangster in The Departed.
I feel like I haven't heard anyone talking about this one but it has Oscar potential all over it. It stars Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley. It's about the hunt for Nazi mastermind Adolph Eichmann. The trailer is quotable. Kingsley looks at the top of his game. It seems like there's some great mind game stuff going on between Kingsley and Isaac. I missed this one during its brief theatrical release (only one or two weeks in my city) but would not be surprised if they mount an Oscar campaign for it.
This reimagining of the life of Lizzie Borden stars Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart. A biopic with two strong female roles filled by two talented actresses makes this one to watch. This is the first of two biopics Stewart is starring in this season. The other one is Jeremiah Terminator Leroy.
This is what I call a homework movie, one I'll end up seeing but with a lot of reservation/don't really want to. If bad reviews tank its Oscar chances, I'm off the hook. This movie feels too Oscar bait-y. Historical drama with hero motivated by revenge (Braveheart, Gladiator), destined to…whatever. I agree with the gang at Little Gold Men that this was an uninspired choice for Chris Pine and director David Mackenzie as a follow-up to the much more original Hell or High Water.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS
Emily Blunt has some mighty big shoes to fill. The original Mary Poppins won five Oscars including Best Actress and Best Original Song. Luckily, she has Broadway superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda on board to help her. My fear is that the movie will be fun but disappointing like a lot of Disney sequels. However, Blunt has come close to Oscar glory before (acted her guts out in The Girl on the Train) and Miranda has been nominated before for his work with Disney on Moana. So despite my hesitations, I can't count this one out. It may end up being quite a jolly holiday with Mary after all.
This biopic focuses on the later years of the singer associated with The Velvet Underground. Trine Dyrholm looks great in the trailer. It seems like potentially one of the strongest performances of the season. For a great interview with Dyrholm including a comparison between her voice and Nico's, check out the link to the Frame podcast below:
BEN IS BACK
Lucas Hedges stars as a recovering heroin addict who surprises his family by coming home for Christmas. His mother, played by Julia Roberts, decides to let him stay but doesn't leave him alone while he is there. The movie was written and directed by Hedges' father Peter. This looks like a hard sit, especially for the holiday season. I lost a friend to drug overdose last December so I'm not looking forward to this movie as much. However the weighty themes and serious dialogue could send either actor back to the Oscars. Audiences love drama and tearjerkers and they really love Julia Roberts. I'm sure they'll come out in droves to see her play a concerned mama.
THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS
I first fell in love with Ben Mendelsohn watching The Place Beyond the Pines. He played a criminal that mentors Ryan Gosling. It's a small part but I kept wanting more of his character and that storyline. Who was this guy? One of our greatest living character actors as I've come to learn. Whether he's playing a royal (Darkest Hour), an eccentric wild west bandit (True West), or a sci-fi villain (Rogue One, Ready Player One) Mendelsohn always brings his A-game. This movie will be a rare chance to see Mendelsohn play both a lead role and more of an everyman kind of character. This may be his best bid so far for an Oscar nom and a great opportunity for his peers to honor him.
A PRIVATE WAR
Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike stars in this biopic about the late journalist Marie Colvin. Pike was brilliant in Gone Girl and sadly overlooked in the underrated A United Kingdom (along with the talented David Oyelowo who continues to be ignored by the Academy nearly every year). Perhaps she will grab the Academy's attention again with this showier role. Director Matthew Heineman previously directed the Oscar-nominated documentary Cartel Land and should bring a gritty, realistic feel to the film.
THE FRONT RUNNER
Oscar nominated director Jason Reitman teams up with Oscar nominated actor Hugh Jackman for this biopic about senator Gary Hart's failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988. The film goes beyond Hart's extramarital affair to explore how politics and tabloid journalism came together in a way that is still being felt today. (Think Fox News, the last presidential election, etc.) I love Reitman’s early work (Juno, Up in the Air, etc.) and I’m excited to see him collaborate with Jackman. This one is high on my list.
JEREMIAH TERMINATOR LEROY
Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart starin this biopic about the celebrated late '90s/early aughts author who turned out to be a hoax. This was the closing film at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. Stewart has been doing some fine work in her post-Twilight career including Clouds of Sils Maria for which she became the first American actress to win a Cesar award. Dern is just coming off a powerful turn on the hit HBO miniseries Big Little Lies. So seeing them together should be a treat.
Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins takes on the title role in this Shakespeare classic. While Lear is far from my favorite Shakespeare play, I love the wild energy Hopkins brings to the character. Oscar has a long history with Shakespeare and Shakespeare-related films (Shakespeare in Love pulled an upset by walking away with Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan). Netflix seems determined to get in on the Oscar race this year with several worthy, eligible projects.
Oscar Winner Natalie Portman directs and stars in this movie about a pop star. The first reviews have come in, but I kind of want to remain in the dark. I'd like to go in knowing as little as possible. The movie is supposed to be kind of dark and there have been whispered comparisons to Black Swan. (See the make-up in the paused image below.) I hope so because I love Black Swan. This is one of my most anticipated movies of the year.
HERE AND NOW (AKA BLUE NIGHT)
Sarah Jessica Parker stars in this drama that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. The movie is about a successful singer-songwriter who receives some devastating news and spends the day wrestling with it while roaming through her home town of New York City. This looks to be a powerful performance from Sara Jessica Parker. It will be available for Video on Demand and streaming on the same day it hits theaters in November.
Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn play a couple unsuccessfully going through fertility treatments in an effort to conceive a child. They eventually turn to his niece for help. This character-driven drama is one of several Netflix films that may make it to Oscar night. As I stated before, Netflix is coming hard this year. I’m a huge Paul Giamatti fan, so I’m eager for this one. Writer-director Tamara Jenkins was previously nominated for Best Original Screenplay for The Savages.
This is probably Netflix’s best shot at winning Best Picture this year.
Alfonso Cuaron’s follow-up to Gravity is a personal film based on the housekeeper who raised him. The black and white trailer reminds me of Fellini. Perhaps the title is not coincidence. This movie is already getting rave reviews from the film festivals. Look for it to bust out of the Best Foreign Film category and snag a seat at the Best Picture table.
CRAZY RICH ASIANS
The feel-good movie of the summer and box office juggernaut is also an important cultural moment. This is the first all-Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club came out twenty years ago. The Academy may choose to celebrate with a Best Picture nod.
Oscar winner Nicole Kidman plays an LAPD detective who takes her one last chance at pursuing a nemesis from her past, a gang leader, in a bid for redemption. Kidman has once again transformed herself for a role. Her eyes look haunted. This could be a great follow-up to Lion and Big Little Lies and may well net her another Oscar nomination.
STAN AND OLLIE
Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly play Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy respectively on their final tour of Britain. Hollywood loves movies about itself. And I love everything about this project. Two of my favorite actors playing one of my favorite comedy duos. The actors look perfect in the trailer. I would love to see either of them bring home their first win.
The very definition of a spoiler. Clint Eastwood dropped the trailer for this late entry to the Oscar race on October 4. It comes out in December. Eastwood directs and stars as a drug mule making one last run. He appears to be a tragic figure. Bradley Cooper also stars in the film. An Eastwood picture is nearly always an event. Look for possible acting and directing nominations.
This buzzed about movie features strong performances from Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz. It is about…okay what is any Yorgos Lanthimos film really about? It has something to do with Emma Stone trying to usurp Rachel Weisz’s place as the queen’s confidante. It looks like a fun parody of Merchant Ivory-type royal dramas. But don’t be fooled by the trailer. Whoever cuts the trailers for Lanthimos films usually makes them look faster-paced than they actually are and sets a different tone in the trailer than the tone of the actual movie. Thus, The Killing of a Sacred Deer was a slow-burn drama and not the fast-paced thriller the trailer promised. Nor was The Lobster the fun romantic comedy promised instead of a darkly funny (and violent) trip into the heart of darkness. Come for the comedy, stay for the self-loathing you’ll feel after you witness the things human beings can do to each other. That’s Lanthimos, baby.
This may be one of Netflix’s strongest Oscar contenders after Roma.
This movie is based on Norway’s deadliest terrorist attack in which a right-wing extremist murdered 77 teenagers at a youth camp in 2011. While Paul Greengrass has not completely cornered the market on movies dramatizing world tragedies (see Gus Van Sant’s White Elephant), he may be the master of them and his films are essential viewing even if they’re uncomfortable to watch. Captain Phillips is a film that has stayed with me for a long time (and a Tom Hanks performance that was sorely overlooked). This one probably will be too. The trailer itself is human, brutal, and haunting.
