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The Big O: 2015 Oscar Preview: Expect Reese to Rise Again and a Woman to Crash the Directing Category

Features
by Susan Wloszczyna
July 15, 2014 11:22 AM
8 Comments
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Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie

Wow, that was fast. The movie year is already half over, and if you are a fan of Legos, sequels to bombastic blockbusters, and just-OK comedies, you probably think everything has been awesome in 2014 -- especially if you speak Lego-ese.

But those looking for female-driven films already in theaters that might grab some Academy Award attention will be left with a kid-size popcorn bag of possibilities. Certainly none seem as destined for honors as last summer’s Oscar-lock performance by Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Not even Emma Stone - as beguiling as she may be as a psychic – feels close to a sure thing in Allen’s new and lighter-weight effort, Magic in the Moonlight, which lands in theaters on July 25.

That does not mean there isn’t reason to cheer the girl-powered success of both Maleficent, which currently ranks as the fourth-highest grosser of the year, and Divergent, which ranks ninth. But these are first and foremost commercial enterprises, not award bait.

As for the art-house universe, Tilda Swinton always elevates the cinematic landscape whenever she materializes in a movie, and her work in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Only Lovers Left Alive, and Snowpiercer is a trifecta of terrific. But save for Hotel, Wes Anderson’s ornate music box of a nostalgia trip that meets the criteria as a best-picture possibility, Swinton is more likely to be in the running for Independent Spirit awards.

Shailene Woodley has an outside chance of scoring a best actress nomination for YA weeper The Fault in Our Stars, but performers in more prestigious titles will likely bump her out of the lineup. Scarlett Johansson was a revelation in Under the Skin, but the film itself is probably too outside the comfort zone of the evolving yet still staid academy. The best hope at this point for 2014? The highly praised Boyhood, a 12-years-in-the-making experiment by filmmaker Richard Linklater, that could earn some nomination love for the sorely underappreciated Patricia Arquette.

The truth is that most of the awards excitement for women lies somewhere in the future. And with most of their efforts as yet unseen, it is hard to know which actresses will end up in lead or supporting categories.

But here are a few educated guesses.

Nominated three times previously – the last time 12 years ago for Far From Heaven -- the overdue Julianne Moore is ahead of the game after taking the best actress prize at Cannes in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars (no. U.S. release date).

Other strong possibilities in either the lead or supporting list include Rosamund Pike in David Fincher’s Gone Girl (Oct. 3), based on the literary phenom; Amy Adams - a five-time nominee too long denied -- in Big Eyes (Dec. 25), directed by Tim Burton; Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep in the adaptation of Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods (Dec. 25); three-time nominee Michelle Williams in Suite Francaise (no U.S. release date), a World World II romance; and Blanchett reunited with her I’m Not There director Todd Haynes in Carol (no date yet).

And it isn’t too soon to make a few educated predictions, either. Here is what my feminine intuition is telling me:

--A fifth female director will make the cut. It still stings to realize only four women have ever competed in the directing category – and only one, Kathryn Bigelow, has won. However, that piece of Oscar trivia stands a good chance of being rewritten this year. What has often stood in the way before is that women rarely get the opportunity or the money to make a film that can stand up to the big studio-financed marketing machine behind most awards campaigns.

Luckily, Ava Duvernay, the first African-American woman to take the directing prize at Sundance for 2012’s Middle of Nowhere, has two A-list producers on her side for Selma, opening Dec. 25. Both Brad Pitt (who was behind 12 Years a Slave, last year’s best picture winner) and Oprah Winfrey (who was part of the team supporting 2009’s Precious and shows up onscreen in Selma) are throwing their weight behind this story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the struggle for voting rights for African Americans.

Of course, Pitt’s fiancée, Angelina Jolie, is her own best ambassador as the director of Unbroken, the follow-up to her behind-the-camera debut, the 2011 Bosnian War drama In the Land of Blood and Honey. The true-life saga about Olympic track star and World War II POW Louis Zamperini, also coming out on Christmas Day, can’t help but be even more moving now that its hero passed away on July 2 at age 97.

There are three other anticipated female-directed films in the mix that could also gain some attention. British helmer Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette may or may not open in time to qualify for this year’s contest. But given its subject – the women’s right-to-vote movement in England during the late 19th and early 20th century -- and with a cast topped by Carey Mulligan, Helen Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep -- the historical drama seems as if it would feel right at home on the Oscar ballot. That it also boasts a writer -- Abi Morgan -- and a pair of producers -- Alison Owen and Fay Ward of the female persuasion is enticing indeed.

