Now is the time for all good movies to rise to the service of their studios, if they want an Oscar. This Friday, the numerologically propitious 11/11/11, will mark the serious beginning of the serious movie season. I'd say that a couple of longer-shot contenders have come out, one last weekend and one several months ago (I'll get to those later), but the real players will be opening in the next six/seven weeks.
I've been reading from some critics that the Era of Movies is over and that television rules our visual popular culture. I don't agree with that, but I would say that the annual cycle of movies has become too predictable while TV, which now has new programs popping up in all seasons, with annual series of all different lengths, has a much more interesting seasonal execution plan. The problem with movies is that there is no plan, and that all the studios with major product are looking at the same promised land.
As I don't care much for splatter or most action pablum, I skip most of the movies released in the period starting February and ending October, but I have seen three or four respectable ones which had the previews for most of the big releases coming up this Oscar season. Those trailers, and a couple of season previews (I recommend the week-by-week one imdb.com has in its "Coming Soon" feature, at least if you look now, no critiques but a fairly complete list, as a research resource), give me enough material--without any special access--to have a good idea
what's coming, and on the Oscar outlook. It's presumptuous, not to say pretentious, to pick the Oscars purely off the trailers and the hype, but presumption and pretense are what the Academy Awards are all about. That, and entertainment.
As Warner Wolf used to say, Let's Go to the Video Tape!
Released Too EarlyAnything already out there has two strikes against it from an Oscars point of view. There are exceptions in the nominations, but very few in the actual awards. I'm suggesting here there may be basis for one this year, but I suppose I'll eventually be proved wrong once again in thinking that Oscars voters have a memory that extends beyond two months.
Melancholia--the Lars Von Trier end-of-the-world drama is getting some good commentary from the Film Festival circut. Von Trier isn't popular, but lead actress Kirsten Dunst could get a nomination (though probably not the prize).
Contagion--Soderbergh made it thoughtfully and well, but it wasn't sufficiently gross or scary to be popular; a movie like this has to cut a swath through society like the plague in order to make an impression.
Ides of March--It could've been a winner in a different scenario, but the cynical story didn't fit in 2008, and (despite some parallels with the breaking Cain story, and an overall increase in the level of disillusionment) it still doesn't. We could all see the fall of both the candidate and his handler from the first 15 minutes, we just weren't sure what the mechanism of their destruction would be. The answers--sex with an intern, ambition for the handler--were not imaginative enough, and that is the fault of the original play. I thought Clooney did well both acting and directing, but I don't see any awards coming.
Moneyball--I'm a huge baseball fan, I love Michael Lewis' storytelling, and I felt "The Blind Side" deserved its accolades, I even like Brad Pitt's acting, but I've never had any desire to watch this film. I was lukewarm about the book, and I feel its time (and those of Billy Beane and of the A's)passed some years ago.
Tree of Life--Watching this movie was excruciating: it was agonizingly slow, confusing, and also emotionally wrenching. I was glad when it was over, but I have been returning to it in my thoughts ever since (5 months ago). Is this the exception, or will it prove the rule (two different things, as far as I'm concerned)? Because of its early release, it could get shut out completely, but I think it could be a multiple nominee and could even win some major awards: Supporting Actress Jessica Chastain (few speaking lines, but unforgettable visual images), director Terence Malick, cinematographer, sound. Not, however, for its big stars--Pitt and Sean Penn.
"Tree of Life" brings to mind "2001: A Space Odyssey" in many of its aspects (tedium, obsessive attention to sensual detail, all-encompassing perspective), and I think that, like "2001" and regardless of Oscar, it will be marked as a classic and remembered through the years, mostly by people who have never sat through it. All of Malick's movies are near-masterpieces, and this one is unmistakably so.
Anonymous--It looked interesting, but the November 4 release date suggests the producers of this fantasy about the "real author" of Shakespeare may feel insecure about its prospects. I will see it and hope for the best, which would be a more thought-provoking "Shakespeare in Love".
Misguided Family Missives and/or Skewing Young
War Horse--I can't believe Spielberg is going to flog this one. It's a story of a horse that survives the horrors of World War I and returns to domestic life. I'm sure it will look good, and as always with Spielberg, it will manipulate your emotions mercilessly. It just seems a little too obvious for me.
Sherlock Holmes 2--There's some subtitle, I forget. The return of the cast of the debut album (Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law/Rachel McAdams), plus Professor Moriarty, suggests a big hit. I could be terribly wrong, but I think this one will be a bit too clearly repetitious of the formula that made 1 a success.
Hugo--Scorsese doing a sci-fi Jules Verne-y Paris kid story in a Metro hideout in 3-D. I'm disbelieving the hype.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--The Swedish mystery thriller trilogy has already been produced, and apparently well; this will be the big-money promoted version. The preview looks good, and I haven't been spoiled by reading the books.
I would expect that the preponderance of Best Actor and Best Actress nominations, as well as the eventual winners, will come from these big screen character profiles.
Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy--Gary Oldman in the star role of the John LeCarre spy novel. It seems as though Oldman is an Oscar waiting to happen, and this could be the one.
Iron Lady--Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher: Her nomination is guaranteed; I think this could be a tough win this year, though, and Thatcher is not much of a crowd-pleasing persona, really.
My Week with Marilyn--Michele Williams as Marilyn Monroe. See "Iron Lady", except that I think Williams will win. She certainly looks the part, and there's a lot of residual sympathy for her out there since Heath Ledger's passing during the season of "Brokeback Mountain" (hers) and "The Dark Knight" (his).
J. Edgar--Leonardo DiCaprio playing J. Edgar Hoover, with direction by Clint Eastwood. This could be "The Aviator" all over again, though Eastwood has won before. What I want to know is how it took this long to have a major production of Hoover's life story, which would be impossible if it weren't true. The only way this could miss would be a failure to face up properly to Hoover's latent homosexuality, or whatever the dressing up in women's underwear stuff is supposed to represent. Somehow, I don't think they'll miss the story; DiCaprio would be my pre-viewing pick for Best Actor, and there could be more here.
W.E.--Madonna directed this story of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, which you'll remember from "The King's Speech" last year. I'm sure they're looking for similar results, and reports are that relative unknown Andrea Riseborough as young Wallis could surprise in the Best Actress category. I have the feeling that anti-Madonna feelings, which I think are pretty strong in Hollywood, could poison Riseborough's chances after she gets the nomination.
In the Land of Blood and Honey--This movie, with Angelina Jolie directing a story of a cover-up of sex crimes in wartorn Bosnia, is a real dark horse. It could be a dramatic masterpiece or an overblown monstrosity. I'm fascinated, and, if it was filmed on location, should at least be scenic.
Pariah--another Film Fest fave, being released on Dec. 28 suggests its handlers like its chances for some "Precious"-type Oscar buzz. I hope it's good.
The Descendants--Alexander Payne ("Sideways") directing George Clooney. A humorous and bitter story set in Hawaii; I think this one has serious Best Picture potential.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close--when you look at the cast (including Tom Hanks, Max von Sydow, Sandra Bullock), the director (Stephen Daldry--"The Hours"), the storyline (a polymath kid's experience with the 9/11 disaster that killed his dad), you have to conclude that this is the early betting favorite for Best Picture. I'm extremely sure that it will be incredibly central to the Oscar balloting, and may be deservedly so.
I was a bit dismissive of some of these efforts, and I may have underrated several of them. Nevertheless, I think this looks to be quite a good Oscar season, really. I'm also looking forward to January, 2012, when the flawed efforts come out--some of those may be very interesting.