AT ETERNITY'S GATE
This trailer rips your guts out. If you love Vincent Van Gogh, this movie is a must see. God, I love Willem Dafoe! I don’t know how he does it. He’s transformed himself into Van Gogh. He’s so great at character. It broke my heart he didn’t get Best Supporting Actor for The Florida Project last year. Maybe this will be his year. Julian Schnabel is a great director too. And if you do love Van Gogh, go rent/buy/stream Loving Vincent and watch it on the biggest screen you can. It’s like a moving oil painting for 90 minutes and it’s beautiful. Like a Van Gogh painting come to life.
The Academy loves Mike Leigh. Look for this movie to get at least ONE major nomination. The movie covers the Peterloo massacre in Manchester England in 1819 when cavalry charged into a crowd that was peacefully protesting for political reform. Many of Leigh’s films are more intimate focusing on a small group of characters or a historical figure (Mr. Turner). This looks like it may be more epic in cast and scale like Topsy Turvsy.
WRECK-IT RALPH 2: RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET
Pixar is putting out a movie this year. That’s good for an instant Oscar nomination. The “give up on your dreams” speech from the first movie nearly had me in tears. Will the second movie be able to pull off as much genuine emotion? That remains to be seen. But the trailer sure has a lot of fun with the Disney princesses and I hope there’s a lot of that in the film as well.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND
Orson Welles’ final masterpiece has been finished and restored. And of course, Netflix is the company that has it. Welles was not appreciated by Hollywood for much of his career, especially late in his life. He could not gather enough money to make and finish the movies he wanted to make. What better way could there be to honor his legacy than to award his final film with a nomination or even a win?
THE CHILDREN ACT
Oscar winner Emma Thompson and Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci star in the the perfect mix of legal and medical drama that Oscar usually can't help but nibble at. However, this film premieted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017 and seems to be just now crawling into theaters in limited release with zero fanfare (A24 doesn't even list it on its website). It has a fairly decent score of 71% on rotten tomatoes, yet this drama seems dead in the water. I can't figure out why when it seems to feature such a strong performance from Thompson.
THE SISTERS BROTHERS
This dark comedy western would seem to fit the Coen Brothers slot for this year if the Coens weren't releasing their own western (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs). I've seen this trailer with several different audiences and it never really gets the laughs it's going for. Even though it looks like fun and I'm always down for about anything with Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly, this one might not find its audience. I hope I'm wrong. Either way, the academy is more likely to honor Phoenix for Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, Reilly for Stan and Ollie, and Jake Gyllenhaal for Wildlife.
Update: After seeing this movie, I admit I was disappointed by it. The trailer is kind of the canary in the coal mine on this one. The movie never quite finds its tone. However, there is a sensitivity to Reilly’s character that has stayed with me and is almost enough for me to wan to give the film a second chance. I could see him running for Supporting for this and possibly running for Lead for Stan and Ollie. So far this season, I hate to admit this is the movie that grabbed me in a mysterious way and is the movie I haven’t made my peace with yet.
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
The Coen Brothers return to the Western genre with an anthology film featuring Tim Blake Nelson as the titular outlaw. (They previously made No Country for Old Men and True Grit.) The different episodes represent different genres of Westerns and range from comedic to violent. Reviews have been decent out of Toronto but this may be passed over like Hail, Caesar! I’m still looking forward to it, but I’m a diehard Coen fan. (We need a nickname. The Bartons? The Coen Collectors?)
From the creator of the TV series This Is Us comes another weepie. This seems to be similar to Collateral Beauty in that it’s aiming for pathos but it’s probably going to become bathos instead, an overly emotional mess. I would love it if this turns out to be a perfect romance like Brooklyn but I’m afraid it’s going to be Spanglish instead, a movie that can’t decide what it wants to be. The multiple characters and storylines do not inspire my faith.
I THINK WE'RE ALONE NOW
I first saw Peter Dinklage in The Station Agent years ago and left the theater feeling bummed that I’d just seen this amazing actor I’d probably never see in anything else because Hollywood doesn’t write roles for people his size. I have been so glad to have been proven wrong. And maybe I will be proven wrong again. However, I think this dark comedy may have a steep climb to make it to the Kodak theater. I’ve learned never to count Peter Dinklage out though. And no one would be happier to see him get a nomination or win. Elle Fanning either for that matter. She keeps doing great work and her time will come. This movie focuses on what may be the last two people on Earth after an apocalyptic event. From the preview, Dinklage seems to be enjoying his solitude and does not want any company. Who knows? This may become my favorite apocalyptic film since the first half of Seeking a Friend For the End of the World.
