With the 2014 Oscar race fading further into memory, I say it’s never too early to look ahead to what’s in store for the nascent 2015 contest. It should start coming into the beginnings of focus when Cannes starts in May, or maybe even at CinemaCon in late April (though that National Association of Theatre Owners confab usually highlights more obviously commercial stuff, not necessarily Oscar bait). It’s interesting to note that by this time last year, three of the eight eventual Best Picture Oscar nominees already had premiered, and that was a bit unusual. The 2014 Sundance Film Fest in January gave us Boyhood and Whiplash, which went on to earn a total of 11 nominations and four Oscars between them. And then after its smash Berlin debut, Fox Searchlight opened Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel exactly one year ago this weekend. With nine nominations and eventually four Oscar wins, it also became the first film to be released before May to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination since Erin Brockovich in 2000. So anything on the horizon now that could match that impressive record at this point so near the ides of March? Hmmmm.
Out of Sundance this year Fox Searchlight — the reigning Best Picture distributor two years running with 12 Years A Slave and Birdman (along with 12 Best Pic noms overall) — grabbed two promising awards prospects in Brooklyn starring, Domhnall Gleeson and Saoirse Ronan, as well as Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, with Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler. The latter film won two prizes at Sundance, emulating what Whiplash did the year before. A24 Films also has awards hope for James Ponsoldt’s Sundancer The End Of The Tour, which opens in July, the same time period in which Boyhood successfully launched.
Looking at the landscape so far this year, I would venture to say we won’t have a repeat where nearly half the Best Picture nominees already had been seen by this date. From the Sundance buzz, though, Brooklyn would seem like the perfect recipe to go all the way, and Searchlight this week dated it for the Oscar-friendliest of weekends, November 6. Also this week Focus Features came out with a Thanksgiving weekend date of November 27 for The Danish Girl, a movie currently in production that has a pure Oscar pedigree as it comes from The King’s Speech Oscar winner Tom Hooper and stars newly minted Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne. I even heard early in the 2014 season that Hooper joked to a friend that it would be fine for Redmayne to be nominated for The Theory Of Everything but he was going to win for his movie. Redmayne’s triumph at the Dolby after an exhausting campaign season has changed the stakes on that plan, and now Focus will be trying to position him for the rare feat of back-to-back Best Actor wins, something not accomplished since Tom Hanks in 1993 and 1994 for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Even though cameras are still rolling the Danish Girl campaign seems to be on, with Focus releasing an early photo of Redmayne as transgender pioneer Einar Wegener. It’s a role right out of the current zeitgeist for Redmayne and obvious catnip for Academy voters. The part originally was meant to be played by Nicole Kidman.
Another big 2014 Oscar winner, Alejandro G. Inarritu, also went straight from the Dolby — after winning three Oscars for Birdman — back to the set of another highly ambitious film. It’s The Revenant from big Fox and New Regency, which are looking for three in a row and might find themselves with a major contender with this Leonardo DiCaprio-starring film. Big Fox also could be giving its overachieving specialty division, Searchlight (which also has Far From The Madding Crowd, True Story and A Bigger Splash on its crowded schedule), a run for the Oscar money also with David O. Russell’s Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence as the creator of the Miracle Mop, and Ridley Scott’s November release The Martian. Fox also is involved internationally with Steven Spielberg’s promising DreamWorks entry St. James Place starring Hanks, which Touchstone Pictures will release domestically. DreamWorks (and Participant Films) also could have director Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans, starring Michael Fassbender, in the mix.
Although they aren’t likely Best Picture fodder like Grand Budapest Hotel, two March releases — Disney’s Cinderella and the Al Pacino starrer Danny Collins — have some level of awards potential. Singing for the first time, Pacino plays an aging rock star, which could find him in the Comedy or Musical category at the Golden Globes (his support cast including a superb Christopher Plummer, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner and Bobby Cannavale is exceptional as well). Costumes and production design are distinct possibilities for Cinderella, though I have to say I was enchanted by Cate Blanchett’s evil stepmother. She’s probably a better bet for later in the year with the Weinstein Company’s Carol, though.
Going down the list –always a fool’s errand at this point in the game, with release dates uncertain and movies sight unseen– Warner Bros could be back in action big time next awards season with several films including David Gordon Green’s Our Brand Is Crisis, starring Sandra Bullock; Scott Cooper’s Black Mass, with a startling transformation of Johnny Depp into Whitey Bulger; and Ron Howard’s big Christmas picture In The Heart Of The Sea, which was moved from spring into prime Oscar-season territory. There’s also Mud director Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special, reuniting him with Michael Shannon, who also is great in Broad Green Pictures’ pickup 99 Homes, a film co-starring Andrew Garfield and Laura Dern that played the fall festival circuit already but has yet to open in theaters.
