20th CENTURY FOX
|Under the Skin|
|The Better Angels|
In 2013, CBS Films released its most critically accepted film in its brief tenure with the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis. The film didn't, in the end, have the goods to go very far with Oscar earning just two technical nods. That oversight is just something the Academy is going to have to live with. So far it seems like CBS doesn't really have anything quite as golden on their roster for 2014 unless comedies Get a Job (which stars Bryan Cranston, Anna Kendrick and Miles Teller) and What If (a romance with Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan) turn out to be truly special.
Here more for fun as oddball speculating than serious prognosticating, but wouldn't be kind of kick if the Academy went for Sundance prize-winning documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, writer and musician Nick Cave's arty study of art and himself. It earned raves at Sundance and the documentary roster was pretty amazing this past year (save for the eventual winner.)
Focus had an amazing run in 2013 with Dallas Buyers Club over-performing (x 10), but the mini-major is definitely in transition as former head James Schamus (who tailored the distributor into one of the classiest and most Oscar friendly outlets in town with films like Milk, Brokeback Mountain and Atonement) last year and the future seems a bit uncertain. Still there's a few things of note-- Kill the Messenger, a crime drama starring Jeremy Renner (who gave the loosest, freshest performance of his career in last years' American Hustle) and directed by Michael Cuesta (L.I.E.) may be awards bait, as may the submarine-set thriller Black Sea from director Kevin MacDonald (he previously directed Forest Whitaker to an Oscar with The Last King of Scotland) starring Jude Law (who appears ready for a major comeback of sorts.) Focus also has the stop motion film The Boxtrolls from Laika (ParaNorman, Coraline) which has the pedigree to get into the Animated Feature category. And while Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here (picked up at Sundance) and Jason Bateman's just opened Bad Words likely have little awards chance, there's room for some valuable buys at upcoming film festivals if Focus is still interested in being an Oscar powerhouse.
The current Best Picture champ, as their 12 Years a Slave survived a fingertips 2013 awards season and ended up on top. How do you compete with that? Fox Searchlight doesn't appear to rest on its laurels as its 2014 slate is, sight unseen, one of the more impressive. Well, not all sight unseen, as the currently in theaters The Grand Budapest Hotel is breaking limited engagement box office records and garnering some of the best reviews of director Wes Anderson's career. We're a long way off until the 2014 Oscars, but one day Anderson is certainly going to have to be appreciated outside the Original Screenplay ghetto. If not, Fox Searchlight has other options-- Alejandro González Iñárritu's comedy Birdman, with Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts, Thomas Vinterberg's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd with Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts, Richard Shephard's Dom Hemingway with Jude Law and Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild with Reese Witherspoon. They also have Amma Asante's Belle (a pick-up from Toronto) and Sundance pick-ups I Origins and Calvary, plus whatever else they find along the way.
IFC Films released one of the absolute best films of 2013. It didn't really have a snowballs chance of hell of going anywhere with the Academy, but that's just something the membership is going to have to reconcile with their respective souls. That aside, IFC picked up a lot of films that premiered at this years Sundance Film Festival-- Camp X-Ray with Kristen Stewart, Cold in July with Dexter's Michael C. Hall and God's Pocket, which was directed by Mad Men's John Slattery and features the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and while none of them inherently seem like Oscar plays, one never knows. They also picked up Roman Polanski's Venus in Fur, which premiered at Cannes last year and recently won the filmmaker the Directors prize at the César Awards. One film that may evoke strong critical reaction (on either side is still up in the air) is Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria, a drama that pits a middle-aged grand dame against a young ingenue-- Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz star. We'll likely know the films reception at Cannes this year. And then there's Boyhood, Richard Linklater's 12-years in the making journey of a young boy and family growing up in real time. The film earned joyous raves at Sundance and Linklater picked up the Director's prize at Berlin-- this could be huge, were it not for the uncertainty of the films distribution. I believe it's being released by IFC, but am not one hundred percent sure, anyone know? I need answers, plus an invite to a screening...thanks.
Most of the awards options for Lionsgate will likely be under their Roadside Attractions banner which will be profiled further down, but still there's some things that may register in some capacity and Lionsgate has proven themselves to make the most of potential (see past films Precious and Crash-- actually don't see the last one, just forget about it.) The biggest awards best may be the thriller Child 44 set in Stalin-era Soviet Union. The film stars Tom Hardy, Joel Kinnaman, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman. Other options may include The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, a comedy-drama with Peter Dinklage, Mila Kunis and past Oscar-winners Robin Williams and Melissa Leo, Mortdecai, a crime drama from David Keopp with Johnny Depp and Ewan McGregor and Cesar Chavez, Diego Luna's biography of the civil rights activist featuring Michael Peña-- that film recently received a rousing reaction at the SXSW Film Festival. One film surely not to register with the Academy, but should be interesting to watch nonetheless is the Sundance pick-up The Voices, a dark comedy about a disturbed factory worker (Ryan Reynolds) driven to murder by his talking pets; Persepolis creator and Oscar nominee Marjane Satrapi directed the film, so it has a certain pedigree.
