MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

30 Weeks To Oscar: Setting The Field

The only movie we’ve seen that has a legitimate shot at a Best Picture nomination is Carol. But it’s a legitimate shot, not a sure bet. Excellent film, but intimate and subtle and could easily end up in the Actress/Supporting Actress/Screenplay group without Director or Picture forthcoming (though a mortal lock – barring some odd disqualification – for the Spirit Awards).

Yes, Inside Out is a possibility… but an extremely remote possibility. The Animation category is a huge hurdle. Screenplay is more possible, if not pretty likely.

Those two titles out of the way, the entire Oscar season is ahead of us. Doc and Foreign and Animation, oh my. A few acting nominees could wander in from pre-July (Mara, Dano, Blanchett being most likely). But the big show is all to come.

As is often the case, the pedigree in guessing at what may be happening starts with film directors. And we have a boatload of films from directors whose films have been nominated and/or won Best Picture. (I am sad to say that Todd Haynes, who directed Carol, has never had a film nominated or been nominated as Best Director. That could change this year… but after being expected to get Best Picture and Directing nods for Far From Heaven, there is a question mark.)

I count 13 films from previous nominees for Director and Picture. More than two-thirds (9) have won both in the same year. Those are:

Spielberg, Scorsese, Zemeckis, Howard, Iñárritu, Stone, Boyle, Hooper, and the Coens for Schindler’s List, The Departed, Forrest Gump, A Beautiful Mind, Birdman, Platoon, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and No Country For Old Men.

These credentials are hard to overlook. Of course, there are all kinds of reasons why these films might not turn out to resonate in the way they are expected.

Three of the films from this group are biopics of relatively familiar figures (Steve Jobs, Philippe Petit, Edward Snowden) who have had other high-profile films about them and are back with some new twist.

The other six films are all distinctly period pieces (WWII spies, missionaries in the 1600s, 1820s whalers, 1820s American pioneers, 1920s gender reassignment, and 1950s Hollywood).

It would be easy to fill a lot of categories from these eight films alone. And indeed, there will be a lot of nominations for these films. But some will clearly drop to the wayside with another 20 or so other titles chasing hard as well. But let’s start with this group…


Bridge of Spies – Steven Spielberg – released by Disney – Hanks is back. One of the stage’s great stars, Mark Rylance, may be a movie breakout (finally). And award-familiar support from Amy Ryan and Alan Alda . The first U-2 story with Francis Gary Powers. If you don’t know it, you may have needed a better Social Studies teacher in Junior High.

Silence – Martin Scorsese – released by Paramount – Two priests walk into Japan in the 1600s… Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson ensemble. Production wrapped a few weeks ago. Expect a December berth and a November premiere.

The Walk – Robert Zemeckis – released by Tom Rothman’s TriStar (which is where all Sony’s potential awards movies are this year… and probably moving forward) – The story of World Trade Center tightrope walker Philippe Petit … in 3D… played by the very busy Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Opening the NY Film Festival.

In the Heart of the Sea – Ron Howard – released by WB – Independently financed before the WB pick-up, this is the tale of whalers who are said to have inspired the novel “Moby Dick.” Chris Hemsworth’s second lead role for Ron Howard, along with ensemble Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson. Shot by the great Anthony Dod Mantle, who won his Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire.

The Revenant – Alejandro G. Iñárritu – released by Fox (produced by the source of the last two Best Picture winners, New Regency) – Four-time acting nominee Leo DiCaprio is back looking for gold with this rough tale of Western revenge. Tom Hardy is out there suffering too. Will this be too tough for Oscar voters? No way to know but to see the film.

Snowden – Oliver Stone – released by Open Road – The second Joseph Gordon-Levitt awards film of the season. Great Supporting Cast (Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, Timothy Olyphant), but the movie is going to have to be super special to overcome WB’s deep pockets and the Oscar already give to last year’s Snowden doc.

Steve Jobs – Danny Boyle – released by Universal – Aaron Sorkin is as important, awards-wise, as Boyle in this case… plus Rudin with the whip in hand. I’m looking for an awards title that Scott Rudin has had at Universal and I am coming up blank. Lots of Sony, Paramount, and Disney (where his then-rare non-U Ron Howard film was released). Will be interesting. Sensational cast. Fassbender, Winslet, Waterston, Rogen, Daniels, Stuhlbarg, Ortiz. But has this legend, dead just three years, already worn out the interest in discussing him?

The Danish Girl – Tom Hooper – release by Focus – Defending Best Actor nominee Eddie Redmayne gets a movie sex change. Super-hot Alicia Vikander in support in a story somewhere close to her native land. Does The Caitlyn Jenner Saga make this a lock or an outside shot (aside from acting nods)?

