And when I say “fall” I mean “award season”. There’s a deep lineup of dramas this fall, not much comedy, and a few for the family. Right now it’s wide open–any of these films could be “the big one” come next spring, which is why I have graded them all on a scale of Oscar Hopefulness. The Oscar Hopefulness Scale is measured from 0 to 10 and each numerical value has a random and meaningless qualified value. Let’s get on with it, yeah?
Never Let Me Go
Pride & Prejudice costars Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan are reunited in Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name (written for the screen by Alex Garland). Never Let Me Go was one of those books everyone loved and it made me feel less of a person because I didn’t love it as much. It’s a beautiful book and thought provoking; I just didn’t connect with it like everyone else did. And I don’t seem to be connecting with the movie, either. The trailer looks lovely—dark wash colors and the rainy English countryside, and I adore Knightley and am coming to love Mulligan in much the same way—but it feels flat to me. It’s very, Yes this is what I expected. I didn’t love Atonement for similar reasons, even though I did love that book. Still, Never Let Me Go, which also stars fall’s It Boy Andrew Garfield (The Social Network and the newly minted Spider Man), is expected to be a presence in the award shows next year.
Oscar Hopefulness: 8 – Like a dog looking at bacon. Acting for Mulligan at least, adaptation for Garland, direction for Romanek, and the art awards (cinematography, art direction, costume design), but maybe on the outside for Best Picture, as The King’s Speech is my favorite for the British pick.
Alpha and Omega
Wolf culture is fascinating, and there is no land mammal I love more than wolves, except possibly horses. (In another life, I am a wildlife biologist.) So a cartoon about wolves? Neat! A cartoon about an Alpha female cut off from the pack with only the Omega (the lowest member of the pack, as the name suggests)? Cool! Then I see this trailer and it’s not neat or cool. It’s pedestrian and reminds me too much of the crap animal cartoons everyone but Pixar has been making.
Oscar Hopefulness: 3 – You can come to the party but you can’t talk to anyone. With Toy Story 3 likely to land in the Best Picture category, the Academy will need five nominees for Best Animated Feature, so Alpha and Omega will make it just for that reason. They won’t win.
Directed by The Brothers Dowdle (their name for themselves, not what I call them, Quarantine), Devil is being tanked by M. Night Shyamalan’s involvement as a producer (he also wrote the “storybook” the script is based on). It doesn’t really look good anyway. Strangers trapped in an elevator with the Devil! Who’s the least-likely-looking person? The little old lady? She’s the Devil.
Oscar Hopefulness: -5 – HAHAHAHAHAHA. You’re funny.
The “high school is a bitch” movie of 2010, Easy A stars Emma Stone (Zombieland) and Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgely, as well as Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church, and Lisa Kudrow. And the un-retired Amanda Bynes. Been waiting on this one forever. It looks funny, well made, and audiences have loved it at screenings this year. The TIFF premiere went over very well, and it looks like Stone’s star-making turn is here.
Oscar Hopefulness: 1 – Snowball’s chance. This isn’t award bait, it isn’t meant to be award bait, but it will be a crowd pleaser. And Stone may score an invite to present at the Oscars based on the mainstream popularity this will give her, as the Academy has recently taken to having young up-and-comers on their stage (Amanda Seyfreid last year, Kristen Stewart this year).
Jack Goes Boating
Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s (Pirate Radio, Capote) directorial debut, Jack Goes Boating is one of those serious ensemble dramas art house crowds love so much. Which is good, as the art house is Hoffman’s home, and he has peopled his movie with his art house mates: Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone), John Ortiz (Public Enemies), and Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rachel Getting Married). It’s the sort of human drama about people being lonely and miserable, then not so lonely, then lonely again that I see in real life, so I think I’ll pass on the movie.
Oscar Hopefulness: 2 – Slim to none. The Academy likes Hoffman, but in a year that features plenty of heavy-weight directors, he’ll get shut out. It’s Ben Affleck’s year to be the flashy-slashy (actor/director). As for acting, et cetera, Jack Goes Boating won’t be the only quality drama to get lost in the shuffle.
Boy everyone is flipping their shit for this one, right? Ben Affleck is giving us reason to remember why we liked him in the first place. After Gone Baby Gone I was convinced Affleck needed to spend more time behind the camera than in front of it, and if The Town is as good as advertised, he’s definitely going to be a worthwhile director. I kind of wish he hadn’t cast himself in a major role (or any role), but that’s just my negativity talking. He doesn’t actually look terrible in the trailer. Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Blake Lively (Gossip Girl), Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) costar, and if the rumors are true, it’s Renner’s movie as the leader of a gang of Boston bank robbers.
Oscar Hopefulness: 9.5 – Like a fat kid in a Hostess store. The Town will get some nominations, it’s just a question of who and what. Affleck may score his first directorial nod, though he wouldn’t win among the veteran competition, and I definitely think he’ll get another writing nod for Best Adaptation (from the Chuck Hogan novel Prince of Thieves). Renner is likely good for his second acting nod (for Supporting Actor), and it may score some of the technical categories like Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, if it’s as explosion-y as it looks.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Woody Allen’s latest featuring another loaded cast (Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Freida Pinto, and Antonio Banderas). I am just not a fan of post-1979 Woody Allen. It’s the same thing every time. I have zero interest in this movie.
Oscar Hopefulness: 4 – Sunny with a chance of rain. You hate to count out Woody Allen; after all, Vicky Cristina Barcelona resulted in Penelope Cruz’s first Oscar. But people don’t seem to be as excited for this one as they were for Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona previously.
