Oscar Preview: Weekend of Jul. 12-14, 2013

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

Pacific Rim

The well reviewed robot/monster movie isn’t receiving the kind of acclaim that launches it into a Best Picture campaign, but the positive reviews put it in a strong position for a few below-the-line categories, specifically Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing.

Guillermo del Toro has been to the Oscar Rodeo a couple of times, his most recent stint five years ago with Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which picked up a surprise nomination for Best Makeup. Two years earlier, he was the toast of the town with his brilliant Pan’s Labyrinth, which received six nominations and won three prizes (Art Direction, Cinematography and Makeup won with Original Score, Original Screenplay and Foreign Language Film as its other nominations). Had the ten-wide slate existed in 2006, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all to see Labyrinth in Best Picture.

Of course, del Toro is on a streak, which means I’m fairly certain he’ll pick up at least the nomination for Best Visual Effects with the two sound categories also likely in tandem. Whether he can push past those categories remains to be seen. The Production Design has been praised and he already has two films nominated for Best Makeup. It could even end up in unexpected places like Editing and Cinematography. In the end, though, del Toro will have to be satisfied with filling the three major hand-in-hand tech categories.

Fruitvale Station

Sundance has become a proving ground for strong Oscar contenders. Last year, Beasts of the Southern Wild emerged from a crowded field to gain traction among Academy members and generated a large enough push that the film received a number of nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress. This year’s Sundance seems to have crowned one film as the go-to project for critical and Oscar acclaim.

Fruitvale Station is a tragic story about a young man struggling to make amends and become a better person to his girlfriend and young daughter. It’s a story that carries particular relevance in the current racial climate. While it seems a bit tacky to evoke the memory of Trayvon Martin to try to sell a film like Fruitvale Station, there’s no question that its particular relevance will have an impact on Academy members.

This is the kind of movie that Harvey Weinstein could turn into an Oscar powerhouse in his sleep. And he might just do that, but right now he sees August: Osage County as his best Oscar bet. That doesn’t mean he’ll treat this with any less priority, but when it comes to wins, I sense he’ll focus on AOC first and try to pick up a smattering of prizes for Fruitvale (its original Sundance title) in tandem. I can see nominations in several categories with Best Actor being a particularly strong chance.

The Hunt

Mads Mikkelsen isn’t your typical foreign action star who comes to the U.S. and takes on villain roles to bolster his name. Apart from his roles in Casino Royale and Clash of the Titans, Mikkelsen has been quietly amassing an impressive list of credits in his native Denmark.

The reviews coming out of drama The Hunt have been quite impressive. Its complex narrative has impressed critics and if the trailer suggests the whole story, this is the kind of role for which Oscar should be intended. The movie, about a teacher attempting to gain custody of his son is thrown into a dangerous situation when a young girl tells a lie gains traction in a small town. Mikkelsen could ride a wave of support from critics (if they give him the opportunity) to a rare nomination in Best Actor for a foreign language performance.

Even if that’s not a possibility, Denmark would do well to submit this for Oscar consideration. This sounds like the perfect tonic for the Academy’s Foreign Language Film category where strong tales of complex moral issues tend to get better recognition than their lightweight counterparts.

Terms and Conditions May Apply

With the furor erupting over Edward Snowden and his leak of “classified” material that indicated the United States was spying on innocent people, a documentary like Terms and Conditions May Apply carries added weight. The documentary examines how much information outfits like Facebook, Twitter and Google (among others) infuse into their Terms and Conditions documents that permit them to share certain information with outside parties. It asks us if we realize how much of our personal liberty we are giving up by agreeing to use their services.

Very few reviews have trickled in so far for the film and while it’s generally positive, the average rating is somewhat lower than expected. This topicality of the film would typically make this a big contender for the Oscars. The problem is that this year has been inundated with dozens of potential Oscar contenders, many of which still sit strongly with critics and audiences. A film like T&C May Apply will struggle against more overtly political films and against more populist titles.

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