BEST PICTURE

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During out latest podcastof Oscar Poker, Jeff Wells and I contemplated the idea that this could be a year where the Best Picture race might depart from last year’s lineup of small earners. Indeed, we could be looking at a year where many of the films vying for Oscar are $100 million plus blockbusters. With the Telluride festival looming on the horizon and Toronto right after it, the festival films will maneuver for their usual place in line and are set to mostly dominate the Best Picture lineup, either for nominations or for the big win.  That’s certainly possible, probable even, given the short season.

There is, however, potentially another scenario that might take hold and that’s if the Academy embraces the kinds of films they don’t usually honor these days: big studio films and blockbusters. There are quite a few being crammed into the later part of the year that could easily earn upwards of $100 million or more, making this one of those years where the public has actually seen many of the films nominated.

The first of these to make bank would be Mad Max: Fury Road, which has already been discussed in various circles and has a lot of good faith behind it, at least as of now. It has several advantages heading into the race, namely its strong female-driven cast, which is unlike any other movie heading into the race with the notable exceptions of Joy (which will likely be a $100 million movie as well), and Suffragette (which will probably do well but not hit a jackpot).  Mad Max will also stand out for being one of the few films that uses practical visual effects, which we know traditionalists in industry appreciate and may want to reward. Fury Road has earned $152 million domestic and $221 worldwide.

Next up would be Everest, which could be headed to Telluride and already has good word of mouth from embargoed preview screenings. With dazzling visual effects, an emotional story at its core and relatively timely subject matter, Everest could, at the very least, be “in the conversation,” especially if it’s a big Telluride film. That would give it festival cred along with its massive standing as a big studio movie.  The trick will be giving it a shimmer of respectability, elevating it from its general audience stature and into the “prestige pic” zone.

That will also be the problem for the holiday release of probably the most highly anticipated film of the year for Joe Popcorn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This film will have two stigmas attached heading in — the first is that it’s based on the film that birthed the tent pole and “ruined Hollywood.” That’s how a lot of the old timers will see it even though they themselves nominated it for Best Picture in 1977 (it was too big to ignore). But JJ Abrams is trying to do something a little different with The Force Awakens. He’s trying to wrestle back the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas’ muddied legacy that went a bit sour after the original Star Wars trilogy. Sure, many fans do not care but the old timers who vote on industry awards will care.  Kathleen Kennedy is the producer, which lends much credibility to the project and Abrams himself will imbue the film with nostalgia for the old Star Wars movie. That can help elevate the film from mere blockbuster to potential Best Picture nominee. It seems like a long shot but it is not outside the realm of possibility and should be taken very seriously at this stage, even if it is a space movie.

There is also the trailer just released for Concussion, starring Will Smith, which will probably make a good deal of money and be widely seen. The Walk by Robert Zemeckis is another big effects movie that will make money and could be in the race for Best Picture. Steven Spielberg can always be counted upon to be a big earner and Bridge of Spies will do well — most likely hitting $100 million or thereabouts.

We know Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant is going to make bank as will Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. We’re also counting on Steve Jobs to be big — edging close to $100 million very likely, given the popularity of Jobs overall.

All this means is that the smaller films could be sidelined this year to make way for these massive studio pictures. If so, that would be a stark departure from last year’s slate of Best Picture nominees when the Academy chose films that made no money but had strong publicity teams and good reviews behind them over films that made lots of money, a reflection of public enthusiasm.

How did those movies do overall in terms of Oscar buzz helping their overall take? Let’s take a look:

Source: boxofficemojo.com

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Obviously given a big assist by Oscar season was American Sniper, which would have done well with its target demo anyway. The Imitation Game doubled its money when it got the Oscar’s seal of approval. Selma took in the bulk of its earnings post-nomination because it was in limited release until January. There is no doubt that the publicity around Selma help drive its box office.  The closer to the end of the year the film is released, the bigger the Oscar bump. It doesn’t look like the Oscar heat itself is necessarily driving people to go to the movie theaters and see these films, though.

2012 was a very good year for Oscar and box office, with 6 out of 9 making over $100 million. These high grosses are not necessarily BECAUSE of Oscar, though.

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What factors will determine which way the wind blows this year? The critics make a big difference, not so much in how they review but how their awards help shape the conversation and the buzz. That can sometimes be in conflict with what the industry prefers, and what the pundits think, but usually the Oscar race is driven more by “prestige” than it is by likability or even capturing the zeitgeist. The Oscar voters, and industry voters, discover their favorites the way the critics do now — in dark theaters under ideal circumstances. They tend to be privileged, mostly white, mostly male across the board.

The critics can sink a movie late in the game, especially when that movie doesn’t have anywhere to go. How can you bypass them? You can do it the way Warner Bros. did with American Sniper if you have the deep pockets and high impact celebrity that someone like Clint Eastwood or Bradley Cooper brings. A little movie could never rally in the 11th hour the way that movie did. They showed it to voters way before critics even had a crack at it, completely bypassing the usual circuits. Thus, the film was nominated everywhere because there were no voices trying to shape its buzz early on.  Though it was named early on by AFI as one of the top films of the year, it didn’t get a major nomination from the Critics Choice or the Golden Globes. But it did get Producers Guild recognition.

When it finally screened at the AFI Fest (immediately after Selma that night) the reaction from critics was muted, perhaps in comparison. Thus, few people were naming it as a nominee heading into the beginning of the race. I do remember (I’ll never forget, actually) a brief email exchange with Anne Thompson who said “how can you be predicting American Sniper?” That was how little we pundits viewed its heft in the race. You could feel it, though, because the film had managed to slide under the radar and did not allow its buzz to be shaped by the noisemakers. That was smart. The movie made a lot of money and was the only film the general public had really seen by the time the Oscars took place.

Conversely, Selma was also screened very late. It did not have the deep pockets the WB had in terms of sending out screeners early and often. The film was attacked right at the peak of voting and it never really had time to recover because it landed so late. No one was really paying much attention to the American Sniper controversy because they were all busy shouting down Selma. In the end, both would get a Best Picture nomination but Sniper would get the Best Actor, Screenplay and Editing nod.

Last year was an interesting one in that the front-runner was somehow Boyhood, because people like me felt confident that this industry would never allow a film that good created with such devotion over 12 years be passed up for Best Picture. As it turned out, how wrong we were. The industry resisted it almost completely, awarding Boyhood a single Oscar for Supporting Actress in the end. This was in stark contrast to the critics and even the British film industry. But Hollywood is about the studios and the five families. It is also about self-preservation and Birdman represented everything Hollywood wants to be about, and more importantly, what it doesn’t want to be about. That thread of the anti-super hero movie was enough to push it over the edge. Boyhood had too long a slog between Sundance and the Oscars. Despite how hard the team worked to bring recognition to their dedicated, hard-working collaborators, Hollywood all but shunned those efforts. It was a true head-scratcher. Still, Birdman was simply more well-liked overall and more accessible.

