ZAMM.COM: Oscar Outlook

By Martin Grove,

Oscar outlook: The big news on the early Oscar front is that there isn't any big news. But a few films did get a head start by generating an early awards buzz last month at the Cannes Film Festival. Topping that short list right now is the drama Foxcatcher, for which Bennett Miller won best director at Cannes.

Foxcatcher, an Annapurna Pictures production starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Anthony Michael Hall, doesn't open domestically until Nov. 14 via Sony Pictures Classics. And while Foxcatcher didn't win the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, it received enthusiastic reviews at Cannes and could springboard off that to get into the Best Picture race. But it's very hard to sustain momentum from now until December when the awards competition really heats up as end-of-the-year contenders arrive. 

It's not surprising, however, that Foxcatcher is being talked about as an awards contender. It actually was on Oscar's radar last year because it was going to be released in the fall in order to qualify for consideration. Then SPC moved Foxcatcher forward to give Miller more time to finish it, opting instead for a Cannes launch.

Foxcatcher is the true story of Olympic Wrestling Champion brothers Mark Schultz (Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and their relationship with eccentric chemical fortune heir John du Pont (Carell) that led to murder.

Foxcatcher isn't the only awards contender emerging from Cannes. DreamWorks Animation and Fox's 3D animated adventure How to Train Your Dragon 2, opening Friday at about 4,100 theatres, didn't play in competition at Cannes, but should still benefit from all its global media exposure to nab an Oscar nom for Best Animated Feature. It hopes to follow in the footsteps of DreamWorks Animation's Shrek, a 2001 Palme d'Or nominee that ended up winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar.

Directed by Dean DeBlois (How to Train Your Dragon), Dragon 2's voice talents include Jay Baruchel, Kristen Wiig and America Ferrera.

Dragon 2 is already famous for having had some unwanted global media attention at Cannes when an intruder linked to a Ukrainian TV station put his head under America Ferrera's gown as she was doing interviews on the red carpet at the film's premiere.

In Dragon 2, it's five years since Hiccup and Toothless united the Island of Berk's dragons and vikings. When they find a secret ice cave filled with wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, they're suddenly fighting to protect the peace.

Another film that could get an awards boost from playing at Cannes is Mike Leigh's Palme d'Or nominated Mr. Turner, which screened in competition. The biographical drama about the life of British artist J.M.W. Turner stars Tom Wlaschiha, Timothy Spall and James Norton. It opens domestically Dec. 19 via Sony Pictures Classics, so it will be in front of Academy voters just as they're starting to think about nominations. Leigh's 77 now and it's said that Turner might be his last feature film.

Of course, playing at Cannes isn't the only way to jumpstart an Oscar campaign. For filmmakers who already have high awards profiles, almost anything new that they do will automatically get consideration sight unseen.

Woody Allen's a good case in point. He's already won four Oscars--Directing and Original Screenplay for Annie Hall (1978), Original Screenplay for Hannah and Her Sisters (1987) and Original Screenplay for Midnight in Paris (2012).

That's enough Oscar pedigree to make Allen's new romantic comedy Magic in the Moonlight, opening July 25 via Sony Pictures Classics, a potential contender in categories like Best Picture, Directing and Original Screenplay.

Magic's ensemble cast includes such stars as Emma Stone, Colin Firth and Marcia Gay Harden, any of whom could wind up with acting noms. Earlier this year, Cate Blanchett won the best actress Oscar for Allen's comedy drama Blue Jasmine.

Another A-List director with a solid awards profile is Christopher Nolan, a three time Oscar nominee--Best Picture and Original Screenplay in 2011 for Inception and original screenplay in 2002 for Memento.

Nolan's next film is the sci-fi adventure Interstellar, opening Nov. 7 via Paramount, which he co-wrote and directed. Starring are Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. All three of the film's stars are already Oscar darlings.

McConaughey won lead actor in 2014 for Dallas Buyers Club. Hathaway won supporting actress in 2013 for Les Miserables. And Chastain was nominated for supporting actress in 2012 for The Help and for lead actress in 2013 for Zero Dark Thirty. With a cast like that, you can bet Academy members will pay close attention to their work in Interstellar.