Two notable underdogs also are lurking about: Lynn Shelton of Hump Day fame has Laggies (due Sept. 26), which stars Keira Knightley as a depressed 20-something who decides to hang with a teenage Chloe Grace Moretz, attracted a warm-to-middling reception at Sundance this year; and Liv Ullmann offers her vision of Strindberg’s Miss Julie starring Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton, which does not have a U.S. opening date yet.

--A Reese revival is pending. That 1,100-mile path that Witherspoon is treading in the trailer for Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling 2012 memoir that is due Dec. 5, could easily turn into a comeback trail. Since winning a best-actress Oscar for her portrait of June Carter Cash in 2005’s Walk the Line, her resume has taken a decidedly downward turn both in quality and at the box office. A positive sign: Witherspoon, who is also a producer, has recruited a director who knows a thing or two about inspiring award-winning performances – Jean-Marc Vallee of Dallas Buyers Club.

If that weren’t enough, Witherspoon also is reuniting with her Walk the Line co-star Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master) and based on a detective novel by Thomas Pynchon, coming out Dec. 12. And she is also the lead in The Good Lie due October 3.

--Swank will go for the gold again. Tommy Lee Jones roped a mixed-to-positive Cannes reception to his latest directorial effort, a feminist road-trip Western named The Homesman. But Hilary Swank’s performance as a tough yet plain farmer who volunteers to lead three mentally ill women cross-country to a safe refuge was abundantly praised, which has not happened as much as you would think for this owner of two Oscars. Swank has one of the more schizophrenic acting careers out there. With her athletic build and strong dramatic features, the actress is not all that easy to cast. But when a role is tailored to her strengths, such as was the case with 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry and 2004’s Million Dollar Baby, she ends up winning trophies.

However, in a part that fails to take advantage of her unique presence, such as her off-putting portrait of the legendary aviatrix in the 2009 biopic of Amelia Earhart, Swank too often sinks onscreen. If the critics continue to be impressed by her when The Homesman opens Oct. 7, she could have a solid chance at competing again – and might attract more suitable opportunities in the future, too.

--A whole lotta Chastain. After being nominated for back-to-back Oscars for her supporting efforts in 2011’s The Help and as the star of 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, this flame-haired actress is on fire this year. She has no fewer than four titles with awards potential. Besides Miss Julie, she is in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (Sept,. 26), Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (Nov. 7) and J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year (Nov. 12). If she doesn’t show up on the red carpet, it won’t be because of a lack of trying.

--Double the Cotillard. Marion Cotillard, who already has an acting Oscar stashed away for 2007’s La Vie en Rose, has two opportunities to compete again. True, The Immigrant came and went this summer with barely a ripple. But she received praise at Cannes for her struggling working-class mother and wife in Two Days, One Night, and one can only dream what will happen when she and Michael Fassbender join forces and face the Bard in Macbeth (no U.S. dates yet for either movie).

Yes, the picture is still fuzzy, but I expect at least one of these predictions will be right. Check back again with The Big O once the awards season officially begins in earnest at the end of August when the film festivals at Telluride, Venice and Toronto get the ball rolling.

