The Toronto Film Festival and New York Film Festival lineups have been introduced and several films with great potential have made the competition cut. Festivals like Toronto, Cannes, Venice and Sundance are great precursors to major award season; in fact Toronto's festival has been the predictor of many Oscar-nominated films including last year's Black Swan and eventual best picture winner The King's Speech. While Cannes and Sundance are already over, Toronto will run from September 8th through the 18th, right in between the dates for the Venice Film Festival (August 31st to September 10th). After Toronto is New York Film Festival which screens films from September 30th through October 16th.
Since awards season is approaching soon, it seems fitting to go through the festival lists to see what films have the talent to make their way to the Kodak Theater for the 84th Annual Academy Awards on February 26th, 2012. While I haven't seen most of these films, it is fun to predict which of these movies will actually end up being good, let alone whether they have Oscar bait written all over them. Many of these films overlap since they seem to be good enough to win awards at multiple festivals, so I won't repeat them here. Let's start with the contestants and winners at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
Sundance (January 20-30 in Park City, Utah)
1. Like Crazy (directed by Drake Doremus)
-This film may not win any acting Oscars, but it has great chances of getting nominated for it's script. Said to be the hands-down favorite at the festival, Like Crazy tells the story of a long-distance relationship and how sometimes being together is harder than breaking up. The film is supposed to be an incredibly emotionally honest portrayal of young love and heartbreak. In fact, young British thespian Felicity Jones won Best Actress at the festival and the film won the Grand Jury Prize (or best film) honors.
Berlin (February 10-20)
1. Margin Call (directed by J.C. Chandor)
-A film about events surrounding an investment bank during the financial crisis doesn't sound exciting or interesting. So why did this film screen at the Berlin International Film Festival? Well, the direction looks sharp and focused from the trailer alone and the terrific cast is a huge plus. Margin Call stars Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany (Priest), Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Heroes), Penn Badgley (Gossip Girl, Easy A), and Simon Baker (The Mentalist) just to name a few. All of these great elements led to the film being nominated for the highest honor at the Berlin festival, the Golden Bear award. If done correctly, this film could get nominated for several major Academy awards.
2. Coriolanus (directed by Ralph Fiennes)
-Another Shakespeare film. Another drama/tragedy about betrayal. The difference this time comes down to two reasons: the modern take on the familiar story and the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes who also stars in it. It's the first time this particular Shakespeare play is being adapted for the screen and the screenplay is written by acclaimed writer John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Sweeney Todd). There's a great chance that Fiennes could have finally have a shot for the Best Actor Oscar that he has deserved since his role in Schindler's List. This film screens of a Best Actor nod for Ralph Fiennes and possibly even a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination.
Cannes (May 11-22)
1. Midnight in Paris (directed by Woody Allen)
-After the screening of this film and it's subsequent limited release in the States, many people are saying this is Woody Allen's comeback. Considering how terrible his last two films have been (Whatever Works and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger), I'd say anything is a step up. But this film is definitely worth the classic Woody Allen mark. Owen Wilson is at his most charmingly neurotic as Gil, a screenwriter who is stuck in a stuffy life with a not-so-friendly woman (played by Rachel McAdams. So he goes out walking around the streets of Paris and finds an interesting adventure. And that's about all I can say about the plot without spoiling too many details. Paris is now Allen's most profitable film, no doubt due to his likeable cast led by Wilson and including Marion Cotillard (Inception), Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Kathy Bates to name a few. If Academy voters think this movie is half as good as Vicky Christina Barcelona, Woody Allen has a shot at a Best Screenplay nomination at least.
2. Drive (directed by Nicolas Winding Refn)
-Ryan Gosling is having a good year so far. His first release, Crazy Stupid Love, is easily being called the best romantic comedy of 2011 and thousands of women flocked to see his perfectly shaped abs. But even before Love, Gosling was promoting indie film Drive at Cannes with director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson) and co-stars Carey Mulligan (An Education), Albert Finney (Big Fish) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad). I've already gushed about the trailer for this film: it looks like the perfect blend of action/thriller, poignant drama, a little romance and a touch of film noir. My anticipation for this film is only strengthened by reviews at the Cannes screening and the fact that director Refn took home the coveted Best Director award at the prestigious festival. While it's not clear what kind of nominations this film might get, it's safe to say it has a strong shot for quite a few.
3. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)
-I'm not sure how well-suited this film is for Oscar gold but considering the passion many critics have for Ramsay's third full-length feature, the obvious observation is that it will get people in the Academy talking. The short version of the premise for Kevin goes like this: an estranged but still married couple finds out their son went on a Columbine-esque killing spree and they both react in completely different ways to the news. The film seems to focus a lot of attention on the mother and how she takes responsibility for her son's actions and since the whole narrative rests on the mother's shoulders, Ramsay brings in the extremely-talented Tilda Swinton to perform the difficult role. Look for possible Best Actress and Best Screeplay nods but only if the film is univerally adored after its wide release.
4. Melancholia (directed by Lars von Trier)
-Poor Melancholia. The antics of its director, Trier, pushed much of the film's reception news to the back corner of Cannes tidbits. However, after putting aside Trier's Nazi-sympathizing jokes and the always recurring fear that he makes only misogynistic films, Melancholia did quite well for itself at the film festival. It polarized the audience but support for the film overwhelmed negative reviews. The story is about the end of the world and how two sisters react to it. The two sisters are played by Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist) and old Spiderman's very own Kirsten Dunst. Now Dunst being in a great movie lately seems a bit strange but not only did she clean-up her acting, she was rewarded heavily for it. Dunst ended up taking home the Best Actress award at Cannes, beating out favorites like Tilda Swinton (for We Need to Talk About Kevin) and more. The rest of the cast is stellar as well including True Blood hunk Alenxander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard and Keifer Sutherland. Expect that Academy voters will be watching Dunst's and Gainsbourg's performances quite closely.
5. The Tree of Life (directed by Terrence Malick)
-And now for the pièce de résistance. Malick's last film was over a decade ago and this film has been on the shelves and waiting list for many a festival season. Finally, after years of waiting, the feature was released to eagerly anticipating viewers and apparently it did not disappoint at all. In fact, Tree of Life snagged the Palme d'Or (Best Film) award. Like Melancholia, Tree of Life is about the end of the world but there's so much more to it. I've been told it's best to see this film without knowing too much and it makes for a more visceral experience. But I have to say that even though I did know a little about the synopsis, it's still beautiful to watch. Overall, the film is about the balance and struggle between the way of nature and the way of grace and this relationship is depicted through a father and mother in a 1950s American home. The couple, played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain (remember this name, she's terrific), are both brilliant and Pitt gives the most emotionally powerful performance of his life. It's easy to expect Best Film and Best Actor nods for this film that deeply divided critics but won over the Cannes jury.
Venice (August 31-September 10)
1. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (directed by Tomas Alfredson)
-This is the quintessential British spy movie of the year. Based on a book by John Le Carré, the film is about an old British secret agent who finds out there may be a Russian mole in his old agency. He decides to come out of retirement to catch the mole before too many secrets are revealed. The plot is a bit unoriginal but the book is considered a real literary monument so it has high expectations. The cast reads like an Harry Potter cast list with all the amazing British talent: Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight), Colin Firth (The King's Speech), John Hurt (Alien), Tom Hardy (Inception), Mark Strong (Kick-Ass), Ciarán Hinds (There Will Be Blood), Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock: A Study in Pink), Toby Jones (W.), etc. There's no way this film will go unnoticed come awards season unless it's familiar or just not great. If it likes up to it's expectations, Gary Oldman could potentially get his first Best Actor nomination- It's about damn time.