Hail Caesar! – Coen Bros – distributed by Universal – The Coen Bros have never had a film open in February. When they started out, there were a lot of March openings, Three in a row with Hudsucker, Fargo, and Lebowski. Since then, the only non-fall/holiday opening was The Ladykillers, which was seen as a flop 11 years ago. Six in a row including their Best Picture winner, No Country For Old Men. Will their 1950s Hollywood comedy actually break that streak? Universal has 7 movies scheduled in Oct-Dec right now. December has 2 comedies (one is a Poehler/Fey, the other a horror comedy that is tied to Christmas). Thing is, this feels like it belongs in award season. It seems meant for movie people. So…


That’s just (again) the prior winning directors group. There are also five Oscar regulars who have slightly (some really slightly) different Oscar cred (alphabetically by director):

The Program – Stephen Frears (2-time nominee, 3-time director of BP nominees) – no U.S. distributor yet – This bio-drama based around the Irish journalist who wouldn’t leave the Lance Armstrong doping story alone has been said to have some legal battles going on that are holding up domestic distribution opportunities. The international trailer is up, but no U.S. dates set yet. TIFF could well be the launch. Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong, Chris O’Dowd as the journalist, and Lee Pace as the manager with a small turn by Dustin Hoffman.

Joy – David O. Russell – released by Fox – Jennifer Lawrence gets a true lead in a D.O.R. (aka The Oscar machine) film as the real-life inventor of items like the Miracle Mop who has made a fortune on QVC and HSN. Co-starring Russell regs Cooper & DeNiro. Also of note, the project started with Annie Mumolo, screenplay nominee for Bridesmaids.

The Martian – Ridley Scott – released by Fox – Matt Damon fronts this October opener from the legendary director which seems like a combination of Gravity and Interstellar from a distance. Lots of great talent in support from Jessica Chastain to Chiwetel Ejiofor to Michael Pena to Kristen Wiig (of A Deadly Adoption). The first trailer left some shaking their heads, trying to get a handle on the film. Maybe more commercial… maybe not.

The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino – released by The Weinstein Company – As always a great cast and a controversial screenplay. Betting against QT has become a very dangerous game. There is a large enough younger group in The Academy that reveres the man’s work, no matter how outrageous.

Demolition – Jean-Marc Vallee – released by Fox Searchlight – Since his breakout Québécois film, C.R.A.Z.Y, Vallee has made three U.S. releases, garnering 11 Oscar nominations including 4 wins. But he has only gotten one of those nods… for editing. Is this passion project a breakout for his awards aspirations and those of Jake Gyllenhaal (not to mention co-stars Naomi Watts & Chris Cooper)? The demotion of the title is emotional, so don’t worry about it being an action movie.


So our big list is already at 14. Let’s take it to 25 with titles with serious awards potential from major Oscar-playing distributors (in alphabetical order)…

Carol – Todd Haynes – distributed by The Weinstein Company – A very intimate piece about a closeted woman in the 50s and the younger woman who falls in love with her. Excellent performances that might get nominated. But an uphill fight for Best Picture, even as gay rights in America are having a great national moment.

Everest – Baltasar Kormákur – distributed by Universal – Serious material, though potentially a little action-y. Great cast (Gyllenhaal, Brolin, Clarke, Hawkes, Worthington, Knightley, Wright) with a lot of “due” names. Strong director.

Inside Out – Pete Docter – distributed by Disney – Great movie, but there is a categrory for great animated movies. Could happen. But it’s a long shot.

Black Mass – Scott Cooper – distributed by Warner Bros – Cooper hit the awards season big time with his first film, missed with his second and now has a resurrection-seeking Johnny Depp playing a role already done by Nicholson (not nominated). Bald shave. Heavy accent. Bad, bad man. Public Enemies didn’t happen for Depp, maybe this is the one. Strong/interesting supporting group with Cumberbatch, Edgerton, Sienna Miller and Dakota Johnson.

By The Sea – Angelina Jolie – distributed by Universal – Angie’s back. This time, she has veterans Brad Pitt, Niels Arestrup, and Mélanie Laurent with her. Sounds like it has a lot less action and a lot more acting… which could turn the trick for Ms. Jolie.

Concussion – Peter Landesman – distributed by Columbia – An NFL drama about the title issue with Will Smith as the doctor who made the breakthrough with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Lots of room for weighty drama with actors playing real life football players suffering in their post-football lives and others playing doctors (including Albert Brooks as forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht). Landesman’s films, as a writer and/or director have not broken through in award season yet. But he has a lot of high-profile ammo in this one.

Our Brand Is Crisis – David Gordon Green – distributed by Warner Bros – A comedy (with pathos) about political campaigns, based on the documentary, with Sandra Bullock leading a strong supporting cast. The movie will be ready for the festival circuit, even if they choose to hold it for next year’s very political year.

