Monday, May 20, 2013

A Look at Summer Films with Academy Award Potential

Still from Much Ado About Nothing
With the summer movie season heating up, there is a good chance that The Oscar Buzz may hit a dry spell. True, I once stated that June was the turning point for cinema. It would be that moment in which films suddenly stood a modicum of a chance to burst out onto the scene and get some Oscar attention. While The Great Gatsby showed us some hope, few films seem worthy of an entire entry around the speculation. Films like Star Trek Into Darkness and this week's Fast & Furious 6 at best are Best Sound Editing and Best Special Effects contenders. Still, over the summer months, I have decided to take a look at films that may have potential to break the mold and may be the buzz when nominations are announced next January. Maybe not all of these will be Best Picture material, but if they're even close, we're in for a very interesting ceremony.

I will admit that not all of the selections I have highlighted are even up for consideration at this point. This is more bias and speculation than any specified knowledge. Still, in a year that has produced masterful films like Spring Breakers, The Place Beyond the Pines, Side Effects, and Stoker, 2013 is at least looking into an excitingly original year at the ceremony. That is, if the Fall season can live up to an already vivacious output. With this said, I still took some consideration on why these films stand a chance while a few are more to spread the word.  Posted is a general overview of which of the top categories, not including technical or costume categories, these films can be seen in. 

Monster's University

Categories: Best Animated Feature, Best Picture

Monster's University is probably the only guarantee of an Oscar nominee that we know of at this point. With exception to Cars 2, almost every Pixar film since the Best Animated Feature's induction has been nominated and won. In fact, what is fascinating is that Monster's Inc. was part of the first Best Animated Feature nominees, but lost to Shrek. While it is dependent on quality, Pixar's bias with the Academy already guarantees it a place in the selection. However, I speculate that it is possible for its win to be an apology win, just like Martin Scorsese's Best Director win for The Departed: an odd fate for a sequel to one of Pixar's most revered classics.

Cate Blanchett
Blue Jasmine

Categories: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Cate Blanchett)
Little is known about Woody Allen's latest film that also stars Louis C.K., Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, and former Best Actor nominee Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man). While Allen's work may be uneven, it is always a safe bet that he could pull out another hit at any turn. This is most evident from two years ago when Midnight in Paris received four Oscar nominations and won Best Original Screenplay. Also known to occasionally direct Oscar-worthy performances, I am speculating that Cate Blanchett, who won Best Supporting Actress for The Aviator to add her sixth acting nomination to this list. At very least, with a 5-10 sliding scale for Best Picture nominees, this stands a chance of getting the niche comedy film slot. This is all provided that the film is not in the same vein as last year's To Rome with Love.

We Steal Stories: The Story of WikiLeaks

Categories: Best Documentary
Twice nominated and winner for Taxi to the Dark Side, Alex Gibney's look at Julian Assange stands a chance of hitting a third nomination. As The Invisible War and How to Survive a Plague proved last year, the Academy is in love with hard hitting issues. Since there is already a trust built around Gibney, there is a chance that this will live up to their standards and fill in at very least the socially conscious slot on the list. If not, there is always small hope for Benedict Cumberbatch to get a Best Actor nomination for playing Assange in The Fifth Estate. Either way, it is going to be a big year for WikiLeaks at the Oscars.

Fruitvale Station

Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Michael B. Jordan)
One of the biggest buzzes around this year's Sundance was Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station, which took top prizes and almost seems prime to get some representation at the Oscars this year. Films like Beasts of the Southern Wild managed to earn nominations from the grassroots word of mouth approach, and it feels like this underdog film is set to be 2013's triumph. At very least, the critics have spoken, and this film could hit the emotional, social cues that the Academy looks for in their films. While the Best Director slot may be controversial, as the category has become more indeterminable since last year's axing of Ben Affleck, there's still some potential in Michael B. Jordan sneaking into the Oscar race, provided some heavyweight favorites don't knock him out akin to John Hawks (The Sessions) in the race last year.


Categories: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay
Before you begin yelling at me for considering a big budgeted blockbuster and how the Academy hates sci-fi (I already covered that here), let me remind you that Neil Blomkamp managed to get his directorial debut District 9 into the Best Picture category. While it may be a fluke and this is all for naught, it is too early to determine the quality of this film. As a fan of his previous film, I hope that Elysium is really good, though the trailer suggests that it stands the least chance based on the selection that I have highlighted. 

Only God Forgives

Categories: Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Ryan Gosling)
There is a cult that has built over director Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive being cut almost entirely out of that year's Oscar nominations, save for a Best Sound Editing slot. For many, the film is seen as a modern art house masterpiece. That is why Only God Forgives has been so anticipated, even though I feel like it will run into many of the issues that its predecessor had. At very least, this looks to be more more graphic and violent than Drive was in its sparing sense of the form. However, while my money is on The Place Beyond the Pines giving Ryan Gosling that Best Actor nomination, there is a small chance that this one could. Based on footage, however, I don't see it doing any better than Drive did overall.

Before Midnight

Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay
What is amazing is that in Richard Linklater's career, his only Oscar nomination has been Best Adapted Screenplay for Before Sunset. While this bodes well for Before Midnight, my personal speculation draws mostly from Sundance, which has garnered the film countless amounts of praise. I know very little about what is considered the "Before" trilogy, but if it is as great as the critics claim, there is a strong chance that at very least, Before Midnight can continue to trend of Linklater getting Best Adapted Screenplay nominations for his beloved series.