WHITE BOY RICK
Newcomer Richie Merritt stars as the title character in this biopic about one of the youngest drug kingpins ever who’s also the youngest FBI informant ever too. Matthew McConaughey told Entertainment weekly this performance was his “sad country song.” McConaughey’s great in this, just ask him. Seriously, though, this may be one more part of the McConaissance (which has had few interruptions). The speech in the trailer where Rick is talking his dad into joining him in going big league with the drug trade pulls at your heart strings a little. But this movie has one of the less interesting biopic subjects of the season (You sold some drugs? Lizzie Borden killed her parents with an axe!) It just doesn’t have the shine of First Man or Bohemian Rhapsody. It may struggle to get noticed in the crowd.
HOLD THE DARK
A retired wolf expert is called to Alaska to investigate the disappearance of a young child. While it’s rare for thrillers and horror films to get Oscar attention, a compelling performance from Jeffrey Wright could grab Oscar voters’ attention.
The true story of how an Asian American college student became one of the top dealers of MDMA in the 1980s. Annie Q is captivating in the trailer. She’s dramatic, she’s sexy, she pulls at your heartstrings. Sadly, she’s also an unknown actress in a movie that appears to be getting a limited release. Maybe enough people will see this movie to give it a chance at some gold.
This looks kind of noir/thriller-ish. I’ve heard it mentioned briefly as a movie to be aware of. Ben Foster is more likely to be honored for Leave No Trace. The trailer is so brief it’s hard to get a bead on whether this is something Elle Fanning might get recognized for or not but I’m leaning towards no. Still, two actors of this caliber working together on a film should at least be noted.
Speaking of noir thrillers with stellar casts…Matthew McConaughey (in more of a True Detective mode which I’m all about) and Anne Hathaway (doing a great femme fatale) plot to kill her husband (Jason Clarke, who unfairly never gets to play a romantic lead or a nice dad or a guy who rescues kittens from trees). Or do they? I would’ve liked to have gone into this one cold. I hope my brain doesn’t piece the puzzle pieces together too quickly by the time I see this. I like being surprised and shocked. Points to the editor for using that sound of the fishing line clicking through the reel throughout the entire trailer to build up suspense. It makes it almost unbearable to watch it multiple times though.
Ramey Malek is unrecognizable as Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury in this biopic about one of rock’s greatest bands of all time. When asked on a morning show if the audience had a favorite song(s), current lead singer Adam Lambert admitted that the band’s catalog is so strong the audience is excited for all of them. Still, I think this is going to be a populist film, something the people love that the critics and tastemakers don’t come out for. I hope I’m wrong. The fanboy in me would love to see a movie about Freddie go to the Oscars.
Another possible contender for Best Animated Feature is Mirai, a movie from Japan about a young boy who is jealous of his baby sister until she visits him from the future.
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB
Claire Foy becomes the third actress to play Lisbeth Salander. It’s a shame David Fincher seems to have decided not to complete The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series he started. However, the one silver lining is that instead of having to watch two more remakes of a series that was filmed well the first time, audiences will get to see a previously unfilmed story. The trailer features an extended scene as if the studio wants to prove the film has the right feel of the other movies (which it does). Of course, it wouldn’t be a Millenium series movie without someone hanging upside down being tortured. Rooney Mara snagged an Oscar nomination for playing this role but it’s not always easy to repeat success when you step into a role someone else has played. Then again, it worked for DeNiro in The Godfather Part II. And Foy is coming off of a recent Emmy win for The Crown.
This bleak action film set during the Irish famine of 1847 stars Hugo Weaving and features Barry Keoghan. While Oscar loves a good historical drama, this one seems unapologetically European with only antiheroes rather than an inspiring figure to root for. Keoghan is more likely to be honored for American Animals. (See Best of the Year…So Far for details. www.etchedingold.ninja/etched-in-gold-1/2018/8/21/the-best-movies-of-the-year-so-far-according-to-everyone-else)
This drama about the fight to establish rights for mental patients stars Helena Bonham Carter and Hilary Swank. The cast and subject matter seem like prime Oscar bait. The low Oscar buzz makes it a dark horse though. Swank is a two-time Oscar winner. Helena Bonham Carter is a two-time Oscar nominee and is playing the kind of life-affirming role that voters usually love.