That is why being the frontrunner often caaries such a heavy albatross. How much easier it is to breeze in with low expectations and very little baggage and claim the prize. Even if you’re a massive Hollywood blockbuster like Gravity you can still look like the “little movie that could” up against something like 12 Years a Slave if the micro-budget film has the label of “frontrunner” stuck to it.  We don’t yet have a frontrunner at present. By the end of Labor Day weekend we might.

If you look over predictions now and stay on top of the way things shake down throughout the season, you’ll see that most will continue to predict “prestige pics,” like Brooklyn, Carol, Youth, etc. It is wise to stick with what we know about Oscar voters. But keep an eye out for the bigger blockbusters this year. Many of them might surprise us with how high they go and where they land.

 

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The Venice Film Festival is in a unique position to capture the first blush of a film that might ultimately do well during Oscar season.  This was true of Gravity and it was true of Birdman. The next stop after Venice is Telluride, which is its own kind of launch pad that doesn’t necessarily need Venice, but once a film is highly praised in Venice the feeling is often contagious. What is it about Venice and Telluride that lends itself to this kind of impact? Timing. It’s all about timing.

As the summer comes to an anti-climactic close, it becomes more and more clear every year that the kinds of films critics are best suited to write about, the ones that keep them employed, the ones the adults will pay to see, are usually only let out of the gate in the fall season. By that point, there are hundreds of fingers waiting to hit the keypad. There is too much coverage for not enough material so being relatively “first” on the scene is crucial. This is as true of Venice and Telluride as it is of the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review (no, I do not distinguish between them anymore).

Right around now, critics and bloggers are preparing for these two festivals and waiting to be enthralled. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. We have no idea what kind of a year this will be, because so many of the films that are most anticipated aren’t making the festival rounds at all. The pattern has followed the same steps in the last few years — high anticipation builds for the Big Oscar Movies that are shown in October, November and sometimes December, while the movies seen at Telluride hover in the background and are mostly taken for granted (The Artist, The King’s Speech, Argo, Birdman). Last year the Oscar predictors were placing high on their lists films like Unbroken, Into the Woods and two that would make it in — American Sniper and Selma. Little attention is paid to possibilities seen at Telluride because there are so many big movies still waiting to be seen.

And yet, as we keep repeating here at AwardsDaily, the win always comes down to the girl next door — the familiar and reliable underdog that never felt like the frontrunner. The psychology of the voting consensus is as maddening in the Oscar race as it is in political elections. The moment you become a threat, forces work actively to take you down. It’s good but it’s not THAT good. Really, that’s the film that’s supposed to win Best Picture? I can guarantee you that both Birdman and Argo would have suffered that same fate if they were the predicted winners heading into the voting season. A few people (Kris Tapley) disagree with me on this — they think the movie is the movie is the movie. I think it’s a matter of perception; where our expectations lie determines how we perceive a film.  Last year, what really was the “little movie that could” and the “scrappy underdog,” Boyhood, was morphed into the mean ol’ frontrunner because it won so many critics awards. It might not have won Best Picture anyway but its formidable status in the race made it a punching bag.

Of course, none of this makes any difference if you’re holding onto a film like Slumdog Millionaire. It came into Telluride with the lowest possible expectations — rumors of it being released “straight to video” persisted. Once it hit big it never took a tumble, not even when the “poverty porn” accusations blew up, not even when the scandal involving the poor stars of the films took hold. Nothing was going to take that movie down.

Here we are once again facing the Venice Film Fest and the Telluride Film Fest colliding during Labor Day weekend. Jeff Wells at Hollywood-Elsewhere made a short list of movies he expects to see on the list:

Steve Jobs, Suffragette, Black Mass, Spotlight, Son of Saul, Beasts of No Nation, Carol, Amazing Grace, Marguerite, CharlieKaufman‘s Anomalisa (probably), He Named Me Malala (maybe), Room, Hitchcock/Truffaut.

And our good pal Michael Patterson also put in his latest predictions:

15) “Taxi”
14) “Marguerite”
13) “Hitchcock/Truffaut”
12) “Anomalisa”
11) “Amazing Grace”
10) “Room”
9)   “Spotlight”
8)   “45 Years”
7)   “He Named Me Malala”
6)   “Carol”
5)   “Steve Jobs”
4)   “Black Mass”
3)   “Suffragette”
2)   “Beasts of No Nation”
1)   “Son of Saul”

What’s playing Venice that might be that seat-rocking out-of-body experience that sends the critics into a tailspin? In competition there is Cary Fukanaga’s Beasts of No Nation. It could launch big and then hit Telluride shortly thereafter generating that one-two punch we’re looking for. Out of competition Everest and Black Mass. Ditto. Although Everest was screened recently by critics thus it can’t have that first flush of the season when viewers see something no one else has yet seen, which only adds to the intensified landing.

45 Years is currently being hyped by Anne Thompson and others who’ve seen it. Charlotte Rampling has some great early buzz.  Do you see any potential Best Picture winners on this list?

We don’t yet know the Telluride lineup and it might not even include Beasts of No Nation, though Everest and Black Mass both seem likely. It will be a curious thing to see if Netflix can break into the game of Oscar. The Academy is ruled mostly by the five families with the sole recent exception of The Hurt Locker. Best Picture is usually Best Bread and Butter Picture existing within the confines of the Hollywood structure. Either way, as we sit perched on the edge of the free fall we wait with eager anticipation.

AwardsDaily rolls into Telluride on the 3rd of September. Watch for diaries, photos, periscoping, twitter and more.

 

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My glaring mistake on the Gurus of Gold chart still sits there unfixed, even though I wrote to David Poland about it and also tweeted it out. That mistake was in somehow mistaking the word “Youth” in my head for “Shame,” which I do more often than I care to admit. I have no explanation for this. It could be old age but I doubt it. It could be dyslexia, which is entirely possible. Or it could be my own youth was fraught with so much shame I can’t wrestle the two apart. Either way, I have fixed it on my own because it’s so frustrating to look at.

Listing only films that have been seen first shows how strong Carol would be if the race was determined this way, at least from a fantasy football perspective. If you fold in the other Big Oscar Movies it would likely drop down on the list. Funny, isn’t it?

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Poland decided to divide up the charts into three categories. The first, only films that have been seen. The second, the festival circuit films and the third the Big Oscar Movies. This, because Anne Thompson is continuing her method of predicting films she has seen only. We can check it later as the months progress to see which is the better way to predict – seeing or not having seen.

The second chart looks like this:

 

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I don’t think a documentary has any chance of landing on the top five of all ballots, no matter how liberal the Academy voters are. You can expect a couple of cheering comments about Bernie Sanders, though.  Also, Inside Out is going to have a tough time getting anywhere near the top five since the Academy continues to be ruled by actors and animated has its own branch.

