We had seven films release this past weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.
Man of Steel
Seven years ago, the maligned first attempt to refresh the Superman franchise earned an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects. The film’s strong opening should give it enough boost to be considered for a nomination in the same category at the Oscars. However, critics haven’t been that kind to this latest incarnation, which suggests it’s going to be a fan-pleasing experience more so than a broadly appealing film. That doesn’t mean much considering The Avengers, liked by audiences and critics alike only managed a single nomination for Best Visual Effects while the last Transformers film was hated by critics and wasn’t beloved by audiences still managed three nominations. For the tech categories, it matters how impressive the film looks and sounds regardless of whether it actually is. So, Man of Steel will be a solid contender, but all things superhero don’t register with the Oscars.
20 Feet from Stardom
Performing incredibly well with critics, this documentary looks into the often forgotten world of background singers. Standing twenty feet from legendary acts like the Rolling Stones, these women have made their main acts sound great, but have had limited visibility elsewhere. While they have an enormous amount of respect from the music industry itself, general audiences aren’t nearly as familiar with them. For that, this documentary could help change that if it can get out there and get seen. That alone could be reason for music-loving documentary voters to pick this one out of the deluge of political polemics to give it a shot at glory.
Berberian Sound Studio
Perhaps this inclusion is a bit of a pipe dream, but everything about this movie sounds like it should be considered for the Oscars. Toby Jones is a prominent sound mixer/editor who is called to Italy to generate the aural elements of a prominent horror filmmaker’s latest film. When the process of creating horrific sounds begins to invade his psyche, the hapless sound designer must battle internal demons to avoid being consumed by the project. Critics have been largely positive, but not to the point where it will become a cause-celèbre for them. Sound designers might recognize the compelling use of sound in the film and bolster the movie’s chances at Oscar consideration, but ultimately the more broadly appealing tend to do better with Oscar than “minor” films like this.
The Bling Ring
Her first film was critically acclaimed. Her second film was also and earned several Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor for Bill Murray. Her fourth film went afoul of critics and only managed an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. Her fifth film was appreciated by critics and could have been an Oscar contender, but all thoughts of Oscar crumbled away when critics found other films and performances to honor. Now on her sixth feature, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, the story of notorious teenage celebrity thieves has been largely ignored by critics and will test the mettle of any die-hard Coppola fan to insinuate she’s still an Oscar contender. She could end up a screenwriting nominee if the slate is particularly weak, but otherwise the film seems to have arrived out of competition.
Call Me Kuchu
What could be a significant player in this year’s Best Documentary Feature race, this documentary follows the struggles of Uganda homosexuals as they attempt to earn equal rights in their highly religious and deadly nation. The battle for gay rights around the world is a lightning rod issue that the Academy tends to love. Critics so far love it and with the gay rights issues flaring up again the U.S., it’s a potential contender for the win. Add to that the dramatic events that are covered in the film and that some of them took place right in front of the camera’s lenses and you have a tour-de-force that voters should devour.
In the Fog
This foreign language film, set during World War II, looks like the kind of film the Academy loves to recognize. A man wrongly accused of collaboration with the enemy attempts to clear his name and preserve his dignity in the face of certain incarceration and potential death. Exploring oneself while trapped in the midst of conflict is a popular theme with Oscar voters and the dramatic nature of the plot makes it sound like a potential winner. This all if the home country submits the film for Oscar consideration and if it makes it through the various inspections to become a favored votee.
In the vein of An Inconvenient Truth, Pandora’s Promise from veteran documentary Robert Stone explores the promise of nuclear power as an alternative to coal and oil energy if it can get past the negative stigma that surrounds it. The film trots out environmentalists to discuss their turn around on the concept and their support for the future of renewable energy. The film hasn’t gotten a lot of airplay and critics haven’t exactly jumped over each other to praise it. And while Stone has two Emmy nominations and an Oscar nomination under his belt, beating out more prominent and more acclaimed documentaries will be a tough sell. Comparisons to An Inconvenient Truth may also hurt the film’s chances, not because that film was not well respected, but being too much of the same isn’t a good thing to Oscar voters…with notable exceptions.