THE SONG OF SWAY LAKE
Rory Culkin stars in this drama about a young man who plots to steal a valuable record until his accomplice complicates matters by falling in love. Having lost my own father over a year ago, this movie looks somewhat cathartic. I love the ghost of his father nearly crushing Culkin in his sleep with the symbol of his father’s obsession—a box of records. I’m eager to see Culkin in a starring role. I am a fan of his older brothers McCauley (Home Alone, Saved) and Kieran (Igby Goes Down). I mostly know Rory only from a supporting role in Scream 4 and look forward to seeing what he is capable of.
This is the directorial debut of Jonah Hill who also wrote the script. This is a big year for Hill who also had one of his most mature roles in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot and will hopefully get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for it. Careful observers will notice the star of this film, Sunny Suljic, makes a brief cameo in Van Sant’s movie. The movie is a character study of a young teen boy who finds acceptance among a group of skateboarders in California in (when else?) the mid-90s. It looks like a more nuanced, less violent Larry Clark movie. Hill has been one of my favorite actors for a long time. I’m curious to see his first film as a director and how well he has captured the naturalism he seems to be going for.
This early in the race, Anything can literally win Best Picture. I kid, I kid. Character actor John Carroll Lynch plays a widower who falls in love with his next door neighbor: a transgender prostitute (Matt Bomer). This looks like a touching romance. Again, I'm glad to see some LGBT representation in the race this year. I do wish they had cast a transgender actress to play the transgender character. I'm looking forward to seeing Lynch in a starring role whereas I'm used to seeing him in smaller roles such as the husband in Fargo. He recently made his directorial debut with an excellent character study titled Lucky featuring the late Harry Dean Stanton and a rare onscreen turn by director David Lynch.
A KID LIKE JAKE
This is one I dread seeing in the theaters because it's such sensitive subject matter and I hate hearing people laugh in the wrong places or for the wrong reasons. We live in a world where adults are bullying and threatening children over their gender. As someone who identifies as transgender, this trailer makes me nervous. It's not clear if the film/filmmakers are supportive of transgender children. It's a weighty, controversial topic. There are some A-list stars. I wish we saw more of the child's perspective. I hope the movie is not invalidating to a group of people in its exploration of its subject matter.
UNDER THE SILVER LAKE
This should be this year's Inherent Vice. It's a madcap caper with an unlikely detective figure trying to solve the disappearance of the woman he loves. Plus, it stars Andrew Garfield who has been hitting them out of the park lately (99 Houses, Silence). So I should be excited. However, the notion hinted at in the trailer that it could all be in the main character’s head disturbs me. One of the scariest things in any movie for me is the idea of truly going crazy. The idea that his obsession is unhealthy instead of a noble quest really takes the winds out of the sails for me. Either way, this looks to be one of the more fun and interesting films of the season
The only production I have seen of Chekhov's play was a sort of postmodern staging that I found confusing. This cast, setting, and language (I can't tell how faithful they've been to the original text) seems much more appealing and accessible. Elisabeth Moss's Masha, for instance, actually has wit and humor to her rather than just moodiness and brooding. I'm surprised this hasn't gotten more attention and didn't come to my local arthouse. I'm going to have to catch up with this one. It has an all-star cast in a literary classic. Total Oscar bait.
I haven't heard much about this one but it's been on the festival circuit and it's obviously gotten some rave reviews according to the trailer. It appears to be a dark romantic thriller.
Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke directs this biopic of Texas singer-songwriter Blaze Foley. With comparisons to Inside Llewyn Davis in the trailer and a cover version of Lucinda Williams' "Drunken Angel" playing in the background, this one looks like a heartbreaker. Star Ben Dickey gives a heartbreaking performance but it’s Charlie Sexton’s performance as Townes Van Zandt that steals the show. Sexton deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination for bringing the late, beloved singer-songwriter to life. While the movie consists of Van Zandt paying tribute to Foley in a radio interview and telling his life story in flashback, the movie becomes an elegy for both men.
This is supposed to be an inspiring drama but it looks a little twee. Patricia Clarkson's villain seems like cardboard compared to her recent turn as Adora in the miniseries Sharp Objects. The saving grace here appears to be Bill Nighy who can redeem almost anything. This feels like Oscar-lite. Maybe in a different year.
WHERE HANDS TOUCH
Amandla Sternberg from The Hate U Give also stars in this controversial historical romance based on true events. The film came under fire before the trailer even came out for romanticizing a Nazi character. The filmmakers have defended the film saying that he turns from those beliefs. I was a big fan of the director Amma Assante’s previous film, A United Kingdom, and am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. The trailer does raise eyebrows more than it pulls on heartstrings though. Hopefully the scenes play better in context.
