The movies getting all the Oscar buzz

Written By komlim puldel on Sabtu, 25 Oktober 2014 | 20.01

Will you be mine? Robert Downey Jr gets into the rough and tumble of screenings for the Academy in New York earlier this month. (Photo Rob Kim/Getty Images) Source: Getty Images

FOUR months out from the 2015 Academy Awards, there is one thing pundits agree on: this is going to be one of the most competitive races in many years ... in the Best Actor and Best Picture category.

As for Best Actress, that statuette seems to be Julianne Moore's to lose.

While movie folk still talk about "Awards Season" (running from September through to March, it actually eats up half a year), Oscar predictions nowadays start dribbling in from May, when a handful of prestige titles premiere at Cannes.

Julianne Moore leads the ladies with a moving performance in Still Alice (Icon) Source: Supplied

The heat is then turned up come September when studios begin screening their awards bait for the first time at four taste-making festivals: Venice, Toronto, Telluride and New York.

(In Australia, Awards Season titles tend to be held from cinemas until January/February, in order to capitalise on the hype.)

The crowded 2015 Best Actor field welcomed its first contenders when Cannes threw up Steve Carell playing against type in Foxcatcher as a paranoid millionaire who appoints himself benefactor of the US Olympic wrestling team, and Timothy Spall as a famously eccentric British painter in Mr Turner.

Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo are both on the Oscar radar for real-life tale of paranoia and tragedy, Foxcatcher (Roadshow) Source: Supplied

Toronto pushed two more Brits playing real-life genii to the fore: Eddie Redmayne as physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch as WWII code-cracker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.

Sometimes festival launches rule an actor out, rather than in. Case in point: Robert Downey Jr.

His return to drama with The Judge was tipped to herald a return to Oscar-ville (he's been nominated twice, in 1993 for Chaplin and 2009 for Tropic Thunder). But the response to The Judge has been lukewarm both from critics and the paying public.

This Best Actor race is too crowded for lukewarm.

The Academy loves a tale of real-life struggle: actors Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne meet physicist Stephen Hawking, subject of their film The Theory of Everything (Universal) Source: Supplied

So who's at the head of the pack? Michael Keaton. The former Batman winged it out of Telluride and straight to No.1 nominee status with Birdman, the story of a washed up cinematic superhero attempting a comeback. Sound familiar?

It's not just Keaton's spectrum-blowing performance but the life-imitating-art factor that will appeal to voters. At 63, he has never been nominated and has not headlined a hit since the '90s. Keaton is also considered one of the industry's good guys, so it's hard to imagine anyone begrudging the veteran a reward for a lifetime of beloved movies.

Michael Keaton plays an actor who can't escape his superhero past in Birdman. Sound familiar? (Twentieth Century Fox) Source: AP

Films released outside the Awards Season window really have to shout to be heard once the floodgates open.

Richard Linklater's Boyhood, released in August, has the groundbreaking 12-years-in-the-making angle as well as universal acclaim on its side. It's an especially strong contender in the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (for Patricia Arquette) categories.

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, released in March, did such strong business for an art house film (locally, it became the highest-grosser in the 22-year history of boutique Melbourne venue Cinema Nova), that its sublime silliness should stick in the memories of voters when it comes to Best Picture and Best Actor (for Ralph Fiennes).

Then there are those films no one has seen as yet, but the pedigree of which screams "Oscar Bait". They'll be vying for space with The Imitation Game, Gone Girl, Birdman et al when it comes to Best Picture.

Angelina Jolie's biggest directorial outing yet, Unbroken, the true story of a US Olympic runner and POW; Interstellar from Christopher Nolan, one of the few filmmakers (along with Gone Girl's David Fincher) who seems to appeal equally to audiences and the Academy; Star-packed fairytale mash-up musical Into the Woods, led by Queen Oscar herself, Meryl Streep; Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as the US military's real-life top sharpshooter; Selma, an Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt-backed biopic that follows Martin Luther King (played by David Oyelowo) on his 1965 voting-rights marches.

Memories of Patricia Arquette's depiction of motherhood spanning 12 years in Boyhood will linger with voters (Universal) Source: Supplied

And writer-director J.C. Chandor's gritty 1980s crime drama A Most Violent Year, starring Oscar Isaac and Academy pre-approved Jessica Chastain, is considered a chance to edge some bigger-name opposition out of the race once it premieres next month.

That the Best Actress field is far less populated than Best Actor this year isn't simply about a lack of quality films or performances.

Sasha Stone, founder of tracking and analysis site Awards Daily, last week wrote: "What I've observed in the 16 years I've been watching films get released ... and the awards race that follows, tells me that movies by or about women have to resonate with men and women to get attention.

"Where a Terms of Endearment or a Broadcast News might have been considered universal enough once upon a time, those movies can't even get made anymore, let alone get anywhere near the Oscar race."

Reese Witherspoon finds herself in Wild. Could she also find an Oscar? (Twentieth Century Fox) Source: Supplied

As for those who have made it onto the 2015 field, Julianne Moore as a professor and mother who learns she has early-onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice is lengths ahead of Rosamund Pike as the missing wife in Gone Girl and Felicity Jones as Hawking's other half in The Theory of Everything (with the caveat that the studio behind Theory may choose to campaign for Jones in the Best Supporting category instead. Ahh, Oscar politics!).

Reese Witherspoon's 1700km trek following a divorce in Wild is also gaining traction, while pundits are waiting on seeing Amy Adams in painter biopic Big Eyes and Chastain in A Most Violent Year before solidifying their Top 5.

Similarly, the Best Supporting Actress field is slender, with Arquette leading the likes of Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game, Laura Dern in Wild and Emma Stone in Birdman.

Veteran character actor J.K. Simmons teaching his way to glory in Whiplash (Sony Pictures) Source: Supplied

The Best Supporting Actor category remains a toss-up, though most money right now is going to J.K. Simmons' vein-popping performance as a sadistic music teacher in Whiplash.

Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher, Edward Norton in Birdman and Ethan Hawke in Boyhood are also circling, while pundits wait on Albert Brooks' turn as a lawyer in A Most Violent Year.

The nominees for the 87th Academy Awards will be announced on January 15.

Then will follow six weeks' worth of contention as to who should, could, will or won't actually win when those gold statuettes are handed out on February 22.

OSCAR BAIT: WHEN CAN WE SEE IT IN AUSTRALIA?

November 6

Interstellar

December 26

Mr Turner

St Vincent

Regular punters and Academy watchers alike are breathlessly awaiting Interstellar (Roadshow) Source: Supplied

January 1

The Imitation Game

January 8

Into the Woods

January 15

Unbroken

Birdman

January 22

Wild

American Sniper

There's no holding Benedict Cumberbatch back: if The Imitation Game doesn't win him an Oscar, something else will (Roadshow) Source: Supplied

January 29

Foxcatcher

Still Alice

The Theory of Everything

February 5

Inherent Vice

February 19

Big Eyes

February 26

A Most Violent Year


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