It is that time again, kiddos. The time of year where actors, directors, and producers team up to beg for awards. While some of these films are true works of art (Moonlight, La La Land) and deserve the praise they are given, most of the are trite and transparent pleas for recognition (looking at you Billy Lynn and Collateral Beauty).
Since the field has become saturated, some of the shameless Oscar bait like Florence Foster Jenkins, The Light Between the Oceans, Snowden, and Sully, have already made it into theaters. Of course as we get closer to Christmas, so many more will hit the cineplex. The gamut runs from typical pullers of heart-strings and adaptations of bestsellers to civil rights turmoil and token World War II epics. Come March, one of these films will more than likely be walking away with the big prize.
The Girl on the Train (October 7th):
Rachel (Emily Blunt) watches a seemingly perfect couple during her daily commute and fantasizes about their life together. One morning Rachel sees something that shocks her and she becomes entangled in a mystery.
I loved this book. The mystery was intriguing, the twists were well done, and while I didn’t relate to the characters, I enjoyed them. Not sure how the book is going to translate on film, but I’m excited for it. While the book was and the movie is being compared to Gone Girl, they are quite different. The only thing similar is they both have an unreliable narrator and a pretty good twist. Just keep the secret after you see it.
The Birth of a Nation (October 7th):
In pre-Civil War south, Nat Turner (Nate Parker) witnesses many atrocities committed against his fellow slaves while working as a preacher to calm unruly slaves. These cruelties lead him to orchestrate an uprising.
Receiving a standing ovation at several of the film festivals it has premiered at, this film seems to be quite timely in its release as the United States is in the middle of a second Civil Rights movement. This film could also be the one to keep the #OscarsSoWhite from happening for the third year in a row. Of course Parker, who also directed the film, is in the middle of a controversy about a rape charge from his college days which could take away from the message of the film. Luckily there are a few other films about race that could solve the pale Oscar problem.
Moonlight (October 21st Limited):
Chronicling the life of Chiron (Ashton Sanders), a young, sexually confused, black man finding his place in the world in a rough Miami neighborhood.
A film told in three chapters over 16 years of Chiron’s life, this film received rave reviews at Telluride. Taking on what it means to be black can be difficult when everyone seems to have an opinion as to what that means. This film is more about the identity of one person who just happens to be an African-American. Mahershala Ali is currently starring in Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix and he is one of the most intriguing characters on the show. I really want to see what he can do with another highly complex character. I have a feeling this one could slip between the cracks come award time, mostly because smaller art house films like these don’t have the money to beg/campaign for awards.
American Pastoral (October 21st Limited, October 28th Nationwide):
Seymour “Swede” Levov (Ewan McGregor) has been a staple of his community for a long time, but when his daughter falls in with a radical political movement, his world starts to fall apart.
Based on the Philip Roth Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name. I would skip this one if you are a fan of the book. The reviews coming out of Toronto were not kind to the directorial debut of McGregor, all basically stating he missed the mark.
Hacksaw Ridge (November 4th):
The story of the first Conscientious Objector in American history to receive the Medal of Honor, Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) serves during the Battle of Okinawa while never firing a bullet.
While Doss’s story may be fascinating and probably movie worthy, this just looks like hack filmmaking at its worst. Critics coming out of the Venice International Film Festival seemed to love it, right now it is sitting at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Bleed for This (November 4th Limited, November 25th Expansion):
After a car accident left him not knowing if he will ever walk again, boxer Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) works to make one of the biggest comebacks in sports history.
I’m a sucker for sports movies especially ones about the underdog. The biggest problem is this film will inevitably follow the same clichés these types of sports movies follow. The amazing cast that includes Katey Segal, Aaron Eckhart, and Ciarán Hinds all decked out in the 70’s finest is what helps to sell it.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (November 11th):
Flashing back and forth between his time in Iraq and his being honored at a Dallas Cowboy’s game, the film tells the story of Billy Lynn dealing with the repercussions of war.
Ang Lee is a brilliant director, but just like Hacksaw Ridge, this film looks like basic give-me-an-award filmmaking. Unlike almost all the other entries on this list, this one wasn’t taken to a film festival to generate buzz beforehand.
Loving (November 11th):
An interracial couple (Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton) is sent to prison for getting married in 1958 Virginia.
Based on a true story, this will either be amazing or hacky. I’m betting on the former since the talented director Jeff Nichols is at the helm. The trailer makes it seem like it will be the latter. Loving, like A Birth of a Nation and Moonlight is very timely in its release. Hollywood still has trouble portraying interracial couples in film even though they are becoming more commonplace in TV. Hitting several film festivals (and will open the Virginia Film Festival), this one has generated a lot of love from critics.
Nocturnal Animals (November 18th Limited, November 23rd Expansion):
A story-within-a-story, following an art gallery owner (Amy Adams) while she is reading a book her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) dedicated to her about a dark revenge fantasy.
