Well, at least the potential is there.
Every June, people ask me when we’re going to start seeing the best films of the year? The short answer is October. Production studios are holding back from releasing their highest caliber (notice I didn’t say grossing) films until the last quarter of the calendar year for several possible reasons. First, the January through late March months are reserved for the re-release of movies nominated for Golden Globe and Oscars, so fans have a chance to go see them before/after those top awards telecasts. But, we all know, those nominations and award winners are for the previous year. Ugh. So the best movies between January – March were really 2014, version 2.0 films. Movies are expensive to see and the public wants to have sound counsel before dropping two Lincolns on single viewings.
By April, moviegoers are completely wiped out from non-stop movies that started in earnest way back around Thanksgiving. Families, after record snowfall amounts in the winter, use April to take off to enjoy warmer Spring-time temperatures.
The real movie calendar doesn’t start until Memorial Day–usually with action films that last through the Fourth of July holiday weekend. In August and September, back-to-school keeps parents and teens focused on another academic year starting. Thus, it’s not until October–after everyone is back into a “normal” routine of school/work–that moviegoers begin to enjoy big-screen movies on Friday nights once again. And Oscar-worthy films are what they want to see as the leaves begin to turn orange and fall from trees.
The latest tactic we’re seeing from Hollywood is to release their highest caliber films–the ones based on bestsellers or an exceptional cast-director coupling–as late as possible each year so that fans can talk up a movie and influence awards voters. In 2014, December debuted Wild, The Gambler, Big Eyes, Selma, Mr. Turner, American Sniper (limited theaters) and The Homesman. The month before, Nightcrawler, Interstellar, Foxcatcher, Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, and The Imitation Game all got released in November. Oscar worthy productions, or those with big names to generate award hype, have everyone scrambling between October – December to see them…just ahead of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ nominations that are announced in mid-January.
So where do we stand so far in 2015? Well, I’ve provided my list of the year’s best up to this point (with Ex Machina, McFarland USA and Noble leading the pack). And I just saw the most enjoyable and entertaining movie I’ve seen this year.
Where do we go from here? What films look to stand out in the late Fall and early Winter, with a chance to grab Oscar gold? Here are eight movies that I feel have serious Oscar potential:
The Stanford Prison Experiment – A dark horse film to make pre-release hype due to a relative newcomer director and first-time movie writer, watch out for this psychological thriller. Over 13 years in the making, the film studies how a 1971 real life experiment involving students, conducting a psychological test at Stanford University, role played as both prisoners and guards during a one-week to two-week simulation. Two dozen participants are paid $15/day to experiment in a mock prison on campus for educational purposes. What unfolds is unbelievable and unfathomable. The hypothesis of the test was that abusive behavior in prison was a direct result of the personalities of the guards and prisoners. No way? Get outta here. Can’t believe this stuff. But if this new director and screenwriter can provide enough goose-bump moments of terror, tickets will be sold. Release date – July 17.
Bridge of Spies – A Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks’ Cold War thriller inspired by the true story of two countries at the brink of World War III in 1962. Three men with vast knowledge of their homeland’s secrets, held by their nation’s adversary. Tom Hanks, as a Brooklyn lawyer, is asked by the United States to negotiate a superpower prisoner exchange at Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge and Checkpoint Charlie. Nobody is safe. Our Constitution held up to be viewed, but perhaps not followed. Men, like U-2 pilot Gary Powers, thrust into the Cold War dialogue and the political drama of the nuclear triad. Some of the best wordsmiths in Hollywood developed the script; Matt Charman, Ethan and Joel Coen. Therefore, on paper and on-camera, this movie stands out. Release date – October 16.
Irrational Man – Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone star in this Woody Allen film about a brilliant professor who takes a job at a small university in an attempt to spark new life into his body. The professor takes a page right out of Allen’s background and balances a relationship with a teacher and a student. Hard to tell how much buzz this movie will generate with Woody’s name attached to it. But Joaquin Phoenix has been at the top of his game for several years now and Stone (despite “Aloha”) still enjoys accolades from last year’s Birdman. Don’t discount this trio yet. Timing is everything for this film. If it’s well received without competition, it may create a stir and wave of support. Not likely, but you’ve got to keep this one on your radar. For now. Release date – July 17 is for limited theaters only. Wider release is TBD (but I suspect October or so).
