The New York Film Festival starts today, and with it critics and industry members will get their first look at Gone Girl and Inherent Vice, leaving only a few studio tent poles remaining throughout the fall. They’ll also get a renewed look at Mr. Turner, Foxcatcher, and Birdman, so expect those to be back in the conversation soon.
One of the most interesting barometers for predicting the race is Movie City News’ Gurus ‘O Gold chart, a poll of all the Oscar pundits to determine the top contenders to win. They made their picks before the festivals and now after them, and they’ve got Boyhood perched atop the pedestal with the sight-unseen Unbroken, Interstellar and Gone Girl rounding out the Top 10.
This week however, all the previous week’s ranking contenders are gone from the charts in this slow week between festivals. They’ll be back with a vengeance in the weeks to come, but right now there are a few latecomers worthy of the discussion.
1. Gone Girl
Though it premieres tomorrow, the first reviews for Gone Girl are already in. Yesterday yours truly wrote a column about some of the things the film adaptation needs to get right about the book, but the critical consensus so far has said Fincher’s faithful version nails it. Variety writes, “Surgically precise, grimly funny and entirely mesmerizing over the course of its swift 149-minute running time, this taut yet expansive psychological thriller represents an exceptional pairing of filmmaker and material.” Sasha Stone also called out Rosamund Pike’s transformative performance, comparing her casting as Amy Dunne on par with literary giants like Scarlett O’Hara and Daisy Buchanan. “The demure, soft spoken Pike has reached down deep and uncovered one of the most mesmerizing femme fatales, one of the most memorable movie blondes, in film history,” she writes.
2. Mia Wasikowska
I don’t know if it will happen this year, but one day this young actress is going to win herself an Oscar. This year Mia Wasikowska found herself working with Jim Jarmusch and David Cronenberg and has a fantastic knack for picking projects, from Stoker to Jane Eyre. But her one possible Oscar contender is Tracks, a story not dissimilar from Wild about a woman who went on a solo journey cross country, in this case across an Australian desert. The Weinstein Company currently has St. Vincent, The Imitation Game, Big Eyes and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby in addition to Tracks in their slate. Amy Adams will be their champion in the Lead Actress category, but Wasikowska could be a plausible backup should they make a push. Indiewire quoted a reviewer who described Wasikowska as “bracingly anti-ingratiating, one of those rare actors who can find the magic in plainness.”
3. A Most Violent Year
One of the question marks of this year’s race, J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year will open the AFI Film Festival on November 6 but will be held until the last minute with a limited release on December 31. It’s a tough spot to hold and could easily get lost in the holiday movie season shuffle. The film stars Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac in a pulpy ‘80s crime drama about one of New York City’s statistically bloodiest periods. Isaac and Chandor were both snubbed last year and so was co-star Albert Brooks a few years prior for Drive, but Chastain may be the late jolt the Best Actress race needs. Also, watch for David Oyelowo making his way up these charts. He’s appearing in A Most Violent Year, Interstellar and Selma this year.
4. Al Pacino
As if the Best Actor race wasn’t big enough, Al Pacino has offered his first plausible Oscar contender in over a decade with the help of the man who won him his first Oscar, Barry Levinson (Scent of a Woman). Pacino appeared in both The Humbling and David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn in TIFF premieres this year, and while Manglehorn is still searching for distribution, The Humbling, based on a novel by Phillip Roth, has gotten headlines as a pickup from Millennium Entertainment. Deadline heralds Pacino’s entry into the race with some quotes from Levinson and comparisons to Birdman as a film about an aging actor looking for a comeback, and In Contention found some praise for Pacino’s work despite some poor reviews. But Anne Thompson smells a red herring, and the scent is even stronger when you realize this “announcement” doesn’t actually come with a release date.
A biopic on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. is bound to turn some heads. And a studio picture with a female, black, indie cred director like Ava DuVernay is bound to turn a few more. But although the film has yet to screen or even be finished (it’s shooting for a Christmas Day release), DuVernay and star David Oyelowo previewed scenes from the film at a panel discussion about its making. Oyelowo had the script by first time writer Paul Webb in his hand since 2007, and it has since passed around to Steven Spielberg, Paul Haggis, Michael Mann and Lee Daniels. Oyelowo eventually convinced his producers that DuVernay had to be the director, and before long both Oprah and Brad Pitt were attached as EPs.
But what also sets Selma apart is that it appears to follow Scott Tobias’s recent set of rules for making biopics on geniuses. Number one, focus on a small slice of life, and two, find the asshole in the man. DuVernay’s film focuses on Bloody Sunday and the march to Selma, and it gives us a chance to see Dr. King’s fiery side in a potentially game-changing performance by Oyelowo. So the question remains: is Selma this year’s 12 Years a Slave or this year’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom?
6. Foreign Language Contenders
It’s still a bit of a mind-boggling mess that the Academy operates by having just a single film per country be submitted into the Oscar race, with many films easily crossing boundaries and even more politicking that goes into selecting some often-questionable nominees. Last year’s race had a record 76 countries submitting, including some first-timers like Saudi Arabia with Wadjda.
This year’s deadline is at the end of the month, and already 55 countries have submitted. So far the strongest contenders are Sweden and Poland with the dark comedy and festival darling Force Majeure, and the already Stateside-released Ida. Some heavy-hitter auteurs are also entering this year’s race, including a first-time entry for The Dardenne Brothers for Two Days, One Night, Xavier Dolan for Canada’s Mommy, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan with his Palme D’Or winner Winter Sleep.
And yet there has already been some controversy. Though considered a serious contender last year, Blue is the Warmest Color was overlooked by host country France yet again after failing to be eligible last year. Another film from Bulgaria, Bulgarian Rhapsody, is considered to be an “outdated representation” of the country’s culture. And it is unclear whether Russia will submit the Cannes favorite Leviathan considering how critical it is of Russian politics.
See the full list of contenders here.
Is there a reason a movie with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper can’t catch a break? Susanne Bier’s film was first delayed for two years before finally getting a trailer a few weeks back. The Playlist reports that Serena is now set to open the BFI London Film Festival but will get distributed VOD on February 26 and won’t get a theatrical release in North America until March 27. There’s speculation that the film might be a disaster as a result, but one thing it isn’t is a 2015 Oscar contender.
View my own Oscar Predictions for this week at my personal website The Sanity Clause.