If you looked up dark and twisted noir on Google, this film would be the first to pop up. I’m really intrigued about how the film will cohesively go back and forth between the book being read and the reactions of the woman reading it. David Rooney from The Hollywood Reporter described it as “David Lynch meets Alfred Hitchcock meets Douglas Sirk.”
Manchester by the Sea (November 18th Limited):
A janitor (Casey Affleck) is made the guardian of his 16 year-old nephew after his brother is killed in an accident.
I genuinely can’t get past the Boston garbling of the word “guardian” in the trailer. I almost want to make a drinking game out of it. This film was a massive hit at Sundance with a lot of praise being aimed at Affleck’s performance. But several critics have said it is a familiar template of drama, just done really well. In other words, you know exactly the kind of beg-for-Oscar-gold kind of film you are getting here.
Allied (November 23rd):
A French Resistance fighter (Marion Cotillard) and an intelligence officer (Brad Pitt) who met during a deadly mission in North Africa reunite in London and get married, but their happily ever after is tested by the pressures of war.
The latest entry from mega director Robert Zemeckis is generating buzz for all of the wrong reasons. WWII epics are a staple this time of year, but this offering comes from writer Steven Knight who has given us Peaky Blinders (if you are not watching this show, you are seriously missing out), Pawn Sacrifice, and Locke. I expect this one to be an interesting thriller.
Lion (November 25th Limited):
Five-year-old Saroo gets lost on a train and ends up thousands of miles from home. 25 years later, he uses his memories and Google Earth to try to find his way back to home and family.
While Dev Patel’s performance is being universally praised by critics out of Toronto, the film itself is getting mixed reviews with some even calling it out for being a very paint by the numbers melodrama.
La La Land (December 9th Limited, December 16th Nationwide):
A musical set in modern-day Los Angeles follows an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) trying to get by.
I LOVE musicals, so I’m already a sucker for this one. But this could be one of those films that is actually special. Following the outstanding Whiplash, director Damien Chazelle may have done it again in creating a romantic homage to the classic movie musicals. Hitting several film festivals, this one has been given so much love and may garner some much deserved awards for the director and cast.
Jackie (December 9th Limited):
After the assassination of her husband, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) must find a way to carry on thru her grief and console her children.
While much of the praise is directed at Portman’s performance, the film has also received a lot of notoriety for not telling her story in a traditional and clichéd manner. What that means I’m not sure, but it has me curious.
Collateral Beauty (December 16th):
A tragedy causes a successful advertising executive (Will Smith) to retreat from life. Worried about him, his friends devise an intervention to force him to confront his grief.
The trite trailer has me writing this one-off as begging-for-Oscar trash. The highly pedestrian director David Frankel behind the camera doesn’t help with that opinion.
Silence (December 23rd Limited):
Set in 17th Century Japan, two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) face prosecution and violence while spreading Christianity and looking for their mentor (Liam Neeson).
A historical drama based on the award-winning novel by Shūsaku Endō, written by Jay Cocks (Gangs of New York, The Age of Innocence), and directed by Martin Scorsese. How does that not scream both amazing and Oscar Gold to you? This film has been in production for some time (since about 1990) due to delays in acquiring the rights to the book, cast negotiations, and other projects landing in Scorsese’s lap. Hopefully this one will be worth the wait.
Fences (December 25th):
Struggling to raise his family against the back drop of race relations in the 50’s Troy (Denzel Washington) and Rose (Viola Davis) try to raise their son, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) as Troy comes to term with his failed baseball career.
Based on the play by August Wilson (who also wrote the script), Washington once again steps behind the camera and reprises his role from the 2010 stage revival, as is Davis. This one is going to get a lot of attention due to the A-List cast and the melodramatic monologues that are almost seemingly written to be a highlight clip during an awards show.
Gold (December 25th):
In the jungles of Indonesia, Kenny (Matthew McConaughey) teams up with Michael (Édgar Ramírez) and together they find one of the biggest gold mines in the world.
Looking like this year’s Wolf of Wall Street, a group of men get super rich and you know how the saying goes “mo’ money, mo’ problems.” McConaughey is entering into Christian Bale territory and once again transforms himself into something unrecognizable. While I don’t think this one will be worthy of all the award season praise that will inevitably come its way, it should be a fairly entertaining movie for the downtime of the holidays.
Hidden Figures (December 25th Limited, January 13th Nationwide):
The true story of mathematician Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and her two colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), who helped NASA in their calculations that helped to make John Glenn (Glen Powell) the first American to orbit the Earth.
Katherine Johnson was an important figure in both history and science so hopefully this film can treat her remarkable story right. The trailer focuses too hard on African-American Woman goes up against the Man conflict, but I’m hoping director Theodore Melifi (St. Vincent) portrays it to be about more than just that and doesn’t let Katherine’s story or achievements get lost in the message.
What Shameless Oscar Bait do you want to see? Does anyone else remember a time when there were only like eight or ten of these types of films? Who do you think will come out on top this March? Let me know in the comments section below.