Suffragette – Sarah Gavron – distributed by Focus Features – What you see in the title is what you get. This is a star vehicle for Carey Mulligan with Meryl Streep in a small supporting role. The director’s first feature, Brick Lane (also written by Abi Morgan), was well liked at festivals, but never got traction for Sony Classics in 2007.

Money Monster – Jodie Foster – distributed by TriStar – George Clooney plays the Jim Cramer of a fictional financial network who is taken hostage on air by Jack O’Connell (plus Julia Roberts and the co-star of Outlander, Caitriona Balfe). Compared to Network and Dog Day Afternoon, it has a lot to match up to… but if it even comes close, serious Oscar contender.
(Editor’s Note: Sony says that this film will definitely be 2016.)

Youth – Paolo Sorrentino – distributed by Fox Searchlight – Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel seem like acting shoo-ins, with great support from Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano. This Cannes premiere is a long-shot for Best Picture, but is about artists getting old, so there may be a window for enough voters to fall in love with its quirky charms.

I Saw The Light – Marc Abraham – distributed by Sony Classics – The Hank Williams story. When producers become directors, it scares me. And I can’t say that I was a fan of Mr. Abrahams’ first film, Flash of Genius. But this is one of those concentrated stories. Hank Williams and his wife were together for a short period (having Hank Williams, Jr.) and he didn’t last much longer after that. Tom Hiddleston is one of those actors capable of amazing when you don’t see it coming and Elizabeth Olsen is one of the next great stars.


Next up, the Indies fighting the uphill battle, with enough elements to end up in the race, but without the big momentum already in place. These will take us to 36 candidates.

A Bigger Splash – Luca Guadagnino – distributed by Fox Searchlight. The return of the director of loved/hated I Am Love. The Tilda returns and this time, she has a bit more familiar muscle around her in Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson (who will end this award season continuing to ascend or reduced to one-trick-pony status). Tilda plays a rocker, Schoenaerts is the boyfriend, and former boyfriend Fiennes and his movie daughter Johnson are the game changers. October release dates are set elsewhere, suggesting that it will find a place on Searchlight’s schedule before year’s end. I am betting that they are waiting on an answer from NYFF before deciding.

Brooklyn – John Crowley – distributed by Fox Searchlight – A homerun title out of Sundance, Saoirse Ronan comes of age as a woman torn between two lovers in two countries. Nick Hornby screenplay. Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters in support.

45 Years – Andrew Haigh – distributed by Sundance Selects – High concept for Haigh, a couple having their 45th wedding anniversary are surprised to hear that the body of his first love has been found. I didn’t see the film at Sundance, but I assume that the first love was a man. Great cast (Rampling & Courtenay), but sounds much more Indie Spirit than Oscar.

Legend – Brian Helgeland – distributed by Universal – This seems like one that would have been at Focus in the old days. Tom Hardy as both of The Krays. We’ve seen this story before…a few times. But Helgeland is a terrific writer and Tom Hardy should be fun to watch. Still, really will have to pop to get deep into the awards conversation.

Love and Mercy – Bill Pohlad – distributed by Roadside Attractions – A strong movie about Brian Wilson that will have to fight pretty hard not to be left out in the cold. Best chances are Paul Dano in Supporting and Screenplay (Oren Moverman). The film is in release and doing solid indie business… but eight months is a long time to race without very deep pockets.

Mississippi Grind – Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck – distributed by A24 – A gambling road trip movie picked up out of Sundance with the great Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds with Sienna Miller and Analeigh Tipton in support. Slotted in September and will have to pop commercially to get a hard awards push.

Sicario – Denis Villeneuve – distributed by Lionsgate/Summit – Villeneuve got a lot of heat out of Prisoners but the award wheel didn’t go his way. This one, which premiered at Cannes, is a compelling Mexican Drug Task Force film with outstanding supporting work by Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin and a lead performance by Emily Blunt that knocked a lot of people out. But again, a very tough movie that may or may not be Academy friendly.

Southpaw – Antoine Fuqua – distributed by The Weinstein Co. – Jake Gyllenhaal transforms himself into raw muscle and grit. Concern has built behind some soft reviews of the film and some tip-toeing around by TWC in terms of showing the film. But maybe.

Spotlight – Thomas McCarthy – distributed by Open Road – The former full-time actor’s fifth feature, he didn’t really have a miss (in terms of quality) until The Cobbler. But word is that he is back in top form here, telling the true tale of church child molestation in New England as exposed by the Boston Globe. The film has an indie superstar cast a dozen deep, led by Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams.