Magnolia is usually a threat in the Documentary and Foreign Film categories, but those are impossible to even try to pin down at this obscenely early juncture. Still, they've proven themselves in recent year to stake out an eclectic mix of indies throughout the years and one of them is sure to catch on the Academy at some point. This year is no exception with titles are varied as Richard Ayoade's The Double (a pick-up at Toronto last fall) starring Jesse Eisenberg, Joe Swanberg's Happy Christmas, Lenny Abrahamson's Frank (the infamous Michael Fassbender oddity wear we adorns an over-sized head), the naughty import Filth with James McAvoy adapted from an Irving Welsh (Trainspotting) novel, Lukas Mooyssson's We Are the Best! (a festival favorite from critics) and the granddaddy of provocations-- Lars von Trier's two volume Nymphomaniac. They deserve an Oscar for bravery. Yet the most Oscar-y film on their 2014 slate may just be the least envelope push of them all: Life Itself, a biographical documentary on life of late Roger Ebert, directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams.)
Paramount deserves some praise for navigating the Wolf of Wall Street controversy with such grace and aplomb. The film didn't win any Oscars, and neither did their other pony in 2013 race, Nebraska, but the studio deserves a Miss Congeniality consolation at the very least. The big pony for 2014 is Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, which hopes to go the way of Inception and be Oscar-admired across the board-- perhaps even minting the director his first Directing nomination. A maybe card might be Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children with Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner and Emma Thompson. Reitman's fallen out of favor with the Academy with his last two movies (Young Adult, Labor Day), can this one get him back in it? We'll find out at the end of the month if Darren Aronofsky's Noah should be FYC'd-- the early reviews are kind of confusing to sparse through; if nothing else it could be in the hunt for tech prizes as all of Aronofsky's films are delirious eye candy. Finally, SpongeBack Squarepants 2 looks for footing in the Animated Feature category (which will be difficult likely) and Transformers: Age of Extinction looks to make it into the tech categories.
FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES
MUSIC BOX FILMS
Music Box sometimes scores in the Foreign Film and Documentary categories, but they do find interesting festival favorites now and then. The just released Le Week-End, a comedy starring Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan as a senior couple on a second honeymoon seems like the kind of film that perhaps a Weinstein Company or Sony Classics could get into the awards race. The same perhaps for Ida, Pawel Pawlikowski's critically acclaimed festival favorite.
OPEN ROAD FILMS
Another small distributor who likely won't factor in, but this early in the game, who cares about reality. And Open Road has Chef, Jon Favreau's comedy about a man, recently canned from a restaurant, who opens up a food truck. The film premiered to nice, crowd-pleasing fodder at SXSW and features famous faces Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Vergara and Dustin Hoffman. If it breakthrough, it could be a Golden Globe play.
The specialty arm of The Weinstein Company won big with doc 20 Feet From Stardom in 2013, so watch out for interesting buys at festivals to come. They already have two interesting titles so far for 2014. The One I Love, a love story cum mystery that rocked Sundance stars Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss may not be typical awards bait, but it may be a cult favorite in the making. Speaking of cult fave, Joon-ho Bing's Snowpiercer already seems to have a rabid following and layers controversy surrounding it as reported battles with Harvey Weinstein and the filmmaker has juiced the ire of many online cinephiles. The sci/fi flick doesn't inherently come across as an awards favorite, but it does have an interesting ensemble, including past Oscar winners Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer.
Relativity struck out with Out of the Furnace, their awards hopeful last year, but if the troubled production of Natalie Portman's western Jane Got a Gun actually turns out to be incredible, it may be in the conversation. The thing is, the troubled production was really troubled (and widely reported), so the end result probably has to be brilliant for consideration. Gavin O'Connor (Warrior) directs and Portman stars alongside Ewan McGregor, Rodrigo Santoro, Joel Edgerton and Noah Emmerich in her first major role since winning the Oscar for 2010's Black Swan.