Pawel Pawilkowski, whose previous film Ida won Best Foreign Language Film, won Best Director at Cannes for this tragic love story which spans decades. This may be one of the rare foreign films that makes it into the Best Picture race like Life is Beautiful.
Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes directs this film about ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev’s defection to the west. This may not be coming out until 2019 and may be a contender for next year’s Oscar race rather than this year.
Adonis is still not satisfied and is not done proving himself. No one is more excited to see Michael B. Jordan returning to the big screen in one of his greatest roles than I am. Especially because it’s the role that made him a household name and finally got him the recognition he deserved (if not the Oscar love, that went to Sly). Unfortunately, unless your movie has Godfather or Toy Story in the title, sequels don’t do so well at the Oscars. Even though Kendrick Lamar’s music kicking in gets me all pumped when I watch this trailer, Best Original Song may be the only nomination this movie snags this time around.
BACKSEAT aka VICE
This December release looks to be a possible spoiler like director Adam McKay’s film The Big Short which unexpectedly entered the Oscar race a year early when editing was completed sooner than expected, causing the film to snag several Oscar nominations and causing a few upsets. The movie is a biopic about Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) featuring Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush (can’t wait!), and Steve Carrell (his third movie this season!) as Donald Rumsfeld. The tone should be a balance of dark comedy and drama.
This Sandra Bullock thriller is being compared to A Quiet Place. She plays a mother with two children who are part of a small band of survivors after a mysterious alien force has driven the world’s population to deadly violence. The three of them must make their way twenty miles in a rowboat while blindfolded with nothing to rely on but the mother’s wits and the children’s trained ears. This comes out in December, late in the race. It may feature a great performance by Bullock but will it have a chance to catch up on all the love and praise A Quiet Place has already garnered?
Peter Jackson begins a new epic saga with this series based on the books. If nothing else, this is bound to be a contender for the F/X and sound categories. Click below for some eye candy.
ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
I can almost forgive James Cameron for the delay in those Avatar sequels if this is what he’s been spending his time on. He is a writer and a producer with Jon Landau. Robert Rodriguez directs this adaptation of the anime. The visuals are amazing. Everything feels like the real world but otherworldly at the same time. This is another one that is going to get some F/X and sound love. Prepare for some more serious eye candy below.
Having been gone for three years, closeted advertising executive Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) returns to his Texas hometown for the holidays during the first wave of the AIDS crisis. I like how the synopsis on the website puts it: “Shot on black-and-white Super 16mm film, “1985" takes a unique look at a pivotal moment in American history through the prism of empathy, love and family.” I think that focus helps it stand out from other AIDs-related dramas. The trailer definitely has a unique feel. Again, I’m excited to see quite a bit of LGBT representation this year and to see several A-list actors in this one, including Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis as the parents.
Dame Judi Dench stars in this biopic about the KGB’s longest serving British spy. There isn’t a trailer yet, but there is a clip courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival. If Dame Judi’s in it, I wouldn’t bet against it.
This is one of those movies whose trailer kept playing at the local arthouse but it made it to DVD before it ever screened at the theater, and I still haven’t gotten to see it. Zoey Deutch appears to make a memorable debut and the trailer reminds me of one of my other favorites from this year, Thoroughbreds. This is more likely to get honored at the Independent Spirit Awards but while the race is still wide open I thought I’d throw this hat in the ring. (Currently streaming on Hulu.)
Just kidding! The nomination's going to Black Panther! Hahahaha.
Triple threat Emilio Estevez writes, directs, and stars in this movie about homeless people taking over a library for shelter. The trailer is gripping and raises some important ethical questions. But it also looks like it may veer towards schmaltzy, emotionally manipulative territory. The movie has a good premise and it's good to see Estevez on screen again. But this looks like something of a hard watch.
Transgender actress Hari Nef plays a transgender teen in this horror film for the #MeToo movement. Horror as social commentary is definitely in vogue. I'm always excited to see some LGBT representation.
There you have it. Your next Best Picture winner is somewhere above or in the Best Movies of the Year So Far (According to Everyone Else) post. (www.etchedingold.ninja/etched-in-gold-1/2018/8/21/the-best-movies-of-the-year-so-far-according-to-everyone-else) Together, these two blog posts cover all the buzzed about movies in the major Oscar categories. Now for the fun part: go out and watch them all! Check back regularly for updates, reviews, rants, and all things Oscar here at Etched in Gold.