Saturday, March 2, 2013

2013: The Contenders

Is it too early to begin speculation on what might appear at the 86th Academy Awards?  Of course, that's madness.  We're only five days removed from the Oscar telecast and still pontificating how badly Seth MacFarlane messed up as master of ceremonies, still soaking up how much we love Jennifer Lawrence and, in a nasty double standard that bears even more pondering while the constant critique of sexism is running rampant-- how much we don't quite like Anne Hathaway.

Whatever, the guessing game is fun.  We can safely assume that the first two months of cinema of 2013 will not figure into the next awards season, but here's a breakdown by studio of what's to come.  Keep in mind that schedules are always very subject to change, but here's what on paper as of right now of what we may be seeing honored next year:

Still high on the multi Oscar-winning gamble that paid off with Ang Lee's Life of Pi, Fox doesn't haven't as rigorous (or as expensive seeming) on it's slate for 2013.  The biggest awards potential on paper may be The Counselor, Ridley Scott's legal thriller about drug trafficking.  The film, written by Cormac McCarthy, has a droll worthy cast of Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz, and as of now, has a prime November release date.  Aside from this, the may have some technical credits to impress with The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman's latest stab at his most famous character-- this is directed by the far more respected James Mangold, but will have to remove all the negative stigma of the last film even for visual effects scraps.  They might also have an animated feature play with Epic, a fantasy from the Blue Sky Animation company that did Ice Age.  This summers comedy The Heat may score Golden Globe attention for its stars Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as well.

The upstart company A24 only has a handful of names to its credit, but has a few interesting titles for us in 2013.  Neither of which looks all together likely to catch the fancy of the Academy, but you never know.  Plus the two notable offerings they have this year, whether or not, picked for awards potential, may still bear fruitful for that of cinema.  The juiciest is The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola's latest, which to our surprise sounds nothing like a Sofia Coppola movie in its premise-- it's about a group of fan-obsessed teenagers who rob celebrities, inspired by actual events.  Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga and Leslie Mann star.  If the films works with critics and audiences, maybe an Original Screenplay plug isn't out of the realm of possibility.  A24's other hot property was the Sundance hit The Spectacular Now, which won a Special Jury Prize for upstart actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley last January.  The film, directed by James Ponsoldt and written by the (500) Days of Summer team of Scott Neustradter and Michael H. Weber, based on the book by Tim Tharp-- the film reads very coming of age-ish, not unlike last years The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but if it breaks out, maybe the Indie Spirits or some of the cooler awards societies will pick up on it.

Inside Llewyn Davies
Another fledgling upstart, but one that recently made the bold acquisition of likely the biggest awards play they've ever had in Inside Llewyn Davies, the latest from the Coen Brothers.  Chronicling the rise of a folk singer in the 1960s, the films stars Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and John Goodman.  Even if the film appears as one of the Coen's less accessible, this will definitely be one of the art house projects of 2013 to watch out for.

Beleaguered, I'm sure, after the hard fought campaign of Oscar also-ran Lincoln, DreamWorks (now working with 20th Century Fox instead of Paramount) has two films of potential note.  First is the Bill Condon (back at serious filmmaking after his paycheck grabbing Twilight adventure) directed The Fifth Estate, concerning the rise of the controversial WikiLeaks website and the relationship between its founder, Julian Assange and eventual colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg.  Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl, with support from Laura Linney, this may be one of the more hot-button films of 2013.  On the animation side, DreamWorks Animation's biggest hopeful is The Croods, which hopes to be the How to Train Your Dragon of 2013.  The film about a prehistoric family will open at the end of this month.

The studio had a huge artistic breakthrough with Drive two years ago-- the film was too cool for the Academy (despite netting a richly earned sound editing nomination), but there might be a small nibble of further respect with Spike Lee's remake of the South Korean cult classic Oldboy.  The revenge fantasy film stars Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen, and if Inside Man a few years back was any indication, perhaps genre is a smart move to go for Lee.  Oscar prospects be damned, this is one of the biggest curios of 2013 for cinephiles.