I’m a bit baffled by Anne Thompson’s predictions in the first chart, I must admit. She has Son of Saul and The End of the Tour in over Brooklyn – which is backed by Fox Searchlight. So that’s seems a bit weird. Scott Feinberg, Nathaniel Rogers and I are the only two who have have faith in the Star Wars movie. Martin Scorsese’s Silence is for sure not coming out this year but for some reason it was listed on the films for consideration anyway. Because of that, I listed it. If by some chance it does come out at year’s end it would be considered but its inclusion is conditional.

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Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt star in By the Sea and it will open the AFI Fest, Tim Gray reports. Written and directed by Angelina Jolie, the film is about a couple weathering the storms of a marriage in the 1970s. Jolie went big with Unbroken and now is going much smaller with By the Sea. Like her male counterparts, Jolie is kind of going to film school while experimenting with very different movies. Hopefully By the Sea will be better than Unbroken which, let’s face it, was pretty terrible.  It had its moments but overall was lacking a cohesive story, at the very least. But Jolie is ambitious and is learning and with each new work she will hopefully grow. Failing is the best part of learning and fingers crossed By the Sea is as cool and interesting as the trailer looks.

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From Sasha’s review of Youth at Cannes in May:

Paolo Sorrentino just hit it out of the park here at Cannes, delivering what has to be the most compelling screening of everything I’ve seen here thus far with the possible exception of Carol. When it finally came to an end, the audience sat in stunned silence until at last the screen went totally dark… Both Caine and Keitel give career-best performances. One or the other is headed for the Best Actor race. Jane Fonda has a powerhouse few minutes on screen that could earn her an Oscar nomination as well, but with Fox Searchlight in the driver’s seat expect this film — catnip for Academy voters — to be represented in all of the major categories and perhaps to become a frontrunner to win.

This is a film of big ideas of the human experience, certainly among the most profound. Why are people so afraid of human touch? is one of the questions it examines. Is love meant to last? is another. It’s about show business, creativity, inspiration, but mostly about the eternal conflict between aging and youth. We have such power of attraction when we’re young but we often don’t learn how to properly wield that power till we’re old. The film is emphatic about its realization that we’re alive until we aren’t. It doesn’t matter whether that existence is important or insignificant, this universal truth remains.

From Paolo Sorrentino, the internationally renowned writer and director of Italy’s Oscar-winning foreign language film The Great Beauty, comes YOUTH – a poignant tale of how we each find our own passion in life. Starring Academy Award winner Michael Caine as Fred and Academy Award nominee Harvey Keitel as Mick, YOUTH explores the lifelong bond between two friends vacationing in a luxury Swiss Alps lodge as they ponder retirement. While Fred has no plans to resume his musical career despite the urging of his loving daughter Lena (Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz), Mick is intent on finishing the screenplay for what may be his last important film for his muse Brenda (Academy Award winner Jane Fonda). And where will inspiration lead their younger friend Jimmy (Paul Dano), an actor grasping to make sense of his next performance? Set against a sprawling landscape of unforgettable sights and intoxicating music, YOUTH asks if our most important and life-changing experiences can come at any time – even late – in life. YOUTH will open in theaters December 4, 2015

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As of next week, this column will be an AwardsDaily weekly feature landing every Monday.

Last year, Anne Thompson at Thompson on Hollywood @Indiewire did an interesting thing. She decided to only make predictions about films she had seen as opposed to what 99% of Oscar predictors do — give an assessment of movies already seen and make assumptions and educated guesses about all the rest. I adopted her approach last year to see whether it made a difference as far as being a “good” predictor versus doing more harm than good. The main complaints against Oscar prognosticators come from, well, everywhere. Oscar coverage is one thing but nobody likes to see a sideshow attached to their work. Film distributors have enough headaches managing hype without the added pressure of prediction anticipation. Real journalists throw up in a little in their mouths when they either, 1) have to think about us at all, or 2) have to dwell for financial reasons in our midst. Filmmakers who find themselves thrust into the running are completely annoyed by the whole thing — the dog and pony show of it all. And most voters in the Academy believe we have no impact on the outcome of the awards at all.

And then there is Mark Harris at Grantland who is opposed to the idea of Oscar pundits being sheepherders, as I like to call them. That is, they do what script readers do in Hollywood — they weed out the most likely contenders from the vast number of films that voters need to see each year. Once the Oscar sorting and vetting has been done, a more manageable number of supposedly best-buzzed films remain. These are the movies critics have praised (mostly) and usually have publicists already attached to them because they were either made with awards in mind or else they are impressive enough to seem like films voters will go for.  Either way, these are the movies that end up in the pen. Voters then watch THOSE movies and pick from that pre-selected pile as opposed to plucking a film out of thin air that perhaps none of Oscar shepherds was thinking about.

Oscar prognosticators or predictors or bloggers or pundits or -ologists are considered bottom feeders. We are let in through the back door and most respectable folks don’t want to be seen with us. Can you blame them? Almost everyone in Hollywood would love it if we went away except for those rare times when they want under-the-table coverage to help their movie. The game is the game and it hasn’t changed THAT much in decades. What has changed is the amount of visible campaigning.

Before we look at whether Anne Thompson’s method is more reliable, let’s look at a few Oscarwatching principles.

  1. Nobody knows anything. All we know is what have seen happen countless times before. Until the Producers Guild weighs in we’re mostly in the dark with nothing but our instincts to guide us, and that gut feeling is unavoidably driven by personal preference. More often than not, the PGA winner is a slight surprise but rarely do we encounter as big a surprise as last year’s Birdman win over Boyhood, especially after so many other precursors had gone for Boyhood. We know it had to have been close because a week after Birdman won with the PGA, the BAFTA went for Boyhood. Usually the consensus leans strongly in one film’s favor and we stop seeing major divisions that close to the finish line. Awards groups have become mostly consistent these days as time constraints compress the selection process.
  2. Money changes everything. Just as in politics, you have to juggle public perception (don’t look like you care enough to overspend = PAC money) with reality (you can’t really get anywhere unless you spend lots of money). We bottom feeders come into healthy play here because we can give a boost to movies without an FYC presence by generating word of mouth for distributors with no money to spend. See, we’re not ALL bad.
  3. Flying under the radar is one of the hardest goals of an awards strategist because of people like me who get excited about a film and think “this one is going to win.” That expectation builds and sooner or later the film has nowhere to go but down because most of the time people see it and think, “really? That’s it? I was expecting more.” You want to remain lowkey like Argo and not out front, but if you find yourself out front there isn’t much you can do about it except cross your fingers and hope for the best.
  4. A true consensus is thousands not hundreds. A consensus is a big snowball made up of perception, word of mouth, publicity and likability. You build that consensus via the “dog and pony show.” Just like our presidential election. It takes time for that consensus to build and time is the one thing nobody has enough of during awards season. The nomination period spans literally the one-week extent of the holiday season. Most voters are sitting with their families and a screener pile and wanting to watch movies that the whole varied group will like. How that group responds will often inform how that voter will vote. (That’s a total generalization – take it for what it is). December 30th through January 8th. That’s it. If voters haven’t seen your movie before then, you won’t get in. If they haven’t heard of your movie or if there aren’t any stars in it, they aren’t likely to watch it. Publicists work themselves sick to get those movies seen, at the very least.  This is why early is almost always better unless you’re a big name like Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese or Jim Cameron — or Alejandro G. Inarritu and Leonardo DiCaprio. Big names draw eyeballs no matter what.
  5. Miss Right Now is never Miss Right. The whole thing happens so fast no one really knows what hit them. This is why a year after the Oscars most people can’t even remember what movies were nominated or whether they were really very good or not. There is not enough time anymore, not since the Academy pushed the date back a month and effectively took moviegoer’s reaction out of the Oscar equation. It is takes place in screenings and at parties and during holiday gatherings. It has nothing to do anymore with the zeitgeist unless that zeitgeist exists within the industry bubble.

