Oscar Preview: Weekend of Oct. 18-20, 2013

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

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen has been quietly amassing a stellar filmography and in spite of the plaudits his last film, Shame, received, he has been an Oscar no-show. 2013 should prove to be the year all that changes.

With Shame, the NC-17 rating likely kept most Oscar voters from popping in the DVD. That Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan gave brilliant, career-defining performances in the film, it’s a shame more didn’t catch it. Regardless, 12 Years a Slave is burning up the box office with a $50,000 per screen average this weekend and some of the best reviews of any film this year. Add to this the frequent comparisons the film is receiving to Schindler’s List, another film about a dark part of human history that was unflinchingly portrayed by another master filmmaker.

McQueen is playing the game well and has been making his rounds of the festivals and Academy screenings where a large portion of those who’ve seen it have declared it a masterpiece that challenges the emotions of its audience, but is a necessary picture. It has a long way to the podium, but it’s sure to contend in nearly every major category, including for the performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and the one person earning more buzz than McQueen, actress Lupita Nyong’o, who seems to be fast emerging as the to-beat Best Supporting Actress future nominee.

All Is Lost

J.C. Chandor had a stellar debut with his original screenplay and directorial effort Margin Call, which earned him an Oscar nomination. His follow up to that film, All Is Lost is generating buzz, not for his efforts, but for that of his star: Robert Redford.

The film takes place almost entirely as Redford is stranded at sea by a powerful storm and must struggle to survive in a harsh, forbidding environment. Last year’s Life of Pi covered similar territory but was filled with flashbacks and exposition to keep the audience from being too overwhelmed by the protagonist’s dim outlook. All Is Lost may be a bit more bleak than this, but has earned far more positive reviews since it’s premiere at Cannes.

The film has been gestating a long while and is finally getting a release date, presumably closer to Oscar season so it won’t be forgotten. While the film is still sure to be on the lips of Oscar prognosticators for the foreseeable future, the film’s weak debut this weekend might spell trouble for the film. No one is expecting it to be an outright hit like Life of Pi was, but when it’s overshadowed by the other film I covered above, that doesn’t give it much hope to compete outside of Best Actor.

Redford is one of a short list of names competing for a Best Actor nomination and if the film is seen, it should prove a strong option for voters. However, I’m reminded of another film that gave an actor a late-career opportunity to impress. Richard Gere couldn’t manage to seal the deal for Arbitrage, so Redford might have a tough chance. That doesn’t mean much since Gere had never been Oscar nominated before, whereas Robert Redford is a well known quantity with multiple Oscar nominations. I’m kind of surprised the film didn’t show at Sundance, but it was a judicious decision if done because of Redford’s associatiation with that festival.

American Promise

In spite of appearing on a list of potential Documentary Feature nominees run by Hollywood Reporter last week, the critical reception for American Promise has been weak.

The film, which follows two black students attempting to gain entrance to a private school in hopes of a better life, but finding their path fraught with stereotypes and identity issues. American Promise explores the education gap between minorities and white students and attempts to shed light on prejudice and culture within the classroom.

Without strong support from critics, American Promise isn’t likely to be another Waiting for “Superman”, and even that film wasn’t an Oscar nominee in spite of the critic awards.

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