Oscar Season is upon us once again – and it is my favorite time of year. Not some much for all the awards, which in all honesty I grow tired of quicker each passing year. But because of the films themselves – you always get one or two Oscar contenders coming in September (like The Master), but for the most part, they roll out in October, November and December – with a few stragglers hitting in January after a “qualifying run” in LA in December. If there is good news about the Academy moving their cutoff for receiving ballots to January 3rd, and the announcing nominations on January 10th, it is that after that point, there is no damn reason NOT to release films that won acclaim in order to capitalize on awards success. This will, hopefully anyway, mean that people who don’t get to see things well in advance can see everything earlier.
So with Oscar season here, I thought I’d look at the 10 films I am most looking forward to this season. Had I done this just a week ago, The Master would have been on this list, and had I done it before TIFF, Amour would have been here too.
There are many others I also anticipate including – Flight, Frankenweenie, Hitchcock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Holy Motors, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, On the Road, Promised Land, Seven Psychopaths and Skyfall. But these are the 10 I most anticipate – and I hope that even at this “late stage” something may come out of nowhere and surprise us all.
10. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley) – October 12
I for one welcome Polley’s transformation from actress to director. It’s not that she wasn’t a good actress – she was, and is if she decides to do that again – but she is a better director. Her debut, Away From Her, was beautiful and heartbreaking, and while Take This Waltz (released just a few months ago) wasn’t as good, it was still very good – and contains a great performance by Michelle Williams, which at this point in the year is still one of my favorites. Her latest is Stories We Tell, which received raves at Telluride and Toronto this year, and is Polley’s first documentary – a look back at her own tumultuous family history. I usually don’t look forward to docs as much as I am this one.
9. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg) – November 9
I really, really hope that Spielberg’s Lincoln is a return to form for Spielberg. After coming off what was arguably his most interesting, darkest period of his career in the early 2000s – with great films like A.I., Minority Report and Munich – Spielberg has since taken a step back – the less said about the 4th Indiana Jones movie the better, and even though I was thoroughly entertained by his 2011 double dip of Tintin and War Horse, both were merely throwbacks to yesteryear, and as entertaining as they were, do not constitute Spielberg at the height of his powers. I am sucker for political biopics however, and Daniel Day-Lewis is the best actor in the world, so the idea of him playing Lincoln in a Spielberg film has me itching to see this. No, I don’t mind Day-Lewis’ Lincoln voice in the trailer (which is an interesting choice), but hope that perhaps John Williams’ score is quite as bombastic as it was there (then again, it is John Williams). Still, Spielberg deserves respect, so I’m waiting anxiously on this one.
8. Anna Karenina (Joe Wright) – November 16
When I first heard Joe Wright was making a version of Leo Tolsoy’s Anna Karenina, I assumed it would be another classy period piece like Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, which was good enough for me. But then the reviews out of Toronto came in – and were decidedly mixed – because apparently Wright’s version is daringly stylistic – and some love it, and some despise it. That only made me more intrigued at the prospect of seeing this. Who knows if I’ll love it or hate it, or something in between, but count me in on wanting to see it.
7. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow) – December 21
One of the films that remains unseen by anyone, Katherine Bigelow’s follow-up to her Oscar winning The Hurt Locker is about the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, from 9/11 until he was killed earlier this year. The film has already generated controversy in the political spectrum – with some saying the White House gave the filmmaker access to information they shouldn’t have had to help make the film more pro-Obama in an election year (but since the film won’t be seen by voters until AFTER the election, I don’t see how that makes sense). The trailer tells us very little, I have no idea who is playing what characters, or what the movie will be like, but I still cannot wait to see this.
6. Rust & Bone (Jacques Audiard) – November 21
Jacques Audiard’s last film was the great A Prophet, one of the best prison movies of all time, and the film that launched him to greater, widespread acclaim. He’s back in this strange sounding drama about a whale trainer (Marion Cottilard) who suffers a terrible accident. Debuted at Cannes, and then played in Toronto, the film is said to guarantee Cottillard another Oscar nomination, but has received some rather mixed reviews for the film as a whole. But after A Prophet, I cannot wait to see what this filmmaker does this time around.
5. Argo (Ben Affleck) – October 12
Ben Affleck is a better director than he is an actor. His first film was the great crime story Gone Baby Gone, and his second another fine crime drama, The Town. Those films received some acclaim, and Oscar nominations for supporting cast members, but Argo is said to be a major step forward for Affleck as a filmmaker. It’s about the strange plan to get six embassy workers out of Iran back in the 1970s, and has received rave reviews in Telluride and Toronto - and is pretty much assured Oscar nominations. The trailers make it look like an old school political thriller, something Hollywood doesn’t make enough of anymore, so I’m looking forward to this one.
4. Cloud Atlas (Andy & Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer) – October 26
Any film that generates the kind of intense passion – whether it be in love or hate – that Cloud Atlas generated in Toronto immediately becomes one of my must see films. I’m halfway through David Mitchell’s epic novel now, and have no freaking idea how the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer transformed this into an movie, but I have to say, I cannot wait to see what they did. There is a good chance I’ll hate it – but also a good chance I’ll love it. I want to see which one it is – and soon.
3. Killing Them Softley (Andrew Dominik) – November 30
Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was one of the best Westerns ever made – and one of the best films of the last decade. It has taken him 5 years to follow it up, with this gritty crime drama, with apparently overt political overtones. The film was greeted with more respect than passion in Cannes, but any film by Dominik is going to be anticipated by me – especially one starring Brad Pitt who did the best work of his career in Jesse James. Now stop moving the damn release date back!
2. Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell) – November 21
David O. Russell is a fine filmmaker – and one I admire when he does he strange, offbeat comedies like Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings or I Heart Huckabees. After a detour into a more mainstream film – The Fighter – which won Oscars and got big box office, he seems to have returned to his quirky comedic roots with this film, which won the People’s Choice Award in Toronto, about two mentally unstable people (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) and their relationship. What intrigues me the most however may just be the fact that apparently Robert DeNiro has awoken from his slumber and decided to actually ACT in this movie. DeNiro has always been my favorite actor, but his work for more than a decade now (aside from his directorial effort, The Good Sheperd, and the underrated performance in Stone) leaves much to be desired. Here’s hoping for a return to form for DeNIro and Russell.
1. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino) – December 25
Without Quentin Tarantino, I’m not sure I would love movies as much as I do. His Pulp Fiction hit me an impressionable age, and fuelled by love of movies, and my desire to delve into their history. And the man keeps on making some of the most entertaining genre mashups in film history – films that somehow manage the trick of being highly influenced by film history, and yet come across as completely new, unique and original. His last film was Inglorious Basterds, which I maintain is the best film he has ever made, and the previews for Django Unchained look, at the very least, to be another huge entertainment, with Tarantino’s trademark dialogue and ultra-violence. December 25th cannot get here fast enough.