Having any kind of integrity is hard in this business. Cry me a river, right? Poor us. If we care, we operate by our own set of rules. Kris Tapley doesn’t predict winners until after nominations, only those he thinks have the best chance of being nominated. Anne Thompson only predicts films she’s seen. I keep a contender tracker that lists only films that have been seen or reviewed and have actual buzz. But the majority of pundits out there predict based on the pedigree we see on paper: who directed it, who is the publicist, what is the subject matter, and whether or not we expect the campaigns to spend money on screeners and print advertising. It is naive to think it’s all based on merit alone. It never has been. It never will be. Movies don’t get made on merit alone and there is nothing fair about who gets to make movies and why they make money and why they win awards.

So, let’s look at a few predictions from last year at this time. August, 2014.

Anne Thompson — predicting only films she’d seen, had these:

Anne’s Best Picture predictions in August:
1. Boyhood
2. Foxcatcher
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Mr. Turner
5. Get on Up

Two out of five got in ultimately.

Susan Wloszczyna predicting several films she hadn’t seen had:

  1. Boyhood
  2. Foxcatcher
  3. Unbroken
  4. interstellar
  5. Birdman
  6. The Imitation Game
  7. Gone Girl
  8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  9. Mr Turner
  10. Into the Woods

She got four out of ten and only two if you did 1 – 5 as Anne did.

My own list was:

  1. Boyhood
  2. Gone Girl
  3. Foxcatcher
  4. Birdman
  5. American Sniper
  6. Unbroken
  7. The Imitation Game
  8. Selma
  9. A Most Violent Year
  10. The Homesman

I got 5 out of 10. So I won that round. But that was before I started predicting Anne’s way, by only making predictions about movies I’d seen.  David Poland’s Movie City News Gurus of Gold will be putting out predictions that are divided into categories – films that have been seen and films that haven’t. That should be an interesting experiment to add to the pile.

Here are a few others who had predictions out early last year.

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So here’s a little experiment. If I had to predict ONLY films I’ve seen, I would list my predictions thusly:

  1. Carol
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. Youth
  4. Pawn Sacrifice
  5. Inside Out
  6. Clouds of Sils Maria
  7. Love & Mercy
  8. The End of the Tour
  9. Ex Machina
  10. Sicario (which I have to see again)
  11. Alt: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

And predicting films I have not seen based on what’s “on paper” I’d go with what I have on Gold Derby right now:

  1. Steve Jobs
  2. Joy
  3. Bridge of Spies
  4. The Revenant
  5. Carol
  6. Beasts of No Nation Mad Max: Fury Road
  7. Black Mass
  8. Youth
  9. Trumbo The Hateful Eight
  10. The Danish Girl

I think I need to swap out one of those for Mad Max: Fury Road which I think could have enough buzz and momentum to get it in. So I will have to trade, for now, Beasts of No Nation.  I also want to put in The Hateful Eight and will have to take out something else, so I’ll swap out Trumbo for now.

Conclusion: I think it’s always better to strive for integrity in life, no matter what you’re doing. Anne Thompson cares more about sleeping at night than she does about being “right.” I admire that. At the same time, I’m not sure which is the better way to predict the Oscars. For me, it’s a work in progress with the main goal being “first, do no harm.”

Here are how the other pundits are predicting at the moment.

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I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s a good idea to jump on everything people say. Outrage culture is a drag, most will agree. Political correctness threatens to strangle art. This we also know. But there is a reason why films about women and films directed by women hold little interest for the menfolk who rule Hollywood with their cocks out. Mostly they don’t deem stories about women to be interesting or of lasting value. Tarantino himself is great with female characters — well, not with Django Unchained but certainly with Inglorious Basterds, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. He’s saying what films he finds to be “Oscar bait.” He’s right to an extent. As Hollywood has moved away from making films for adults it has created its own separate genre specifically FOR Oscar voters and anyone still left out there who likes watching those kinds of movies — straight up dramas that revolve around characters. Real people with real problems. There is nothing flashy about them but they move the group of Oscar voters for whom they are tailor-made. The frustrating part of his thinking, though, is the blunt disdain he seems to have for films about and by women – two of them directed by women but almost all revolving around female characters:

He’s probably not that excited about Carol: “The movies that used to be treated as independent movies, like the Sundance movies of the ’90s – those are the movies that are up for Oscars now. Stuff like The Kids Are All Right and The Fighter. They’re the mid-budget movies now, they just have bigger stars and bigger budgets. They’re good, but I don’t know if they have the staying power that some of the movies of the ’90s and the ’70s did. I don’t know if we’re going to be talking about The Town or The Kids Are All Right or An Education 20 or 30 years from now. Notes on a Scandal is another one. Philomena. Half of these Cate Blanchett movies – they’re all just like these arty things. I’m not saying they’re bad movies, but I don’t think most of them have a shelf life. But The Fighter or American Hustle – those will be watched in 30 years.”

First he says The Fighter might not have staying power and then he flips it around and says it will. So if you take if you take out The Fighter you’re left with The Town and then everything else about women. He’s wrong about The Town, I have to say. It’s Ben Affleck’s best film and people will be watching it for decades to come. Though he’s right that they’re all gorgeous.

“I really liked The Town, which also came out in 2010. It was a good crime film. However, next to The Fighter, it just couldn’t hold up, because everybody in The Town is beyond gorgeous. Ben Affleck is the one who gets away with it, because his Boston accent is so good. But the crook is absolutely gorgeous. The bank teller is absolutely gorgeous. The FBI guy is absolutely gorgeous. The town whore, Blake Lively, is absolutely gorgeous. Jeremy Renner is the least gorgeous guy, and he’s pretty f—ing good-looking. Then, if you look at The Fighter, and you look at those sisters, they’re just so magnificent. When you see David O. Russell cast those sisters, and you see Ben Affleck cast Blake Lively, you can’t compare the two movies. One just shows how phony the other is.