Another high profile director with an enviable Oscar track record is David Fincher, whose next film, the thriller Gone Girl, opens Oct, 3 from Fox and New Regency Pictures. Starring are Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Neil Patrick Harris.

Fincher's a two-time best directing Oscar nominee--in 2009 for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and in 2011 for The Social Network. He was a DGA nominee for Button, Social, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2012) and Netflix's blockbuster original series House of Cards (2014).

In Girl, on his fifth wedding anniversary Nick Dunne (Affleck) reports his wife, Amy (Pike), is missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick's portrait of their happy marriage crumbles. Soon, his lies, deceits and odd behavior have everyone wondering if he killed her.

Ridley Scott's another high profile filmmaker likely to be in the early Oscar conversation. Scott's a three-time Best Directing Oscar and DGA nominee--in 1992 for Thelma & Louise, in 2001 for Gladiator and in 2000 for Black Hawk Down.

Scott's new drama Exodus: Gods and Kings, opens Dec. 2 from Fox, Chernin Entertainment and Scott Free Productions. Starring are Christian Bale, Aaron Paul and Indira Varma. As the title suggests, it's the story of Moses (Bale) leading the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt.

There's no shortage of high profile filmmakers with new pictures hitting multiplexes later this year. Paul Thomas Anderson's work is always a safe bet to hit Academy members' radar. He's had five previous Oscar nominations--Directing and Best Picture for There Will Be Blood (2008); original screenplay for Boogie Nights (1998) and Magnolia (2000); and Adapted Screenplay (Blood). He also was a DGA nominee for Blood.

Anderson's new crime drama, Inherent Vice, opens Dec. 12 from Warner Bros. and Ghoulardi Film Company. Starring are Jena Malone, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. In the film, Phoenix plays a drug-driven L.A. detective investigating a former girlfriend's disappearance.

Tim Burton is another A-List director with a new film due out late this year. Burton's been Oscar nominated twice for Best Animated feature--for Corpse Bride (2006) and Frankenweenie (2013).

His new movie, Big Eyes, is a live-action biographical drama, opening Dec. 25 from The Weinstein Company, whose co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein, practically wrote today's playbook for winning Oscars.

Eyes stars Amy Adams, Krysten Ritter and Christoph Waltz. It's the story of 1950s painter Margaret Keene (Adams) and her legal difficulties with her husband (Waltz), who in the '60s took credit for her work.

Just being famous is another perfectly good way to get Oscar consideration and that could do the trick this year for Angelina Jolie, who directed the biographical action drama Unbroken, opening Dec. 25 from Universal, Walden Media and Legendary Pictures. Starring are Jack O'Connell, Domhnail Gleeson and Jai Courtney.

What Academy member is likely to ignore an invitation from Jolie to join her for a screening, filmmaker Q&A and reception for her new movie? Besides having Jolie as a magnet for Oscar voters' attention and helpful media coverage, Unbroken also boasts some famous screenwriter credits. Its screenplay by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen and Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson is adapted from the book by Laura Hillenbrand.

Between them, the Coen Brothers have won four Oscars--for Directing No Country For Old Men (2008); for Best Picture for Fargo (1997); for Original Screenplay for Fargo (which they co-wrote and co-directed, but for which Ethan received sole producing credit and Joel was an uncredited producer); and for Adapted Screenplay for No Country. The Coens also won the DGA Award for No Country. LaGravenese was Oscar nominated for Original Screenplay in 1992 for The Fisher King.

Nicholson's a two-time Oscar nominee--adapted screenplay in 1994 for Shadowlands and original screenplay in 2001 for Gladiator.

Bottom line: There are no guarantees that any of these films will wind up in the Oscar race, but they've got an early leg up on the competition thanks to their exposure at Cannes or their filmmakers' pedigrees.

From late summer through the fall, Hollywood will be showing films with Oscar hopes at festivals in Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York and contenders will start to emerge.

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Ends March 7, 2017

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