It's time to get going on Oscar season 2015 people, and that's where the fall film festivals come in. Venice began last Wednesday and is still going on, while Telluride wrapped today after its annual three-day festivities. So it's high time to start gathering the information on the various significant movies that saw their premieres in the last week and hope to discern what that might mean for their Oscar hopes this coming season. To be honest, it's not all that hard to do, because the reaction of the festival crowd is often in line with the Academy's tastes (especially the Telluride one) and what the early critics reviews are saying can also tell you what may or may not be worth looking at- whether it's an awards movie or just a commercial play. So here is what came out of Venice this year (I'll be back to round up Telluride on Thursday).
First up we have Everest, the Balthasar Kormakur directed action-adventure epic based on the true life tragedy that occurred on the mountain in 1996. This got a pretty good response, although you can tell that it's more of a commercial play than an awards hopeful- but the reaction to the special effects and the visceral you-are-there feel of the direction has me looking forward to this much more than the usual CG-infested videogame stuff that afflicts all action movies now. You can probably expect some tech nods for this, like cinematography, special effects, sound for sure, and maybe a couple more depending on if it's a hit when it comes out at the end of the month.
"The screenwriters have avoided the usual disaster-movie ploy of inserting baddies...as fine as the cast is, the stand-out star is right there in the title." (The Daily Mail)
"Everest offers a gripping and refreshingly unsentimental reenactment of its grim true-life tale." (Forbes)
"A nausea-inspiring 3D adventure." (Indiewire)
Then there was the premiere of Netflix's Beasts of No Nation, which is garnering stellar reviews, but almost immediately seems like something that will not have much Oscar play due to the violence of the subject matter and the explicit nature of the brutality. You can maybe expect some attention for Idris Elba, if he has a big enough campaign and if enough people actually watch the film, which is going to be available on Netflix in November. Kind of a tough call on this one.
"The unsentimental education of an African child soldier is captured with savage beauty and matter-of-fact horror in 'Beasts of No Nation,' a tough-minded, tough-viewing chronicle of a civil war as seen through the eyes of one of its youngest casualties." (Variety)
"'Beasts of No Nation' is gripping and persuasive, but isn't for the faint hearted." (Scotsman)
Now Spotlight looks to be something different, an old-school, conventional procedural that nonetheless pack an effective punch in the storytelling about the reporters who exposed the child molestation scandal being covered up by the Catholic Church for decades. I really can't wait to see this, as the comparisons to All the President's Men and Zodiac make the movie sound right up my alley. Michael Keaton might land his second Oscar nod in a row (this time for supporting), and frankly, the kind of movie it is makes it sound like something that could very well appeal to the Academy's tastes, so look out for this one. The reviews are excellent and if Open Road hits the campaign hard, they could have their first Best Picture nominee here, and certainly gain some attention in other categories as well, like Original Screenplay and Supporting Actor.
"A superbly controlled and engrossingly detailed account of the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the widespread pedophilia scandals and subsequent cover-ups within the Catholic Church." (Variety)
"It's that all-too-rare beast: a movie that's both important and engrossing." (Time Out)
The Danish Girl had a mixed-positive response so far, but nonetheless garnered raves for the acting of Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, and frankly it's the kind of movie that lands Oscar attention even if reviews aren't totally stellar (and they aren't bad either, it just sounds like a conventional period drama, and the Academy eats that shit up, as we all know). I'd place this one down for the leads for sure, and if this gets a better response from the crowd in Toronto, which it very well may (Venice can be much more highbrow in the tastes of its attendees), this could still be in the running for major nominations across the board, like Picture, Screenplay, Costumes, Production Design, maybe Director, etc. It's certainly in play right now, because of the kind of film it is (and some responses were very enthusiastic, so we have to see where it lands after further screenings).
"If the movie remains safe, there's no questioning its integrity, or the balance of porcelain vulnerability and strength that Eddie Redmayne brings to the lead role." (Hollywood Reporter)
"The Danish Girl ends by sandblasting away every last trace of ambiguity. [Redmayne's character] deserves to have been portrayed as an actual person rather than a shiny monument to a cause." (BBC.com)
"Destined to be the year's most talked-about arthouse phenomenon." (Variety)