The race is on! Sort of. The 2015 Oscars hasn't even aired yet, so it's a tad premature to start predicting the 2016 awards. But, with January gone and the Sundance Film Festival wrapping up this past Monday, it's time to look ahead at the year in movies and pick out the flicks with the most potential.
It's tradition around here and we never shy away from accountability (check my article last year for proof - I liked Boyhood, but couldn't call any of the other nominees). But, picking the Oscars so far ahead of the actual show is all in good fun, and, I think, at the heart of what it means to be a film fan. We're always looking ahead to what's next and getting way too excited about the tantalizing prospect that something could be awesome.
Last year's article features a handful of movies that were pushed to 2015 so some of my picks are already made. One of them, Carol, which stars Oscar winner Cate Blanchett as a '50s housewife who finds romance with a younger woman, is made for awards season since it also boasts a top flight director, Todd Haynes, and is based on a novel by a famous writer: Patricia Highsmith. It doesn't matter when Carol debuts, it'll probably be well-regarded by critics. It's this kind of formula that adds up to a promising awards-season movie. So what other films have Carol's impressive pedigree this year? Let's break them down:
Predicted Winner: The Revenant
1. The Revenant reunites the Birdman team of writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to tell the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fur trapper who's left for dead after being mauled by a bear in the mid-1800s. Survival stories play well at the Oscars (Cast Away, Into the Wild, 127 Hours) and the talent in this one is undeniable; Tom Hardy also co-stars. As long as it's released this year, look for The Revenant to be a heavy Oscar player, especially if Iñárritu loses Best Picture this year with Birdman. The Academy will look to make it up to him.
The rest of the field:
2. I wasn't at Sundance, but the consensus is Brooklyn is legit and a likely Oscar contender in a few categories. The Saoirse Ronan-led film follows an Irish immigrant's move to America, a worthy subject. Sundance is a great Oscar predictor (Boyhood and Whiplash were the stand outs last year) so watch out for a Brooklyn nomination. Sundance also gave us two other films to watch out for: The End of the Tour, about a Rolling Stone interview with postmodern genius David Foster Wallace that never ran, and Me & Earl & The Dying Girl. But there will likely only be room for one indie.
3. I've constructed the rest of the Best Picture field based mainly on talent involved. Great directors, writers, and cinematographers are more reliable indicators of whether or not a film will be worthwhile than great actors are. The aforementioned Carol should be great because Todd Haynes' other work is (Far From Heaven, I'm Not There) and it looks like the female Brokeback Mountain on the surface. Blanchett plays a woman in the midst of divorce who becomes the object of a young store clerk's (Rooney Mara) affections in 1950s New York City.
4. Sometimes you can see big time success coming and it builds with time like an impending eruption. Each new movie shows a little more, a little more still, and then, BANG, Fargo happens, or Boogie Nights, or Memento. These were all breakout movies that made stars of their directors. Will Midnight Special be that movie for writer/director Jeff Nichols? Perhaps. Nichols has made three great movies so far (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud) and he seems like he's on the verge. Midnight Special stars frequent collaborator Michael Shannon as a father on the run with his son after they learn the boy has special powers.
5. Martin Scorsese's new adaptation of Shusaku Endo's novel Silence is exciting for a lot of reasons. The first is Scorsese. The second is the return of Andrew Garfield to serious filmmaking. He plays a Jesuit missionary sent to find his mentor (Liam Neeson) who's accused of apostasy. Set in 17th century Japan, a bad place for Christians, the story is powerfully violent. It'll be interesting to see how stylized Scorsese goes. Here's hoping his reverence for the source material keeps his foot off the gas pedal. We want Last Temptation Scorsese, not Gangs of New York Scorsese.
6. The Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle team of David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence, and Bradley Cooper will return late in 2015 for an Oscar run with Joy. The film is the unlikely true story of Long Island housewife Joy Mangano (Lawrence) who invented the miracle mop and holds dozens of patents today. Russell, who always wrings the America out of his films, will likely chase similar themes again. He's begun a Godard/Karina thing with Lawrence that's worked out very well so far. The Academy loves them.
7. Like Jeff Nichols, it seems like it's only a matter of time before the Oscars come calling for Derek Cianfrance, the talented filmmaker behind Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines. His newest movie, The Light Between Oceans, is based on the acclaimed 2012 novel of the same name by M.L. Stedman. It's the story of a post-World War II couple living in a lighthouse who find a baby girl washed ashore in a boat. The film promises high drama starring Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz and rising star Alicia Vikander as their grown adopted daughter.
