Co-written by: Mitch Collier
This Monday marked Labor Day, the official end of summer, and a malaise fell upon the sun-soakers and beach-goers. Those of us who prefer to enjoy a movie in the comfort of the temperature-controlled indoors rejoice in the cooler weather, longer nights and of course, and the Oscar buzz that surrounds the film releases of fall and winter.
In my house the release of this year’s trailers has been quite a source of conversation, as both my boyfriend and I are actors, writers, and general movie enthusiasts. That said, we both have very different criteria when considering what makes a film Oscar-worthy. He, a film student, prides filmmaking and technical precision along with innovation. I tend to gravitate towards story and character driven screenplays as well as subject matter that interests me as opposed to technical achievement. We both love films with our favorite actors and appreciate standout acting performances, so this list of Oscar contender films has the best of both worlds. Whether you’re a general movie goer or a full-on film connoisseur, there is something for you. Pull up a chair, get out the popcorn and start planning your winter. Oscar films are coming.
Beasts of No Nation:
This looks dark. Very, very dark. But also brilliant. Adapted from Uzodinma Iweala’s acclaimed novel of the same name, “Beasts of No Nation” is about a young boy who becomes a child soldier in an unnamed West African country. Writer/director Cary Fukunaga spent seven years working on the script before finally deciding to shoot it as his follow up to his sublime directing work on season one of “True Detective.” The film is also notable for the fact that it will be distributed by Netflix both in-theaters and online at the same time. The film might be hard to find in a theater near you as the four largest movie theater chains in America (Regal, AMC, Cinemark, and Carmike Cinemas) have decided to boycott the film because of Netflix’s decision to release it online the same day it will appear in theaters. One group that surely won’t boycott this film is the Academy.
Last year, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu finally got his long-overdue Oscar triumph with “Birdman” when it grabbed four Oscars. Now, he follows that success with “The Revenant,” a beautifully-shot period drama about a frontiersman’s struggle to survive after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by his companions. I think this film will pose two big questions come Oscar season: 1) Could this finally be the movie to get Leo that so-elusive Oscar? 2) Could cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki win an Oscar for the third year in a row? Considering that much of the film seems like it will be a one-man performance and the stunning visuals displayed in the trailer are a result of Inarritu and Lubezki’s unheard of decision to film entirely using natural light, there’s a very strong chance the answer to both questions will be yes.
Directed by Danny Boyle, this Steve Jobs biopic is sure to be far and away more successful than the “Jobs” biopic starring Ashton Kutcher released two years ago. With Aaron Sorkin magic behind the screenplay and heavy hitters Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen gracing the screen, this version looks more thought out, less rushed, and feels like a more realistic view into the life of Steve Jobs. Michael Fassbender’s approach to Jobs is more authentic than Kutcher’s ever was, and that’s just from the trailer. Fassbender will most certainly be nominated for something this year, as he’s starring in three films that could be Oscar contenders (the other two being his leading roles in “Macbeth” and “The Light Between Oceans.”)
Bridge of Spies:
The first Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg collaboration in over a decade is guaranteed to be a leading Oscar contender due to Hollywood’s endless love for Spielberg. Seriously, even his mediocre movies get Best Picture nominations (looking at you, “War Horse”). This historical film about a lawyer recruited by the CIA to rescue an American pilot detained in the Soviet Union has an added layer of interest—the screenplay is co-written by Oscar-winning filmmaking duo Joel and Ethan Coen. Their proven track record of creating complex stories and characters could cause this film to really stand out from the crowd.
Carey Mulligan. Meryl Streep. Helena Bonham Carter. Director Sarah Gavron. Women’s rights. “Suffragette” has everything a badass feminist Oscar film should have. The British film centers on women who were a part of the much opposed women’s suffrage movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. The first film in history to be shot in the Houses of Parliament, “Suffragette” could be breaking ground for Gavron to be the fifth ever female director to be nominated for an Oscar. Along with an amazingly haunting cover of “Landslide,” the trailer displays women rebelling against the patriarchy by throwing bricks through windows and demanding their respect. Capped off with a line like, “War’s the only language men listen to,” how can we not be excited?
While “The Martian” is not the most, let’s say, artistic film this year, the Academy ate up “Gravity,” so we’ll see if this is a successor worth its salt. The plot line seems easily summed up in one sentence—Matt Damon goes to space and gets left there. Based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel “The Martian,” our handsome lead ends up alone on Mars, forced to survive until NASA can rescue him. I guess you could say it’s just like “Gravity,” but it takes months instead of hours. Starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels and Donald Glover, this film could likely be nominated for Best Visual Effects. We’re not certain that it’s going to be a hit, but we will watching if only to see how Sean Bean manages to die in this one.
Based on the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into child molestation in the Catholic Church, “Spotlight” looks like a well-made film about a fascinating story. Writer/director Tom McCarthy, probably best known for playing dubious reporter Scott Templeton on “The Wire,” has quietly built a solid filmography as a writer and director, including indie hits “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor.” Led by a talented and deep cast, this film looks like a solid choice to be in the running come award season. Also, maybe it’s just me, but every time I hear Michael Keaton say a line in the trailer, all I hear is “Thank God I have a career again!” Thank you, “Birdman.”
The Danish Girl:
Eddie Redmayne stars in this biographical drama film based off the 2000 novel of the same name by David Ebershoff. Directed by Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables” and “The King’s Speech”) “The Danish Girl” tells the true story of Lili Elbe, the first known recipient of a male to female gender reassignment surgery. The film takes place in the early 1920s, a time when trans was not only not accepted, but also not even heard of. While it is absolutely an important story to tell, and it is always helpful to have an A-list actor bring awareness to a cause, the film has some supporters of the trans movement up in arms due to the fact that a cis man was cast to play a trans woman. The Academy is well known for rewarding white actors for going out of their comfort zone, so we can surely expect Redmayne will snag a Best Actor nom. We’ll see if Eddie can pull a Tom Hanks and win two Oscars in a row for playing someone disabled followed by someone who’s a member of the LGBTQ community.
Watch out NFL, because “Concussion” is coming for you. Starring Will Smith, this true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu’s discovery of an unheard of disease, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). “Concussion” will change the way football fans look at the sport and the way the world looks at the NFL. CTE, a degenerative disease of the brain that affects mood, cognition and behavior, was found posthumously in NFL players, leading Omalu to realized the disease’s cause—exposure to recurrent head trauma. Directed by Peter Landesman, “Concussion” may not seem like an outward Oscar film, but what it reveals about the heralded American organization’s reaction to scientific findings surrounding the safety of its players could make it the dark horse of this year.
Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, “Carol” is indie film darling Todd Haynes’ supposed masterpiece (at least according to the early reviews). However, Carol, which tells the story of a young woman who falls for a much older, married woman, is Haynes’ first film that he didn’t write himself. The film is stacked with award-pedigree talent, both in front of and behind the camera—Oscar-nominated director Todd Haynes, Emmy-nominated writer Phyllis Nagy, starring Oscar-nominee Rooney Mara, two-time Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, and Emmy-winner Kyle Chandler. This film seems certain to make plenty of noise on the awards circuit.
So there you have it, 10 of the most anticipated films this Oscar season! Other contenders to look out for, include “Joy,” “Brooklyn,” “Sicario,” “Black Mass,” “Trumbo,” and Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” It’s obvious that this year’s films are real heavy on period pieces and screenplays based on novels or true stories. It will be interesting to see which of these will end up walking away with the coveted golden statuette on Oscar night.