Triple Nine – John Hillcoat – distributed by Open Road – A deep, dark drama about cops and criminals and what both are willing to do in order to get what they want. The cast (including Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck) is remarkable. But it will need to be above and beyond to find a place in the awards season.

Trumbo – Jay Roach – distributed by Bleecker Street – Legendary screenwriter. The Blacklist (the evil one in the 40s). Great material. Brian Cranston in the lead. Strong supporting cast playing known Hollywood people in a movie about Hollywood. One wonders about a first-time feature film from a TV writer, but as so many like to say, TV is as good if not better than movies these days, so…

And finally… Seven extreme longshots, which takes this early candidates list to 43…

Criminal – Ariel Vromen – distributed by Summit/Lionsgate – Sounds like a great thriller… that isn’t awards material. Couldn’t ask for a better cast of guys (Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman).

Everybody Wants Some – Richard Linklater – distributed by Paramount – Old School Linklater of the Dazed & Confused era, starring a lot of unknown young people (just as his D&C cast was unknown back then). Sounds like fun… but not awards.

The Last Face – Sean Penn – no U.S. distributor – great cast (Charlize Theron, Javier Bardem, Adèle Exarchopoulos) , but given the box office failure of The Gunman and questions about whether Ms. Theron will support the film in the press after a change in relationship status, we may see this one go straight to something other than a theatrical release after it is screened at TIFF (and they will hope, Telluride… and then hope for NYFF).

Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller – distributed Warner Bros – Certainly the best reviewed action film in years (whatever the RT count… I mean, actual reviews), I think Miller has a legit shot at a Best Director nod. But Best Picture, given the soft box office and the age of The Academy, will require a lot of other films to fall by the wayside… no matter how much this one deserves it.

Midnight Special – Jeff Nichols – distributed by Warner Bros – The movie sounds great. Nichols describes it as “a 1980s John Carpenter film like Starman.” But only Jeff Bridges got a nomination for that one. Mike Shannon in the lead, on the run with his unjsually gifted son and Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton… being hunted by Sam Shepard and Adam Driver. I’m in… but it doesn’t sound like an awards film, except perhaps for performances.

Regression – Alejandro Amenábar – distributed by The Weinstein Company – Wonderful director, but sounds like a cool thriller. Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson assure continued popularity.

Ricki and the Flash – Jonathan Demme – distributed by TriStar – Demme is great and one of the great music-driven directors working, but release date and subject (rock star comes home to unhappy family) suggest a summer pleasure, not an awards play… though never count Meryl out for acting.

And that is the story so far. It’s still amazingly early in the season and there will surely be a couple new faces showing up unexpectedly and a lot of drop outs from the instant of their first press screening. That’s the story of… that’s the glory of… well, you know.

See you again as we head to the fall festival season at the end of August…

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8 Responses to “30 Weeks To Oscar: Setting The Field”

  1. Daniella Isaacs says:

    I would say Carey Mulligan has a real shot at Best Actress for MADDING CROWD, depending on the breaks and if anyone wants to pay for a campaign. People who saw it two months ago are still talking about the film and her performance.

  2. chris says:

    No “Mr. Holmes?” Lots of Oscar-caliber (and some Oscar-winning) talent there and McKellen is spectacular in it. I left the screening thinking it’s the movie that finally wins him an Oscar. The script is an impressive piece of adaptation and I don’t think a picture nomination is out of the question.

  3. Mark says:

    “45 Years” wasn’t at Sundance, it premiered in Berlin where it won beat actor and best actress for Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling. And his first love was a woman.

  4. Nicolas Valle says:

    The indie film KRISHA should be added. Brilliant direction and performance. Multiple winner at festivals[SXSW, TAORMINA] deserves all the recognition its getting.

  5. Benutty says:

    Triple Nine is confirmed March 4, 2016. They announced delay at the beginning of June.

  6. Warren says:

    So why isn’t Mad Max Fury Road noted?!?! Yes, it’s an action film but it is takes the genre to a whole new level. Seen a couple of mid-year best movie lists and Mad Max tops them. Why not consider it for best picture or at least for directing, editing, sets, costumes. By at least mentioning it, you get people thinking of the possibility.

  7. Warren says:

    Whoops – just saw you mentioned Mad Max as a long long shot. Thanks for acknowledging the movie that blew me away and I’m not an action film fan.

  8. applescruff says:

    I’m going out on a limb and saying both Streep and Grace Gummer are in for Lead/Supporting in Ricki And The Flash. I’ve seen the film and both are tremendous (Gummer may actually be better, in fact). I don’t think the movie has a legit shot at Best Pic, because it is basically a perfect marriage of Cody’s Young Adult and Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, and neither of those got that kind of traction. Still, first Mother/Daughter combo nominated for playing Mother/Daughter in a film? Not a bad outcome for a summer crowd-pleaser.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon