Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Final Films of the 2016 Oscar Season

The Oscar season exists in three stages, each lasting about two months. The first stage begins in September, when Hollywood heads to Venice, Telluride, and Toronto to get an early peek at some of the movies that might be in contention for the Academy Awards. The third stage takes place in January and February, the time period where the awards are actually handed out after months of campaigning from all of the studios. The second stage takes place in November and December, at a time when most audiences and Hollywood insiders are pre-occupied with the holidays and bigger movies like this year's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But while there are only a few critics' awards handed out and only one major festival (AFI Fest in Los Angeles), that doesn't mean the season slows down one bit. There will be plenty of festival favorites opening in these months, but also several unknown quantities hoping to get in on the Oscar fun. This is the time of year where films like The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, Selma, American Sniper, and 2015's The Big Short have burst onto the scene, leading to several Oscar nominations and even a few wins. All of this raises the question- which mystery films from November and December are real contenders? Let's break it down.

ALLIED- November 23

Image courtesy of Paramount

Most of the talk centered around Robert Zemeckis' Allied is about the rumored relationship between the film's stars, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, that may have led to the downfall of Brangelina. All parties involved have vehemently denied these claims, but that hasn't stopped Paramount from cheaply riding off Pitt's divorce (they released another teaser for the film on the day that news of the split broke) in the hopes of box office glory and awards success. Allied is being viewed as one of the big unknowns, as nobody is really certain if it's an Oscar player or a mere commercial play. Zemeckis has a mixed track record in recent years, as the Denzel Washington-starred Flight garnered a decent amount of attention before The Walk was totally DOA. Allied looks like a classic Hollywood movie, an old-fashioned star vehicle that clearly draws its inspiration from some iconic films. Because of that, it feels like a strong contender, even though the trailers haven't been top-notch. Paramount is loaded with Oscar contenders this year, and if this one is the real deal, they'll be pushing it soon.

RULES DON'T APPLY- November 23

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Rules Don't Apply is one of the last major festival players of the year, as it has the opening night spot at the American Film Institute Festival. Warren Beatty's long-awaited return to filmmaking has been seen as a dark horse this entire season, and even now, I'm not sure how it'll play. I've heard that the film is good, which comes as somewhat of a surprise after the negative reaction to the trailers. The Hollywood-set romantic comedy seems like an Academy home run, and when you throw Beatty into the mix, we could be seeing the birth of a juggernaut in a few weeks. Nominations for Beatty's performance as Howard Hughes and the technical elements seem possible, and I'm not ruling out Best Picture yet. We should know much more about this one in the near future.

MOANA- November 23

Image Credit: Indiewire

I'm sure that Moana will be good, and I'm sure that the film will get some nominations for Lin Manuel Miranda's original songs. But if Frozen and Zootopia couldn't get nominations for Best Picture (okay, so Zootopia still has a chance, but we all know that's not happening), Moana surely can't. The buzz on the picture is relatively weak at the moment, and while I'm fully anticipating a Herculean result at the box office over the Thanksgiving frame, an Oscar nomination in any meaningful category is out of the question.

MISS SLOANE- November 25 (limited,) December 9 (wide)

Image courtesy of EuropaCorp

Coming from EuropaCorp, a studio that hasn't had any real success with awards season, Miss Sloane actually feels like a contender to me. Not necessarily for Best Picture, but there has been a ton of buzz surrounding Jessica Chastain's performance as the title character. The trailer does a good job of selling the cunning smarts and brutality of Chastain's Sloane, and the studio has been screening the movie for a while now. In a strong year for the Best Actress category, Chastain doesn't stand much of a chance to win, but with a festival birth and good buzz, Miss Sloane is firmly in this race.


Image Credit: IMDB

Wow, Will Smith really wants to win that Oscar, doesn't he? Collateral Beauty looks like the definition of Oscar bait, and the fact that all signs are pointing to it being terrible is not encouraging. Buzz around this one is horrendous, and it was removed from a late slot at AFI Fest, which is never a good sign. The cast, which includes Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton, and Michael Pena, is unusually strong, but this is likely to go down as a mushy romantic drama with no real chance at Oscar gold.

THE FOUNDER- December 16 (limited,) January 20 (wide)

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company

This is a very strange movie. Originally slated for release on August 5 before being shifted to late in the awards game, John Lee Hancock's The Founder was thought to be a strong vehicle for star Michael Keaton. In the film from the director of Saving Mr. Banks and The Blind Side, Keaton plays Ray Kroc, who took the idea for McDonald's and expanded it into a multi-billion dollar corporation. The trailers sold the film as a drama in the vein of The Social Network, but at this point, I don't even know what's happening with it. The Weinstein Company has fully shifted its attention to Lion, which leaves The Founder in a weird spot. The film is certainly complete, but Weinstein isn't taking it to AFI Fest nor is the film on any major radars. This is one that could evaporate into thin air without any kind of real Oscar push.

