Well, we’ve made it to November. And as if you didn’t have enough to deal with during the holiday season, we’re also getting into the home stretch for movies that are trying to win an Oscar. What does that mean? Pretty soon, everyone will be talking about a select few films as if they’ve seen them 20 times already.
The Academy Awards are February 24, 2013, but movies that expect to be in contention will be released over the next few weeks, or are already out. With plenty of contenders this year, it’s difficult to keep track of which movies should be on your radar. If you want to stay in the loop, here are the films and performances you should watch as they come out.
We’ve highlighted the top releases that you should be aware of, with our predictions of which nominations they’ll garner, plus an idea of what everyone else is saying.
Photo: Screen Crush
Silver Linings Playbook (November 21)
Likely Nominations: Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Picture
The Buzz: The biggest accolades are for Silver Linings‘ leads, both of whom challenge the boundaries of their usual roles—Jen as a mostly wholesome heroine, and Bradley as one-note comic relief. IndieWire praises both for carrying this comedy yet still providing pathos:
But none of this works without some carefully developed, and perfectly pitched performances from the leads, and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who both arguably give career best, awards-worthy performances. We’ve frankly never seen Cooper in a role like this, one that requires him to not only to carry the film, but to play a nuanced character in Pat who is big in personality, but also tremendously vulnerable. And Cooper toes all of it deftly, both commanding and pushing the story forward. He’s also outrageously funny.
Lawrence may be an even bigger surprise to many as Tiffany, a young woman who is sexy, tough and also easily bruised, who not only has to manage Pat’s unpredictable nature, but also keep herself on an even keel to stop from sliding into self destructive tendencies.
But what invigorates these actors is the movie’s framework, which is why we think Russell (who directed The Fighter) might get his due. The Hollywood Reporter writes,
Working with cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi and editors Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers, Russell gives the comedy an invigorating messiness. The action is shot and cut with the same nervous energy that hard-wires the two central characters. It’s no mystery where their relationship is headed, even with all the clashes and mutual disappointments. But the crazy ways the film gets there feel fresh.
Photo: The Weinstein Company
The Master (out now)
Likely Nominations: Best Director (Paul Thomas Anderson), Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams)
The Buzz: Consensus on Anderson’s polarizing film seems to be that he’s outdone his past triumphs, that this should be held up against his past work. The Guardian best articulates this ambiguity that has beset Academy nominators and might make them hesitate to nominate it:
Anderson has within living memory knocked us for the biggest loop with his There Will Be Blood in 2007, and nothing makes critics more nervous than a director who makes two exceptional films in a row. Reviewers get a bit self-conscious about dishing out the top prize again, scared of looking like fanboys and pushovers. They feel the need to change the mood, to validate the uniqueness of their former praise. And I admit that after seeing The Master for the first time at the Venice film festival (the second was in London this week), I experienced a dark and timid microsecond of the soul on this score, before I swallowed my pride and just responded to what was in front of me: a superb film.
The argument extends to its star, as Screen Rant writes:
Joaquin Phoenix arguably surpasses the greatness of Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Freddie Quell is a fascinating and frightening (if not likable) character to study, and Phoenix loses himself entirely in the role—down to the strained posture, madman facial ticks and a storm of fury always lurking behind soft, deadened eyes.
Of course, Phoenix has already informed us that he doesn’t even want the Oscar, so we’ll see if the Academy feels like nominating him at all.
Photo: The Weinstein Company
Argo (out now)
Likely Nominations: Best Director (Ben Affleck), Best Cinematography, Best Costumes, Best Picture
The Buzz: We’ve already outlined the various ways in which Argo has charmed audiences, from the strict attention to detail to the blend of thriller and comedy to the hilarious supporting roles from John Goodman and Alan Arkin as two cynical Hollywood types poking fun at their own industry. While some of the other nominations are still a mystery, Affleck is already considered a lock for his directing work on Argo. In fact, though he may not also get nominated for Best Actor, that could be for the best, as The New York Times points out:
His own delivery can be so tamped down that he sometimes registers as overly restrained, almost bland, yet his control serves the material, partly because it would have been a mistake for him to try to upstage this story, much less Mr. Goodman and Mr. Arkin.
Not getting nominated could be the greatest compliment that the Academy pays Ben Affleck.
Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
Flight (out now)
Likely Nominations: Best Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Cinematography, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis)
The Buzz: For all of the problems with the film’s sexism or how unrealistic it might be for a pilot who’s drunk and high to successfully land a crashing plane, Washington is undeniably commanding in the lead role. Consider Roger Ebert‘s effusive praise:
Denzel Washington is one of the most sympathetic and rock-solid of actors, and it’s effective here how his performance never goes over the top but instead is grounded on obsessive control. There are many scenes inviting emotional displays. A lesser actor might have wanted to act them out. Washington depends on his eyes, his manner and a gift for projecting inner emotion. In the way it meets every requirement of a tricky plot, this is an ideal performance.
You know what else everyone can’t stop talking about? That crash. From The Hollywood Reporter:
As a live-action director, Zemeckis hasn’t lost a step during his long layoff; even though most of the settings are prosaic and even unphotogenic—hotel and hospital rooms, downscale dwellings, conference rooms—he and cinematographer Don Burgess deliver bold, well conceived images that flatter the actors. The exceptional and seamless visual effects for the traumatic flight sequence make that experience linger and reverberate throughout the entire film, just as it does for the characters who lived through them.