The specialty division of Universal Pictures managed to get one statute this year in Best Costume Design for the divisive Anna Karenina.  On paper, there doesn't seem much on hand despite the spring release of The Place Beyond the Pines, a crime drama from director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper.  The film earned good reviews at last years Toronto Film Festival.  One thinks, however, that if Focus is going to be a major player in next years awards season, they will have to acquire something at one of the major film festivals for contention.

The Way, Way Back
The indie arm of 20th Century Fox is typically a major Oscar player, hot off the success of Beasts of the Southern Wild and its incredible four nominations this year.  They acquired two interesting choices at this years Sundance Film Festival-- The East, the anti-corporation thriller from Sound of My Voice director Zal Batmaanglij starring Brit Marling, Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard and Patrica Clarkson, and the seemingly more accessible The Way, Way Back, a sprawling ensemble comedy written and directed by Oscar-winning scribes Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants.)  If neither of those breakout, there's Danny Boyle's latest, Trance, a nervy thriller starring James McAvoy and whatever else the may pick up along the year.

IFC struck out with On the Road, but they have a festival critics darling in Frances Ha opening this summer.  The film starring Greta Gerwig and directed by Noah Baumbach earned lovely reviews at the festivals last fall, and even if the black and white film is deemed too idiosyncratic for the Academy, the Indie Spirits may go for it, and in a strange year, perhaps even a shot at a writing nomination isn't out of the question.  They also acquired the Sundance film Ain't Them Bodies Saints, which earned the Cinematography prize and had critics comparing its look to that of Terrence Malick; the film stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.  Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist seems nearly out of contention due to lukewarm reviews it earned at Venice last year, but you never know; Kate Hudson and Kiefer Sutherland star.  IFC also acquired The Canyons, Paul Schrader's latest provocation starring Lindsay Lohan and adult performer James Deen, which-- just kidding, but wouldn't that a hoot considering all the fanfare it's already earned- Razzies may be possible.

Couldn't really find much awards potentials on the current slate (I'm sure most of their attention is fully focused on The Hunger Games), but Joss Whedon's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing will come out this summer, and it received nice notices at Toronto last fall-- perhaps if it breaks out, a writing nod isn't completely out of the realm of possibility.

Magnolia usually comes out with some choice documentary features, but what's very hard to determine this early on.  On the feature side, the have Terrence Malick's latest To the Wonder, starring Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel MacAdams, and golden boy Ben Affleck, as well as the sure to be controversial Nymphomaniac, the latest from Lars von Trier that promises to include non-stimulated sex scenes.  Hmmmm.

Open Road is hoping to raise its profile after a promising 2012, which featured critically and commercially accepted films The Grey and End of Watch, alas neither were embraced by the Academy.  The upstart to continue upward momentum with jOBS, the Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, which screened at Sundance, as well as the already released Side Effects, which may boast a sympathy nod or two for allegedly being director Steven Soderbergh's final film for the screen.

The Wolf of Wall Street
After a soft 2012, where Flight was the lone Oscar bright spot, Paramount has a wealth of opportunities this year.  First and foremost is The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese's latest, a biographical thriller with Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler and Jean Dujardin.  The film looks like a prime Scorsese beast with the all the potential to tap into the mob/ugly land world in which he brings to the screen like no other.  Aside from that, there's Alexander Payne's latest character study Nebraska, a father-son road trip movie, as well as Labor Day, Jason Reitman's latest starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet, about a mother and son and their ensuing relationship with an escaped convict.  Aside from the heavies, Paramount boosts technical potential from assumed blockbusters Star Trek Into Darkness, Thor: The Dark World, and Iron Man 3.

