By Jim Keller
Last year’s Crystal Ball edition yielded four of nine eventual Best Picture nominees. Gravity, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Nebraska as well as Best Picture winner, 12 Years a Slave, were all discussed as hopefuls long before they bowed. So if you think spring is too early to talk about Oscars, think again. Here are some films debuting this year that could wind up in the Oscar conversation as the year progresses.
A Most Wanted Man (director: Anton Corbijn):
Why you might like it: Based on John le Carré’s novel, the film follows a Chechen Muslim as he gets caught up in the international war on terror after he illegally immigrates to Hamburg, Germany.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: The film was discussed last year in this column, but its release was subsequently pushed back. Corbijn’s The American (2010) wasn’t able to best his debut, 2007’s Control, but I’m interested to see what he can do with a le Carré novel. Plus it has a lead performance by the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The Immigrant (director: James Gray):
Why you might like it: Like A Most Wanted Man, the film release was pushed to 2014 after it had already been discussed in last year’s column. It stars Marion Cotillard as an innocent, immigrant woman tricked into burlesque and vaudeville until a magician tries to save and reunite her with her sister who is being held on Ellis Island.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Besides having an outstanding cast, which includes Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner, Gray’s films The Yards (2000), We Own the Night (2007) and most recently, 2008’s Two Lovers, have all been nominated for the Palme d’Or—the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Further, Cotillard’s performance is said to be a career best.
Foxcatcher (director: Bennett Miller):
Why you might like it: Yet another film that appeared in this column before the release was moved, it tells the true story of the murder of Olympic wrestler, David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), by John du Pont (Steve Carell).
Why I’ve got my eye on it: There’s something thrilling about seeing Carell portray a paranoid schizophrenic and heir to the du Pont chemical fortune. Plus it features Vanessa Redgrave.
Big Eyes (director: Tim Burton):
Why you might like it: It’s a drama about the success of painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) in the 1950s and the legal difficulties brought on by her husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz), who claimed credit for her work in the 1960s.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: I’m a fan of Burton—despite the hiccups his career has experienced on-screen in recent years (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Dark Shadows). But more importantly, Amy Adams is way overdue for an Oscar and this could be her chance to shine.
Inherent Vice (director: Paul Thomas Anderson):
Why you might like it: Joaquin Phoenix stars as drug-fueled detective, Larry “Doc” Sportello, in this on-screen adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, in which Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Phoenix remains an awards race fixture, despite his outward criticism of the process. You might recall his antics in 2012. No matter, he still received a nomination that year for his remarkable turn in Anderson’s previous film, The Master.
Into the Woods (director: Rob Marshall):
Why you might like it: This film adaptation of the Tony award-winning Broadway musical
stars 15-time Oscar nominee (including Best Actress for last year’s August: Osage County and a Best Actress win for 2011’s The Iron Lady) Meryl Streep as a witch who teaches important lessons to various Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ characters including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), and Rapunzel.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Yes, Marshall’s last musical romp, 2009’s Nine, was a complete and utter failure, but let’s not forget, this is the same guy responsible for 2002’s Chicago, which earned seven Oscar nominations and six wins, including Best Picture, and a Best Actress win for Catherine Zeta-Jones.
The Imitation Game (director: Morten Tyldum):
Why you might like it: Benedict Cumberbatch is Alan Turing—the English mathematician and logician who helped crack the Nazis’ Enigma code during World War II (WWII) and invented the modern computer before being prosecuted for homosexuality by the British government.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Cumberbatch has been making a name for himself in both television (Sherlock, Parade’s End) and film (12 Years a Slave, August: Osage County). It’s really only a matter of time until the Academy takes notice—this could be that time.
Unbroken (director: Angelina Jolie):
Why you might like it: The film is based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, which chronicles the life of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during WWII. Also, the Coen brothers wrote the screenplay.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Jolie’s first feature film, 2011’s Land of Blood and Honey, may not have made a big splash, but it did allow her to establish a directorial foothold and leave audiences wanting more.
