Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fall Movie Preview

This is a guide to help plan the fall viewing season--it sets the scene (as it were), and is the basis for my Official Predictions at the end of the year. I will organize it a little differently this year:  a few numbered themes for the season, then I will reference the theme numbers, with expected 'official' release date (if I can find it), along with my captions for the movies--my impression of what these movies portend to provide us, and how the season should play out.

I was able to catch a couple of movies while in the US—early fall releases, which means their producers don’t really consider them Oscar material--The Giver and The Hundred Foot Journey—.  * One thing that going to a serious film provided was an extensive set of trailers for some of the major releases coming this fall.

I repeat that I have no inside information, just whatever buzz I pick up, plus and, yes, a little credit to Entertainment Weekly for legwork.  That rag justifies itself once or twice a year, this is one of them.

1)  Amazing True-Life Stories:   I am not against action films as such, but I am so tired of the action film depicting the most amazing thing that ever happened to the human race (if it were true).  This summer was particularly vapid, it seemed to me. So, kudos to Zero Dark Thirty, which depicted something true and pretty amazing, and there are a few of those stories coming this fall.   A subset present this fall:
  1a) Tortured Geniuses (it worked for Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly).

2) The Next Big Thing among actors and actresses-- There are a couple of them each year--somehow the casting trends and vagaries of release times get them to pop up all over the place.  Remember when Jude Law was in everything?  Julia Ormond? Vera Farmiga?  Matt Damon?

3)  Movies marked for one or two nominations -- There are more than a few that—because of the subject matter, director/producer, and cast-- indicate a desire to be a “big Oscar contender”,  but I don’t feel it’s likely for there will be a single movie making a big sweep.  Instead, there appear some strong contenders for specific awards and a lively competition for those coveted Best Picture nominations (up to 10 of them).
4)  Hollywood's Liberal Attitudes Front and Center--always a theme, but maybe moreso this year?
5) Women, or Even Men, Breaking out of Type (or trying to) -- For an example, see Scarlett Johansson (also an example of theme 2 above) in her roles this year, and somehow having a baby, too.
6) Big-Ass Casts, Big Hype--now, more than ever.  See comment on theme 3.
Which leads me to--

