Films to Look Forward To As Oscar Season Approaches

We’re getting to that point in the year where the quality of film (hopefully) steps up, and we start seeing some greatness projected onto our cinematic screens. Which films should you keep an eye out for? Here’s a short list. I posted trailers or clips where available– click on the title of the film to see them.

Frozen River (already in limited release)

I’m fairly certain this one has left theaters already, but if you get a chance to hunt it down (I’m hopeful I will), then do so, since it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and all accounts say that the lead actress Melissa Leo is terrific, and the entire film, written and directed by first-time auteur Courtney Hunt, is worthy of praise.

The Duchess (already in limited release)

If British corset-based costume melodramas are your thing, this should be your favorite movie of the year. Supposedly the sets and costume design are sensational, and Keira Knightley gives the performance of her career… but aside from that, it doesn’t vary greatly from any of the other British corset-based costume melodramas you’ve seen in your life. Still, the Academy loves them, and they may fetch some noms.

Rachel Getting Married (already in limited release)

This flick is getting some terrific buzz, including a 4-star review from Ebert. By the time this trickles down to wherever you live, the Oscar talk for Anne Hathaway and screenwriter Jenny Lumet should be deafening.

Happy-Go-Lucky (already in limited release)

A film by acclaimed writer/director Mike Leigh that has gotten universal praise and has left many film critics (astonishingly enough) happy. It’s probably the type of film that would get noticed solely with a nom for its lead actress, Sally Hawkins, but when you watch the trailer, it’s hard to imagine not leaving with a smile.

W. (already in wide release)

I haven’t seen it yet– that’s an assignment for this week– but everyone has raved about Brolin’s portrayal of our current commander-in-chief. He’s an actor very much on the rise, with terrific appearances in big films like No Country For Old Men and American Gangster last year… hopefully he gets some due. As for the film itself, reviews are mixed, but some positive notices (including, again, a 4-star review from Ebert) have left me anticipating my screening.

Changeling (opens limited this week, wide October 31st)

Another dark Clint Eastwood drama, another Oscar season. The notices have not been particularly good for this one, and for a man as well liked as Eastwood (and a man as overpraised as Eastwood– neither Mystic River nor Million Dollar Baby were as good as critics would want you to think), that sets off alarm bells. Still, Jolie is trying her hardest to wrap up another nomination for playing a weeping mournful woman.

I’ve Loved Yo So Long (opens limited this week)

Kristen Scott Thomas stars as a woman reunited with her sister after serving 15 years in prison. This seems like typically standard dramatic fare, but apparently the lead performance by Thomas carries the film beautifully. 

Synecdoche, New York (opens limited this week)

I cannot WAIT for this film. Charlie Kaufman has written three of the best films of the last twenty years (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and this is his first outing as director, with a dynamite cast led by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a truly bewitching concept that isn’t quite clear to me even after seeing the trailer numerous times. This should be at the top of the To-See list of anyone who cares about original, thought-provoking cinema.

Slumdog Millionaire (opens in limited release November 12)

Danny Boyle, one of the more consistently interesting filmmakers alive and working, has allegedly come closer to Oscar gold with this film than anything else he’s made in his career thus far. It’s about a young street orphan from India, one question away from winning a million dollars on India’s version of the game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”, and the people who accuse him of cheating during the break, because how could a street orphan possibly know so much? The concept is extremely intriguing, and Boyle is overdue.

Australia (opens wide November 26)

Baz Luhrmann. Nicole Kidman. Hugh Jackman. It will either work on an epic level, or fail on an epic level. Only time will tell.

Milk (opens limited November 26, wide December 12)

The story about the first openly gay man to ever hold public office in America is certainly Oscar-fodder on its own. Mix Sean Penn and director Gus Van Sant into the mix, and the entire Academy will lean forward in their chair. This might be one of the closest things to a sure bet for Oscar season that there is.

Frost/Nixon (opens limited December 5, goes wide December 12)

I am familiar with the play, and it’s a powerhouse. If the film packs any of the punch of the stage performance, we’ll be hearing about it a LOT come Oscar nomination time. Plus, the Academy loves director Ron Howard, and the cast is full of terrific character actors including Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, and Sam Rockwell.

