Awards Season Watch List

The time is upon us again. Awards season. Film festivals are wrapping up, Oscar talk is buzzing, and screenings are slowly but surely expanding to mainstream markets. This is when I end up at the movies at least once a week, and play the annual game of how much I can realistically spend on popcorn and tickets before it cuts into bill paying.

Truly, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

So. To keep myself organized in an attempt to not miss a single film (and finally have a chance of beating Jonny Diaz in our annual Oscar competition), I give you a snapshot of my movie watch list:

Birdman (Fox Searchlight & New Regency)
Starring Michael Keaton, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki… I mean, need I say more?! This genre-defying black comedy tells the story of an actor (Keaton) – famous for portraying an iconic superhero – as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. It opened worldwide at the Venice Film Festival and had its North American premiere at Telluride. Aside from giving Keaton his best role in years (Oscar nod possibility for sure), early reviews indicate it’s the type of film that will resonate differently with every viewer. And those are the best kind. Birdman will close out the New York Film Festival in a few weeks and will go into limited release on October 17.

Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures)
Based on true events, this biographical film tells the fascinating story of Olympic gold medal-winning brothers Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, respectively) and their tragic relationship with a multi-millionaire benefactor, John du Pont played by Steve Carrell in one of his strongest type-defying roles yet. Director Bennett Miller is well on his way to a hat trick after Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011) each earning several nominations. Indeed, Miller took home the Best Director prize when the film premiered at Cannes as well as a Palme d’Or nomination. At its core, Foxcatcher is about the layered internal conflicts between masculinity and pride in the context of a psychological thriller. A forerunner for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor, I am counting down the days until this film’s wide release on November 14 (and you should be too).

The Imitation Game (Weinstein)
In this film, Benedict Cumberbatch (aka the strange chiseled-jaw reason of my existence) stars as Alan Turing, the genius British mathematician, cryptologist, and computer scientist who led the team that cracked the German Enigma Code and helped the Allies win World War II. The film had its North American premiere at Telluride and took home the People’s Choice Award in Toronto which basically shot it to the front of every Oscar prediction list. It’s got all the makings of your typical Oscar bait movie (period film, biopic, Nazis) but don’t let that put you off. With strong performances and meaty material, it could very well sweep the Oscars this year. It’s also going to be showing at the San Diego Film Festival this weekend at which I am volunteering and will do everything in my power to get into that screening. But if all else fails, it goes into expanded release on November 21 so mark your calendars!

The Theory of Everything (Focus Features)
Watch out world, it’s the invasion of the brilliant British scientists. The Imitation Game‘s greatest threat comes from director James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything, the extraordinary story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, cosmologist Stephen Hawking. You know, because one British historical biopic just isn’t enough. In what is sure to be Eddie Redmayne’s (long-overdue and well-deserved) break-out role, the film explores Hawking’s early days at Oxford, his romance with his eventual wife Jane (played by Felicity Jones who is stellar and you all should love her), and his eventual diagnosis and battle with motor-neuron disease. While definitely a possible Best Picture contender, it’s Redmayne and Jones who will most likely dominate the awards with their performances. It premiered in Toronto to highly positive reviews and will hit US screens on November 7.

Gone Girl (20th Century Fox)
I have been waiting for this film all year. I mean, ALL YEAR. Based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel, which is seriously un-put-down-able, this psychological mystery thriller takes us through the seemingly perfect modern marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne after Amy goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary. Why am I looking forward to this film so much? Well for one, it’s directed by one of my favorites, David Fincher (The Social NetworkThe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). For two, it stars Boston’s gift to the world Ben Affleck and the totally underappreciated but absolutely brilliant Rosamund Pike. For three, Gillian Flynn adapted the screenplay herself AND completely changed the ending which to anyone who read the book is incentive alone to go watch the film. The film skipped Venice, Toronto, and Telluride to premiere at the New York Film Festival and will open nationwide on October 3. I can hardly wait.

Interstellar (Paramount Pictures)
For a film that has given away basically nothing in its trailer and images, expectations are running extremely high. But it’s hard not to be with director Christopher Nolan at the helm and featuring superstars like Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, and Anne Hathaway. Throw in Hans Zimmer as the composer and I don’t even need to know what it’s about to put this movie at the front of my list. And yet, even the premise sounds fascinating as the film follows a group of explorers who discover a wormhole and travel vast distances in an interstellar voyage. Say no more guys, I’m there like FourSquare. Interstellar rolls out to the US on November 7.

Inherent Vice (Warner Bros.)
This film gives Interstellar a run for its money as the most enigmatic awards contenders, with only a few images and a couple seconds of footage in the NYFF trailer. Director Paul Thomas Anderson teams up once again with Joaquin Phoenix in the first screen adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel which follows drug-fueled detective Larry “Doc” Sportello as he investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend in 1970s Los Angeles. Josh Brolin and Reese Witherspoon also star along with Benicio del Toro and Owen Wilson. Like Gone Girl, the film skipped Venice, Toronto, and Telluride to have its world premiere as the Centerpiece at the New York Film Festival. It will open in select runs on December 12 and go wide on January 9, 2015 (ugh).

Wild (Fox Searchlight)
Speaking of Reese Witherspoon, the actress is also starring in another film this year based on the true story of Cheryl Strayed and her 1,100-mile trek of the Pacific Crest Trail. More than her role in Inherent Vice, it seems like this performance will be the ticket to her Oscar nomination. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (who killed it last year with Dallas Buyers Club), the film is a beautifully crafted cinematic journey not to be missed. Both Witherspoon and the movie itself received great reviews after its world premiere at Telluride and will be screened in a few other smaller festivals as the season goes on, including Boston and San Diego (opening at both). While I probably won’t get a chance to catch it at the San Diego Film Festival, it will open in wide release on December 5.

This is already a pretty long list and honestly, I haven’t even scratched the surface. Other notable mentions:

  • Unbroken – directed by Angelina Jolie, written by the Coen brothers, epic war drama based on a true story, filmed in Australia, need I say more? (December 25)
  • St. Vincent – Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy and the trailer just looks refreshingly funny and wonderful (October 10)
  • Into the Woods – DO I REALLY NEED TO CONVINCE YOU TO WATCH THIS?! (December 25)

And then the ones I’ve already seen and you should too:

  • Boyhood – probably one of the best films of the year so far; Richard Linklater is so long overdue for a Best Director Oscar and he might just get it this year
  • The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby – the collective title of three films written and directed by Ned Benson. There’s “Her” about Jessica Chastain’s character; “Him,” about James McAvoy’s character; and “Them,” a combination of both which I saw and very much enjoyed. “Him” and “Her” will get limited roll-outs on October 20 in New York and Los Angeles (I’m sensing a road trip in my future)

So there you have it. By no means complete but relatively comprehensive list of some of the best films to keep an eye out for this season. Stay tuned for reviews, updates, liveblogging and more! Until next time, happy watching 🙂

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