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10 Awards Season Movies That Could Be Surprise Contenders

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist August 27, 2013 at 1:02PM

Awards season gets underway this week. We're sorry. We know it's August. But it's a fact—the premiere of "Gravity" on Wednesday at Venice is only the first in a veritable tsunami of Oscar contenders that will be unveiled on the Lido, with more unspooling at Telluride, TIFF and NYFF over the next six weeks or so. By the beginning of October, we'll have a much better sense of how the season will be looking (although some of these films have started screening already—we've seen a couple, though are embargoed for the moment).
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The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby Him & Her Jessica Chastain

"The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her"
Why It Could Be A Contender: One of the most ambitious films of the festival season, and one we've had our eye on for a little while, "The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby" is a two-part, three-hour drama from first-time writer/director Ned Benson. Examining the disintegrating relationship of a young married couple, and told in two distinct parts focusing on the two sides of the story, it's a bold idea, and it's no surprise that Benson was able to attract an extraordinary cast, with Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy in the leads, and Viola Davis, Ciaran Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt and Bill Hader in support. It's a fascinating concept, and with McAvoy and Chastain (who also serves as a producer, and, let's not forget, has two nominations in the last two years) starring, there's plenty of potential for memorable lead performances, and possibly much more besides.
Why It Might Not: Many, many reasons. For one, the TIFF screenings are billed as a "work-in-progress," which means that the film's not done, which makes a 2013 release less likely, even if someone picks it up out of TIFF (there's no distributor in place yet). Furthermore, the dual nature of the movie poses a difficult question — which movie do people nominate? Is Chastain Best Actress in "Her," but Supporting in "Him?" Would the film end up robbing votes from itself? Or could it be eligible as the double-length take? There's all kinds of complexities inherent in the film, and even if the movie turns out to be everything we hope, it doesn't really seem to be something that'll get a lot of awards play. So short answer, it's probably not a player in 2013, and it's probably not in 2014 either, but you never known, and we'll find out in a few weeks if that is the case or not.

Enough Said

"Enough Said"
Why It Could Be A Contender: While her semi-contemporary Lisa Chodolenko had something of an awards breakthrough a few years back with "The Kids Are All Right," Nicole Holofcener's never quite made the same leap. She's been behind the strong likes of "Lovely And Amazing" and "Please Give," but while they've been consistently well-received, they've never broken out to a wider crowd, or to major awards recognition. On paper, her new film, "Enough Said" might not change that — it's another small-scope comedy-drama, this time about a woman who discovers that her new beau is the ex-husband of her new best friend. But the film does have the might of Fox Searchlight behind it this time, who've had success with this sort of thing in the past. Furthermore, it has Emmy favorite Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her first big-screen role in fifteen years, and, perhaps most importantly, has the final leading role of the late James Gandolfini. If it even comes close to working—and Holofcener's as reliable as they come—Gandolfini could be a very viable Best Actor or Supporting Actor candidate, given the apparent warmth of the performance, and the esteem in which he was held by his peers.
Why It Might Not: It doesn't entirely look like Best Picture material—it seems even smaller in scope and scale than similar indie "The Kids Are All Right" or even something like "Nebraska." As such, it'll have to be really superb (or a lot of the competition will have to fall down) to get above a Screenplay nomination. As for Gandolfini, it's easy to remember that for every Heath Ledger who gets a posthumous nomination or award, there are actors whose final work failed to get recognition. As sentimental as Academy members can be, the performance generally has to be of the caliber where they would have been nominated anyway. That's not to say it won't be happening (Gandolfini looks great in the film), but don't necessarily count on it.

The Invisible Woman Felicity Jones

"The Invisible Woman"
Why It Could Be A Contender: From "Shakespeare In Love" to "Iris" to "The Hours," there was a time when a literary biopic was almost a guaranteed way to pick up a brace of Oscars. The genre has seen slim pickings in the last few years, but Charles Dickens is about as big a name as you could ask for, so "The Invisible Woman" is certainly worthy of consideration. After making an impressive directorial debut with "Coriolanus" a few years back, Ralph Fiennes both takes the helm and the role of Dickens, with fast-rising-star Felicity Jones as his mistress Nelly Ternan. It's adapted from Claire Tomalin's award-winning biography by "Shame" writer Abi Morgan, so the prestige is certainly there on the page, and with Kristin Scott-Thomas and Tom Hollander among the supporting cast, there's plenty more on the screen too. Last year marked Dickens' bicentennial, so he's been in the zeitgeist, and with screenings at both TIFF and NYFF, it should keep the momentum up through to awards season, not least with a prime Christmas Day release that worked out nicely for Sony Pictures Classics for "Amour" last year. Plus, the buzz we hear on this is very promising; of all ten, we're most confident that this might turn up somewhere.
Why It Might Not: Sony always have an impressive slate of contenders, but often end up spreading themselves too thin. They have had three nominations in the last four years, but never more than that, and we wonder if "Blue Jasmine" might be a surer thing for the company (that said, it might also not lead to anything beyond screenplay and a nomination for Cate Blanchett, but that's a discussion for another time). Furthermore, it's possible that the film might struggle to be seen as more than a performance showcase—Jones and Fiennes might well be in the running, depending on the strength of the categories, but it'll really need strong reviews out of TIFF to be a Best Picture contender. Still, all told, this could be a good outside bet.

The Last Of Robin Hood

"The Last Of Robin Hood"
Why It Could Be A Contender: Movies about Hollywood history have been big in awards season the last few years, with both "The Artist" and "Argo" going on to win Best Picture, in part because they appealed to Academy voters' love for their own industry. That slot might be taken this year by "Saving Mr. Banks," but as a Disney movie about Disney, it might be seen as a more partisan kind of movie. This could make way for "The Last Of Robin Hood," which takes a look at a darker side of a great Hollywood icon. Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, who were behind the undervalued "Quinceanera," it tells the story of the late-in-life affair between legendary swashbuckling star Errol Flynn and underage actress Beverly Aadland, with Kevin Kline and Dakota Fanning in the lead roles, and Susan Sarandon (as Aadland's mother) and Max Casella (as Stanley Kubrick; it'll be interesting to see if they include the "Lolita" would-be casting rumor) among the supporting cast. Kline hasn't been nominated since winning for "A Fish Called Wanda," and has something of a little revival coming (he's apparently the highlight of "Last Vegas," which looks set to be a big hit in the holiday season), while Fanning's been inching towards a nomination for about fifteen of the twenty years she's been on the planet. The film's an unknown quantity, but this is one to keep an eye on at TIFF.
Why It Might Not: While "The Artist" and "Argo" were about Hollywood, they also glorified the industry to some degree—Academy members could walk out and feel good about their chosen profession. Digging up the darker side of things, as "The Last Of Robin Hood" seems to do, and reminding everyone that a beloved actor was more-or-less a pedophile, doesn't exactly have the same feelgood factor, and there's bound to be a little controversy attached. Then it should be noted that Kline, at 65, is fifteen years older than Flynn was when he died. Maybe it'll be fine (he does look younger than his years), or maybe it'll end up looking like Kevin Spacey in "Beyond The Sea." If the film is to be an awards player, it'll have to overcome both that and its potentially tricky subject matter. And it should go without saying, it'll also have to be good: last year, "Hitchcock" proved that, if the movie stinks, you're unlikely to land with the Academy. And before any of this conversation can be had, it needs a distributor.

This article is related to: Features, Awards, Oscars, Belle, The Book Thief, Le Week-End, The Invisible Woman, Enough Said, Parkland, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Hers, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His, The Devil's Knot, The Last Of Robin Hood, The Railway Man, The Good Lie, Feature


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