By Jim Keller
As we begin our fifth year of uncovering and examining the content that will eventually form the enigma that is the Academy Awards race, I thought it would be interesting to switch things up and break down my films of interest list by release date, festival appearance and production status. After all, outside of the pedigree attached to each film, these are the only available parameters to measure the Oscarability of each film, sight unseen. The early part of the Oscar race (from January until the Telluride Film Festival in August) is a moving target. The awards stops along the way, such as the Sundance, South by Southwest, and Cannes film festivals, can be equated to the change of seasons: their arrival is inevitable, but their impact is uncertain. This makes spit balling what may come down the slippery slope of the Oscar pike a dicey proposition. For one, a lot of the films lack distribution or have soft release dates, making it easy for studios to push their release to the following year. Second, the films discussed here haven’t been screened, so it’s impossible to know the genre they fit into. All we have to go on is the log line, the talent attached, and a little intuition. In this sense, one could say this parallels how we size up politicians, but I digress.
Last year, FYC’s Crystal Ball Edition covered only two out of eight 2016 Best Picture nominees. With that, I give you films of interest, set to debut this year, which could wind up in this year’s Oscar conversation.
Films to Compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival: May 11-22
The Neon Demon (director: Nicolas Winding Refn, status: Completed, release date: June 2016):
Why you might like it: It’s a horror/thriller about an aspiring model (Elle Fanning) who moves to Los Angeles, only to have her youth and vitality devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will stop at nothing to get what she has.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: It’s the third film from the director whose first film Drive competed for the Palme in 2011 and won him the Best Director prize. While his last film Only God Forgives was a critical flop, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t learn from past mistakes. Fanning has become a prolific actress and seems well-suited for a young ingénue role.
Loving (director: Jeff Nichols, status: Post-production, release date: November 2016):
Why you might like it: The drama tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), an interracial couple who were sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: After the second year of #OscarsSoWhite, there are several films cropping up this year featuring prominent roles for minorities (and even a second one about an interracial marriage, see below). This second 2016 offering from Nichols, is one such film. Given Nichols’ track record to date and the prime release date, this could be an awards player for Best Picture, Director, actor and actress.
The Last Face (director: Sean Penn, status: Completed, release date: 2016):
Why you might like it: A director of an international aid agency in Africa (Charlize Theron) meets a relief aid doctor (Javier Bardem) amidst a political/social revolution, together they face tough choices surrounding humanitarianism and life through civil unrest.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Penn’s last film, 2007’s Into the Wild, earned high critical acclaim and went on to land a Supporting Actor nomination for Hal Holbrook. Theron and Bardem are always ones to watch: Theron won Best Actress in 2004 for Monster and was nominated again in 2006 for North Country, and Bardem was nominated for Best Actor in 2001 for Before Night Falls, he won Best Supporting Actor in 2008 for No Country for Old Men, and was last nominated for Best Actor for 2010’s Biutiful. While the two are a formidable duo, its French actress Adèle Exarchopoulos who I’m most excited to see after her remarkable turn in 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Color. As of now, the film lacks distribution and may be one of those pushed to 2017.
Films Likely to Appear at the Telluride Film Festival: September 2-5
The Birth of a Nation (director: Nate Parker, status: Completed, release date: October 2016):
Why you might like it: Nat Turner (Parker), a former slave in America, leads a liberation movement in 1831 to free African-Americans in Virginia, which results in a violent retaliation from whites.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: This is one of my most anticipated films of the year and the second of those featuring prominent roles for minorities. It is also directed by the African-American Parker, who stars in the film. It premiered this year at Sundance; where it won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Fox Searchlight Pictures bought worldwide rights to the film in a $17.5 million deal, the largest deal to be made at the fest to date. Look for this one as a Best Picture contender.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (director: Ang Lee, status: Post-production, release date: November 2016):
Why you might like it: Based on the novel of the same name by Ben Fountain, this drama concerns infantryman Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who recounts a Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboys halftime show that he and his squad members made an appearance during in the final hours before the soldiers returned to Iraq.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Lee was nominated for Best Director in 2001 for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and he won in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain, and in 2013 for Life of Pi, a film with a staggering visual achievement. He has confirmed that Billy Lynn will be shot 120 frames per second, the highest frame rate for a film to date. The film also features Kristen Stewart, who has been flirting with Academy recognition with stellar supporting turns in 2014’s Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria.
Lion (director: Garth Davis, status: Post-production, release date: November 2016):
Why you might like it: Based on Saroo Brierley’s non-fiction book, A Long Way Home, this drama chronicles the journey of Brierley (Dev Patel); who was lost from his family on the streets of Calcutta at the age of five and was adopted by an Australian family. At the age of 25, he finally finds his parents using Google Earth.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: The third film discussed here starring a minority (Patel), the cast also includes Nicole Kidman, who was nominated for Best Actress in 2001 for Moulin Rouge!, won Best Actress two years later for The Hours, and was last nominated in 2011 for Rabbit Hole. Rooney Mara, who was nominated for Best Actress for 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and last year’s Carol, also appears.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (director: Gareth Edwards, status: Post-production, release date: December 2016):
Why you might like it: This stand-alone story set in the Star Wars universe, centers on a group of Rebel spies on a mission to steal the plans for the Galactic Empire’s new weapon, the Death Star.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Like last year’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the film continues to flip the franchise on its head by employing a female lead: Felicity Jones. I, like so many others, was blown away by the quality of The Force Awakens (it was my number one film last year). I’m also eager to step back into that universe before the franchise’s next film, next year’s Star Wars: Episode VIII. Further, the last woman to earn a Best Actress nomination for a sci-fi film was Sigourney Weaver for 1986’s Aliens. After Daisy Ridley’s brilliant portrayal of Rey in TFA, I hold out hope for Jones, who earned a Best Actress nomination for 2014’s The Theory of Everything. Finally, the cast also features Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, and Mads Mikkelsen.