8. Will Werner Herzog's Queen of the Desert finally be the film that gets the Academy's attention? It's criminal the ambitious German filmmaker has never been nominated for his feature work, but that may all change this year. He's finally got a movie the Oscars can't ignore. Queen of the Desert is the true story of British renaissance woman Gertrude Bell (Kidman), who helped define Arab political borders after the British invasion of Mesopotamia and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
9. Two-time Best Director nominee Gus Van Sant may be looking at a third if The Sea of Trees lives up to its weighty potential. The story takes place in Japan's "Suicide Forest" where an American (Matthew McConaughey) and a Japanese man (Ken Watanabe) meet with the same goal in mind. Their random encounter changes things for the men and leads to a struggle of another kind: survival.
10. The word is bupkus on St. James Place (a working title), the new cold war thriller from director Steven Spielberg. We know he directs and the Coen brothers had a hand in co-writing/rewriting the script so that's good enough for us. Plus, it's a true story and Tom Hanks stars as U.S. lawyer James Donovan who oversees the negotiations to release Francis Gary Powers, a pilot whose plane was shot down in the Soviet Union
Also for your consideration: The Hateful Eight, The End of the Tour, Macbeth, The Walk, The Martian, Knight of Cups, Genius, A Hologram for the King, Suite française, In the Heart of the Sea, Me & Earl & The Dying Girl, Slow West, Trumbo, Demolition, Icon, Suffragette, The Walk, The Danish Girl, Life
Now that we know the movies, let's quickly cover the directing and acting categories as well:
Derek Cianfrance - The Light Between Oceans
John Crowley - Brooklyn
Todd Haynes - Carol
Alejandro González Iñárritu - The Revenant
David O. Russell - Joy
Predicted winner: Alejandro González Iñárritu - The Revenant
Also for your consideration: Steven Spielberg - St. James Place, Jeff Nichols - Midnight Special, Werner Herzog - Queen of the Desert, Robert Zemeckis - The Walk, Martin Scorsese - Silence, Ron Howard - In the Heart of the Sea, Quentin Tarantino - The Hateful Eight, Stephen Frears - Icon, Jean-Marc Vallée - Demolition, Tom Hooper - The Danish Girl, Gus Van Sant - The Sea of Trees, Thomas McCarthy - Spotlight, Jonathan Demme - Ricki and the Flash, Anton Corbijn - Life
Bryan Cranston - Trumbo
Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant
Michael Fassbender - Macbeth
Matthew McConaughey - The Sea of Trees
Jason Segel - The End of the Tour
Predicted winner: Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant
Also for your consideration: Jake Gyllenhaal - Demolition, Ben Foster - Icon, Matt Damon - The Martian, Ewan McGregor - Last Days in the Desert, Christian Bale - Knight of Cups, Michael Keaton - Spotlight, Andrew Garfield - Silence, Channing Tatum - The Hateful Eight, Joseph Gordon-Levitt - The Walk, Robert Pattinson - Life, Colin Firth - Genius, Tom Hanks - St. James Place
Cate Blanchett - Carol
Jennifer Lawrence - Joy
Saoirse Ronan - Brooklyn
Meryl Streep - Ricki and the Flash
Lily Tomlin - Grandma
Predicted winner: Lily Tomlin - Grandma
Also for your consideration: Nicole Kidman - Queen of the Desert, Naomi Watts - Demolition, Meryl Streep - Suffragette, Blythe Danner - I’ll See You in My Dreams, Marion Cotillard - Macbeth, Julianne Moore - Freeheld, Michelle Williams - Suite française, Helen Mirren - Woman in Gold, Rachel Weisz - The Light Between Oceans
Best Supporting Actor
Michael Fassbender - The Light Between Oceans
Domhnall Gleeson - Brooklyn
Robert Redford - Truth
Kurt Russell - The Hateful Eight
Ken Watanabe - The Sea of Trees
Predicted winner: Robert Redford - Truth
Also for your consideration: Jesse Eisenberg - The End of the Tour, Liam Neeson - Silence, Adam Driver - Silence, Robert De Niro - Hands of Stone, Michael Fassbender - Slow West, Sebastian Stan - Ricki and the Flash, Guy Pearce - Genius, Bradley Cooper - Joy, Robert De Niro - Joy, Matthias Schoenaerts - Suite française, Jim Broadbent - Brooklyn
Best Supporting Actress
Kirsten Dunst - Midnight Special
Rooney Mara - Carol
Ellen Page - Freeheld
Kristin Scott Thomas - Suite française
Naomi Watts - The Sea of Trees
Predicted winner: Rooney Mara - Carol
Also for your consideration: Rachel McAdams - Spotlight, Alicia Vikander - The Light Between Oceans, Helena Bonham Carter - Suffragette, Carey Mulligan - Suffragette, Natalie Portman - Knight of Cups, Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight, Kristen Wiig - Diary of a Teenage Girl, Amy Ryan - St. James Place, Julia Garner - Grandma, Cate Blanchett - Truth, Emma Stone - Irrational Man