PASSENGERS- December 21

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

With two of the most powerful stars in Hollywood in Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt and a high-concept science fiction story, Passengers is set to be one of the biggest box office hits of the holiday season. But is it an Oscar player? It's not immediately clear. With Billy Lynn exploding on impact at the New York Film Festival, Sony could turn to Passengers as its big 2016 Oscar push. After all, Lawrence has had quite a bit of success with the awards game and director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) isn't unfamiliar with the process either. The first trailer was appealing on a populist blockbuster level, but I can't say that I'm expecting any Oscar attention for this one beyond the technical categories.

PATRIOTS DAY- December 21 (limited)

Image Credit: IMDB

Patriots Day made the biggest recent surge out of all the films off this list, as it just snagged the closing night slot at AFI Fest. Director Peter Berg has had some critical success with Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon in recent years, and if any movie can get him into the awards race, it's this one. The story of the week of the Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing manhunt is gripping and terrifying, and the sobering first trailer generated some serious excitement. Most of the conversation surrounding this film has positioned it as a sleeper contender, and if it plays well at AFI, it's going to be this year's The Big Short (which also had the closing slot at AFI). Keep an eye on this one.

SILENCE- December 23 (limited)

Image Credit: Indiewire

Silence is directed by Martin Scorsese. What more do I really need to say? After a three-year absence from cinemas, one of the greatest living filmmakers is returning to theaters with a passion project about a group of Jesuit missionaries on a trip to Japan. Rumors of beautiful brutality, a nearly 3-hour runtime, and word that it's one of Scorsese's best have cinephiles foaming at the mouth to get a look at this one. As for its Oscar chances, if it's as good as it appears to be, it'll be in. Scorsese has made six feature-length films in the 21st Century, and five have been nominated for Best Picture (Shutter Island, released in February of 2010, is the only exception). Paramount has a busy season this year (Allied, Arrival, and Fences on top of Silence), but if Silence delivers the goods, they'll be in good shape.

FENCES- December 25

Image Credit: Coming Soon

Fences is probably the biggest of the titles that have yet to premiere, as Denzel Washington's directorial feature was rumored to be a major Oscar player well in advance of this year's season. The film begins screening this weekend apparently, so expect reactions soon. I've always been a tad bit skeptical of Fences, simply because it feels like one of those films that could be a major disappointment under the weight of huge expectations. We've seen Hollywood adaptations of Pulitzer-winning plays fall flat before (remember August: Osage County? Yeah, nobody does) and Washington's track record behind the camera isn't exactly stellar. Nonetheless, the trailer for Fences is quite phenomenal, and even if the film doesn't hit the right mark, I have a feeling that Denzel and Viola Davis will be major players in the race. Either way, we'll know soon enough.

GOLD- December 25

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company

I'll be totally honest with you, I don't know what the hell Harvey Weinstein is doing this year. He has several films that could potentially be major players in the Oscar race- Lion, The Founder, Gold, even Sing Street (crossing my fingers)- and yet there seems to be no clear plan on which films will be getting the biggest push. Lion seems set, but Gold is just sorta hanging around. The film, which stars Matthew McConaughey, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Edgar Ramirez, is currently dated for a wide release on Christmas, a huge sign of confidence. But judging from the first trailer, this may be more of a commercial play for Weinstein. The film looks like a blend between American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street, which is a hugely appealing combination for me. I just don't know if it translates into Oscars.

HIDDEN FIGURES- December 25 (limited,) January 13 (wide)

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

I don't know if 20th Century Fox was originally planning on a big Oscar push for Hidden Figures, but after the strong reaction to the first trailer and the total implosion of The Birth of a Nation, they're all in. The 1960s-set drama looks like a light-hearted romp with a dash of socio-political commentary, which is exactly the kind of thing that the Academy loves- think The Help by way of NASA. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae are all potential players, and the film could be a sleeper Best Picture contender. Originally set for the closing spot at AFI Fest, Hidden Figures will now premiere at an undisclosed date, hopefully in the next month. It seemed like a longshot at first, but Hidden Figures is now firmly one of the most anticipated films of the season.

LIVE BY NIGHT- December 25 (limited,) January 13 (wide)

Image Credit: IMDB

Live by Night is one of my most anticipated films for the rest of 2016, and I was so shocked and pleasantly surprised when Warner Bros. moved the film up from its original October 2017 release date. Ben Affleck's last directorial feature was Argo, and for those who don't remember, that 2012 caper won Best Picture. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (which is an excellent read), Live by Night is a gangster epic that travels through Boston, Miami, and Cuba during the height of Prohibition. I don't know if I like Affleck's casting as Joe Coughlin, but there's no doubt in my mind that this is a player. The material is there, and if Affleck delivers, we're in for a treat.

So as of right now, these are the movies that we have to look forward to for the rest of the season. It should be a great two months for the cinema, and I'm hoping for some truly excellent flicks.

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