The bigger idea here, other than deeply ingrained sexist impulses that can’t be helped, is that none of us can really know which films will still be watched in 50 years because we don’t yet know the fate of the filmmakers or the talent involved. For instance, James Dean died way too young. That meant his films were destined to be watched forever, whether or not they were good. (And, as it happens, all three are classics in their own right.) Lisa Cholodenko, who wrote and directed The Kids Are All Right might find her way out of television and direct some kind of crazy masterpiece and thus people will watch her work forever (I know, wishful thinking there). Even Clueless, the film I complained about last week as not deserving to sit atop a list of the 100 best films directed by women, might find its place in film history 50 years from now. We just can’t know these things.

Still, Tarantino is kind of right in that there is a genre for these kinds of films and that genre is what we like to see around here on Oscar Island. Oscar Island is the reason many films get made at all. Were it not for the Oscar race they would be sent (and some even still are) straight to VOD. Occasionally you have a year where all of the films in the race are huge blockbusters and films that bleed into the social fabric of our country and even manage to make a big splash internationally. But those aren’t the films Tarantino is talking about. He’s talking about movies that can barely get made and do so only because they have a chance at awards buzz to use as leverage. It’s hard out there for a pimp.

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Kyle Buchanan in his must-not-miss Oscar column asks whether Fury Road has the stuff it takes to go all the way, or at least to warrant nominations in the big five categories; we know it’s a shoo-in for the tech nods. The wholly original film (even though a sequel) has crackled and maintained admirers long after it played in theaters and at the Cannes Film Fest. Anne Thompson told me at a party in Cannes she thought it had the stuff, at least in the majors. As of now, Thompson has Mad Max: Fury Road predicted for Best Picture, along with 45 Years (a film she seems to dig enough to advocate for it), Carol, Inside Out, Love & Mercy. Thompson only predicts films she’s seen. The shift here is that she’s dropped Diary of a Teenage Girl and added 45 Years. As a sidenote: I do not think Inside Out has a shot at a Best Picture nomination with only five nomination slots on the ballot. Getting that many voters to choose that film as one of their top five is near impossible. But Mad Max? Possibly. If Anne Thompson and Kyle Buchanan are saying it – it certainly has game.

Buchanan writes:

As the summer movie season comes to a close, three big fall film festivals loom — Venice, Telluride, and Toronto — that will start clarifying this year’s Oscar race. But what about the movies we’ve already had the chance to see? Plenty of terrific films debuted in the first half of the year, and it’s entirely possible that half of this year’s Best Picture nominees could come from the movies that have already been seen and vetted at film festivals and in general release.

But are any of them better than Mad Max: Fury Road, the out-of-the-teal-blue-sky action spectacular that wowed critics earlier this year and deserves real awards consideration going forward?

That’s the question that’s been on my mind since I saw George Miller’s gonzo reboot last April. It’s become my cinematic high-water mark, the one I’ve been measuring most new movies against. I’ve previewed several of this year’s big fall films, and though some of them have great performances, I still haven’t seen anything that knocked me out like Charlize Theron in Mad Max. This year’s costume-design category will no doubt be packed with period pieces like Cinderella and Carol, but they don’t deserve a trophy over the striking postapocalyptic threads that Jenny Beavan put together for Mad Max. And while most of our Best Director candidates are likely still to come, and could include perennial nominees like David O. Russell, Tom Hooper, and Steven Spielberg, it would be hard for me to believe that any of them wrangled a more difficult and ultimately fruitful production than the 70-year-old Miller.

Mad Max: Fury Road is positively revolutionary in its depiction of female characters as leaders in the post-apocalyptic world. They begin the film oppressed then forge a revolution not just for themselves, mind you, but for all of the oppressed under the evil regime. You won’t see another film like Mad Max not this year, and not in the years to come because George Miller represents a different kind of filmmaker than what you see today. This isn’t a computer generated generation film – these are practical special effects. This is ballsy storytelling. These are characters sprung from a time when Hollywood still thought of women as people. You would have to pull Miller aside and tell him — see, that isn’t how things are done anymore for him to have made a different kind of film.

As with all Oscar years lately, the films that come out later have a harder time than the sure things that come out earlier. That gives Mad Max a bit of an edge, particularly if the Big Oscar Movies coming aren’t up to it.

On the flipside, we’re talking about not just the Academy but the Producers Guild (a shoo in there), the Directors Guild (a formidable name Miller seems highly plausible) and the Screen Actors Guild – a tougher battle there, competition wise. The ensembles coming up are probably going to upstage Mad Max. It doesn’t need the SAG to get in, though. It does need to keep standing out the way it does now. What films might obliterate it? Hateful 8 and The Revenant – both might look bigger and grittier than Mad Max. Also, they star men and you know how our industry likes movies that revolve around male characters.

It’s not time to get pessimistic just yet. Hope springs eternal until the shit hits the fan.

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The thing over at Gold Derby is to make predicting a game so why not put your predictions out front before anyone has seen anything and/or Telluride has hit. Premature expectations, though, can mostly guarantee that the movies in question will be obliterated come awards time. That doesn’t mean it will happen that way this year; it just means that whatever movie people put out front early on usually has trouble living up to those expectations.

But…

Buzz on The Revenant is off the charts. We hear – from reliable sources – that this might be unlike anything we’ve ever seen from Alejandro G. Inarritu. It will make Birdman seem like the appetizer. Not that the two movies are in any way comparable, just that it’s supposed to be the masterpiece that Birdman almost was. Don’t believe the rumors about so-called troubles on the set. From what I’ve heard from various sources it was all in the name of serving authenticity.

But …

One has to also assume that Gold Derby users are probably on the youngish side. They are also probably caught up, like so many are, with the ongoing lament: when will Leonardo DiCaprio finally win an Oscar? Will this be that year? Jeff Wells throws it out there that, in fact, maybe.

Funny story: when I was a very young woman I was wooed by a would-be filmmaker who made schlocky horror movies. He spent the whole night telling me how great the sex was going to be and how blown away I’d be. Rather impressed with him in general (I had never spent much time with any filmmakers, schlocky or otherwise), I was willing to go along for the ride. When the deed finally arrived I’m gonna say it was the worst I’ve ever had or close to it. I learned an important lesson that night before finally put the kibosh on the whole thing: high expectations and talking up things before they happen can usually lead to disappointing results. Not to dampen the mood or anything.

It’s important that all expectations on The Revenant be based on seeing just what DiCaprio/Inarritu and Chivo can do when put to the test. It’s one of my most highly anticipated films of the year, along with Spotlight, Joy, Danish Girl, Black Mass…Make of it what you will.

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This looks pretty great all the way around, I have to admit. Someone seems to have finally put Matt Damon’s sense of humor to good use. Can it possibly be as good as its trailer? Written by the hard working Drew Goddard whose list of credits includes Alias and Lost, among other things, seems to have the thing well under hand here. The film has a release date of October 2, which you dear readers should recognize as the Sweet Spot when it comes to releasing “Oscar movies.”