Frances Ha

Categories: Best Actress (Greta Gerwig), Best Original Screenplay
Noah Baumbach is overdue for another Oscar nomination. After getting a Best Original Screenplay nod for his breakout film The Squid and the Whale, his only other recognition has been for Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is more director Wes Anderson's movie than his, even if he co-wrote it. Here he has another intimate character piece that has an impressive 91% on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, his highest since The Squid and the Whale. Also, with this being Greta Gerwig's most notable, successful lead role to date, there isn't much stopping her infectious charm from landing her a nomination. I will confirm very soon whether or not that this film has potential, as I plan to see it once it gets a wider theatrical release.

Left to right: Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller
The Spectacular Now

Categories: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Best Original Screenplay
Do yourselves a favor. Please watch Smashed. It is a masterful film and one of my favorites from last year that more than justifies Mary Elizabeth Winstead as one of the biggest snubs of last year. I can only expect that director James Ponsoldt's follow-up will manage to have the same level of charm and with a cast that includes performers that have appeared in other Best Picture nominees (Shailene Woodley had a prominent role in The Descendants). I only hope that this gets wide enough recognition and is as good as I expect. If it does, you'll probably be hearing me defend Winstead for the rest of the year. She really is an impressive performer and its a shame that she hasn't been nominated yet. 

Much Ado About Nothing

Categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay
This is not meant to be a love letter to Joss Whedon, but more a realization that the Academy loves most things William Shakespeare. With Shakespeare in Love as a Best Picture winner, it is understandable that this film stands a chance to join that film's ranks. While I doubt that it will win, it is possible that Whedon is on such a role that his original take on Shakespeare will give him the edge and help him to enter the prestigious category instead of all the technical fields that The Avengers were in last year. If this film makes it, it will be more because of the approach to Shakespeare than a bias on Whedon, even though he already received a Best Original Screenplay nomination for co-writing Toy Story back in 1996.

The East

Categories: Best Original Screenplay
I doubt that The East will make a considerable mark at the Oscars, as I don't feel like the Academy has shown much interest in political thrillers in the past few years. With that said, it is possible that there is a nice twist or quirk that makes the writing stand out. While there is hope that the film exceeds expectations, the trailers don't quite sell it as a film capable of more than being a thrilling film void of most Oscar nominations. While it stars former Best Actress nominee Ellen Page, there isn't much else to distinguish it from the other highlights as of this point.

The World's End

Categories: Best Original Screenplay
I sadly don't see this film breaking the trend of Edgar Wright films not getting Oscar nominations. With that said, Wright is a master filmmaker who has made some of the most exciting, vibrant films of the past decade. His closest shot to the Oscars, technical fields for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, didn't happen and the fact that British comedies rarely seem to do well, they have done well in the screenplay categories, notably Borat and In the Loop, which both received Best Adapted Screenplay nominations. Also, the subject matter may be too far out there for high consideration. But please, don't let that stop you from watching what looks to be one of the funniest films of the year and an easy contender for my Top 10 when the time comes.

Stories We Tell

Categories: Best Documentary
Having received a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Away from Her, director Sarah Polley has had an interesting film career. Her previous film, Take This Waltz, showed an impressive level of technical skill and presented an earnest and fresh approach to romance. With her documentary about her family and storytelling, there is a chance that she can return to the Oscars and get nominated, provided that her craft is as impressive here as she has already proven. Of course, there is still the challenge of being lighter fare than the hard hitting issues, but as long as the subject is explored in a captivating way, there is little argument to be had against this film standing a chance. 

The Butler

Categories: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Forest Whitaker)
Director Lee Daniels made a splash with Precious, which managed to get a Best Picture nomination and make him the first African American Best Director nominee. With that said, I feel like this film will not make it on sole principle that Precious was a fluke. His follow-up, The Paperboy, was a sleazy, messy film that questioned his ability to craft competent film making. With that said, part of me is still hopeful that this tale of a butler who served under numerous presidents has some merit in it and while maybe not Oscar worthy, at least proves that Daniels has something important to say instead of empty, dreadful films like The Paperboy. While Forest Whitaker is not quite on par with his earlier work, there is also a chance that he could pull a great surprise performance in an all-star studded cast.

The Bling Ring

Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Emma Watson), Best Adapted Screenplay
This is my wild card, but one that I really believe in. This has been a great year for rowdy female protagonists with Side Effects, Stoker, and Spring Breakers. What advantage does this film have over all of them? Director Sofia Coppola won Best Original Screenplay for Lost in Translation as well as being in a distinguished group of females in the Best Director category. This film may seem like it is popcorn flare on the surface, but it feels almost equal on culture commentary about today's modern affair with celebrities. I see it getting a lot of credit simply because Coppola has been nominated before. Also, Emma Watson's turn may be the spark her career needs to disassociate her as just the Harry Potter star. Maybe that will be enough credibility to get her an Oscar nomination. Who knows, but this is easily my biggest wing and a prayer of any film getting an Oscar nomination this summer.

What films do you think deserve nominations? Is Star Trek Into Darkness capable of breaking the summer blockbuster curse and getting more nominations? Is The Bling Ring not going to do so well? Which documentary will become the front runner? Is Julian Assange just going to appear everywhere at the Oscars?

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