The 88th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 28, 145 days from today.
New York Film Festival
With Telluride and TIFF completed, the Oscar community is looking to the New York Film Festival (September 25 through October 10) to generate buzz and focus the list of possible contenders. There will be several world premieres (especially The Walk and Bridge of Spies), but much of the Oscar news is going to come from previously screened films that are continuing to build momentum.
The New York Film Festival began in 1963. The first programmer was Richard Roud, who spent 25 years selecting films with “a focus on the European art cinema of the postwar years and rise of auteurism.” This, understandably, meant that the NYFF was never a huge Academy Awards predictor, nor was it meant to be. There are always a handful of movies screened in New York that end up with Best Picture nominations or wins in the acting categories, but only two films in NYFF history have won the Oscar after having been selected as the opening, closing or centerpiece film in New York: Chariots of Fire and last year’s Birdman.
See below for the overlap over the past five years between Academy Awards Best Picture nominees and the New York Film Fest, with blue meaning a film was screened at the festival and orange meaning a film was selected as the opening, closing or centerpiece film.
(Sources: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.)
Critics are very excited about this year’s selections. The Walk, which tells the story of the man who tightroped between the Twin Towers in 1974, opened the festival a little more than a week ago. It got generally good reviews for the film (86% rotten tomatoes) as well as slightly less good for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance (Vulture says “heez French accent has been a sticking point for most critics, and heez overweening narration quickly wears out its welcome, n’est-ce pas?”). It also induced nausea. Apparently, the effects used in portraying the eponymous walk caused many theatergoers to vomit in the bathrooms immediately following the film. This gave way to an incredible article in GQ called “Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tightrope Movie The Walk Is Literally Making Audiences Throw Up” with an opening paragraph that went “Oh boy, oh boy, do I love a good movie. I love getting a box of Hot Tamales, a big bucket o’ popcorn, and surrendering myself to the power of film. But my absolute favorite part about going to the movies is not throwing up. Love a good non-vomit experience, and that’s what movies are all about…until now.”
Steve Jobs was chosen as the centerpiece film. It was previously screened at Telluride, where it opened with excellent reviews and a lot of Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress buzz. It comes out in theaters on Friday. Until then, I will just name-drop Aaron Sorkin, reference the time when Steve Wozniak said he felt like he “was actually watching Steve Jobs and the others” when watching the movie and use the phrase “three-act structure” to sound informed.
The closing night film is Miles Ahead, which stars Don Cheadle as Miles Davis. I know very little about the film, which doesn’t really make sense. You would usually expect a music biopic starring an Academy Award nominee to get more attention. Apparently, this is the first non-documentary film about Davis. It is also directed by Cheadle, making Vulture term it a “vanity-project biopic.”
Other films to look out for:
- The Martian (directed by Ridley Scott, coming out October 2): The Martian is getting a lot of recent media attention, both for its impressive opening ($55MM, on par with Gravity) and its last-minute entry into the New York Film Fest. It tells the story of astronaut Matt Damon who is left for dead on Mars and the crew that is coming back to rescue him. (Look for Jessica Chastain, who is apparently on point as the commander of the crew.) According to AwardsDaily, The Martian “is an accessible film for ‘Joe Popcorn’ but smart enough to skim the surface of the the prestige film race. It is one of those entertaining, satisfying movies really only Hollywood can make.” According to Vulture, The Martian is a fairly unique movie in a different sense: it’s a film “entirely populated by nice people” without a villain or particularly conflicted hero, which the writer said was a pleasure to watch. (He did talk to people who “felt the movie went down too smooth,” so you can’t please everyone.) Critics are beginning to talk Picture, Actor and Supporting Actress, though a lot of the narrative lies with director Ridley Scott — the three-time nominee (for Thelma & Louise, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down) and visionary behind Alien and Blade Runner has never won the big prize before, and people are saying that “he’s due.”
- Bridge of Spies (directed by Steven Spielberg, coming out October 4): Pairing Steven Spielberg, who has seven Best Director nominations and two wins, with Tom Hanks, who has five Best Actor nominations and two wins, in a Cold War drama about a “Brooklyn insurance lawyer tasked with defending a Soviet citizen accused of being a spy” sounds like a sure-fire way to get awards attention. (It apparently got a standing ovation in New York.) The two notably joined forces in Saving Private Ryan, and each is coming off of some level of disappointment over the past few years: Spielberg’s Lincoln was the frontrunner for most of the year only to fall to Argo and Life of Pi’s Ang Lee at the last minute, and Tom Hanks’ duo performances in Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks brought him little love with the Academy.
