Oscar Preview: Weekend of Nov. 13-15, 2015

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

Secret in Their Eyes

In 2009, Juan Jose Campanella delivered one of the year’s most acclaimed foreign features about a retired detective writing a novel based on the events of years earlier wherein an unsolved case, an unrequited love and a suspect at large have haunted him deeply. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film that year among various other accolades.

Oscar-nominated writer-director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) returns to the director’s chair after an eight year absence to loosely adapt Campanella’s screenplay into a new American feature starring Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman about the rape and murder of Roberts’ teenage daughter and the unrepentant investigation that follows.

With three Oscar nominees (and two winners, though Ejiofor certainly have won) on board, plus an Ray’s prior Oscar nomination for writing Captain Phillips, it’s easy to see why this film is considered, on paper, to be an Oscar contender. The film has a visible position for the Oscar season on top of it all, but for a film that’s supposed to be a player, no one has seen it even a week before the film opens.

This suggests two things: the film isn’t really as good as they would have you believe and is not close to the Oscar race; and the film is being positioned as a box office hit rather than as a horse in the Oscar race. These two factors are perfectly understandable and unsurprising. The film could still end up better than anyone expected and become a major threat, but the three actors may be the only ones in any of the races and only if the competition is less stiff than it already appears.

Carol

On the other end of the visibility spectrum is Cannes festival favorite Carol, a story of forbidden love set in 1950’s New York. It stars Oscar nominee Rooney Mara falling in love with Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, both of whom have received heaping mounds of praise for their performances, Mara having won the Cannes prize for Best Actress.

The first major film dealing with a gay love affair to enter the Oscar race in several years, Carol follows a long tradition for Todd Haynes of highly visible, polished period dramas with Oscar potential. His films’ first Oscar nomination came in 1998 when his early-80’s rock drama Velvet Goldmine earned a single nomination for Best Costume Design. Four years later, his next film, starring his Safe lead Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven remains his biggest Oscar success to date.

That film was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actress (Moore), Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Cinematography. While the film went home empty-handed, Moore was thought at the time to be a major player in the Oscar race and the film swept up several precursor awards in the process. Haynes returned to the hot seat five years later with the Bob Dylan thinkpiece I’m Not There, which earned Blanchett a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

This year, the buzz hasn’t subsided since Cannes and the film seems positioned to become one of the increasingly rare films to earn a double Best Actress nomination for Blanchett and Mara. The film is also certain to make a play in the creative categories along with Best Adapted Screenplay (from the novel by Patricia Highsmith). It’s also a key player in the Best Picture race and could result in a Best Director nomination for Haynes. Whether the film can actually win any of its competitions remains to be seen, but a number of nominations topping Far From Heaven would not be a shock.

Legend

Brian Helgeland, Oscar-winning screenwriter of L.A. Confidential (shared with Curtis Hanson) and nominee for Mystic River, brings his latest adaptation to the screen with Legend, a film about identical twin gangsters, two of Britain’s most dangerous and notorious mobsters.

The film stars Tom Hardy in the dual role, chatting with himself in increasingly harsh tones and presenting two wholly different personalities. If this were the Emmys, Hardy would not only be a nominee, but a major contender for a win (Sarah Paulson’s two-headed performance in American Horror Story: Freak Show broke an Emmy tradition of such performances winning). However, this is the Oscars and while stunts can earn nominations, they seldom ever win.

What gives Hardy a boost is his rising star as an artist not willing to compromise his talent for the sake of a quick buck. After taking a dive in much-derided rom-com This Means War, he’s consistently put himself out there as a dramatic figure not afraid to take risks, such as Locke. While he’s not focused on the almighty dollar, he’s appeared in several high profile films, both under Christopher Nolan and recently George Miller. That combination gives him a visible boost, but may not be enough to secure him a nomination this year.

The film has been largely dismissed by critics, which won’t play well into Oscar’s need to recognize marginally successful films either at the box office or with critics groups. The film was originally thought to be a major contender, but has since diminished to the point where Hardy remains its only hope and even that hope is fading fast.

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