Of the many balls that Harvey Weinstein is juggling for Oscar attention this year, none seem to be forgotten about quite as much as Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. While it opened this past weekend in limited release, it just hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as any of his other major contenders like August: Osage County, Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels' The Butler, and Philomena. In some respects, it's a puzzling decision. After all, it's a biopic of the recently passed away Nelson Mandela (based on his autobiography), starring an exciting actor in Idris Elba, written by a well respected scribe in William Nicholson, and it's coming out in a year that's shaping up to be as diverse as any for the Oscars.
A year or so ago, the very idea of Saving Mr. Banks was one that inspired some jokes and no small amount of ridicule. "It's Disney saluting Disney" was a popular phrase, and I even once suggested it was potentially going to be the equivalent of watching Mickey Mouse masturbate. Well, now having seen John Lee Hancock's film, I can say that it doesn't deserve any ridicule, since it's a solidly good movie. That being said, it's got both the feel good quality and the tear jerker quality going in its favor, so I have no doubt that this is going to be a big favorite for the Academy. The question is, can it sneak up and win Best Picture? It's not the frontrunner, but it could very well prove to be a big spoiler when the awards are handed out.
Ever since Martin Scorsese's The Departed became the first remake to take home Best Picture in this modern era of remakes littering the cinematic landscape (and actually is the only remake to win that Oscar), folks have discussed if we could see others follow in its footsteps with some degree of regularity. We even saw Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit remake get nominated once the field expanded from five nominees to ten, so it wasn't like this was a one and done sort of thing. In 2012 we saw a new take on the musical Les Miserables from Tom Hooper, which could be considered a remake (and will in this piece). This year...
Continuing our annual tradition of posting Thanksgiving and Christmas Movie Guides every holiday season, our San Francisco contributor, Marco Cerritos, has once again put together a holiday movie guide for Thanksgiving 2013, giving a recap and rundown of what's playing and what's worth seeing (or skipping). Marco has seen everything playing, and while you may not always agree with his opinion, he provides the best reviews he can to make it a bit easier for everyone to choose. There are quite a few wonderful films now playing in theaters, so if you're still a bit unsure of what to watch or need extra tips, then look no further!
Every single year, a ton of deserving independent films struggle to compete for the limited attention of Oscar voters. These movies are often some of the best that cinema has to offer each year, but due to any number of factors (smaller distributors, less money to campaign with and other issues), only a handful are able to catch on with the Academy. This leads to lots of disappointment among film fans, but there is a silver lining to be found in the Independent Spirit Awards. Yes, this indie themed awards show sometimes works as a tonic to the repetitive and potentially stuffy winners that pop up during the precursor circuit.
As the number of Oscar contenders that are sight unseen narrows to almost zero (basically David O. Russell's American Hustle and Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street now, both of which are huge contenders in the race), many are turning their eyes towards the presumed smaller players that unveiled themselves at the recent AFI Fest. One was Scott Cooper's Out of the Furnace, which has been talked about as an under the radar awards hopeful (I'll be writing about that one soon), but the other was Peter Berg's war movie Lone Survivor. Many scoffed at this one having any real chance (particularly since it stars Mark Wahlberg and perpetual movie bad luck charm Taylor Kitsch), and Berg has yet to do much worthy of consideration, but some early reviews have this one potentially poised to make a mark.
Never being met with the same respect as the other categories at the Academy Awards, the Best Animated Feature race is always one of the most interesting ones for to analyze and cover each year. This category is about as different from the others as it gets at the Oscars, so it's always worth a little bit of a different focus. It's also one of the harder ones to predict, especially when Pixar doesn't have a runaway frontrunner (which is becoming more normal now) in their prequel Monsters University. With the impending release of Frozen, the final contender for the prize, I wanted to discuss the category to see where the race is headed.
