By Jim Keller
The early part of the Oscar race is a moving target. There are a few awards stops along the way: Sundance, SXSW, and Cannes, to name a few, but by and large spitballing what may come down the slippery slope of the Oscar pike is tricky. For one, a lot of the films do not have distributors yet or have soft release dates. This makes it easy for films to be pushed to the following year. Second, the films discussed here haven’t screened, so it’s really impossible to know what kind of film they are—all we have to go on is the log line and the talent attached. Sometimes we get lucky and the films stick the Oscar nomination landing (FYC’s Crystal Ball Edition covered four of nine 2014 Best Picture nominees), but out of the eight 2015 Best Picture nominees only one was featured. Here are some films of interest debuting this year that could wind up in this year’s Oscar conversation.
The Danish Girl (director: Tom Hooper):
Why you might like it: Based on David Ebershoff’s novel of the same name, the film depicts the true story of Danish artists Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) whose marriage is tested after Lili becomes one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Redmayne is on fire after his Best Actor Oscar win for last year’s The Theory of Everything. What’s more, early pictures of Redmayne as Lili are intriguing and the transgender topic has been gaining steam. After helming 2011’s Best Picture winner The King’s Speech and winning Best Director for it, Hooper is always on the Academy’s radar.
Steve Jobs (director: Danny Boyle):
Why you might like it: This biopic of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs was adapted from Walter Isaacson’s biography of the same name. It explores the modern day genius’s triumphs and tribulations and how they affected his family life and possibly his health. Michael Fassbender plays Jobs and could figure prominently in the Best Actor race.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Like Hooper, Boyle is permanently on the Academy watch list ever since his go for broke Slumdog Millionaire swept the 2009 Oscars and won eight awards including Best Picture and Best Director. Here he is paired with Aaron Sorkin, an Oscar perennial since his 2011 Best Adapted Screenplay win for The Social Network. And of course, there’s the aforementioned Fassbender, who always gives deserving performances and who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for 2013’s 12 Years a Slave.
Joy (director: David O. Russell):
Why you might like it: The biopic chronicles the life of Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) the struggling Long Island single mom who invented the Miracle Mop and became one of the most successful American entrepreneurs.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Russell has been after the Oscar since his Best Director nomination for 2010’s The Fighter. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in almost everything she does (RIP 2014’s Serena) and with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro on-board, the chemistry exhibited between the three since 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, which landed all three Oscar nominations, thrives.
The Witch (director: Robert Eggers):
Why you might like it: It’s a horror film that takes place in a devout, Christian 1630 New England homesteading community. When a series of strange events start happening a family begins to turn on one another. It’s a chilling portrait of family unraveling within their fear and anxiety, leaving them vulnerable to inescapable evil.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: This is one of my most anticipated films of the year. Eggers won the Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Macbeth (director: Justin Kurzel):
Why you might like it: Michael Fassbender stars in this drama, based on William Shakespeare’s play of the same name, as the ill-fated duke of Scotland who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become King. At once consumed by ambition and goaded by this wife, Macbeth murders the king and takes the throne.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: See above, Fassbender has yet to win an Oscar and this could do it. Further, the prospect of seeing Marion Cotillard, (who is in the hunt for her second Oscar after her 2008 Best Actress win for La Vie en Rose) as Lady Macbeth is scintillating to say the least.
Brooklyn (director: John Crowley):
Why you might like it: This film adaptation based on Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name follows young Ellis Lacy who is forced to choose between two men and two countries after she moves from a small Irish town to Brooklyn, NY in the 1950s.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Saoirse Ronan has been a favorite of mine since she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for 2007’s Atonement. This early on in the Best Actress race she is considered the de facto frontrunner by some after a warm reception for the film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Money Monster (director: Jodie Foster):
Why you might like it: This drama/thriller concerns TV personality Lee Gates (George Clooney) who is taken hostage by a viewer (Jack O’Connell) on-air after he loses his family’s money on a bad tip from Gates. The film is said to have elements of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and Network.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Foster’s last film 2011’s The Beaver earned the actress turned director the respect of her peers and I’m curious to see what she can do with more serious subject matter. Also, O’Connell has been climbing the rungs to Oscar after his one-two punch performances in last year’s Starred Up and Unbroken. Clooney is of course always in the Oscar conversation and he has yet to win a Best Actor Oscar, despite his Best Supporting Actor win for 2005’s Syriana. Finally, it’s a timely piece for these economically hard times—though there is a strong possibility of a 2016 release.