Roadside stumbled with 2013's All is Lost (and then was unfairly chided by star Robert Redford for not putting enough marketing muscle behind it), but they have successfully scored top nods for hard-to-sell movies like Winter's Bone, Albert Nobbs and Buitiful. This year, their slate includes Blood Ties, Guillaume Canet's thriller starring Clive Owen and Marion Cotillard, Joe, David Gordon Green's drama with Nicolas Cage and Mud's Tye Sheridan and Sundance pick-up The Skeleton Twins, a drama with Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig that won the Screenwriting trophy at the Park City festival. The big pony may be A Most Wanted Man, Anton Corbijn's adaptation of John Le Carré's novel featuring Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The specialty arm of Big Sony, meanwhile, has a slew of potential awards getters as per usual. The mini-major is likely still reeling from Cate Blanchett's steamroller this past season-- "THE WORLD IS ROUND, PEOPLE!" is already legendary. Moving forward Sony Classics has Mike Leigh's latest Mr. Turner, a biopic of British artist J.M.W. Turner with Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville. When Leigh is great (Secrets and Lies, Vera Drake, Topsy-Turvy), he gets nominations. Then there's Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller's drama delayed from 2013 that hopes to get into the conversation in the same way his previous films (Capote, Moneyball) did. While Cannes 2013 entry Only Lovers Left Alive is probably too cool for Oscar, and Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight may be too frothy, Sony Classics has plenty of Sundance pick-ups that might jell including Grand Prize winner Whiplash, the Mark Ruffalo starrer Infinitely Polar Bear, the comedy Land Ho!, and the generously received drama Love Is Strange starring Alfred Molina and John Lithgow as married couple. Sony Classics is always a threat in the Foreign Film category, so look for some major pick-ups if anything breaks out at Cannes.
Disney finally won its first Animated Feature Oscar for an in-house production (one not affiliated with Pixar) with Frozen, but stumbled with Saving Mr. Banks in 2013 marking a bittersweet season for the Mouse House. With no Pixar title in the race this year, the in-house animated feature Big Hero 6 is their big animated bid for 2014, but that elusive first-ever Best Picture win for the company is still in focus. This year, two live action prospects may go there: The Hundred-Foot Journey stars Helen Mirren and is being directed by one-time awards batter Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat) and Into the Woods is Rob Marshall's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's brilliant musical starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick. Less baity is Whale Rider director Nikki Caro's McFarland, a sports drama with Kevin Costner and Maria Bello. Other options lie in tech categories for tentpoles Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and Maleficent. Also Muppets Most Wanted must have an Original Song to qualify, right?
Warner is coming off a banner 2013-- with 10 Oscars in toe-- 7 for Gravity, 2 for The Great Gatsby and 1 phenomenal win for Her, where do you go from there? They've got lots of potential it would appear. First off, there's Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, which must be seen a viable threat up until the very end off of name recognition alone, but that December release worries me a tad. The Reese Witherspoon-Corey Stoll drama A Good Lie may make the cut, as may The Judge starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Vera Farmiga. They also have the Ryan Gosling directorial debut How to Catch a Monster, Jeff Nichols' Mud follow-up Midnight Special starring Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver and Clint Eastwood's take on the hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys, which sounds kind of like a horrid concept on paper, but may strike a nostalgic chord if done well. There's the curiosity piece like This Is Where I Leave You, which features a large cast (Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, Connie Britton, Corey Stoll and Jane Fonda), but was directed by Shawn Levy (Real Steel, Night at the Museum), toss up there, but it might be a Golden Globes musical or comedy play. The Washowskis follow-up the love it/hate it Cloud Atlas with another sci/fi mind bender with Jupiter Ascending, which no one will likely ever know what to make of sight unseen, but it might breakthrough in the tech categories, as might Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, Transcendence, and Visual Effects mainstay The Hobbit: There and Back Again, a fitting title for the never-ending saga, I'd say.
Take a deep breath, this is gonna be a long one as Weinstein and Oscar go together like peas in a pod. Even with a comparatively weak 2013 slate, the company pushed Philomena into the Best Picture with relative ease. As always, there's a lot of potential options on the horizon, which Weinstein will throw out into the air and see what sticks. Grace of Monaco, Nicole Kidman's Grace Kelly bio was pushed from 2013, but still might strike Oscar fancy a la My Week with Marilyn; we'll find out after the film premieres at Cannes (where it's the opening night film.) The Imitation Game, a bio of gay computer wizard Alan Turing recently sold to Weinstein, which may be a big play-- the period drama stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. Suite française is another baity period film from director Saul Dibb (The Duchess) that stars Michelle Williams, Kristen Scott Thomas and Matthias Schoenaerts. Big Eyes hopes to be a critical comeback for Tim Burton and nab star Amy Adams her Oscar along the way. Other contender include Can a Song Save Your Life?, a dramedy from Once director John Carney that charmed Toronto last fall, the Colin Firth-Nicole Kidman period drama The Railway Man, the comedy St. Vincent De Van Nuys starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, the Mia Wasikowska starrer Tracks, and two possibilities that just started production: Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard and Todd Haynes' Carol starring Cate Blanchett, but both might be 2015 releases. Weinstein also has The Giver, which probably isn't an Oscar play, despite Meryl Streep's participation and Paddington, an Animated Feature hopeful. And, well, whatever they see along the way.