Relativity may score with Out of the Furnace, directed by Crazy Heart's Scott Cooper-- a film about two brothers, who in a cruel twist of fate brings one of them to prison.  The film stars Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe and Zoe Saldana.

The specialty division of Lions Gate had a very strong Oscar showing with 2010's surprise Best Picture nominee Winter's Bone, and the next year managed a coup with Glenn Close's performance in Albert Nobbs.  This year they have a few offerings that might whet the Academy's test.  Firstly, Girl Most Likely, from the American Splendor directing team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini- a mother/daughter dramedy starring Kristen Wiig and Annette Bening.  Wiig plays a struggling playwright who winds up in the custody of her mother after a failed suicide attempt.  Once titled Imogene, the film was acquired at the Toronto Film Festival last year.   Roadside also bought In a World..., a Sundance hit that won writer/director/actress Lake Bell the Screenwriting Prize this past January that revolves around the competitive world of movie trailer voice over artists, as well as Sarah Polley's critically admired documentary Stories We Tell.

This past year Sony scored considerably with both Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall-- it must have been sweet when both films tied for the historic Sound Editing Oscar this past week.  Their big awards play lies in the reason behind so many of men sported beards at this years Oscar ceremony, as The Monuments Men is set to begin filming shortly.  The film concerning a crew of art historians uniting to recover renown works of art stolen by Nazis is, nothing (if it works) but uncanny awards bait.  George Clooney (fresh from the glow of his second Oscar win for producing Argo) directs, writes and stars alongside Daniel Craig, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Bill Murray.  But that's not all, they've also got Foxcatcher up their sleeve, the latest from Bennett Miller (whose two for two for Oscar purposes with Capote and Moneyball); his latest is the true story of John du Pont, a paranoid schizophrenic who killed Olympic wrestler David Schultz.  It stars Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum and Vanessa Redgrave.  Sony also has a few oddball candidates worth considering-- including Spike Jonze's latest Her, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely writer surrounded by the likes of Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Samantha Morton, Elysium, which hopes to bring District 9's Neill Blomkamp back into the Oscar fray-- a science fiction social class action drama starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, as well as Silver Linings Playbook's director David O. Russell's latest, an Untitled Abscam Project concerning a 1970s FBI sting operation with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Silver Linings co-horts Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.  If that weren't enough, Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass' newest entry revolves around the true story of the 2009 hijacking of Somali pirates of a US-flagged cargo ship; it stars Tom Hanks and Catherine Keener.  The sequel to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs hopes to do one better on its predecessor with an Oscar nomination for animated feature; while the Will Smith starrer After Earth, from, blerg, M. Night Shyamalan may score with tech nods.

The indie arm of big Sony had much to celebrate this past year with the success of Amour and is always a leading contender with the foreign film and documentary film branches; one should expect the same for 2013, but that stuff is really hard to use your crystal ball with this early in the year, but may shape up when Cannes brings forth new properties.  That being said, Sony Classics has a few items of interest-- notably Before Midnight, the third entry in the Richard Linklater-Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy Before series, which earned raves at Sundance and Berlin and hopes to better its awards chances from Before Sunset's lone adapted screenplay nomination-- the film opens in May (YAY!)  They also recently acquired the Matthew McConaughey thriller Mud, from Take Shelter's Jeff Nichols, which earned praise from Cannes last spring, Robert Redford's latest ensemble drama The Company You Keep and the family drama At Any Price starring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron.  The latest Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine hopes to be more of a Midnight in Paris than a To Rome With Love; Cath Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins and Alden Ehrenreich star, and finally, Pedro Almodovar's latest, I'm So Excited will come out this year, and while Almodovar hasn't been at the Oscar dance since 2006's Volver, he should always remain a threat-- RIGHT!

