Oscar Preview: Weekend of Dec. 18-20, 2015

We had five films release this past weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.

(NOTE: I realized as I was preparing the article for Dec. 25-27 that I inadvertently did that weekends releases here. As such, I’m doing the Dec. 18-20, 2015 releases during the Dec. 25-27 window instead.)

Concussion

Before this film unspooled, there was some small chatter about Will Smith’s chances at a third Best Actor nomination. The question was what kind of vehicle would he be given and would it be the kind of movie that begs attention from the Oscars in more than just a solo Best Actor nomination.

The film concerns the scientific findings of a Nigernian pathologist who discovers a common symptom in the deaths of former football players. Caused by concussions, Smith’s character attempts to alert the NFL of the dangers only to be derided and threatened into silence to protect their business interests.

Although there are rumors that the NFL pressed the studio to tone down the contents to keep them from looking bad, those who’ve seen it have claimed that it’s still a compelling indictment. Those facts aside, the film has gotten mediocre reviews and Smith has only managed a handful of nominations for his performance in the film. While it’s possible the Academy will recognize him in a relatively weak Best Actor field, I suspect his chances aren’t great and I won’t be surprised to see him excluded. Even if he is nominated, he won’t win.

Joy

After a string of highly successful Oscar contenders (and winners), director David O. Russell tries to triumph again with his look into the life story of the woman who invented the Miracle Mop. Starring Russell’s highly successful trio of stars from his prior two outings, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, Joy began the year as one of the biggest Oscar contenders scheduled for release.

In 2010, Russell brought The Fighter to the big screen, a film that didn’t seem like it had great Oscar potential at firsWhen it began receiving enthusiastic reviews and made a strong run through the precursors, the film ultimately hit the right spot with the Academy and pulled in seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture winning prizes for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in the supporting categories along with a nomination for Amy Adams, but not for the film’s star, an understated Mark Wahlberg.

Two years later, he improved upon his Oscar performance taking eight nominations for Silver Linings Playbook, another prime Best Picture contender that earned four acting nominations, one in each category, a feat not accomplished in a very long time. While it didn’t win as many as his prior film, Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for her performance. The next year, American Hustle transported the players back several years picking up an impressive ten nominations, once again picking up acting nominations in all four categories, something that had never happened in back-to-back years before.

This is why everyone though Joy would be one more notch in Russell’s Oscar belt. While the film hasn’t been panned, it’s weaker reviews signal the film may struggle to gain traction with the Academy. Screening late without the support of critics is dangerous. So far, the film hasn’t gotten a lot of attention from the precursors, though Jennifer Lawrence is doing pretty well all things considered. Ultimately, the film seems destined to end up with only one nomination for Lawrence and even that is iffy at the moment.

45 Years

Although the film was feted at Berlinale (the Berlin International Film Festival) this year, the film wasn’t on many radars until it began winning prizes from a handful of critics groups. Suddenly, the film is being talked up as one of the surefire Oscar contenders of the year even if there’s not sufficient support for such a declaration.

Starring Charlotte Rampling and two-time Oscar nominee Tom Courtenay, 45 Years explores the loving relationship of an aging couple who are preparing to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. Upon receipt of an unexpected letter, outside influences begin creeping into and deteriorating their relationship.

Rampling has picked up two victories so far this year from the Boston and Los Angeles critics with a runner-up vote from the Indiana journalists. She has also secured eight precursor nominations, her first from the Satellite Awards, but not from the Golden Globes. Apart from these and its strong showing at the London Film Critics Circle nominations, the film has only secured one other mention for Best Adapted Screenplay from the San Francisco critics.

That support for Rampling could be a sign that she’s a likely Oscar nominee this year, but history doesn’t favor her inclusion. Some might reference the relatively unknown (at least in most American circles) Emmanuelle Riva as a sign that the Academy can still give older actresses their due.

