|Critic's Corner: Oscar Race 2014
After the pumpkins have all been smashed and the turkeys all lined up for the guillotine, it's time for Hollywood to retire the turkeys it's been sending to the multiplexes the previous nine months and trot out their most prestigious films. Yes, it's Oscar preview time again, when the film industry unleashes a wealth of generally exciting and compelling films right during the two busiest months of the year for most of us. Since I have to limit my screening time, here are the top films I am prioritizing to watch on the big screen this Oscar season.
1) Imitation Game. Directed by Norwegian Morton Tyldum, in his first English-language feature. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly. This is just my kind of film: A true-life story about an unsung hero set in WWII. The trifecta. Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, an English mathematician who helps solve the Enigma code. The film won the Toronto International Film Festival's People's Choice Award and was a clear favorite at Telluride. My one concern is Cumberbatch, who is reportedly a cinch for a Best Actor Nomination. I know, I know. He has a big fan base and he is often cited as one of our sexiest film stars. But to me, he has the slightly creepy look of someone who would fall in love with his first cousin. Wait a minute. He played the exact same role in August: Osage County: (A film featuring the most grating and irritating performance in Meryl Streep's career) and he played it to eerie perfection. O.K., Benedict, prove me wrong. Make the Imitation Game this year's The King's Speech.
2.) Fox Catcher. Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote and Moneyball). Starring Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. This is another true-life story about Gold Medal wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz and their unlikely benefactor, eccentric millionaire, John Du Pont. The cast uniformly outstanding by all accounts and "Rolling Stone" movie reviewer, Peter Travers, notes that director Bennett Miller "Takes a scalpel to the privileged words of Olympic sports and inherited wealth." Miller won "Best Director" at the Cannes Film Festival and a friend of mine, who attendss the Telluride fest ever year, said this one is "must see." I trust her judgment. Therefore it's a must see.
3) Theory of Everything. Directed by James Marsh, in his second non-documentary feature. Starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. This is another true-life story about the brilliant British physicist, Hawking (Redmayne), who wrote "A Brief History of Time," and his first wife (Jones). Hawking is one of my intellectual heroes, even though I don't understand half of what he writes. Or, Maybe because I don't understand half of what he writes. Anyway, Redmayne is reportedly as brilliant in this performance as Hawking is in his field of research. I figure Redmayne is also a cinch to lock up a best actor nomination. Consider the film this year's My Left Foot. Will Redmayne match Daniel Day-Lewis' Oscar? I can't wait to see.
4) Intersteller. Directed by Christopher Nolan (Dark Night, Memento, The Prestige). Starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. A special-effects, popcorn extravaganza with a deep plot, consider this film this year's Gravity, with more...umm gravity and hopefully better performances. (I'm sorry, but Gravity, just featured George Clooney and Sandra Bullock playing George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in astronaut suits.) At three hours in length, I'll have to schedule this one very carefully. But, Nolan has such a great track record that I bet it's worth the time.
5)Wild. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club). Starring Reese Witherspoon. O.K. here's yet another true-life story based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir, "Wild," about her 1,100 mile solo hike across the Pacific Crest Trail, following heroin addiction and a failed marriage. Renee has displayed some spoiled-brat behavior in public lately, but she is a good actress and this should be worth a few hours of time.
6) Mr. Turner. Directed by Mike Leigh (Another Year, Happy-Go-Lucky and Vera Drake). Starring Timothy Sprall. I love Leigh's delicate character sketches of British lower-and middle-classes, so it will be interesting to see how he handles a biopic about the great British watercolorist J.M.W. Turner.
7) Unbroken. Directed by Angelina Jolie (in her debut effort). Starring Jack O'Connell as Olympic runner, Louis Zamperini, who is taken prisoner by Japanese forces during WWII and subjected to extreme torture. The film is based on the bestselling non-fiction book by Laura Hillenbrand, which everybody tells me is a "must-read." Well it looks like I probably won't get to it by the movie's December 25 release date, so I just might have to see the movie first. Wait a minute. It has "intense sequences of brutality?" Hmmm. Not exactly my idea of a holiday picture. So, maybe I'll wait for the DVD release. I'm also reserving judgment on the film, because Jolie is an untried directorial commodity. But I wouldn't bet against her.
8) And finally, Dumb and Dumber To: Just Kidding.
Have a great Oscar season.
-Written by Randy Wilson-