It’s that time of year that Hollywood pretends to care about art after an exhausting summer of sequels and explosions (though this fall will still contain some explosions and sequels, hopefully better than most of what came in the summer). Sometimes this results in cynical Academy-pandering misfires. Other times it allows talented filmmakers to make genuinely great films. We’ll see what’s what as the season goes along, but here’s how things look at the outset.
Rush (September 20th)
The basics: Ron Howard directs the story of the rivalry between 1976 Formula One drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Nick Lauda (Daniel Bruhl).
Why it might be great: Screenwriter Peter Morgan has done great work (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Skyfall), and there seems to be an Amadeus-type trained skill-versus-natural talent character dynamic which could make the movie work for those of us not racing fanatics.
Why it might fail: Howard’s not exactly a consistent director.
Awards chances: Editing and Sound Mixing/Editing are probably the best bets.
Don Jon (September 27th)
The basics: Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in his writing and directing debut as a porn addict looking for a more satisfying love life.
Why it might be great: Early reviews from Sundance praise the cast (also featuring Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore) and humor…
Why it might fail: …but also note that the movie’s repetitive and one-note.
Awards chances: Indie Spirits maybe, but probably not up Oscar’s alley. Levitt will get one someday, though.
Gravity (October 4th)
The basics: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play astronauts left stranded after a debris accident destroys their space station in Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D thriller.
Why it might be great: The trailers look amazing and horrifying. It seems like this could be the best use of 3D ever. Early reviews are almost universally blown away.
Why it might fail: Doubt it could be a complete failure, but it could end being all spectacle and short on substance substance. And then there’s that unanswered question I have for the director (not stopping me from seeing the movie, but I will be sure to equal my ticket purchase with a donation to the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network).
Awards chances: Actress, Director, and Effects all seem like safe bets. Given the Academy has awarded greenscreen-heavy films for Cinematography recently (Avatar, Life of Pi), that’s another possibility. If it’s a hit, Picture’s not out of the question, though it’s a more likely nom than winner.
Captain Philips (October 11th)
The basics: Paul Greengrass goes into recent history for this Somali pirate thriller, with Tom Hanks in the title role.
Why it might be great: This story felt like a movie when it occurred, so it only makes sense this is getting made, and the trailers look intense.
Why it might fail: There’s already been another Somali pirate thriller this year, the very well-reviewed Danish A Hijacking. Will the Hollywood version suffer in comparison?
Awards chances: Probably the less likely of Tom Hanks’ two roles this year to get nominated, but this is the sort of crowdpleaser that, if good, could get all sorts of awards attention for categories such as Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Editing.
Machete Kills (October 11th)
The basics: See title.
Why it might be great: Robert Rodriguez’s last Machete movie, while not “great”, was a hoot. This one has Sofia Vergara with boob guns. Machete Kills Again in Space is already promised to complete the trilogy.
Why it might fail: Mel Gibson AND Charlie Sheen in the same movie? What, was Chris Brown not available for your asshole party?
Awards chances: Hah.
12 Years a Slave (October 18th)
The basics: Steve McQueen (not THAT Steve McQueen) directs this historical drama about a free black man from the North (Chiwetel Ejiofor) kidnapped and taken down South as a slave, working for slavemasters played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, and Paul Dano.
Why it might be great: Fascinating true story, great cast, ecstatic early reviews, this one seems like a winner.
Why it might fail: Probably won’t in terms of critical response, but maybe too torturously violent (without Django-style cathartic retribution) for big box office success.
Awards chances: Probably the closest to a sure thing at this point in time, with Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, and Art Direction all likely.
The Fifth Estate (October 18th)
The basics: Bill Condon escapes Twilight hell to take on Julian Assange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and the Wikileaks scandal.
Why it might be great: The subject matter’s got relevancy and immediacy, and it’s a nice meaty role for Cumberbatch.
Why it might fail: Immediacy could also lead to lack of perspective. It’s got a political minefield to walk.
Awards chances: If it works, Adapted Screenplay seems likely. If Cumberbatch supporters are going to rally around one out of this year’s many roles for him to nominate, this might be the one.
The Counselor (October 25th)
The basics: Ridley Scott directs a Cormac McCarthy script about a lawyer (Michael Fassbender) involved in drug trafficking.
Why it might be great: It’s got Cormac McCarthy, one of the best writers of our time, doing his first screenplay! And Javier Bardem is once again playing a villain with bad hair!
Why it might fail: Ridley Scott hasn’t made a good movie in how long now? Hope this gets him back on track.
Awards chances: Original Screenplay’s the easiest to predict for this film.
Come back tomorrow for November and December previews!