Where We Stand: Films & Festivals

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As the Toronto Film Festival wraps up this week, and Telluride and Venice have concluded, the fall season, as well as the awards season, are in full swing. The one thing I have noticed from following and reading up on the festivals is that unlike last year when Birdman hit like gangbusters at Venice and then Telluride, there has not been a film that has been declared the frontrunner across the board. The only film that has received pretty much universal acclaim and one that is probably everyone’s top dog of the moment, is Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, which follows a group of Boston Globe journalists as they uncover pedophilia within the Catholic Church. The film is the one standout that everyone seems to appreciate, enjoy and thank is a truly important film. But it does not have the Oscar in the bag already. The big ones are still on the way.

In Telluride, the biggest premiere was Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, which has been mentioned as a talkie, three-act opera and more an Aaron Sorkin thing than Boyle one. I like that as I deeply admired is penned The Social Network and the film has been declared a flawed masterpiece by some. That is not a surprise and Michael Fassbender, who plays the dominating Apple magnate, received high praises for his performance, and Kate Winslet, no shock here, is also getting great notices for playing one of the key players in the Macintosh foundation, Joanna Hoffman.

Other than the big news following the premieres of Spotlight, and its cast which is supposedly stellar, with Michael Keaton already receiving high marks, the air is full of gratitude and love for the performances given by Cate Blanchett, who I think might be the best actor in the business right now. She already received enormously high praise for her role in Todd Haynes Carol and is receiving equally ecstatic marks for her turn in James Vanderbilt’s Truth. We already knew that she knocked it out of the park in Carol, but she apparently gives a brilliant performance as the CBS producer of 60 Minutes Mary Mapes. Carol has been universally praised since Cannes, where it premiered back in May, but Truth has been more positively received than not. There are some mixed reviews out there, but for the most part, it looks like a winner and Blanchett could, even though I doubt it, receive two Best Actress nominations for both roles.

From what I have followed, there have not been any films that have been heavily panned, but, like I was writing earlier, nothing has been received on the level of Birdman  or Boyhood from last year. The one film that has had some seriously passionate supporters and some that do not care for its abrasive depiction of violence and growth  is Cary Joji Fukunaga’s African war drama Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba and newcomer Abraham Attah as the child who is transformed in to young, brutal soldier. The film is apparently very difficult to watch at times and contains some intense violence, but looks like a must see. The people saying it is difficult need to get over it and appreciate a director going all out and not hiding. Fukunaga has a great eye and the film has even been compared to Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. That might be a stretch, but I look forward to seeing it next month.

A few films that were perceived as heavy, Oscar-baity films — The Danish Girl, I Saw the Light, Freeheld — were met with mixed, to negative reviews. The safest bet of the lot is The Danish Girl, which follows the story of Einar Wegener and his transformation in to  a woman in the earlier 1900s. The film is apparently very soft, with another great performance from last year’s Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne, who will most certainly get nominated but probably not a back-to-back win, but the real star and meatier role is Wegener’s wife, Gerda, played by the wonderful Alicia Vikander. Tom Hiddleston is supposedly great as country music icon Hank Williams, but the film is flat and Freeheld is just a flat-out bomb, even though Julianne Moore, Ellen Page and Michael Shannon are said to deliver good work.

And yes, Johnny Depp is apparently back! Not that is acting had ever gone anywhere, but the quality of the films were bogged down in Disney sequels and plain junk. His turn as notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger in Scott Cooper’s Black Mass is  apparently a tour de force and could not just garner Depp another Best Actor nomination, three already, but a win might be in the cards. The film has been received fairly well, but nothing over the moon. I think it looks great and I am glad to see Depp back to doing some high quality work.

So, where are we? As of right now, and I will be updating my Academy Award predictions at the end of the month, this is what looks like the possible Best Picture candidates from what has been  seen:

  • Spotlight
  • Carol
  • Steve Jobs 
  • Brooklyn
  • Youth
  • Suffragette
  • Beasts of No Nation
  • Son of Saul
  • The Danish Girl
  • Black Mass
  • Truth
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Inside Out
  • Love & Mercy
  • Ex Machina

Or something like that. As I aforementioned, last year we had two clear favorites in Boyhood (premiered at Sundance) and Birdman (premiered at Venice & Telluride). The year before that, 12 Years a Slave premiered at Telluride and blew everyone way. It took that momentum all the way to a Best Picture win. The only two films out of the ones that have been seen this year that I feel have a chance to take home the big prize are Spotlight or Carol, with Steve Jobs and Brooklyn being right behind. But what about the unseen?

There are a lot of big films still to be unveiled:  Steven  Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, David O. Russell’s Joy, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant and, if it really delivers the goods, JJ Abrams Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I feel like Spotlight is going to go in to the awards season with a tremendous amount good buzz, much like Argo, but the two to really watch out for are Joy and The Revenant. Both trailers delivered a great taste of the possibility of what these two master filmmakers have put together and the all around talent is amazing. Right now, The Revenant is the one I would place all my bets on, but it is a long way until the nominations in January. It is going to be a fun year!!!

Photo credits by awardsdaily.com and indiewire.com

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