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8 Comments

  • Stergios | July 20, 2014 8:37 PMReply

    I mean, seriously, how is it possible that Marion Cotillard has never been nominated for a second Oscar? Really, how can something like this be possible? That's just disheartening for the world in which we live. Will at least earn a nomination in 2015 or what? If not, I don't see why Oscars should continue existing. Marion Cotillard is undoubtedly the greatest actress of all time. How on Earth she has never, NEVER be nominated since winning for giving the performance of a lifetime in "La vie en rose"? Has anyone seen "The Immigrant"? If her work there isn't worthy of an Oscar win (not just a nomination, but a much, much, much DESERVED win), I don't know what is. Her performance as Ewa Cybulska is gigantic, to say the least. This is a performance that transcends mere acting, Cotillard becomes the flesh and bones of her character, like she always, ALWAYS does. I couldn't be more angry and more sad watching the Academy snubbing her so relentlessly. Do the Academy members know what acting means? If they do, how can we talk about Reese Witherspoon being nominated again for what seems like a definitely solid performance in "Wild" and Marion Cotillard's astonishing work in "Public Enemies", "Nine", "Inception", "Midnight in Paris", "Rust and bone" be snubbed so shamefully? How can the Academy members sleep at night while degrading some of the finest performances ever put on screen like all of the aforementioned? It's a shame! A shame! I don't have words to express my fury! I'm a movies lover by birth, I've watched thousands of movies, I've worked as a film critic and screenwriter, yet I have never seen an an actress (including Meryl Streep, Katharine Hepburn, Gena Rowlands, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Riva, Bette Davis, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Juliette Binoche, Maria Falconetti) that can reach her otherwordly talent in acting, her unmatched technical skills, her obviously limitless depth, her level of commitment to every role she so brilliantly portrays on screen or on stage and her constant desire to take the biggest risks imagined. Seriously, Cotillard portrays a role as if the soul of her each character has penetrated into every part of her body. I simply cannot explain how is it possible for her to do something like that. I've seen her whole filmography, so I know what I'm talking about. She's insanely talented. INSANELY TALENTED. The Academy should build a statue with her name on it just for giving the performance she gave this year in "The Immigrant". I've seen the film three times already and I wonder why it is dumped so horribly from The Weinstein Company? It's a great motion picture and Marion Cotillard's performance there deserves a HUGE campaign. But why, why an actress like her should campaign after giving the performance she gave? That performance can speak for its own, as it happens with every truly great performance and secure her a second Oscar. Personally, I frankly believe that "The Immigrant" is a grounbreaking masterpiece. A film of such beauty and strength that refuses to leave your mind easily. I strongly believe that it's worthy of muptiple Oscar nominations and I feel totally safe to say this already: If Marion Cotillard won't get her second Oscar in A Leading Role for her mesmerizing performance in "The Immigrant" at the 2015 ceremony, this will be the biggest injustice in the history of Oscars. Ever. In any category.
    Her performance as Ewa Cybulska is so powerful that can overshadow any performance given by an actress of the last five years. It's such a miracle of a performance no one's work can even come close. Through her work in Gray's film, she redefines the term of acting, it's as if she
    pushes acting to a whole another level. Witherspoon? Alright, she's obviously really good in "Wild". But how unfair is it that her performance in her Oscar-bait role is much more of a favorite than Cotillard's far superior work in "The Immigrant"? I don't have to see "Wild" to make a statement like this, anyone who knows about acting knows that. Cotillard has been absolutely incredible in every film she's been in (yep, that includes "The Dark Knight Rises" and even her cameo in the sequel of "Anchorman"). She should have had at least 15 oscar wins by now. PLEASE ACADEMY, GIVE HER SECOND OSCAR!!! She more than deserves it. I'm not a relative of hers or a rep of hers or whatever crap one might think reading this post, but I'm a movies lover by birth and I know this: Leaving the best actress of all time with only one win and not even a single nomination since, despite the fact that everything she has done since is worthy of an Oscar win, feels just insane to me. Totally insane. The Oscar for Best Actress In A Leading Role should have her name engraved on it at the 87th Annual Academy Awards. The work she's done this year is just exquisite. She's clearly groundbreaking in "Two Days, One Night" and "Macbeth". How much I'd love to watch her grab both the Leading and the Supporting Awards in 2015 (Leading for either "The Immigrant" or "Two Days, One Night" and Supporting for "Macbeth"). But I honestly believe that it's her irrationally impeccable performance in "The Immigrant" that should earn her her second Oscar. Just give her her second Oscar. She absolutely deserves it. She has been robbed so many times. SO MANY TIMES. And she still continues to push herself into extremely brave, raw and unforgettable performances in a series of almost unbelievably demanding roles. Please, give her her second Oscar, please!

  • Jessie | July 19, 2014 2:05 AMReply

    It makes me beyond happy that people are recognizing the great work of women in film. After looking at the celluloid ceiling data for the amount of women in filmmaking positions for blockbuster movies, it can be slightly disheartening that it is still such a male-dominated industry, when over half of the consumers of film are women. My hope is that as time goes on, more stories will be told by women, for women, through the medium of film.
    I think that it is important, however, to look at the quality of the film and the message that it is sending about women. While it is great that we have a surge of women starring in high profile films, it may be causing more harm than good if the roles they are playing to not portray women in a positive or realistic way.