Contenders, the Long List:
Interstellar –(3, 6, Nov. 7)--  McConaughey, Hathaway, Christopher Nolan, others.  Wormholes.  Gravity meets those meteor movies of 10 years ago and Carl Sagan's Contact (remember that one, with Jodie Foster?)  The opposite of 1).  Saving the world, with barely plausible science, and superior special effects.   A contender, but not a winner, for other nominations (what exactly did Gravity win, in the end?  Answer:  7 Oscars, so what do I know?  But this year is different, somehow.)
The Theory of Everything -- (1a, 3, 11/7)-- Eddie Redmayne, as the young (pre-and early-disease) Stephen Hawking.   Looks like great timing, with the viral ALS Ice Bucket thing (though I heard his disease called something else in the preview).  Seems an obvious Best Actor nomination.
The Imitation Game--  (1a, 2, 3, 4, 5,  11/21) – The earnest Benedict Cumberbatch makes his bid, in the role of Alan Turing, one of the most significant and unusual characters of the 20th century (Marathoner, Decoder of the German secret code--project Enigma, outed as homosexual, suicide). Cumberbatch is due; he's earned his stripes with his TV Sherlock (and don't think the AMPAS doesn't notice TV nowadays!)
Selma – (4, 6, 12/25)--  David Oyelowo (...The Butler, his son) as MLK.  Late release is supposedly timed for King's holiday (if you buy that!), with the 50th anniversary of the Selma events next year.  Watch for Tim Roth as George Wallace, Tom Wilkinson as LBJ.  And, it has Oprah Winfrey!
Unbroken--  (1-in a big way, 5, 12/25)  - The truly amazing story of  Louis Zamperini – Olympic athlete, Japanese POW   (died 7/2 aged 97).  Directed by Angelina Jolie, script by the Coen brothers (breaking molds).  Will rise or fall on the performance of relative unknown Jack O'Connell in the lead role. 
Exodus: Gods and Kings-- (3, 12/12)--  Ridley Scott director.  Christian Bale, Sigourney Weaver.  The story of Moses; the test will be whether the parting of the Red Sea, now vs. in the day of Charlton Heston, can still amaze as it once did, and this will determine whether this can qualify at least in special effects.  I don't expect much more.   
Tracks-- (1, 2, now--was released earlier elsewhere) --based on a true-life adventure memoir of a lone woman, with camels, crossing Australia.   Mia Wasikowska is the centerpiece; you may remember her from the offbeat Alice in Wonderland (and she will be in its sequel); she's also starring in a new release of Madame Bovary (which I would say is very unlikely to go over big in the US). 
The Good Lie --(1,2, 3,4, 5, 10/3)--.  Based on a true-life story (moved to the US, though?) of Sudanese who escape conflict, and the small-town woman (played by Reese Witherspoon) who gives them a home and a chance for a new life. 
Gone Girl --(5,6, 10/3)– The kind of story that I hate when true, but this is fictional (very successful novel by Gillian Flynn, who has a screenwriting credit ). Ben Affleck as the suspected murdering husband, Rosamunde Pike as the disappeared wife, Tyler Perry as the Johnnie Cochran-type defense lawyer. A David Fincher movie, with Reese W. as Producer. I like the casting, could be a nomination for Best screenplay, adapted. Don't see nominations for Affleck, Fincher or Best Picture here, though.   
Wild--  (2,3,5,12/5)--  Reese W. in the adaptation of an original memoir.  A hike on the Pacific Crest Trail by a burnt-out person.  True-life but doesn't sound too amazing; however, could this be Reese's nomination, of all the possible ones for her this year? 
Inherent Vice – (6, 12/12)-- Directed and screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson – (The Master, There Will be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights)  with Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese W, and others you would recognize.  As far as I know, the first attempt ever to make a movie of a Thomas Pynchon novel (I would presume he had approval on the script?  I would presume P.T. Anderson is sworn to secrecy?)  And what a choice--his most lurid novel. It's probably this year’s Cloud Atlas—won’t be a hit, but I’m backing it, regardless.  
