In Hollywood as in life, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. This past awards season saw splashy spectacles (The Great Gatsby), gutsy biopics (Diana), and seemingly slam-dunk awards bait (The Butler) blow into theaters with the torrent winds of great Oscar expectations and blow out with the faint gusts of disappointment. And then there were those that early on seemed like worthy nominees—Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis—before being eclipsed by late, unexpected contenders.
All of which is to say, predicting Oscar nominees is hard. But it’s also fun. Even if the movies and actors that appear to be likely champions now turn out to be busts come next Awards season, looking ahead at the prestigious release schedule at least gives us a chance to get excited about the coming year filmgoing.
Twelve months before the 2013 Academy Awards, I called seven of the eventual nine Best Picture nominees, including the winner, Argo. A year before last Sunday’s ceremony, I correctly predicted… two of nine, Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers’ Club (though I also gave honorable mentions to two other eventual nominees, Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave). Here’s a try at prophesying 2015. Gauging by buzz and on-paper credentials, which films seem to be the best bets for Academy Awards nominations next year?
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Serious, Biblically correct films like Son of God make it easy to forget the Jesus Christ Superstar-style whimsical messiah who once reigned at box offices.
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On Sunday night at the 86th annual Academy Awards, Cate Blanchett accepted an award for Best Actress for her role in Blue Jasmine. She thanked all the usuals: family, agent, director, castmates, and audiences who went to see the film. Winning the award, she said, meant a great deal “in a year of, yet again, extraordinary performances by women.”
But then, she called out a certain sector of the movie business: “those of us in the industry who are perhaps still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films, with women at the center, are niche experiences.”
“They are not,” she proclaimed. “Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money.” The auditorium erupted, and she exclaimed, “The world is round, people!”
Extraordinary words from the 12 Years a Slave actress: “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.”
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The ceremony’s structure may not show what will win, but it shows what the producers think will win.
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Animal House and its many descendants didn’t glorify the Greek system—they mocked it.
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For once, a casting announcement for an iconic film has been met with little objection. Late Wednesday afternoon, Hollywood trade publications reported that Adam Driver would likely play a key role as the villain in the new Star Wars trilogy. If Driver ends up with the part, this is good news for all. Driver is a terrific actor, and it bodes well for the upcoming trilogy that the producers have chosen someone whose strength lies in his abilities, not in conventional good looks.
Obviously, it is also a big deal for Driver himself, as it marks a huge leap forward in his career. Two years ago, nobody knew his name, but after breaking out in Girls and securing small but memorable roles in prestigious fare like Lincoln and Inside Llewyn Davis, he is now on a more secure path to movie stardom.
But one question remains: Why is it that the first actor from Girls to break through to success in the movies is a man?
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There’s no necessary contradiction between action films and parenting. As far back as 1986’s Aliens, James Cameron welded them together seamlessly. The script presented Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley with a small child in need of care and protection, and the ensuing maternal bond gave emotional propulsion to the fear, savagery, and carnage that followed. “Save the baby” provides the mother with all the justification needed for extreme violence—a perfect setup for a Hollywood special-effects extravaganza.
The new Kevin Costner film, 3 Days to Kill, is also an action film with parenting themes—but with one major difference. The parent here is not a mom, but rather schlubby, aging secret service super-spy Ethan (Costner) as a long-absent father trying to get back in touch with his daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). Rather than fueling the adrenalin rush with child-in-danger, the incongruity of an action-hero dad needing to deal with domestic crises like bad-hair days sends the script lurching back and forth almost at random. Cold-blooded murders are juxtaposed with cutesy dad-daughter moments; a CIA agent morphs into a fetish dominatrix; there’s a cancer diagnosis and then an almost instant reprieve. The goofiness is supposed to be funny, but personally, as a dad who does a lot of child care, the repetitive joke “he’s got a job … and he has to watch the kid too!” gets kind of sour over an hour and a half.
There have been plenty of other dads-with-guns action-adventures, obviously. The recent Homefront, as one example, used the threat to Jason Statham’s daughter as a straightforward excuse for action: simple, easy, no fuss, and little if any emotional investment. 3 Days to Kill, though, really cares about its parental themes, with neurotic and bizarre results. The film obsesses over how, or whether, Ethan’s relationship with his daughter will unman him.
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If you’re just counting the number of rounds expended and bodies (both human and machine) lying at the feet of its famous crime fighting cyborg, the new RoboCop remake is more violent than the 1987 original.
But not all violence is the same. Paul Verhoven’s RoboCop is a far more disturbing film than the one that pulled in more than $100 million worldwide this month. The 2014 version, directed by Jose Padilha, exemplifies a trend in recent cinema, especially in remakes, to up the amount of violence on screen but to downplay its consequences. We’re seeing more death and maiming in the theaters these days, but we’re being asked to think less about what it means.
Read more. [Image: Columbia Pictures]
Michael B. Jordan has been cast as Johnny Storm in the new Fantastic Four movie. For many prospective viewers, that announcement will raise the question that any announcement of a Michael B. Jordan movie raises: Will he be shirtless, and for how much screen time? Other superhero fans, though, are distracted by less wholesome concerns. Johnny Storm, they have noticed, is white. Michael B. Jordan is black. How, they wonder, can this be?
The outcry over interracial casting here appears to be much more muted than the stir over Idris Elba’s role as Heimdall in the Thor franchise, which provoked boycott threats. Still, I’ve seen people on Twitter talking about how the casting will “ruin” the franchise. I’m not going to link because I’m leery of shaming people that way on a mainstream site, but if you look around you can find them without too much trouble. (Niki Cruz has rounded up some of the response, with names redacted, here.) This echoes earlier controversies in which a campaign to get Donald Glover cast as Spider-Man met with racially fraught backlash, while the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Rue in The Hunger Games provoked angry social media whining.
Read more. [Image: John Shearer / AP; Adi Granov / Marvel]