  • Myriah Dooley | July 19, 2014 1:17 AMReply

    Its a relief to see we have some female-created/directed/written etc. films to be looking forward to in the future; I feel that women and other marginalized groups are making progress in the film industry, which is important because film entertainment and media are reflections of our culture and society (or at least they're meant to be...) and in turn shape the ideas of our culture and society. My biggest hope is that another female director will win; I was shocked to learn that only four female directors have ever competed and only one has succeeded in winning. This has nothing to do with lack of talent, but with the institution itself... Its important to think about the fact that those who control the outcome of the academy awards are not necessarily a diverse group of voters. As of 2014, Oscar voters are 94% white, 76% male, and have an average of 63 years old. This is, of course, a reflection of the fact that Caucasian males occupy almost all of the executive, important, and powerful positions in the entertainment industry and have for some time. We also have to take a look at the types of movies that are being made and nominated; for example, there are over a dozen female Oscar potentials listed above but only a few are people of color. I don't mean to downplay the accomplishments of the other women at all, however I would like there to be more discourse on the subject of diversity here; why are we seeing these biased demographics and representations, and who is responsible? How can we begin to create an entertainment industry that properly represents the diverse demographics of the world that we live in? And if audiences were educated on the biased institution of the Academy Awards, would they still mean so much to our culture? Food for thought. If we fight for all-inclusive equality in the power and positions of the entertainment industry and succeed, there would be no lack of female-driven films or awards.
    I enjoyed reading this post. it was very positive, hopeful and informational.

  • Linda | July 16, 2014 6:15 PMReply

    Nice to see Angelina doing something smart and not some hollywood crap. Marion Cotillard is probably my favorite foreign actor of the last decade but i bet she is gonna be snubbed once again. Shouldn't she have like 2 Oscars and 5 nominations already? Every year i read Cotillard is among the favorites but she is never nominated. At least not at the Oscars.
    By the way the latest I've seen from her (Rust and Bone and The Immigrant) were both amazing. How didn't she got nominated for those movies is a mystery to me but again, i don't understand anything with those "awards campaigns".
    "2 days 1 night" from Cannes had reviews that got me quite excited about that movie. I don't know if many people will support her this year but she surely has more and more admirers so hopefully more people will go watch her movies.
    That's the most important after all, that people see what this woman does. She is an extraordinary actress. The fact that she works with wonderful directors is what makes me admire her even more, she never play it safe and it's very refreshing to see.

  • Stergios | July 20, 2014 8:51 PM

    Oh my God, Linda, I really couldn't agree more with everything you say there, especially the wonderful words you used for the exquisite Marion Cotillard. It's a mystery not only to you, trust me, but also to me and every other creature on this planet that knows about cinema and acting how she always seems to be one of the favorites, but always fails to be nominated since her win in 2008. It's just absurd. I sincerely believe that with her unmatched work in "The Immigrant" this year, she truly pushed acting to another level. Watching her transform into the role of Ewa Cybulska is like an otherwordly experience. She inhabits her character so completely it ends up extremely scary. It doesn't feel like a performance at all. You find yourself thinking you're watching the most crucial parts of her character's tormented existence unfolding in front of your eyes. No-holds-barred, Cotillard dares to abandon herself into her every role in a way no actress in the history of cinema can claim she did. Body and soul, she gives her all. It's just insane that she will most likely be snubbed again.

  • Anonymous | July 15, 2014 4:27 PMReply

    Well, the Academy Director's Branch blew it last year for 2012. Kathryn Bigelow should have become the first woman to be nominated twice for Best Director (on top of being the first to win the gong). Unlike her, these female directors are relatively untested and unproven, so it's quite presumptuous to expect one to "crash" the directing category. I don't see gender as a necessary qualifier; the five best directed films should be nominated, no matter who directed them.

  • Alex | July 15, 2014 12:31 PMReply

    Wonderful read! Just wanted to point out one fact though- Julianne Moore has been nominated four time previously. A blight on the record that she has not yet won (and was snubbed for her heartbreaking turn in A Single Man).

  • Wendy | July 15, 2014 11:30 AMReply

    I'm not a huge Angelina Jolie fan, but any woman (or women) nominated is a giant step forward. I will be supporting both of them no matter what.

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