Universal sang its way to three Oscars last week with Les Miserables, but on paper doesn't appear to have too much on terms of awards bait for 2013.  The brightest spot may lie in Ron Howard's Rush, a biopic of Formula 1 racer Nika Lauda, from a script by The Queen's Peter Morgan.  Richard Curtis' time travel piece About Time stars Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel MacAdams, but the Academy is typically averse to genre no matter the case.  Other possibilities include Despicable Me 2 as an animated play and Tom Cruise's Oblivion as a tech prize play, as well as perhaps some Golden Globes love for Melissa McCarthy in the already opened hit Identity Thief.

One can never dismiss the powers of Disney when it comes to Animated Feature, and this year may prove no different.  They have the Pixar product Monsters University, a sequel to the nominated 2001 animated hit Monsters, Inc. as well as their in house Frozen as hopefully vying for the top prize.  Aside from that The Lone Ranger, from Gore Verbinski hopes to go like his Pirates of the Caribbean and carry through some technical prizes, as does Oz: The Great & Powerful, Sam Raimi's Oz prequel hope to carry through with the Oscar success of Alice in Wonderland.  The Mouse House may actually have a bona fide live action Oscar hit this year with Saving Mr. Banks, about the making of Mary Poppins starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side.)

The Great Gatsby
Warner Bros. is the current king of playground basking the Best Picture win of Argo; can they pull a Weinstein Company and go two for two.  A possibility may arrive next month with 42, a biopic of Jackie Robinson from Oscar-winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential.)  Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, which was supposed to come out last Christmas will finally arrive in May, and while there's good reason to remain skeptical of his 3-D re-imagining of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, the delay in release date may not have to do with quality-- remember his Moulin Rouge! was slated to come out in November 2000 before being pushed to summer of 2001 on its way to seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture; plus his films are always threats in visual categories.  Warner Bros. also boasts technical prize prospects in would-be blockbusters The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Pacific Rim, World War Z, and Zach Synder's reboot of Superman: Man of Steel.  The nerviest possibility on the 2013 slate for Warner Bros. must indefinitely be Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron's latest, a 3-D lost in space science fiction epic starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney-- whatever the awards potential there may lie there-- it's a must see in my book.

Enough funny business, as the grandmaster of the Oscar campaign has, as always, a lot to work with in 2013.  Known perhaps for sometimes buying more than he can chew, Harvey Weinstein still is a force to reckoned with, and his 2012 success with Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained prove just that.  His big play in 2013 may be August: Osage County, the adaptation of Tracie Letts' Pulitzer Prize winning play with the massive cast of Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis and Chris Cooper-- on paper, it's an essential part of the awards puzzle sight unseen; the question mark comes in the form of relatively untested director John Wells, a pro on television, whose lone film was the less-than 2010 drama The Company Men.  If by chance that crumbles, Harvey still has options: Lee Daniels' crazy sounding ensemble melodrama The Butler, about a White House butler that served for three decades, the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Fruitvale, which hopes to go the distance in the same way Precious, Winter's Bone and Beasts of the Southern Wild all have, and the Nicole Kidman starrer Grace of Monaco, a biopic of American film actress Grace Kelly which was recently acquired.  There's a few more longshots in the form of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom which stars Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, and the Cannes crowd-pleaser The Sapphires.  One intriguing film that's surely to be overlooked comes courtesy of Weinstein-Radius-- Only God Forgives-- Ryan Gosling's latest crime thriller from his Drive director Nicholas Winding Refn.

There's also a few notable films that might just make it's way to the Dolby Theater in one years time that don't have distribution as of yet.  Of the seemingly more likely to find a home and perhaps get a seat at next years ceremony are: Diana, Naomi Watts' take on the late Princess of Whales (this might be a viable notion from good graces earned for industry respect for her performance in The Impossible), A Most Wanted Man, Anton Corbijn's (The American) thriller starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Serena, Suzanne Bier's Depression-era drama starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, Twelve Years a Slave, Steven McQueen follow-up to Shame starring Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Quvenzhane Wallis and the James Franco-helmed City of God.

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