It’s only just October and already the Oscar season has grown ugly. And it’s not even the contenders battling for rank.
The heat is coming from the pundits themselves, who have already grown weary of some of their colleagues’ BS and perpetual trumpeting. In Mark Harris’s brilliant first post about the Oscar race so far, he goes as far as to say that in “the real world”, there isn’t even a race yet. He tears apart the notions of rules, statistics and trends confirming nominees, and he laughs at the idea that each month or week there’s a new movie that changes everything about the race.
But there is excitement in the real world. This weekend Gone Girl is opening to raves and three of the most anticipated movies of the year in Inherent Vice, Interstellar and Exodus: Gods and Kings, got trailers. All of them feature prominently on this week’s charts while the festival front runners are currently being pushed out of the conversation.
1. Gone Girl
Whether or not Gone Girl is any good is no longer a question. It’s sitting with a solid 80 on Metacritic and 9.0 on IMDB. Ben Affleck (and his penis) has been charmingly making the late night rounds, and David Fincher found himself in the news again with the announcement that he would be directing an entire season of HBO’s Utopia.
No one has used the word front runner just yet, but that hasn’t stopped pundits from being skeptical. Is Gone Girl an Oscar movie? Scott Feinberg was the first to posit that the film might be too genre, and in somewhat condescending terms to the novel, said it could, “make for an engaging beach read, but brought to life on the big screen, struck some as a bit implausible.” Anne Thompson goes deeper to suggest the very content of the story might rub very progressive and vocal women the wrong way, leading to a controversy the film doesn’t need.
2. Julianne Moore
Mere weeks ago, Julianne Moore was a question mark in the Best Actress category, not because of her stellar performances, but because of whether her movies would actually be released this year. Now she’s joining the ranks of Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Chastain as potential two-time contenders, with both Still Alice and Maps to the Stars getting limited Oscar qualifying releases before the year is out. HitFix first broke the news that Still Alice was in play, and Vulture then got a quote from David Cronenberg that although Focus World felt the film would play better in 2015 and may not get a strong push, her Cannes winning work is likely to “find its way regardless.”
3. Inherent Vice
Inherent Vice premieres at the close of the New York Film Festival, but massive hype will follow this movie anywhere. Paul Thomas Anderson just has that level of power. And the trailer is outrageous, bringing PTA back to his Boogie Nights-era of period camp and comedy and shuttling Joaquin Phoenix back into the Best Actor conversation.
Interstellar is another sight unseen contender, with early previews to critics and industry insiders completely kept under wraps. But a rash of trailers and promotional materials, like this deep dive into the Interstellar website, have kept the anticipation high. Interstellar is reportedly Christopher Nolan’s longest film to date, and it will get a pre-release opening in IMAX theaters exclusively, on film stock no less.
Mark Harris eloquently argued that Boyhood is truly the only film since January that has opened to the public that not only is a Best Picture lock but a strong bet to win. He confirmed the idea that being an underdog in October is the place to be, but as a summer release it will have to “withstand” the other contenders. He also smartly brushes aside the thought that being a summer movie or a mid-range box office hit will hurt its chances.
Harris sees Boyhood standing tall as a “Passion Project”, the biggest of all the Oscar narratives and a badge it wears proudly. It’s also averse to the narrative that it would go against the Hollywood system. There is no Pulp Fiction vs. Forrest Gump, no Hurt Locker vs. Avatar or Social Network vs. The King’s Speech when it comes to Boyhood. It’s a simple, crowd-pleasing indie that also happens to be one of the most intriguing, thought provoking and critically acclaimed films in a long time.
The New York Film Fest has done for Whiplash exactly what it needed to, pushing it back into the race when Sundance contenders were beginning to be an after thought. Scott Feinberg talks about Director Damien Chazelle’s personal relationship to the story, first premiering at Sundance as a short and now as the complete feature. He says J.K. Simmons is a front runner for Best Supporting Actor and Miles Teller is an outside contender for Best Actor, but it helps that the movie is thrilling on its own. Sound on Sight had two reviews out of NYFF, with Mark Young writing that Chazelle brings expert nuance into Simmons’s tormenting of Teller, and Christopher Clemente saying, “Simmons is diabolically crass and quick-witted when need be, yet overtly scary when loud and violent.”
7. Exodus: Gods and Kings
If Exodus: Gods and Kings is an Oscar contender and not just a big-budget superhero movie disguised as a religious epic, it’s because it’s bringing Ridley Scott back into form when he won for Gladiator. Deadline has a quote from a producer who says Hollywood simply doesn’t make movies like this anymore, claiming Scott has truly put the scale and sheer manpower into this film to resemble a David Lean production. Narratives are also forming that Ridley Scott managed all this despite facing massive barriers in production, including a tight 74-day shooting schedule.
What’s more, there are some laughable quotes that Christian Bale took his method acting to a new place, watching Monty Python’s The Life of Brian and Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1 to ground his performance as Moses. Would he have enough fire in him to be a Best Actor contender in an already loaded race? Or will Fox think to push this film over Gone Girl? Watch the new trailer here.
8. Leviathan and Foreign Language Contenders
The deadline for countries to submit movies for Oscar contention has just passed, and the latest and arguably biggest entry is Russia’s Leviathan, a Cannes smash and runner-up that deeply criticizes Russian politics. Also making a foray into the race is Italy, who submitted Human Capital, a film I’ll be seeing at the Chicago Film Fest that has been called Amores Perros, Italian style.
This race has always been notoriously hard to predict. Pundits never see many of the contenders beforehand, and the Foreign Language branch can’t always be counted on for taste. As it stands however, the top contenders before the short list comes out include Two Days, One Night (Belgium), Winter Sleep (Turkey), Force Majeure (Sweden), Ida (Poland), Mommy (Canada), Leviathan (Russia), The Way He Looks (Brazil) and Timbuktu, a first time entry from the country Mauritania.