Ahead of Time
A documentary that premiered at TIFF last year and is just in theater now (New York and LA only), Ahead of Time is a documentary about Ruth Gruber, who began a photojournalism career in the 1930’s. Gruber’s life is one of adventure and firsts (youngest PhD in the world, among other achievements), and Gruber herself is fascinating as she approaches 100. Her photography is solid, but her story eclipses her work, at this point.
Oscar Hopefulness: 2 – Pointless to proceed. In a year of many good documentaries, Ahead of Time is getting lost in the shuffle.
If this were a play, I’d be all over it. Sell me this as a Broadway ticket, and I’m buying it. But just as not all books make good movies, not all concepts are for film, either. Ryan Reynolds stars as Paul Conroy, a US contractor in Iraq who is captured and buried alive. With only a lighter, a cell phone and 90 minutes of air, the movie is pretty much just Reynolds alone in a tiny, dimly lit space fighting off panic and despair. As an acting exercise—yes. Plays function differently than movies, and if this was Reynolds in a one-man show, I’m all over it. But Buried is a movie, and it’s one of my fundamental beliefs that movies should be entertaining. This is not entertaining. This is harrowing. It’s 90 minutes of unpleasantness and there’s no escape. Which maybe is the point, but no thanks. I didn’t like Castaway, Open Water, or even Frozen all that much, and I will dislike 127 Hours for the exact same reason.
Oscar Hopefulness: 5 – It’s a crap shoot. Festival audiences and critics have overwhelmingly embraced Buried, but I have heard many private complaints that it’s “torturous” and “audience-hating”. And with everyone going batshit over James Franco’s “guy trapped in a perilous situation” performance in 127 Hours, I’d give the acting nod to Franco over Reynolds. I expect Buried to perform better at the box office, though.
This is the story of the obscenity trial surrounding the release of Allen Ginsberg’s classic beat poem Howl. James Franco stars as Ginsberg, and as regarded as his performance was earlier this year at Sundance, 127 Hours is eclipsing this effort. With a strong supporting cast featuring David Strathairn, Mary-Louise Parker, Jon Hamm and Jeff Daniels, Howl will likely find a home with the hipsters waiting for On the Road to come out next year.
Oscar Hopefulness: 4 – The supporting cast has a better chance at pulling nominations than Franco, who the Academy is more likely to honor for 127 Hours. I doubt Howl gets much traction with voters, but it could land some art categories since it’s a period piece.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
This is the story of Craig (Keir Gilchrist, nothing you’ve heard of), a 15 year old depressed kid who checks himself into a psychiatric hospital and ends up assigned to the adult ward. He has a romance with the maybe-crazy Noelle (Emma Roberts, Valentine’s Day), and makes friends with Bobby (Zach Galifianakis). This looks like a fine little film, featuring work by underappreciated actors (Lauren Graham, Parenthood and Gilmore Girls and Viola Davis, Eat Pray Love and Doubt), as well as Comedians Who Can Actually Act, Galifianakis and Jim Gaffigan (Away We Go). Galifianakis, especially, has a fine vehicle to show his more grown up side.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – Err yeah. No. This will be yet another victim of an overcrowded dramatic slate and Galifianakis’s comedy Due Date is taking up all his press time. But as far as a movie about lonely, miserable peoples goes, I’d rather see this than Jack Goes Boating.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
This is a cartoon movie about owls wearing helmets as directed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300). If you see this, I will disown you.
Oscar Hopefulness: 6 – Ants closing in on the picnic. It kills me to say it, but this will likely get the spot vacated by Toy Story 3 in the Best Animated Feature category.
I REFUSE TO SHOW YOU THIS TRAILER.
Waiting for “Superman”
If you’re a fan of documentaries, this year is for you. There are many excellent docs this year, most geared toward increasing American’s dissatisfaction with our country and/or reinforcing everyone’s dislike of Nazis (A Film Unfinished). Waiting for “Superman” is Davis Guggenheim’s follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth, and this time he’s turned his lens on the American public school system. He follows several children throughout their educational endeavors, and it’s just as discouraging and depressing as you think it is, but then he examines how innovative teaching techniques and charter schools may save our future. As someone who almost fell through the cracks myself, I do feel this is an important conversation to have in our country.
Oscar Hopefulness: 8 – Your favorite entrée is on special tonight. A strong documentary, but this year’s crop is especially rich. There is heavy competition and given that Guggenheim just won on his last effort, the Academy may go for fresh blood.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Oliver Stone’s long-overdue and maybe-not-necessary sequel to Wall Street, this one examines the 2008 stock market crash through the eyes of Jacob (Shia LaBeouf), a young trader engaged to Winnie (Carey Mulligan), the now-disgraced Gordon Gekko’s (Michael Douglas) daughter. When Gordon is released from prison, he and Jacob attempt to stop the looming disaster or something like that. Josh Brolin also stars in a mysterious-death subplot that is totally unnecessary. Initial reaction was mixed, but the film has been upgraded by critics.
Oscar Hopefulness: 7 – Sunny with a chance of rain. Douglas has the best shot at an Oscar (for Best Actor), and many have said he’s a lock since he’s announced his fight with throat cancer. It’s sick and wrong and cynical I KNOW, but that’s how it works (see also: Heath Ledger). I don’t think it’s such a done deal for the win given the number of strong performances this year, but a nomination does seem certain.
One of the few comedies this season, it may do well just for lack of anything else funny to see. Not that this movie actually looks funny. Starring Kristen Bell (When in Rome, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Odette Yustman (Cloverfield), Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver and the ubiquitous Betty White. It’s a “frenemies” tale of post-high school maybe-redemption. I could care less about this movie, which pains me, as I ladycrush on Curtis.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – Worm on the sidewalk on a sunny day. Yeah right.