Photo: Paramount Pictures
Life of Pi (November 21)
Likely Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Director (Ang Lee)
The Buzz: After a few years of more understated films, Lee — who wowed us with Brokeback Mountain but stumbled with Hulk – could be back in voters’ good graces. Here’s The Guardian on this ambitious film:
One of the things that tells you the director is in his prime – a model of creative evolution – is that his films feel like total surprises when first announced but fit snugly into his oeuvre once you’ve seen them. Immersing himself in the latest technology — 3D, digital paintboxes, motion capture and control – as Martin Scorsese did in last year’s Hugo, Lee summons delights with his fingertips. But where Hugo was cold to the touch, Life of Pi feels warm-blooded, the perfect summation of the principle powering Lee’s entire career: still waters run deep.
But let’s not forget the cinematographers. Life of Pi seems to truly be a product of good timing and patience, according to The Hollywood Reporter:
It’s not surprising that it took producer Gil Netter a decade to get the film made, as technology would not have permitted it to be realized, at least in anything close to its current form, until the past few years. Shot on location in India as well as in a giant tank in Taiwan where the open-water effects scenes were made, Life of Pi is an unusual example of anything-is-possible technology put at the service of a humanistic and intimate story rather than something that smacks of a manufactured product.
Photo: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Anna Karenina (November 16)
Likely Nominations: Best Costumes, Best Actress (Keira Knightley), Best Picture
The Buzz: The best thing that Joe Wright‘s adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel has going for it is the unique approach to stage it in a theater. According to Variety, this choice elevates the film’s plot above overwrought period drama:
Eschewing the classical realism that’s characterized most adaptations of Tolstoy’s source novel, helmer Joe Wright makes the generally inspired decision to stylize his dark, expressionist take on ‘Anna Karenina.’ Setting most of the action in a mocked-up theater emphasizes the performance aspects of the characters’ behavior, a strategy enhanced by lead thesp Keira Knightley’s willingness to let her neurotic Anna appear less sympathetic than in previous incarnations.
Although no large outlets have granted their blessing for the film to get nominated for the bigger awards, we couldn’t ignore this nod from Hollywood Elsewhere:
You either go with the proscenium-arch grandiosity of a film like Anna Karenina or you don’t (and I was just talking in the Bell Lightbox lobby with a critic who didn’t care for it) but if you ask me it has all the essential ingredients of a bold-as-brass Best Picture contender — an excitingly original approach, cliff-leaping audacity, complex choreography, the balls to go classic and crazy at the same time, a wild mixture of theatricality and romantic realism, a superbly tight and expressive script by Tom Stoppard and wowser operatic acting with a special hat-tip to Keira Knightley as Anna — a Best Actress performance if I’ve ever seen one.
Photo: Focus Features
The Sessions (out now)
Likely Nominations: Best Actor (John Hawkes), Best Actress (Helen Hunt)
The Buzz: At first The Sessions seems like very calculated Oscar bait: A transformative performance from Hawkes as quadriplegic poet Mark O’Brien, who decided to lose his virginity in his 30s. But the dedication from Hawkes, as well as his and Hunt’s sensitivity about the subject matter, has stripped the film of artifice and melted audience criticism. Hawkes wowed in last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene but didn’t earn a nomination for his role as a chilling cult leader. Utterly throwing himself into this role could earn him a nomination now, as IndieWire predicts:
The film started rolling out limited release last week, and anyone taking a look will know that Hawkes’ performance is the real deal. The part of paralyzed poet Mark O’Brien, who sets out to lose his virginity in his late 30s, might seem Oscar bait-y on the surface, but Hawkes elevates it, becoming vulnerable and snappy and, hell, even a little sexy, all without moving anything below the neck.
Photo: Red Camera Pulls/Fox Searchlight
Cloud Atlas (out now)
Likely Nominations: Best Makeup, Best Director (Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski)
The Buzz: While the reviews for Cloud Atlas are pretty uneven, the polarizing effect of this ambitious undertaking may make it this year’s wild card. If nothing else, The New York Times points out, you get the most bang for your buck:
Maybe the achievement of Cloud Atlas should be quantified rather than judged in more conventional, qualitative ways. This is by no means the best movie of the year, but it may be the most movie you can get for the price of a single ticket. It blends farce, suspense, science fiction, melodrama and quite a bit more, not into an approximation of Mr. Mitchell’s graceful and virtuosic pastiche, but rather into an unruly grab bag of styles, effects and emotions held together, just barely, by a combination of outlandish daring and humble sincerity.
Even if the Academy doesn’t feel comfortable including Cloud Atlas in the higher-tier awards, the sheer magnitude of the scope and time span of the movie should win attention in categories like Makeup and Costume. Screen Rant addresses the recent yellowface backlash with the assertion that as controversial a choice as it was, it works:
The makeup work is astounding, and indeed Cloud Atlas offers the attentive viewer a fun time of picking out all the different versions of the same actor – sometimes as a main player, sometimes just background face – offering much humor and food for thought as to how these “reincarnated figures” are meant to be understood, thematically. Yes, there has been controversy due to the fact that some actors appear as different races and/or genders, and that is an issue which will ultimately be insurmountable for some viewers. All I can say is that there is definite intention behind this stylistic choice, and it is treated with respect and reverence on the part of the filmmakers. Be sure to hang around for the credits: you may be pleasantly surprised by just how many times an actor actually showed up onscreen, and where.
Photo: Jay Maidment/Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
And we haven’t even gotten to December! Plenty of studios will be releasing their big films over the holidays to bank on those audiences, and to squeeze them in under the wire before nominations are announced on January 15, 2013. So, we felt compelled to include another list of even more movies to look out, that will undoubtedly be getting their own buzz in the coming weeks:
Hyde Park on Hudson (December 7) – Best Actor (Bill Murray)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (December 14) – Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score
Zero Dark Thirty (December 19) – Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow)
The Impossible (December 21) – Best Actor (Ewan McGregor), Best Actress (Naomi Watts), Best Visual Effects
Django Unchained (December 25) – Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz)
Les Miserables (December 25) – Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Best Actor (Hugh Jackman)