2. A Dangerous Method (directed by David Cronenberg)
-David Cronenberg has a habit of making disturbing films. But he also has a great track record with getting his actors to deliver some of their best performances. In this new film that looks into the complicated relationship between psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, Cronenberg is teaming up with Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings) for the third time and is adding Keira Knightly (Pride and Prejudice) and new hot commodity Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) to the list. A look into the two strangest psychologists would have been interesting enough but adding a sexual affair and intrigue involving a female patient pushes the story into Cronenberg land. There is probably no one better to make this disturbing, strange, sexual, and possibly even scary film about the deepest conflicts of the human mind. If the film turns out to be as good as it sounds, we're looking at nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay and maybe another nod for Viggo Mortensen as Freud.
3. The Ides of March (directed by George Clooney)
-The last time George Clooney directed a drama (Good Night, and Good Luck), it was nominated for Best Picture, his lead was nominated for Best Actor, he was nominated for Best Director and he and his writing partner was nominated for Best Screenplay. This time, he's teaming up with golden boy Ryan Gosling, Marissa Tomei (The Wrestler), Evan Rachel Wood (Across the Universe), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) and Paul Giamatti (Sideways) for a film about the corruption and manipulation surrounding a presidential campaign. The trailer looks great and with this much talent, it'll be hard for this movie to suck. I suspect Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay nods for Clooney's next venture.
Toronto (September 8-18)
-Glenn Close. That's all you need to know about this film. Glenn Close plays an Englishwoman in the 19th century who dresses up as a man and starts working as a butler so she can survive in male-dominated Ireland. Rodrigo García is a capable director and has great experience making films with strong female leads. Expect a Best Actress nod if Close is as good as always.
2. 360 (directed by Fernando Meirelles)
-Starring Oscar winners Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener), Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Frances McDormand (Fargo), this new film by The Constant Gardener director Fernando Meirelles explores the lives of couples and their sexual encounters. Considering Weisz won an Oscar last time she paired up with Meirelles, it's safe to assume the director cam bring out the best in his actors. Expect acting nods all around and a Best Screenplay possibility as well since the legendary writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) is helming the script. Bonus points for the film: Eminem co-stars! Let's see what happens when he's thrown outside of his tough-guy/gangster persona, I think he could be great.
3. The Descendants (directed by Alexander Payne)
-Alexander Payne's last film was Sideways from 2004 and it won Best Screenplay at the Oscars and was nominated for four more including Best Director, Best Picture and two Supporting awards. Before that, Payne directed another great comedy About Schmidt which resulted in nominations for both of its leads. Judging by that record, The Descendants will have to match that caliber of film, which it probably will considering it combines Payne, George Clooney and a poignant story about a father who tries to reconnect with his two daughters after wife (who, he finds out later, was cheating on him) slips into a coma. Clooney has hit his stride as an actor so it's no surprise if he comes away with a Best Actor nod here. Considering how good Payne's scripts are, a Best Screenplay nod is to be expected and a Best Director would be a pleasant surprise.
New York (September 30-October 16)
-The main award for this movie will come from Michelle Williams' portrayal of the iconic Marilyn Monroe. Williams is a brilliant actress, giving heartbreaking performances in Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine (she was nominated for both). The rest of the cast is great too: Dame Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love), Julia Ormond (Temple Grandin), Kenneth Branagh (Henry V), Eddie Redmayne (Pillars of the Earth), Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger), etc. This one is, without a doubt, getting a Best Actress nod for Williams.
2. Carnage (directed by Roman Polanski)
-Surprise, surprise everyone! Roman Polanski has made a comedy about two sets of parents who decide to sit down to discuss how their kids have been fighting at school. Based on a Tony Award-winning play, the film is set in New York and stars Oscar winners Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds), Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs), Kate Winslet (The Reader) and Oscar nominee John C. Reilly (Chicago). Looks like we'll be seeing more of them on ballots at this year's Oscars as well.
This is a large list of films and most of them will probably be ignored, either for not living up to their hype or because there's no room for them with the many promising movies this year that haven't made it to festivals. As we get closer and closer to awards season, expect to see more movies try to knock the films from these festivals off their high horses. For now, it's really anyone's game for a while.