Steve Jobs – Michael Fassbender (Academy Award nominated for 12 Years a Slave) stars as the big Apple. Although a handful of biographies have been, or are about to be, released on the Apple CEO, this film shows the most intriguing. First, director Danny Boyle knows a thing or two about Academy Award film-making…his 2008 Slumdog Millionaire was nominated for 10 Oscars and won 8. Eight! Secondly, Seth Rogan and Academy Award winner Kate Winslet (Titanic) co-star with the talented Fassbender. The 40-year old British Winslet, the youngest to ever be nominated for 6 Oscars (at the age of 31), rarely missteps in selecting her films. Throw in accomplished screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (TV’s West Wing and The Newsroom, along with A Few Good Men, The Social Network) and this Apple product may out-gross the iPhone 6. This movie will take us behind the scenes to our generation’s greatest innovator. Release date – October 9.
The Danish Girl – Wonder what Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed physicist Stephen Hawking in last year’s The Theory of Everything, has been doing since? Well, this. Sorta. He’s been filming The Danish Girl, where he plays Einar Wegener in the 1920s. Wegener (Redmayne) begins living life as a woman named Lili Elbe and becomes the world’s first male-to-female sexual reassignment recipient. Wegener’s marriage faces difficult challenges and decisions which places a strain for all involved in Wegener’s life. I expect Redmayne to hit this one out of the ballpark and Hollywood to throw more love at this film than People magazine can keep up with. Nicole Kidman and Amber Heard co-star. Co-directors Tom Hooper (Oscar-winning The King’s Speech) and 2-time Academy Award nominated Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog, The Cedar House Rules) easily have enough here to work with–look for The Danish Girl to make every Oscar nom list. Release date – November 27 (limited).
Carol – This high-caliber film is adapted from the 1952 Patricia Highsmith romance novel “The Price of Salt.” Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) plays a young woman launching her theater set design career in Manhattan. She’s dating a man she really doesn’t care too much for–nor wants to have a “Friends with Benefits” plan with. And then it hits her (Mara’s Therese Belivet character)….she finds a beautiful woman (re: Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett as Carol) that earns her double-take. Up. Down. All around. Talk of “schoolgirl crush” ensues and the discourse is on. Marriages crumble. No, make that shatter. After a Thelma & Louise-type road trip, Therese and Carol have romance, sex and Magnum PI on their tails. Controversial and based off a successful novel, Carol stands good odds to make bank at the box office as guys join their girls to watch this foreplay unfold. Lastly, expect several Oscar lists for Carol, with at least Best Adapted Screenplay topping the list. Release date – December 18.
Joy – Inspired by the true life story of Joy Mangano, this movie chronicles the discovery of the “Miracle Mop” and how a woman’s invention leads to her rise to the top of a powerful family business dynasty. Director David O. Russell is due for an Academy Award and always brings his A-game to set. He has earned three Oscar nominations as director for The Fighter (2010), Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013). Additionally, he’s been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (Silver Linings Playbook) and Best Original Screenplay (American Hustle). Although Russell is 0-5 at taking home an Academy Award, he’s got a proven track record of quality films, and recently. He also seems to get the best actors and actresses to work with him again (another good indication). For Joy, teams up again with Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook. Film also stars Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini and Diane Ladd. Release date – December 25.
The Revenant – This year’s best director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (Birdman) joins up with Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) to explore the great American wilderness. DiCaprio plays hunter Hugh Glass, who is left behind by the members of his team–including Tom Hardy’s (from Mad Max: Fury Road) character. DiCaprio must use his wits and will to survive to navigate unforgiving territory and harsh winter. Think of Kevin Costner in 1990’s Academy Award Best Picture-winner Dances with Wolves. Now, times Costner’s Army officer/Indian survival difficulty by a factor of 10. Answer: Hugh Glass. The Revenant combines brutal conditions, warring tribes and revenge for the trifecta success formula. With Iñárritu and DiCaprio telling this story, The Revenant should be on everyone’s “Must See” watch list. Release date – Christmas Day.
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"Patrick, you are my go-to guy when it comes to the box office". - Judy O.