Che (Parts 1 and 2 open limited December 12, go wide January 2009)

This epic by Steven Soderbergh, which is more than four hours in length and will be released in two separate parts, is likely far too ambitious a project to receive any noms from the Academy other than for Benicio Del Toro’s performance as the man himself. It could be a brilliant, astonishing, unforgettable epic… or it could just be really, really long.

Doubt (opens limited December 12, goes wide Christmas Day)

Nothing say Christmas cheer to me like the story of a priest who might be molesting a small child in a Catholic church! The play manages to be thought-provoking without taking sides, and with actors of the magnitude of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, and Amy Adams, John Patrick Shanley has put together an all-star lineup for his directorial debut. Hopefully it will not be overly theatrical and will translate well to the screen.

The Wrestler (opens limited December 17)

Darren Aronofsky, never short on cerebral concepts or ambitious ideas, has reportedly turned in a fantastic portrait of a washed-up wrestler, played by Mickey Rourke. It won the top prize at Venice Film Festival, and Rourke has allegedly given the performance of his career, with the allusions between himself and the wrestler being nearly inescapable. As someone who’s never failed to be captivated by Aronofsky (even when his films don’t quite work), I can’t wait for this one.

Seven Pounds (opens wide December 19)

Will Smith will win an Oscar one day. He’s the biggest star of the last few years, and his acting only gets better and better. With this, he reunites with the team that made The Pursuit of Happyness. The trailer is intriguing, and certainly is hook-y enough to pack the seats… but will it be worthy of Oscar?

Nothing But The Truth (opens limited December 19)

Rod Lurie returns with his first film in over half a decade, a great cast (Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Alan Alda, Angela Bassett, David Schwimmer), and the true story of the female reporter who outs a CIA agent and then refuses to reveal her source, so she’s thrown into prison. The last time Lurie did a political thriller, he put out The Contender. If this one is half as good as that outing, we will be lucky.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (opens wide Christmas day)

David Fincher has always been a director with lots of potential but who made disappointing, overly stylized films… up until Zodiac, which I thought was astounding. Hopefully this film is a continued step in the right direction, with the tale of a man born in his eighties who ages backwards. Brad Pitt’s been aching for an Oscar nomination (hopefully he’ll be nominated for his hilarious turn in Burn After Reading), and perhaps this is the one that pushes him over the edge.

Revolutionary Road (opens wide December 26)

Sam Mendes, director of American Beauty, knows how to make the struggles of family life seem epic. And with the reunited Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet both on board, and longing for that role that finally earns them both their much-deserved Oscars, we might be in for a really special film.

Valkyrie (opens wide December 26)

So Tom Cruise clearly isn’t the most popular man in showbiz. He might still have a winning team behind him on this flick, which reunites the writer and director of The Usual Suspects, boasts an enormously talented supporting cast, and a killer story (Nazis plot the assassination of Hitler). Oscar worthy? Probably not. Still, it’s being released in Oscar season, and with so many acclaimed parties on board, I’m excited for the prospects of what this film can be.

Waltz With Bashir (opens limited December 26)

Israel’s foreign-language film submission for Oscar consideration has gotten raves– it’s a wildly unconventional combination of documentary and animation. If watching the preview doesn’t intrigue you, then I’m not sure you’re stretching your imagination enough to see that cinema really does have an unlimited number of stories to tell and ways to tell them. I hope this film is as good as its potential.

Defiance (opens limited December 31, goes wide January 2009)

There’s talk that this may get pushed back even further… but if it sticks around, director Edward Zwick is a man who knows how to make Oscar bait– he did Glory, The Last Samurai, and Blood Diamond. I found Blood Diamond to be especially heavyhanded and preachy, so hopefully this tale of three Jews who fight back in revenge against Nazis will strike the right chord.

~ by russellhainline on October 21, 2008.

4 Responses to “Films to Look Forward To As Oscar Season Approaches”

  1. Part of Milk was filmed right outside my apartment…Random trivia.

  2. Australia the country is using Australia the film to try and boost tourism. It’s a lose-lose situation for me. If it’s good, I won’t hear the end of it from the Aussies and if it sucks, the Aussies will still say it’s good.

  3. russell
    Frozen River is in fact still playing in theatres and continues to open in cities across the country.

  4. Thank you, Donna. The trailer plus the buzz have me excited to seek that one out. Hopefully it will roll through North Carolina soon.

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