In case you missed the recent news, Scarlett Johansson just won the Best Actress award at the 2013 Rome Film Festival for her voice only role in Spike Jonze's amazing film Her. Normally one single award means very little in the grand scheme of things (as I wrote about here), but to at least some degree Johansson and her performance is a bit of a special case this year. If she were to emerge from the Oscar race with an improbable Best Supporting Actress nod for Her, it would be a historic nod to say the least. While the odds aren't exactly in her favor, her chances of a nom have definitely been boosted. If nothing else, this gives me another excuse to talk about my favorite movie of the year so far (and maybe one for all-time).
It won't shock anyone to say that Judi Dench is considered a favorite of the Academy. A half-dozen Oscar nominations later (including a win for her Supporting turn in Shakespeare in Love), pretty much anything that Dench involves herself in is given a feeling of prestige and looked at as something in the running for awards. Hell, remember last year when Dench was rumored to be on the cusp of an Oscar nod for Skyfall? Academy members love them some Dench. At the same time though, she hasn't had a nom in over a half decade (a Best Actress citation for Notes on a Scandal), so this year, many voters are surely thrilled that Dench is back in play with Philomena, which opens on Friday. But is she a likely nominee?
After what felt like a solid month or two of back and forth (plus a few weeks of letting this news settle), we can now safely say that Martin Scorsese's latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is going to hit theaters this holiday season. Instead of a Thanksgiving timeframe for its release, the Oscar hopeful now is heading to cinemas on Christmas Day. Basically, Scorsese's flick went from a November release to nearly a 2014 release and now a Christmas debut, so what does that mean for the film? Well, despite the fact that the film will be one we're excited to see in a few weeks, it will have to distinguish itself in a bigger way than initially planned, due to the end of the year clutter that always happens. Read on!
Much like the latest version of Romeo & Juliet slunk into theaters last month with barely a mention (and was gone just as quick), this past weekend a new incarnation of Great Expectations hit screens, but you'd barely know it (the poor box office only further proves that point). Yes, despite some solid reviews, a highly regarded filmmaker at the helm in Mike Newell, and Oscar nominees like Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes in the cast, virtually no one is aware the movie is coming, which in turn, cripples its awards chances. Why is it getting the same fate as other Oscar non-starters we've discussed like The Counselor and Diana, instead of being in the mix for awards season? There's a reasonable explanation. More below!
There are a lot of ways to go about appealing to the Academy when trying to score Oscar nominations. One way to is blanket Oscar voters with all aspects of the movie, hoping that they vote up and down the line for it. Another way is to just zero in on one small feature of it, be it a performance, the writing, or a technical category. For most independent awards contenders though, they use what I like to call a "targeted Oscar campaign". It's a mix of those two aforementioned methods, basically amounting to shooting for the big categories you think you can score a nod in and all but ignoring the long shot nominations. For a while now, that's been how Alexander Payne films have gone about campaigning, Nebraska is the latest example. The flick begins its theatrical run this coming weekend, but the Oscar voters are already getting charmed.
As I mentioned when talking about the now delayed film The Monuments Men, one surefire way to get Academy members to notice your film is to center it around World War II. Oscar voters have a penchant to pay more attention when the antagonist of your movie happens to be Nazis. Even when you're not considered to be an absolutely amazing film (cough, The Reader, cough), being a World War II flick is a real trump card. Opening this weekend in limited release is the latest movie of this ilk, The Book Thief, and my response is a resounding shrug of the shoulders. The movie is fair, but nothing special and not too deserving of Oscar attention. Still, it's got Nazis, so a bit of attention must be paid, at least in some way.
A little bit of a silly misnomer about me (but a somewhat understandable one considering my line of work) and many of the other folks who write about the awards circuit is that we only care about Oscar contenders and don't look at movies on their own terms. Yes, I make my living mainly writing about the awards season and how certain films will make a play for the Academy Awards but I'm also just a lover of cinema in general. I'm a sucker for a solid Judd Apatow laugh riot or even a good romantic comedy, maybe moreso than top notch promising Oscar players like 12 Years a Slave or the awards-baiting biopics like Lincoln.