Annie --(3, 12/19) -- The musical based on the stupid comic strip--the song "Tomorrow", and all that. Quvenzhane’ Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz.  Sia has new songs in it, which should get it a nomination.  Interesting casting, for sure. 
Into the Woods-- (3, 6-and then some!, 12/25) – Meryl Streep (singing again), Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine...Directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago).  The 1987 Broadway musical with the fairy tales mixed together, but the movie has no original songs (clearly a lost nomination opportunity!) Stephen Sondheim is credited on music and lyrics, though, which should get a nomination for him of some kind, as they simply must get him to the event.
Foxcatcher-- (5, 6, 11/14)  – Like Gone Girl but a true story; interesting maybe, but not so amazing. Appeals mostly to our morbid curiosity. Steven Carell plays the creepy, rich sponsor of an Olympic wrestler, also features Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, others. Major buzz, but I'm not buying it.
The Judge --(3,5,6, 10/10) – Robert Downey Jr. (co-produced with his wife), Robert Duvall in the title character role. Courtroom drama in which Bob Jr. defends the senior Bob.  Seems like a mess, but Duvall is always an Oscar threat (in this case, it could be Supporting Actor, which would facilitate a nomination).
Birdman -- (6, 10/17)–   Michael Keaton (as ex-superhero actor), Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, directed by Inarritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros).  Yet another movie about a washed- up Keaton playing a super-hero? Super star power, and as with Foxcatcher, major buzz. Seems bathetic.
Whiplash – (2, 3, 5, 10/10) Indie hit with Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now, the Divergent series, the upcoming romcom Two Night Stand (9/26), and a future Fantastic Four series remake), as a jazz drummer. He's supposed to be good in this one (as opposed to the others).
Leviathan (3, 4, 12/31)  Russian production, small-town drama with some allegorical implications; its late release suggests its distributor thinks it's a serious contender, for Best Foreign Language.  Tricky situation, politically, but could be promising.
Rosewater – (1, 4, 5, 11/7)-- Directed by Jon Stewart – memoir of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian journalist imprisoned and tortured.  The political dynamics are positive:  sure, everyone hates Iran (snark), but this one strikes a blow for reform there. I'm thinking nominations for Stewart/Bahari (Screenplay, adapted), Gael Garcia Bernal as the lead character, Shohreh Agdashloo for Supporting Actress (as his wife).
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies -  (3, 6, 12/17) -- Both Hobbit 1 and Hobbit 2 got three nominations each (none won).  Lord of the Rings finally cashed in big on the final installment, so I think Bot5A will get one actual award.  It would be fair if it had Peter Jackson's name attached to it, an award for perseverance (and commercial acuity).  He has won three previously, one being for Screenplay, Adapted:  I think there is some tough competition there, so maybe he should get it for Screenplay, Original, as this is basically all made up, hardly the original story at all. (snark)  Seriously, I think it will be between this one and Interstellar for Visual Effects.
God Help the Girl-- (3, 9/5)  - Only thing that caught my eye about this was that the music is from Belle & Sebastian, who are a fave with some critics.  So it might get a nomination for the music. 
The Book of Life (3, 10/17) – animated film produced by Guillermo del Toro.  So maybe it's the favorite for that award.