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Jeff Wells floated an interesting theory over at Hollywood-Elsewhere about how Best Actress might be Jennifer Lawrence’s to lose if certain factors fall into place. The thing holding her back is that she’s recently won. That’s why Julianne Moore can’t really pull off a win for Freeheld — she pulled out the stops to win last year but back-to-back Oscar wins are extremely rare for actresses. It’s only happened twice in all of Oscar history and one of those times was Katharine Hepburn who broke all of the rules anyway. Before anything is seen and the dog and pony show starts properly, the idea is that there are already strong contenders in films seen (Carol, MacBeth, Sicario, Grandma, Mad Max: Fury Road, Clouds of Sils Maria) and films unseen (Joy, Room, Suffragette). If this turns out to be the case, and these are the main contenders we’re looking at, Best Actress won’t be as nail-biting as Best Actor.

Let’s take a quick look at the actresses who won back-to-back Oscars and those who’ve won two or more.

  • In 1936, Louise Rainer won for The Great Ziegfeld, beating Carole Lombard for My Man Godfrey, Norma Shearer for Romeo.
  • In 1937, Louise Rainer won for The Good Earth, beating Greta Garbo for Camille, Barbara Stanwyck for Stella Dallas, Irene Dunne for the Awful Truth and Janet Gaynor for A Star is Born.
  • In 1967, Katharine Hepburn won for Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner. She beat Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, Anne Bancroft for The Graduate and Audrey Hepburn for Wait Until Dark.
  • In 1968, Hepburn again won — tying with Barbra Streisand who won for Funny Girl.

So you can see how rare it is for any actress to win back to back. Almost impossible. The performance would have to be outside the box brilliant, unlike anything that ever gets made today.

Only one actress has won 4 lead Oscars – Katharine Hepburn.

No actress has ever won 3 lead Oscars

12 actresses have won 2 lead Oscars

Ingrid Bergman – won for Gaslight, and then again for Anastasia.
Bette Davis –  Jezebel and Dangerous
Olivia de Havilland – To Each his Own and The Heiress
Sally Field – Norma Rae and Places in the Heart
Jane Fonda – Klute and Coming Home
Jodie Foster – The Accused and Silence of the Lambs
Glenda Jackson – Women in Love and A Touch of Class
Vivien Leigh – Gone with the Wind and Streetcar Named Desire
Luise Rainer – The Great Ziegfeld and The Good Earth
Meryl Streep – Sophie’s Choice and The Iron Lady
Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby
Elizabeth Taylor – Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Do any of these second wins seem like stronger performances than their first? Clearly, Meryl Streep’ problem all of these years has been topping Sophie’s Choice which remains one of the greatest performances ever by anyone. They finally gave her a second Oscar for The Iron Lady.

This year, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlize Theron, and Julianne Moore will all be looking to get into this elite club of two-time winners.  Those who haven’t yet won for their work would include Brie Larson, Emily Blunt, and Carey Mulligan who will either be ready to have her baby or will already have had her baby by the time the awards roll around. If she skips the dog and pony show that might set her back …the Edward Norton complaint is valid but it’s sort of like saying Bernie Sanders can compete with no PAC money.

No one has any idea how Joy will go. David O. Russell has a really good history when it comes to getting nominated in the first place. He’s finally put his good luck charm in the lead. He’s great with actors usually and this could prove to be quite something, an opportunity to see what Lawrence can really do when she’s has the opportunity.

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The 40th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 10 to 20, 2015. Paco Cabezas’s Mr. Right will be the Closing Night. The rest of the lineup include a few to look foward to, like Catherine Hardwick’s Miss You Already, and two of my favorite filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden return with Mississippi Grand.

GALAS
Disorder (Maryland) Alice Winocour, France/Belgium
In this masterfully engineered thriller, a young ex-soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder protects a beautiful woman and her child from a brutal home invasion. Starring Matthias Schoenaerts and Diane Kruger.

Man Down Dito Montiel, USA North American Premiere In a savage post-apocalyptic America, U.S. Marine Gabriel Drummer searches desperately for the whereabouts of his estranged son and wife. Accompanied by his best friend, a hard-nosed Marine whose natural instinct is to shoot first and ask questions later, the two intercept Charles, an apocalyptic survivor carrying vital information about the whereabouts of Gabriel’s family. By revisiting the past, audiences are guided in unravelling the puzzle of Gabriel’s experience, and what will eventually lead to the origin of this war-torn America. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Kate Mara, Gary Oldman and Jai Courtney.

Miss You Already Catherine Hardwicke, United Kingdom World Premiere This honest and powerful story follows two best friends, Milly and Jess, as they navigate life’s highs and lows. Inseparable since they were young girls, they can’t remember a time they didn’t share everything — secrets, clothes, even boyfriends — but nothing prepares them for the day Milly is hit with life-altering news. A story for every modern woman, this film celebrates the bond of true friendship that ultimately can never be broken, even in life’s toughest moments. Starring Toni Collette, Drew Barrymore, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine, Tyson Ritter and Jacqueline Bisset

Mississippi Grind Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden, USA Canadian Premiere Gerry is a talented, but struggling poker player about to be swallowed up by his unshakeable gambling habit. But his luck begins to change after he meets the young, charismatic Curtis. Gerry convinces his new lucky charm to hit the road with him, towards a legendary high stakes poker game in New Orleans. The highs and lows unveil the duo’s true characters and motivations, and an undeniable bond forms between them. Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton and Alfre Woodard.
North American Premiere

Closing Night Film.
Mr. Right Paco Cabezas, USA World Premiere Martha is unlucky in love, but when she finally meets her Mr. Right it seems like she’s found her match — even if he’s an international hitman on the run from the crime cartels who employ him. On the bright side, as long as Hopper or Shotgun Steve don’t kill them first, these two may actually have a chance at happily ever after. Starring Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Tim Roth, James Ransone, Anson Mount, Michael Eklund and RZA.

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
45 Years Andrew Haigh, United Kingdom
While preparing for their 45th anniversary, Kate and Geoff’s marriage is shaken with a discovery that calls into question the life they’ve built together, in this emotional tour-de-force. Starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.

About Ray Gaby Dellal, USA World Premiere The touching story of three generations of a family living under one roof in New York as the life-changing transformation by one ultimately affects them all. Ray is a teenager who realizes that she isn’t meant to be a girl and decides to transition from female to male. His single mother, Maggie, must track down Ray’s biological father to get his legal consent to allow Ray’s transition. Dolly, Ray’s lesbian grandmother, struggles to accept that she now has a grandson. They must each confront their own identities and learn to embrace change and their strength as a family, in order to ultimately find acceptance and understanding. Starring Naomi Watts, Elle Fanning, Susan Sarandon, Tate Donovan, Linda Emond, Sam Trammell and Maria Dizzia.