Universal, which held out high Best Picture hopes last season for Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, only to come up short when Oscar nominations were announced, has Jolie’s next directorial effort opposite husband Brad Pitt, in the marriage tale By The Sea. U also has Steve Jobs, the biopic from Oscar winners Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin, which hopscotched from Sony to Universal and stars Fassbender (again) in what should be a definite contender if things work out. And though it’s listed for February 2016, I wouldn’t be shocked to see The Coen Brothers back with their Hollywood tale, Hail Caesar. With Working Title, there’s also Tom Hardy as the Kray twins in Brian Helgeland’s Legend, and Everest, one of many titles starring Jake Gyllenhaal, so egregiously overlooked by Oscar for his great performance in Nightcrawler. Perhaps the Academy can make it up to him with this mountain-climbing tale, another Searchlight entry called Demolition or the summertime Weinstein Co. Antoine Fuqua boxing tale Southpaw, in which he truly transforms himself again, putting on all the weight he lost for Nightcrawler.
Speaking of the quintessential Oscar player, Harvey Weinstein, he has several films including the aforementioned Todd Haynes film, Carol (headed for Cannes?) with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara; the Margot Robbie starrer Suite Francaise; the Helen Mirren-Ryan Reynolds true drama Woman In Gold; Regression with Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson; Macbeth with Fassbender (again) and Marion Cotillard; and of course, Quentin Tarantino’s currently shooting Western The Hateful Eight. For Tarantino’s last film, Django Unchained, Weinstein Co teamed with Sony, but that ever-so-troubled studio, which drew a blank at the 2014 Oscars — outside of specialty division Sony Pictures Classics, of course, which had multiple nominees — could have a big comeback at the 2016 Academy Awards, at least in theory, with such possible entries as Will Smith starring in the football picture Concussion; George Clooney’s very promising Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster; newly rebooted TriStar’s The Walk, which was shepherded by new Sony Pictures boss Tom Rothman; and even summer entry Ricki And The Flash, which stars Meryl Streep as an aging rock star (shades of Pacino?). Never count out Streep. Or Maggie Smith who reportedly has a juicy role in the crowd-pleasing Christmas season entry, The Lady In The Van. SPC always manages a strong slate of Oscar contenders one way or another, and it inevitably will have a lot of titles this coming year. But right now it can count especially on its Sundance pickup Grandma, starring an exceptional Lily Tomlin, as well as its annual Woody Allen film, this time being Irrational Man with Joaquin Phoenix.
Paramount always seems to manage to elbow its way into the race, and this year it should have Martin Scorsese back on board with his passion project Silence — if Scorsese chooses to have it ready in time. With Oscar-friendly Annapurna, Paramount also has Rick Linklater’s post-Boyhood project That’s What I’m Talking About. Disney, of course, has the Star Wars reboot, but the Academy hasn’t nominated a Star Wars film for Best Picture since the first in 1977, when it awarded that landmark blockbuster seven Oscars but gave Best Pic to Allen’s Annie Hall. Disney, with Pixar, also has Pete Docter’s highly anticipated Inside Out, and word I have heard is that it, like Docter’s Up, is headed for Cannes in advance of its June 19 release. I’ve also heard it is strong Best Picture fodder. We’ll wait and see if this animated flick can be the one that proves a game changer for the Academy’s history of treating toons.
Among the indies I am looking forward to seeing possibly in the race, there is new player Bleecker Street’s Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston as the famed blacklisted screenwriter. The same new company also has Danny Collins, Tobey Maguire in Ed Zwick’s Toronto pickup, Pawn Sacrifice, and a Blythe Danner vehicle, I’ll See You In My Dreams, bought at Sundance, that could give her a shot at a Best Actress nomination. And Oliver Stone’s Snowden, going out in December via Open Road, could continue the Academy’s newfound love affair with the infamous whistle blower. It gave CitizenFour the Best Documentary Oscar this year, so why not consider what Stone is cooking up? And there is 2013’s Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey’s cerebral turn in Gus Van Sant’s Sea Of Trees, which also is worth watching out for. 45 Years, with juicy roles for vets Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling, is one to look out for from Sundance Selects. And I’m eagerly looking forward to Robert Redford playing Dan Rather in James Vanderbilt’s intriguing-sounding Truth. No list of hopefuls would be complete without my personal most anticipated film of 2015 — or whenever — Warren Beatty’s untitled Howard Hughes drama, which still is without a U.S. distributor. But going by the best of Beatty, the only filmmaker nominated twice in two different years in four different Oscar categories, we can’t wait.
And of course there probably are many other possibilities not listed here. Some of these movies won’t even make it out this year, if the past is any indication, and others we aren’t anticipating quite yet will. But overall, on paper at least, 2015 looks like a winner with new films from so many Oscar-winning major directors. Good thing, because as Peter Sellers says in Being There, “I like to watch.”