Oscar Preview: Weekend of Oct. 17-19, 2014

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

The Book of Life

The dearth of animated films this year has left the Best Animated Feature category without a firm slate of five potential nominees. Other than a guaranteed nomination for early success The Lego Movie, Disney/Pixar’s sole effort this year Big Hero 6 and DreamWorks’ key contender How to Train Your Dragon 2, the potential for nominations in the category have been weak.

Fox animation, which has had success with the Ice Age films, has struggled to earn Oscar’s attention. The Book of Life was ostensibly the film they hoped would put them in the final five for only the second time, the first since the original Ice Age film made the list twelve years ago. Critics have been largely positive, complimenting it on its unique visual style, thought not necessarily for its story.

In years where there isn’t much competition, it would often seem that non-major studios (Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks) would have a better chance, but as often as not, the Academy opts to give some attention to non-American or non-traditional animated films. The Book of Life currently looks to be competing against The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and The Boxtrolls for the fourth and fifth slot, though none of them is even a guarantee.

Fury

Certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, Brad Pitt-starrer Fury, about a team of tank operators working in the Germany theater during World War II, had a strong opening at the box office this weekend giving it a one-two punch that should make it a key Oscar contender this year.

Before trailers came out, the film looked like it could earn several nominations in the tech and creative categories while struggling to earn spots in the top six with Pitt as one of the strong possibilities. Now that it’s been seen and has had a positive reception, it has the chance of a Best Picture nomination among many others, mostly in the non-vanity categories. One area it could surprise in is Best Supporting Actor where Logan Lerman has been receiving nearly universal praise for his performance, making his and not Brad’s performance that could be the film’s sole acting representation.

Ever since his delightful performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Lerman has been on my radar as a potential future Oscar nominee. That time could come this year, though his young age might hurt him in a category that typically sees an older average for nominees. Still, if breakthrough star Edward Norton could pull off a nomination for Primal Fear, it’s possible Lerman could as well, though it may be a long shot at this juncture.

Birdman

Another strong contender for a Best Picture nomination this year, Birdman marks Alejandro González Iñárritu’s fifth feature directorial effort and will likely be his fifth to earn Oscar nominations. His first film, in native Mexico, was Best Foreign Language Film nominee Amores Perros. He didn’t break beyond that category, but his next three films proved he wasn’t a one-trick pony.

Three years later in 2003, Iñárritu took his English-language debut to cinemas starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts in the emotional drama 21 Grams, which earned Watts her first Oscar nomination and a second nomination for Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro. This film was followed up in 2006 with Babel, a star-studded drama uniting a disparate cast of characters in an interwoven drama that gave Iñárritu his biggest Oscar hit to date. The film was nominated seven times, including Best Picture and a rare double nomination in Best Supporting Actress. The film was also his first and only film to win an Oscar for Gustavo Santaolalla’s score.

For his fourth film, Iñárritu returned to his Native Mexico to helm Biutiful, an emotion-heavy drama that delivered Javier Bardem his third Oscar nomination and entered the director into the Best Foreign Language Film category for a second time.

It would therefore be foolish to believe that Iñárritu won’t perform well with the Oscars again. Birdman seems to be a rather eclectic film, but it’s one critics have heaped broad praise on, especially Michael Keaton’s lead performance as a washed-up actor trying to reinvigorate his career after having played a prominent superhero. A perfect embodiment of its star’s career, Keaton is on everyone’s shortlist for his first Oscar nomination. While it could also earn a nomination for Emma Stone, the film seems certain to figure in the race for Best Picture and, in tandem, should make a run for Best Director and most certainly Best Original Screenplay among other creative categories.

Camp X-Ray

Mixed reviews and poor reception from audiences are likely to doom the very unlikely Oscar nominee Camp X-Ray. The film stars Twilight actress Kristen Stewart as a military officer assigned to the U.S. prion in Guantanamo Bay.

Ostensibly a film that questions the purpose and legitimacy of the unlawful detention of “war combatants” from the various Wars on Terror, the film’s trailer presents it as a twisting narrative about a prisoner who wants to be free and may be innocent, but who must convince Stewart’s character to help him get free.

No doubt there was some hope that Stewart could take on a more complicated role to give her a chance at an Oscar nomination. It might have worked considering her stony, emotionless performances to date seem perfectly fitting for such a role. However, with no love from critics and a general distaste for everything Y.A., I doubt the Academy would even consider recognizing the film or its star.

Dear White People

Performing better than Birdman, Justin Simien’s feature debut is a biting satire of race relation on college campuses following the lives of four black students at an Ivy League college who come together after an ill-conceived Halloween party theme.

The Academy doesn’t always get satire and they certainly haven’t fallen in favor with comedies by African American directors, or even dramas for that matter. Yet, the sharp, witty script has been universally praised and may build consensus among critics and earn an Ocar nomination for Simien’s work. The film itself may be a bit too bold a choice for the more conservative Academy, but if it becomes a box office hit that strikes out across racial demographics, it could build enough buzz to become an underground, long shot contender for a Best Picture nomination.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Currently rated with a perfect score at Rotten Tomatoes, Studio Ghibli has release its first post-Miyazaki animated feature from prominent Japanese artist Isao Takahata. The story revolves around a young girl who grows up quickly after being discovered inside a stalk of bamboo.

The film avoids traditional anime styles, opting for a light watercolor motif that is striking when compared to its contemporaries in the marketplace. With praise from critics, the film could become one of the underground contenders for a Best Animated Feature nomination alongside the bigger studios. Studio Ghibli has had success with its Miyazaki films, but hasn’t done much outside of that.

The style is reminiscent of 2013 Oscar nominee Ernest & Celestine and is being released and promoted by GKids, one of the most prominent specialty animation distributors currently in existence. Since its first release in 2008, GKids has secured Oscar nominations for four Oscar nominations: The Secret of Kells in 2010, Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris in 2012, and Ernest & Celestine. That kind of impressive track record will certainly help this film’s chances, the only one from GKids that currently seems to have any shot at an Oscar nomination.

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