This type of reasoning doesn’t take into account the fact that Riva’s film, Amour was a major player in several categories earning five nominations including Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film along with Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It was a frontrunner for and won Best Foreign Language Film. 45 Years hasn’t gotten nearly that level of support and looks to be edging towards zero nominations unless Rampling can squeeze herself in. She’s quite a bit more familiar to Academy voters than Riva was, but I think she’s a weak fourth or fifth slot contender. There may just be too much strong competition for her to crack the race.

The Hateful Eight

Most directors in Hollywood have egos. They need to in order to push their visions for the movies their making. Yet, few have more aggressive and abrasive personalities than Quentin Tarantino. In spite of this, he’s managed to earn his films several nominations, including his prior two outings Django Unchained and Inglourious Basters.

The Hateful Eight had a troubled history. His script was leaked by someone he thought was a friend and ultimately ended up on the backburner, kicked there because Tarantino didn’t want his film to be readily available on the internet before he could release it in theaters. He talked about the many ways he could deal with the script without filming it, but ultimately decided to commit it to celluloid.

The film has been receiving excellent reviews so far, though only a small number of critics have seen it yet. There is also an embargo in place on the film. Even if the film ends up a success with critics, it may struggle to get into the top categories at the Oscars, largely because Tarantino has been loud, obnoxious and crass in recent months and that kind of attitude tends to great on people’s nerves. They may send him a message by kicking his film to the curb.

Yet, the film is still likely to appear in several categories even if it’s ultimately left of the Best Picture slate. Scene-stealer Jennifer Jason Leigh is the only woman in the cast, making her an obvious choice to campaign for an Oscar. She can easily stand out in an all-male cast and that she’s a talented actress just increases her chances at a nomination. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone dodged a bullet when the Academy ruled his 30-minute score eligible in spite of the presence of previously-recorded tracks. This puts Morricone in line to get a career-level competitive Oscar in Best Original Score.

Although Tarantino isn’t likely to get a Best Director nomination, he could still show up in the Best Original Screenplay category and the film’s rich aesthetic could help it figure into Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography and especially Best Production Design and Best Costume Design. If it’s particularly well liked, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing are also possibilities. With all those potential nominations, a Best Picture nomination might still be in the cards, but we’ll need to see how it plays with the guilds before we know for absolutely certainty.

The Revenant

Last year, the far-from-traditional Birdman stunned by topping Boyhood at the Oscars and nabbing Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu three Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. This all happened eight years after his first pair of Oscar nominations for Babel.

It’s no surprise then that he’s once again in the conversation for Oscar nominations this year for his frontier epic The Revenant. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a frontiersman seeking revenge after being left behind after a bear mauling, the film has been earning strong reviews from several quarters and in spite of a last-minute theatrical screening has managed to earn plenty of attention from the precursors.

Leonardo DiCaprio has been chasing Oscar gold for years now and it may finally be his time as he is currently leading all others in the precursor awards tallies and the commentariat has been pushing him for the brass ring for several months. The combination of factors and an Oscar-winning director at his back, DiCaprio is not only likely to get nominated, but at this point he seems poised for the win.

The film will also likely appear in Best Picture and Best Director along with Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Makeup. Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing are possible as are Best Production Design and Best Costume Design. The film was declared ineligible for Best Original Score, but it did make the shortlist for Best Visual Effects, which is a bit surprising considering what’s on display in the trailer.

There are two categories that might pose problems. Although the film is well regarded, Inarritu’s screenplay has been missing more often than hitting with the precursors. It’s not a dialogue-heavy film, which may be to its detriment. However, Inarritu has an Oscar in screenwriting and that might just be enough to earn him respect for a film with so little vocal content. The other category is Best Supporting Actor. Although Tom Hardy has been doing fine work for years, his performance in this film seemed at first to be a surefire contender. However, the precursors haven’t been nearly as receptive of his performance as might have been expected, but if the film thrills Oscar voters enough, he could be pulled in.

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