Angry Indian Goddesses Pan Nalin, India World Premiere A comic drama about a group of Indian women finding their hearts and losing their heads! A wild bunch of girls from all over India descend upon Goa. Their closest friend Frieda has invited them to her family home for a surprise announcement: she’s getting married. Thus begins an impromptu bachelorette. Starring Tannishtha Chatterjee, Sandhya Mridul, Sarah Jane Dias, Pavleen Gujral, Anushka Manchanda, Rajshri Deshpande and Amrit Maghera.

Being Charlie Rob Reiner, USA World Premiere Being Charlie is based on a compilation of real-life experiences written by two friends who lived through being stuck in the cycle of rehab. Eighteen-year-old Charlie Mills is a sharp-mouthed addict fighting to get back home, while his father constantly stiff-arms him to limit the distractions during a big election for governor of California. Charlie’s parents are at odds about their son’s return to rehab. Following a feeble attempt at an intervention, he agrees to work the program at a new adult rehab facility where he meets a handful of misfit personalities; among them is Eva, a beautiful but troubled girl, and Travis, a supportive house manager. Charlie’s internal struggle with his addiction is confronted by the envy for his best friend and his separate addiction with Eva. Starring Nick Robinson, Morgan Saylor, Devon Bostick, Cary Elwes, Susan Misner, Common and Ricardo Chavira.

Body (Body/Cialo) Małgorzata Szumowska, Poland North American Premiere Set in Poland, this absurdist dark comedy follows the intertwined stories of a criminal prosecutor, his anorexic daughter, and her therapist who claims she can communicate with the dead. Starring Janusz Gajos, Maja Ostaszewska and Justyna Suwala.

Equals Drake Doremus, USA North American Premiere In a futuristic, utopian society known as the Collective — where inhabitants have been bred to be peaceful and emotionless — a man and a woman discover that they have feelings for one another. Together, they attempt to understand this connection. Starring Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver.

Canadian Premiere

I Saw the Light Marc Abraham, USA World Premiere This film tells the story of legendary country western singer Hank Williams, who in his brief life created one of the greatest bodies of work in American music. The film chronicles his meteoric rise to fame and its ultimately tragic effect on his health and personal life. Based on Colin Escott’s award-winning biography. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, David Krumholtz Cherry Jones and Maddie Hasson.

London Fields Matthew Cullen United Kingdom/USA World Premiere Set in 1999 London, this noir crime thriller based on Martin Amis’ novel of the same name features a star-studded cast, including Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Cara Delevigne, Theo James, Billy Bob Thorton and Jim Sturgess.

ma ma Julio Medem, Spain/France International Premiere This is the story of Magda. Confronted with tragedy, she reacts with a surge of life that flows inside of her, from the imaginable to the unimaginable. Accompanied by her closest circle, she will live the most unexpected situations filled with humour and delicate happiness. Starring Penélope Cruz, Luis Tosar and Asier Etxeandia.

The Meddler Lorene Scafaria, USA World Premiere Marnie Minervini, recent widow and eternal optimist, moves from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to her daughter. Armed with an iPhone and a full bank account, Marnie sets out to make friends, find her purpose, and possibly open up to someone new. Starring Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne and J.K. Simmons.

Mr. Six (Lao Pao Er) Guan Hu, China North American Premiere With his son captured, Mr. Six and his old pals stand up to the new, younger generation of hooligans, defending their dignity as once respected gangsters in the neighbourhood. Starring Feng Xiaogang.

Mustang Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Turkey/France/Germany North American Premiere It’s the beginning of the summer in a village in the north of Turkey; Lale and her four sisters come home from school, innocently playing with boys. The supposed debauchery of their games causes a scandal with unintended consequences. The family home slowly turns into a prison, classes on housework and cooking replace school, and marriages begin to be arranged. The five sisters, driven by the same desire for freedom, fight back against the limits imposed on them. Starring Gunes Sensoy, Dogba Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan, Ayberk Pekcan and Nihal Koldas.

My Mother (Mia Madre) Nanni Moretti, Italy/France North American Premiere Margherita is a director shooting a film with the famous American actor, Barry Huggins, who is quite a headache on set. Away from the shoot, Margherita tries to hold her life together, despite her mother’s illness and her daughter’s adolescence. Stars Nanni Moretti, Margherita Buy, John Turturro and Giulia Lazzarini.

Our Brand Is Crisis David Gordon Green, USA World Premiere A Bolivian presidential candidate enlists a management team led by damaged but brilliant strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine, who seizes the chance to beat her professional nemesis Pat Candy, coaching the opposition. But as Pat zeroes in on every vulnerability, Jane faces a personal crisis as intense as the one her team exploits to boost their numbers, in this drama revealing the machinations of political consultants for whom nothing is sacred and winning is all that matters. Starring Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy and Zoe Kazan.
A Tale of Love and Darkness Natalie Portman Israel/USA North American Premiere Based on Amos Oz’s international best-seller, this is the story of his youth at the end of the British Mandate in Palestine and the early years of the state of Israel. The film details young Amos’s relationship with his mother and his birth as a writer, looking at what happens when the stories we tell become the stories we live. Starring Natalie Portman, Gilad Kahana and Amir Tessler.

A Tale of Three Cities (San Cheng Ji) Mabel Cheung, China International Premiere Based on the miraculous true story of Jackie Chan’s parents, this film is about the unbreakable bond of love between an opium- peddling widow and a former spy on the run. Together they witness love and humanity in the face of war, famine, and overwhelming danger. Starring Tang Wei and Sean Lau.

Truth James Vanderbilt, USA World Premiere In the vein of All the President’s Men and The Insider, this is the incredible true story of Mary Mapes, an award-winning CBS News journalist, and Dan Rather’s producer. The film chronicles the story they uncovered of a sitting U.S. president that may have been AWOL from the United States National Guard for over a year during the Vietnam War. When the story blew up in their face, the ensuing scandal ruined Dan Rather’s career, nearly changed a U.S. presidential election, and almost took down all of CBS News in the process. Based on Mapes’s book Truth and Duty. Starring Cate Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Bruce Greenwood.

The Wave Roar Uthaug, Norway International Premiere Experienced geologist Kristian Eikfjord accepts a job offer out of town. As he’s getting ready to move from the city of Geiranger with his family, he and his colleagues measure small geological changes in the underground. Kristian worries that his worst nightmare is about to come true, when the alarm goes off and disaster is inevitable. With less than 10 minutes to react, it becomes a race against time in order to save as many people as possible, including his own family. Starring Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp and Jonas Oftebro.

The Witch Robert Eggers, USA/Canada Canadian Premiere A colonial family leaves plantation life and attempts to reap their harvest on a fledgling farm at the edge of an imposing ancient New England forest. Superstition and dread set in as food grows scarce, a family member goes missing, and the children’s play takes on a frenzied and menacing undercurrent. As they begin to turn on one another, the malevolent machinations of an ethereal presence from within the woods exacerbate the growing corruption of their own nature. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson.