Black Mass (director: Scott Cooper):
Why you might like it: This crime drama depicts the true story of Whitey Bulger—the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf. It’s based on the book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Cooper’s films, for better or worse, end up being bandied about during the Oscar race ever since his first film 2009’s Crazy Heart won Jeff Bridges the Best Actor Oscar. Also, it stars Johnny Depp as Whitey and Benedict Cumberbatch as Bill Bulger.
Icon (director: Stephen Frears):
Why you might like it: This biopic of the famed athlete Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster) is told through Irish sports journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) who is convinced the bicyclist’s Tour de France victories were possible via the use of banned substances. Through his conviction Walsh hunts for evidence to expose Armstrong. It’s based on Walsh’s book Seven Deadly Sins.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Frears directed 2006’s The Queen, which was nominated for six Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture. He was previously nominated for directing The Grifters in 1991. His last film 2013’s Philomena also earned a Best Picture nomination. Two of the three films were biopics, you do the math! Also, Foster has been on an uphill climb since his work in 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon):
Why you might like it: The film adaptation of Jesse Andrew’s novel of the same name concerns a teenage filmmaker (Thomas Mann) who befriends a classmate with cancer (Olivia Cooke).
Why I’ve got my eye on it: After premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival the film earned a standing ovation and went on to win both the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and the Audience Award for U.S. Drama. Last year’s winners for the same awards? Eventual 2015 Best Picture and Best Director nominee Whiplash. Cooke, who stars on TV’s Bates Motel, is also one to watch in the Supporting Actress race.
Beasts of No Nation (director: Cary Fukanaga):
Why you might like it: Based on Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name, it’s a drama about the experiences of a child soldier whose family was torn apart by militants fighting in the civil war of a West African country.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: I was captivated by 2012’s War Witch, which dealt with similar subject matter. Idris Elba also stars as Commandant, which could translate to recognition. The film is being distributed by Netflix, it would be interesting to see if Netflix can garner Academy attention as it has done for the television voting bodies. My bet (unfortunately) is that it won’t.
Suffragette (director: Sarah Gavron):
Why you might like it: It’s a drama that centers on early members of the British feminist movement of the late 19th and 20th century. These women were forced underground to pursue a dangerous cat and mouse game with an increasingly brutal State.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: It has a stellar cast led by Carey Mulligan, which includes Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter, and Romola Garai. Mulligan earned a Best Actress nomination for 2009’s An Education, Bonham Carter earned two Best Actress nominations for 1997’s The Wings of a Dove and 2012’s The King’s Speech. Meanwhile, I need not go into detail on Streep’s awards haul which includes 16 Oscar nominations and 3 wins, and Garai has earned two Golden Globe nominations for her leading role on two mini-series: The Hour and Emma, in 2012 and 2011.
As if that weren’t enough, this will be the first film in history to be shot at the Houses of Parliament in the UK and is being done with full permission of members of parliament (MPs).
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. The film didn’t come out last year, so hopefully it comes out in this one.
Carol (director: Todd Haynes):
Why you might like it: It’s a drama about a 1950’s New York department-store clerk (Rooney Mara) who dreams of a better life and falls for an older, married woman (Cate Blanchett). It’s based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: I’ve been a fan of Haynes since 1998’s Velvet Goldmine and his work only gets better with age like a fine wine, see 2002’s Far From Heaven, which earned him a Best Original Screenplay nomination. Highsmith’s novels have been adapted for the screen since Hitchcock’s 1951 adaptation of Strangers on a Train and this could be the first one to garner Academy attention since 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s always a treat to see Oscar winner Blanchett perform and Mara was brilliant in 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which earned her a Best Actress nomination and 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.
Spotlight (director: Thomas McCarthy):
Why you might like it: It’s a thriller about the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive child molestation scandal and cover up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. The Globe won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its investigation and its coverage is among the most celebrated journalism projects of the 21st century.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Outside of the super charged plot it stars Mark Ruffalo who has two Best Supporting Actor nominations under his belt for 2010’s The Kids Are Alright and last year’s Foxcatcher.
Crimson Peak (director: Guillermo Del Toro):
Why you might like it: It’s a horror film that follows a 19th century northern England aspiring author (Mia Wasikowska) who in the wake of a family tragedy is swept away to an isolated mansion and is torn between love for a childhood friend and temptation from a mysterious outsider.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Del Toro’s films are always exciting to watch and with Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain on-board, this one should be no different. Both women deliver consistent performances in varying roles and across several genres.
In closing I’d like to share some personal news: I’m getting married next month! To that end, the next edition of FYC will be in our July/August double issue.