Passengers (director: Morten Tyldum, status: Post-production, release date: December 2016):
Why you might like it: This sci-fi adventure revolves around two of thousands of spacecraft passengers traveling to a distant colony planet, who are awakened 60 years early from hypersleep due to a malfunction in their sleep chambers.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Tyldum was nominated for Best Director in 2015 for The Imitation Game. Here he directs Oscar heavyweight and perennial Jennifer Lawrence and golden boy Chris Pratt.
Nocturnal Animals (director: Tom Ford, status: Post-production, release date: 2016):
Why you might like it: This drama/thriller is based on the Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan, which follows suburbanite doctor’s wife Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) as she plunges into the pages of her ex-husband’s thriller and is drawn into the fictional life of math professor Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal). Morrow becomes engrossed in the manuscript as the Hastings’ lives are violently sent off course. This causes Morrow to revisit her past to confront an inner darkness and name the fear that threatens her future.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Ford’s first film, A Single Man, was an astounding first effort that earned high critical acclaim and a Best Actor nomination for Colin Firth. There’s no reason to think that his follow-up couldn’t yield similar results for Academy Award nominees Adams, Gyllenhaal, or Michael Shannon, who also appears in the film. Without a specific release date, it’s possible that this one will be pushed to 2017.
HhHH (director: Cédric Jimenez, status: Post-production, release date: 2016):
Why you might like it: It’s a French biographical war thriller/drama based on Laurent Binet’s historical fiction novel of the same name, which focuses on the most ambitious military operation of WWII: when Jozef Gabcik (Jack Reynor) and Jan Kubis (Jack O’Connell) were recruited to assassinate Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: O’Connell’s star has been rising since his performance in 2013’s Starred Up, and while his performance in 2014’s Unbroken failed to net him an Oscar nomination, he’s still one to watch. As are Jason Clarke, Rosamund Pike (Best Actress nominee for 2014’s Gone Girl), and Mia Wasikowska, who also appear in the film.
The Secret Scripture (director: Jim Sheridan, status: Post-production, release date: 2016):
Why you might like it: It’s a drama based on Sebastian Barry’s 2008 novel of the same name, in which a woman (Rooney Mara) keeps a diary of her extended stay at a mental hospital.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Aside from the aforementioned Mara, Sheridan is best known for helming 1989’s My Left Foot, which earned him Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations. He was nominated for the same awards for In the Name of the Father in 1994, and was last nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 2004 for In America. The film also stars Academy Award winner and five-time nominee, Vanessa Redgrave. Like the aforementioned The Last Face, the film lacks distribution and may be pushed to 2017.
Story of Your Life (director: Denis Villeneuve, status: Post-production, release date: 2016):
Why you might like it: It’s a sci-fi drama that takes place after aliens land around the world wherein an expert linguist (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to assess whether they come in peace or are a threat. It is based on Ted Chiang’s short story of the same name.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Villeneuve’s career has been on the uptick with each of his film’s inching closer and closer to a nomination. Last year’s Sicario was the closest, netting a few craft awards nods and nearly a supporting nod for Benicio Del Toro.
Of course there’s Adams, and Academy Award nominee, Jeremy Renner also appears. Even though it has a soft release date, it seems likely this one will not be pushed.
A United Kingdom (director: Amma Asante, status: Post-production, release date: TBD):
Why you might like it: This drama is based on the true-life romance between Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) of Botswana and his wife Ruth Williams Khama (Rosamund Pike) of England whose interracial marriage caused an international stir in the late 1940s.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: It’s the next feature film by black filmmaker Asante whose last film, 2013’s Belle, put her on the map. In a year where all eyes will surely be on any film that seeks to bridge the gap of the racial divide, she has employed the talents of Academy Award nominees Oyelowo and Pike. Since the film hasn’t been given an official 2016 release date and it stands to be compared heavily to the aforementioned Loving, its likely we won’t see it this year.
Hidden Figures (director: Theodore Melfi, status: Filming, release date: 1/13/17):
Why you might like it: Based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s non-fiction book of the same name, this film adaptation follows a team of African-American women who provide NASA with the mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: The film has a stellar female cast including Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Kirsten Dunst. Henson was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Spencer won for her supporting role in 2011’s The Help. With an early 2017 release date, it seems likely that an Oscar-qualifying run in December could bring it into the mix.
FYC returns in July-August when we’ll have much more to discuss, after Cannes has shown its cards, and we launch into our annual One’s to Watch three-part series.