And the Rest: 
Big Eyes – (3, 12/25)  Another weird, true story, starring  Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz.  Paintings of girls with big eyes; she turns out to be the painter, he the fraud.  Seems a little too quirky, but I will root for Amy for anything, while Christoph got two Oscars already (prematurely, I’d say).
The Homesman - (6, 11/7) - Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer (Meryl's daughter, and Streep in a small role), others. I quote for the description:  "A claim jumper and a pioneer woman team up to escort three insane women from Nebraska to Iowa."  Swank is also in You're Not You, described as "a drama centered on a terminally ill woman and the aimless young woman who becomes her caregiver" (Swank is the terminally ill one.)  She sure can pick 'em, eh?  (sarcasm)
Jimi:  All is by my Side --(3, 9/26) --  This is a highly controversial one; Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000 of Outkast) as Jimi Hendrix.  The world is waiting for the definitive Jimi story, but the buzz is that this is not it--and they couldn't get permission to use his original music in the film.  Longshot nomination bid maybe, but Best Actor is a tough category to get a nomination in any year.
While I'm on the topic of controversial movies focusing on blacks:
Dear White People – (4, 10/17, it has made the film festival circuit already)  I saw the preview; it's about how black people see whites, set at a college.  Black people may or may not buy in, but whites certainly will not, not in this polarized climate.
Left Behind – (5?, 10/3) Nic Cage in a Rapture drama, he was a pilot and missed it somehow. There is some dramatic poignance inherent to these stories of transcendental doom, but who really wants to see them?  Not me-
This is Where I Leave You --(2, 6, 9/19)-- Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver. Semi-comedic family drama.  Gets the 2) because of Driver (of "Girls"), who is all over and is building a reputation as an actor of Brando-ish intensity.
Last Days in Vietnam (4, 9/5) - A documentary on the helicopter drama in Saigon.  Could be powerful. 
The Zero Theorem  (1a, 8/14, or is it 9/19?) Terry Gilliam directing Christoph Waltz, and others.  Quirky story of a genius trying to solve the mystery of human existence. Sounds like Brazil, but less likely to be successful in the cult way that one ended up being. I'll want to see it, if I can find it. 
Men, Women and Children  - (2,4,5, 10/17)  Directed by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno, Thank you for Smoking).   It seems to be about modern day young people; Reitman has an ear and a nose for current trends that cannot be denied. Cast includes Ansel Elgort (the young guy in Fault in Our Stars), Adam Sandler (serious role, that earns it the 5) mention; he has done it before, but still seems to look for the breakout). Although the release has been chaotic (EW didn't even have a release date), I'd say, don't write this one off. 
Rudderless --(3, 10/17) - The feature-length movie directorial debut of the superb character actor William H. Macy.  Starring Anton Yelchin and Billy Crudup, it's the story of a grieving father who forms a band to play the music of his deceased son.  A sleeper for two or three nominations. 
St. Vincent – (6?, 10/24) - Bill Murray as an unlikely daycare guardian for a young kid. With Naomi Watts, Melissa McCarthy.  I saw the preview, and it looks hilarious (as long as they didn't put all the good bits in the trailer), but hilarious doesn't usually win any awards.  Go see it, would be my advice.
Love is Strange –(3, 4, 11/5) -- John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as gay marrieds who suffer for their choice.  Great actors, maybe one will hit it big, but I would see it/them more successful as a comedy, frankly.
Mr. Turner (10/31)  The story of JMW Turner, the 19th century English naturalist painter. Written and directed by veteran Mike Leigh, great character actor Timothy Spall (you'd recognize him) in the title role. Could be a BAFTA winner, but probably a longshot for any Oscar recognition; I feel certain that American audiences will be indifferent.
Pride --(1, 3, 4, 9/19)--Historical drama based on gays who helped British union movement in '80's.  Could sneak in for a couple of US nominations, despite a predictable lack of commercial success.
Maze Runner –(9/19)-- sci-fi action flick.  Looks very improbable (Divergent type); should rake in the dough.
A Merry Friggin Christmas – (now imdb says "sometime in November"!, was scheduled for 11/7 according to With Robin Williams--will it come off the schedule?  It might not be in good taste, considering.  Actually, I have to note that the Christmas movie seems to be disappearing--and this seems at best a post-modern, or an anti-Christmas version of it. 
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb --(6, 12/19)  –  Robin Williams reprised his role as Teddy Roosevelt in this second sequel of the Scooby Doo variety; he is now given top billing over the main character, Ben Stiller.  The Academy does not need to give Williams a posthumous Oscar (or even a nomination) for this turkey; he won an award (deservedly) for Good Will Hunting, and was nominated three other times.
Mockingjay Pt. 1 - (6, 11/21)  I don't really think this one will be up for any Academy awards, either.  It does have the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (see above comment regarding Williams; Hoffman won his award for Capote).  Hoffman's character had been set up perfectly to get bumped off in this episode (I haven't read the books, so I don't know for certain).  Hoffman is also in another movie, one out in some locations but with a re-release 10/30, called A Most Wanted Man, a John LeCarre spy thriller, and I wouldn't be surprised if he got a flyer nomination for Supporting Actor for that (out of homage).  Again, no obligation to give him an award at this point; he deserved more, but not necessarily for that one.  

As always, look for the late December releases, and those around Thanksgiving, to be the leading candidates for the big awards (my categorization, unconsciously, reflected that expectation).  The many September/October ones have a tough task to stay in cinemas through to the end of the year, unless they become runaway hits. The ones where my interest level and likely commercial/Academy success coincide are Unbroken, Selma, and The Imitation Game; possibly also Rosewater, Leviathan, Whiplash, and Men/Women/Children. I will insist, contrary to all other opinions, on Inherent Vice, St. Vincent, Rudderless, The Zero Theorem, and Last Days in Vietnam--at least until I see them!  I will see, and be amazed by, Interstellar, but I will not believe it.  Not for one second. 

*The Giver was a noble, failed effort--talking with my children (who read the book), the big problem was the movie kept the book's confused ending.  100' Journey (title is a good one, if you see it) was sweet, predictable. My sympathies for “The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood  (Richard Linklater's inventive, longitudinal study of childhood), which were ambitious efforts, well-received by critics, but have to be considered longshots for the major awards, given their early release dates.  Actually, it will be interesting to see if Ralph Fiennes gets a nomination for Best Actor for Grand Budapest, which he certainly deserved.   What is Wes Anderson thinking, releasing the movie in the spring?  Doesn't he have any self-respect? (snark)

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