Oscar Preview: Weekend of Jan. & Feb. 2016

After taking a break for Oscar season, we’re back this week looking back at all of January and February. I’ll look at the first and second weeks of March next week.

During these last two months, we had 10 films release with the potential (or at least pre-release potential) for Oscar nominations. Here they are in order of Oscar likelihood.

Kung Fu Panda 3

The most likely Oscar contender from the first two months of 2016 is Jennifer Yuh’s third film in the Kung Fu Panda franchise. Being one of the few DreamWorks animation titles to earn some level of critical acclaim in recent years, it’s sure to be in the conversation for Best Animated Feature this year. The first two films were hits at the Annie Awards which are a solid indication that the film has broad support and with the fantastic use of animation here, that should continue to be a factor. Last year, DreamWorks had Home as its only hope and that didn’t pan out for it. This year, they have both this and Trolls. The latter doesn’t seem very promising, so I suspect this is where they’ll invest the bulk of their awards advertising dollars.

Mountains May Depart

Well respected director Zhangke Jia came out of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival with this Chinese foreign language film about a woman and her family across three distinct periods of her life. It earned solid reviews and a number of prizes around the world, but has not yet been submitted to the Oscars for consideration as Best Foreign Language film. While I’m not sure it’s chances are great, the respectful attention the film has received suggests that it could end up as China’s submission next year to the Oscars.

Hail, Caesar!

Joel and Ethan Coen have an uneven history with the Oscars, struggling the most when they mount comedic endeavors. This ode to Hollywood might just be the exception, at least for Best Original Screenplay where it promises to be a contender. Creating characters that are amalgams of various noteworthy early Hollywood stars and putting them into heavily fictionalized, but cinematically influenced situations gives the Brothers Coen a strong chance at Oscar consideration. The early-year release might hinder its chances, but if critics remember it in December, it could re-emerge as a contender.

Deadpool

With a sensational debut and a box office tally that is completely impressive, Ryan Reynolds Merc with a Mouth may not be a Best Picture contender, but its sound design and effects, and visual effects could be early contenders. The hard-R rating for the film might hinder its chances, but more violent and sexually explicit films have made the leap into Oscar’s arms before, so those who vote in the tech categories might still give it consideration.

Monster Hunt

It was a huge hit in China, but was a relative flop in the United States. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in its Oscar capabilities, but Best Animated Feature hasn’t been a category where box office weaklings have failed to compete. Just this year, two major blockbusters were dumped in favor of two lesser-seen films. This is true of many recent events, which gives China’s effort at least a modest chance at an Oscar nomination. What hurts the film most is that it’s a mix of animation and live-action. While there’s no doubt it qualifies under the departments existing rules, mixed-media films seldom get Oscar’s attention. Adding insult to injury, the studio that’s brought most of the off-beat nominees in that category is GKids and this is being distributed stateside by Film Rise.

Jane Got a Gun

Natalie Portman’s troubled production is the kind of film that might have been an Oscar contender several years ago, but which seems like an unlikely affair at this juncture. Gavin O’Connor’s film has been dropped, picked up, tinkered with and ultimately dumped in a period in which prestige films go to die. That isn’t to say that it can’t contend, but the prospects are limited. Harvey Weinstein likely had a hand in the film’s issues, but with the film in release and critics largely dismissive, it’s chances are all but gone now.

Triple 9

While it didn’t have the gestational problems of Jane Got a Gun, John Hillcoat’s impressive ensemble crime drama suffers from a poor critical reception. With a cast that includes Oscar winner Kate Winslet, Oscar nominees Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson, this should have been a much bigger Oscar contender. Yet, all signs point to this being an also-ran.

Race

Receive a far more polite response from critics is this biopic covering legendary sprinter Jesse Owens and his attempts to become an Olympic athlete at a time when Hitler was rising to power. The story of a young athlete struggling with racism in America seems like the perfect inspiration for an Oscar campaign. The problem is that the film didn’t exactly start well at the box office and while the reviews were positive, they weren’t exactly spectacular. After recent misses with several other biopics about important black figures in modern American history, it’s likely that this will be yet another failure.

Eddie the Eagle

There’s something innocuous about Disney films that always makes them seem like the kind of thing that might have been honored by the Academy back in the 1950s or 1960s. Yet, if you look at Disney’s history, it’s not exactly filled with inspirational sports dramas that scored Oscar nominations. Matter of fact, the recent past shows a number of films that seemed like they might be Oscar contenders, but, in reality, weren’t even close. This seems like exactly one of those films.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

It’s no coincidence that Michael Bay’s Benghazi action drama 13 Hours was released wide during roughly the same window that both American Sniper and Lone Survivor. Modern war dramas would typically seem like solid Oscar contenders in the current political climates. However, as Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor proved that even critically acclaimed dramas can’t follow American Sniper‘s path. First, neither Berg nor Bay is anywhere near as respected a director as Clint Eastwood. Lone Survivor still pulled out Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing nominations, but 13 Hours doesn’t have the benefit of critical acclaim and while Michael Bay’s films have done well in tech categories, 13 Hours didn’t release limited first and expand to wide like those two films, so it will have to contend with being forgotten by Oscar time next year, something I doubt that it can overcome.

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