Interstellar (director: Christopher Nolan):
Why you might like it: Fanboy alert: The impresario who presided over the best film franchise ever made (Batman Begins) is at it again! All hail! I kid. In Nolan’s latest, interstellar travel is made possible via a newly discovered wormhole, which allows a group of explorers to surpass space travel limitations and voyage vast distances.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Even I, a last holdout who refused to drink the Batman Kool-Aid, succumbed to 2010’s mind-bending Inception, which scored four technical Oscars and landed four other nominations, including Best Picture. It also stars newly-minted Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey, and 2013’s Best Supporting Actress winner, Anne Hathaway. Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, and Ellen Burstyn also appear in supporting roles.
The Search (director: Michel Hazavanicius):
Why you might like it: It’s a loose remake of Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 tearjerker of the same name (which itself won two Oscars and was nominated for three others). Set after WWII, it recounts a young boy’s plight to reunite with his mother, with the help of an aid worker. Hazavanicius, director of 2012’s Best Picture, The Artist, has set his version of the story during the aftermath of the Chechen war.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: It features two very strong female actors who could easily end up in the actress races: Bérénice Bejo stars as a non-governmental organization (NGO)-worker who connects with the young boy. Annette Bening inhabits a supporting role.
Suite française (director: Saul Dibb):
Why you might like it: Based on Irène Némirovsky’s posthumous novel of the same name, it’s an epic romance between a married French woman and a German soldier set during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, which was when the book was written.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Three-time Best Actress nominee Michelle Williams is the lead while supporting players include Kristin Scott-Thomas, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sam Riley, and Margot Robbie. What’s not to like?
Jersey Boys (director: Clint Eastwood):
Why you might like it: It’s an adaptation of the Tony award winning Broadway musical, which follows the tumultuous and corrupt real-life story of the Four Seasons.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: While I’m certainly not a fan of his politics, I am a fan of Eastwood’s vision, and the prospect of John Lloyd Young, who originated the role of Frankie Valli on Broadway, and went on to win the Best Actor Tony, is exciting. It also features Christopher Walken in a supporting role.
Knight of Cups (director: Terrence Malick):
Why you might like it: True to form, the latest from the helmer of 2010’s The Tree of Life (nominated for three Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture) is shrouded in mystery, but the plot is said to concern themes of celebrity and excess. Regardless, if you’re a fan of the auteur, chances are, you’re all-in.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: I’m a fan of the director as well as everyone in his remarkable cast, which stars Christian Bale and includes Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett. Among them, they boast four Oscar wins and five nominations.
Mood Indigo (director: Michel Gondry):
Why you might like it: The film is based on Boris Vian’s novel L’écume des jours, which is essentially a French institution. It is concerned with a woman who suffers from an unusual illness caused by a flower growing in her lungs and the whimsical man who adores her.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: This is perhaps my most anticipated film of the year. I couldn’t read this book fast enough. While Vian’s writing isn’t for everyone, his artistry drips off each page like honey. It also seems perfectly cast with Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou in the leading roles.
Fury (director: David Ayer):
Why you might like it: You haven’t had your fill of WWII dramas being released this year (see above). This old-fashioned WWII war drama, set in April, 1945, concerns army sergeant “Wardaddy” who commands a Sherman tank and its five-man crew during a deadly mission behind Nazi lines.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: This could be the right vehicle (har har!) to get Brad Pitt the elusive Best Actor statuette. It also features Logan Lerman, who was impressive in 2012’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, as well as everyone’s favorite celebrity, Shia LaBeouf.
Maps to the Stars (director: David Cronenberg):
Why you might like it: The film depicts the plight of two former child-stars, and simultaneously comments on the entertainment industry’s relationship with the whole of Western Civilization.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: While details are a bit murky, it appears to feature Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska in leading and supporting roles, respectively. Moore has been nominated for Oscar four times, beginning with 1997’s Boogie Nights and most recently in 2002’s Far From Heaven. Wasikowska has yet to be nominated, but delivers consistent performances in varying roles, which could mean a nomination is not far out of reach for her. I’m also fan of Cronenberg, despite the misfire of his latest effort, 2012’s Cosmopolis. Finally, there is nothing that the Academy responds to more than films about themselves and this is such a film.
The May edition of FYC will be a preview of those films set to cross the Croisette at the Cannes Film Festival.