Sony had a bittersweet 2013-- American Hustle and Captain Phillips both received multiple nominations but neither came away with a win. Such is the fate for Sony, which has had lots of awards plays throughout the year but hasn't come away triumphant since the pre-Sony days of The Last Emperor back in the 1980s. This year looks softer by comparison with the big bets maybe being the WWII drama Fury with Brad Pitt and the Untitled Cameron Crowe Project with Emma Stone and Bradley Cooper. After that teaser that just premiered, not sure of what to expect from Will Gluck's Annie, but I doubt Oscar will care regardless, then there's The Interview, a dark comedy with James Franco and Seth Rogen about a talk show host asked to assassinate Kim Jong-Un, which, no. Finally, The Amazing Spider-man 2 hopes to score the tech nods the first film didn't.
SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
|Love is Strange|
Sundance Selects had one of the buzziest titles in 2013 in Palme D'Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color, but Oscar wasn't likely to touch that even though its home country (France) can choose the controversial sapphic romance as their 2014 Foreign Film submission if they choose. This year, Sundance has two titles that might go the distance, or at least be on the periphery. Firstly, Two Days, One Night is the latest from the Dardenne Brothers (The Kid with a Bike, The Child), who typically win awards at Cannes but could breakthrough because their latest stars the beautiful and Oscar-winning Marion Cotillard. Another option may come in the Documentary category where Finding Vivian Maier may factor in.
Universal kind of sat out 2013 after winning three statues for 2012's Les Misérables. 2014 may offer a few options-- Liam Neeson's crime drama A Walk Among the Tombstones directed by Scott Frank, the science fiction film Ex Machina starring Oscar Isaac from director Alex Garland and Stephen Daldry's Trash with Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen. The sight unseen big sweep predication is Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie. The drama tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during WWII. Newcomer Jack O'Donnell stars and forever Oscar bridesmaid Roger Deakens is the director of photography, so at least it will look beautiful.
WALT DISNEY PICTURES
|Into the Woods|
THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY
|The Imitation Game|
STILL NEEDS A DISTRIBUTOR
Finally, there's always an endless collection of films that are awaiting a brave distributor to pick them up. Sometimes, the homeless titles can go a great distance-- 12 Years a Slave, 2013's Oscar champion, for instance was still awaiting a home last year at this time. Here's a sample of some of the titles to be on the lookout for that are still homeless at this time. 99 Homes, a drama starring Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon comes from Goodbye, Solo director Ramin Bahrani. The Cobbler is a new film starring Adam Sandler (not very Oscar bait) from director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent and the Oscar-nominated The Visitor); Dustin Hoffman and Steve Buscemi co-star. Dark Places is a mystery starring Charlize Theron from the director of Sarah's Key. Every Thing Will Be Fine is the latest film from Wim Wenders (Pina) starring James Franco and Rachel McAdams. The Homesman is a family drama directed by Tommy Lee Jones featuring an all-star cast headlined Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep. Terrence Malick has not one, but two films underway- Knight of Cups and the Untitled Terrence Malick Project, but will see them when he's good and ready to show them, so all bets are always off until then. Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan team for the musical The Last 5 Years. Love and Mercy is a biopic of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, with a screenplay from Oren Moverman (I'm Not There, The Messenger); the film stars Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, John Cusack and Paul Giamatti, who co-stars in a new version of Madame Bovary alongside Mia Wasikowska. Past Oscar winners Al Pacino and Holly Hunter star in David Gordon Green's Manglehorn. David Croenberg returns with Maps to the Stars with Robert Pattinson and Julianne Moore (who is still Oscar-less, just saying.) Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the drama Nightcrawler, while previous Oscar emcee Jon Stewart makes his directing debut with Rosewater. The Artist director (and Oscar winner) Michel Hazanavicius returns with The Search, a remake of the 1948 Montgomery Clift movie starring Berenice Bejo and Annette Bening (who is also still Oscar-less), look for this to unfurl at Cannes. The long awaited Serena with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper is still looking for a home two years after being shot; maybe it will turn up. Slow West is a western starring Michael Fassbender while Song One is a drama starring Anne Hathaway that premiered at Sundance. Squirrels to the Nuts is a manic comedy from veteran director Peter Bogdanovich starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson and Theory of Everything stars Les Misérables' Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. The Two Faces of January stars Viggo Mortenssen and Kirsten Dunst in an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel, while War Book is a drama starring past nominee Sophie Okenedo (Hotel Rwanda.) There's Welcome to Me, a dark comedy starring Kirsten Wigg and finally two offerings from Frances Ha's Noah Baumbach-- While We're Young, an all-star dramedy starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts and Jennifer Jason Leigh (which looks like it'll be 2015 release) and his Untitled Public School Project reuniting him with muse and all-around dream Greta Gerwig. Look for these films to invade a film festival near you.
What do you think? Am I missing anything what deserves to be included? Anyone even make it this far?