- Brooklyn (directed by John Crowley, coming out November 6): First premiering at Sundance nine months ago, Brooklyn is once again in the Oscar conversation following its strong showing at Toronto. It follows a young Irishwoman (played by Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan) moving to the United States. According to Scott Feinberg, Brooklyn “is certainly not the first great film about the immigrant experience … but what makes it particularly noteworthy, to me, is that it does so without a gimmick of some sort. Nobody is murdered, prostituted or deported in this film; rather, it depicts good and decent people, with believable and relatable motivations, trying to navigate the treacherous terrain of the human heart. And that is much harder to pull off, let alone to pull off as charmingly and movingly as Brooklyn.“
- Carol (directed by Todd Haynes, coming out November 20): Carol previously played Cannes and Telluride where it amassed a huge amount of popular support for the film and its actresses Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The 1950s romance film is likely hoping for a resurgence in buzz following its screening. (One interesting note: Blanchett’s biggest obstacle to getting a Best Actress nomination for Carol may be her stellar performance in Truth. You are only allowed one nomination per category, and she is being campaigned as lead in both.)
When the New York Film Fest concludes, the next (and really, final) film festival on everyone’s minds will be that of the American Film Institute (AFI). By The Sea (the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, “remember when they were in Mr. and Mrs. Smith together,” movie) is opening the AFI Fest, Concussion (telling the timely story of football brain injuries and starring Will Smith) is playing at the “centerpiece gala” and the closing film will be The Big Short.
Spotlight on The Big Short
A month ago, Paramount was completely out of the Oscars conversation. The studio with six nominees in the past five years (The Fighter, True Grit, Hugo, Nebraska, Wolf of Wall Street and Selma) was largely empty handed, unless you thought Hot Tub Time Machine 2 had awards potential. (It doesn’t.) Then it acquired the well-regarded stop-motion animation film Anomalisa and moved up the release date of Michael Lewis’ The Big Short from early 2016 to late 2015 with an eye on making an awards statement. (Lewis’ previous two adaptations, The Blind Side and Moneyball, each earned a Best Picture nomination.) The Big Short is about the “dark underbelly of modern banking where [four outsiders] must question everyone and everything” (thanks Google), and stars Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling (who have a combined six Oscar nominations). Not much is known about it other than its trailer, which highlights the potentially good performances and the almost-certainly bad wigs. (Vulture evaluates the lot.) Regardless, the movie is something to look forward to, and it’s good news that it was moved to December. (Not so good news for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, the Benghazi movie directed by Michael Bay coming out in January. Yes, this exists.)
Spotlight on Best Actress
For several years, Oscar bloggers have critiqued purportedly weak Best Actress races. Whereas Best Actor was stacked, largely with leads from the Best Picture nominees, a lack of female-driven movies led to more random-feeling nominees. This year, it seems, there is an embarrassment of riches. It is easy to list a dozen or so possible contenders who are worthy of a nomination if not the prize itself. These include protagonists of Best Picture contenders (Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, Cate Blanchett 1 in Carol and Brie Larson in Room, which won the Audience Prize in Toronto), veterans with career-best work (Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years, Blythe Danner in I’ll See You In My Dreams, Lily Tomlin in Grandma and Maggie Smith in The Lady In The Van, which was moved up to a December release to compete in this year’s Academy Awards) and other heavyweights (Cate Blanchett 2 in Truth, Carey Mulligan in Suffragette, Charlize Theron in Mad Max, Sandra Bullock in Our Brand Is Crisis and Emily Blunt in Sicario). Vulture ran an article called “The 2015 Oscars Best Actress Category Is Stacked,” and that’s a fact that everyone is pretty excited about.
- Spotlight strategy: The Best Picture frontrunner is campaigning its entire ensemble as supporting, a move that many are saying is fair and accurate rather than strategic. (Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, who have the best shot, are on the bubble right now.)
- But NASA, what if The Martian actually happens? Vulture reached out to NASA to see how it would react to a real-life left-behind astronaut on Mars. It turns out that we can’t get to Mars yet anyway, so the question is kind of moot. However, the article does include a speech for Richard Nixon in the event that the Apollo 11 crew became stranded on the moon. There was “no hope for recovery…fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.”
- Future Oscars 1: In its first limited release on six screens, Sicario made $400,000. This, obviously, means that it needs a sequel. Yes, “Variety reports that Lionsgate is working with director Denis Villeneuve to develop a sequel to the cartel drama.”
- Future Oscars 2: Ellar Coltrane has joined the cast of The Circle with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. This will be his first film since Boyhood that did not involve him growing up on screen for 12 years.
- Future Oscars 3: You know how Queen Anne of England just screams out “Oscar story”? Kate Winslet, Emma Stone, and Oilvia Colman are all in talks to star in a biopic.
- Gender gap, cinematographers edition: According to Vulture, the American Society of Cinematographers has a current membership that’s only 4 percent women. Meaning that out of the 800 members in the history of the ASC, there have been fewer than 20 women in the invite-only group. The article points out that cinematography is a funnel into directing, so the impact of the imbalance is even more striking than previously assumed.