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As promising as the gloss critics had already given Straight Outta Compton, the multi-faceted bio-pic of rap group N.W.A. achieved something else this weekend that can only add to its sheen. Exceeding Universal’s best expectations, the first box-office estimates yesterday were in $56 million range — and today that amazing number was revised upwards to $60.2 mil. This places Straight Outta Compton in the top 5 best August openings of all time. (Guardians of the Galaxy and Bourne Ultimatum hold the #1 and #2 August records). With a rock-solid Cinemascore of ‘A’, Straight Outta Compton has vaulted to prominence with a reverberating thump of undeniable Oscar heat, as witnessed by a packed Academy screening yesterday that “drew a massive crowd and overwhelmingly favorable response,” according to reports from THR. I posted the red-band trailer back in February but I suppose we had more urgent things on our minds because 6 months ago it was greeted by crickets. Give a listen to Sasha and Jeff who were on the case for Straight Outta Compton in their recent return of OscarPoker.

I’m seeing Straight Outta Compton this afternoon. Meanwhile, a repost of the trailer.

Onesheet

 

 

Anticipation is building for a David O. Russell film starring Jennifer Lawrence. She’s not a supporting character this time around but the lead.  Co-stars include Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd, and Virginia Madsen.

Onesheet

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I caught up with Pawn Sacrifice a week or so ago but needed time to ruminate on the film before writing about it. I am a bit of a chess geek with a fondness for Fischer’s game. Fischer himself was off his rocker for a variety of reasons though no one was ever able to really get a handle on his illness because he all but disappeared from society a number of times and ended his life an exile and a recluse. But he had game. Maguire brings Fischer back to life as a vibrant man who could do one thing exceptionally well. His intensity and focus made him somehow great at chess but truly bad at life. He couldn’t maintain relationships nor his own status as chess champ. He was a self-hating Jew who blamed the Jews for society’s ills. Maguire captures Fischer’s intensity and delivers, ultimately, a moving portrait of the complicated Fischer. Here is a clip.

The Best Actor race is booked solid this year, that much we know. Breaking in will be near impossible. Someday people will sift through the ashes of this year and they’ll look back at the performances that didn’t catch enough buzz to get in the race. I suspect Maguire’s will be at or near the top of that list, along with Colin Farrell in The Lobster, Michael Fassbender in Macbeth, and on and on it goes. It’s a good time to be male in Hollywood.

The trick with Pawn Sacrifice is how to build tension over chess moves for audiences who don’t really get chess? Maybe some do, but unless you have studied the game, and more specifically Fischer’s approach to the game, you might not get what the big deal was with Game 6, for instance. That the film doesn’t adequately involve the audience in the suspense of the game itself bothered me at first but in the days since those qualms have evaporated and I’m left with thinking fondly of the film and the performances. Liev Schreiber is fantastic as Boris Spassky, and Peter Sarsgarrd and Michael Stuhlbarg are good as well.

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The Year of the Man marches on with Bradley Cooper in Burnt. Oh look, there’s Emma Thompson propping him up – and look, there’s Siena Miller helping him out. I kid. I’m sure it has to be better than this trailer because it was picked up the Weinstein Co. and their instincts are usually spot on. Also, it may be about a man but women audiences will eat this up like candy.

Chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) had it all – and lost it. A two-star Michelin rockstar with the bad habits to match, the former enfant terrible of the Paris restaurant scene did everything different every time out, and only ever cared about the thrill of creating explosions of taste. To land his own kitchen and that third elusive Michelin star though, he’ll need the best of the best on his side, including the beautiful Helene (Sienna Miller). BURNT is a remarkably funny and emotional story about the love of food, the love between two people, and the power of second chances.

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It’s been hard to find much to get excited about for Oscars 2015 – though the season isn’t yet upon us. That starts in a few weeks with Venice and Telluride. Tarantino gives his fans what they want and rarely deviates from that formula, especially in the latter part of his career. Here is The Hateful Eight trailer.

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You might wonder why Scorsese would be interested in the 19th century’s most prolific serial killer in The Devil in White City but what I think draws him to the project, other than working again with DiCaprio, is the opportunity to bring the World’s Fair to life. Amid the spectacle of the 1893 World’s Fair, brought to life by Daniel H. Burnham is another kind of architecture going on, that of H.H. Holmes who built a crazy kind of house of horrors where he committed untold numbers of murders and then sold the skeletons. It’s a fascinating story, but visually, it’s off the charts — I’m thinking Hugo meets Silence of the Lambs.

Paramount apparently won the rights after an intense bidding war between the five families.

Deadline got the scoop. 

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Michael Patterson has been predicting the Telluride lineup for a while now and has compiled what he thinks are the ten most likely titles to land. Why it matters: Telluride has screened the Best Picture winner for the past ten years. Not since The Departed has the eventual winner not screened — or premiered — either at Telluride or somewhere else before Telluride.

2014 – Birdman — Venice/Telluride
2013 – 12 Years a Slave — Telluride
2012 – Argo — Telluride
2011 – The Artist — Cannes/Telluride
2010 – The King’s Speech — Telluride
2009 – The Hurt Locker — (year prior)
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire — Telluride
2007 – No Country for Old Men — Cannes

Why this rule continues to apply has to do, I think, with the Academy’s decision to push their ceremony date back one month, which eventually shifted everything back, which now means the race is decided behind the scenes. It also could be the safe harbor Telluride represents. Unlike other film festivals, critics and bloggers must pay their own way in at $750 a pop. Thus, the attendance is limited to those who are either being sent there by bigger outlets or there because their passion for film compels them to be there. Also, the Telluride people who select the films could have similar tastes to industry voters.

Patterson has chosen ten films he thinks will go. Is the eventual Best Picture winner among them? Or will this be the year the streak is finally broken?

Here are the features he’s predicting
Steve Jobs
Carol
Suffragette
Room
Anomalisa
Beasts of No Nation
Black Mass
Son of Saul

These will represent the underdogs expected to beat the Big Oscar Movies coming out in October or later in the year and those include: Bridge of Spies, The Revenant, Spotlight, etc.  And the ones already seen in Cannes that could have a shot: Sicario, Youth and the already mentioned Carol.

Telluride begins at the end of this month, right on the heels of the Venice Film Festival.

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Written, directed and starring Angelina Jolie with Brad Pitt, reuniting the couple for the first time in ten years is By the Sea. Jolie gave People Mag the first look at the actors in their parts and talked to Jolie about the film.

Set in France during the 1970s, By the Sea tells the story of a struggling marriage between Vanessa (Jolie Pitt), a former dancer, and her writer husband, Roland (Pitt). “It focuses on three couples, all at different stages in their lives,” the 40-year-old mom of six tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “And at its center are the questions of what happened to Roland and Vanessa and why they are in the place they are now.”

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