Oscar season is slowly migrating to a screen near you with tempting tales of murder, passion, fame and battlefield pride. Here’s a preview of the fall flicks with all the right tricks:
Available on DVD
The Grand Budapest Hotel – The king of quirk is back with a splendid tale of theft, debauchery and devotion. In his latest fable, writer/director Wes Anderson has chosen two-time Oscar nominee, Ralph Fiennes, to play the lead role. The story is book-ended by the two world wars in a European wonderland where grand hotels are esteemed institutions of social desires. In Anderson’s signature style, symmetry runs supreme and quiet wanderers scurry in lines of dutiful rage. M. Gustave (Fiennes) is an illustrious concierge with a propensity for crimes and misdemeanors. He floats through the film with his loyal lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), on a quest to escape their many would-be captors. The film is stocked with scrumptious supporting roles from Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson. Those with especially keen eyes will also notice Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson and James Lipton meandering among the misfits.
Boyhood – Writer/director Richard Linklater is a mixologist of storytelling. He has already served up a seductive trilogy of prose poetry with his screenplays Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013). Now, he continues on another historical project with Boyhood— an on-screen photo album of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he emerges from childhood into young adulthood. In 2002, Linklater recruited his daughter, Lorelei, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Coltrane to collaborate in his cinematic elixir. During the 12 years of filming, a potion of romanticism and pain melded into a profound coming-of-age story. Boyhood is guided by truth with loss and confusion dancing around both parents and children. It is a safe bet that Linklater will follow up last year’s Best Screenplay nomination for Before Midnight with multiple nominations for Boyhood.
Gone Girl – Director David Fincher (Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) has returned to the spine-tingling grit of Se7en with a murder mystery-turned-media melee captivating the eyes of the nation. After his wife’s disappearance, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is thrust into the heart of the investigation. With the perfect dose of unease wafting in the air — and a self-described “Norman Bates-y” performance by Neil Patrick Harris — Fincher is destined to taunt the wandering eyes of the Academy.
Birdman – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is an auteur capable of weaving webs of desire through our collective unconscious. In the past, he has stormed our brains with such gritty dramas as Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel — films that uncover the exquisite pain uniting humanity. Now, he has enlisted Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis and Edward Norton for his most innovative film to date. The piece stunned audiences and received rave reviews after opening at the Venice Film Festival in August. Keaton portrays Riggan Thomson, a washed up superhero burdened by his past success and hampered by family turbulence. The story is centered on Thomson’s battle to recharge his former fame with a Broadway play. Birdman is a change of pace as Inarritu takes flight into the arena of dark comedy.
Fury – Oscar season is always a bit spicier with a visit from the Nazis. This particular piece is plucked from the European theater of the war one month before V-E Day. With Brad Pitt in the lead role, writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch, Training Day) unravels the heroic story of Army Sgt. Wardaddy as he commands a Sherman tank and five crewmembers through the daunting streets of Germany.
Mr. Turner – Veteran English actor Timothy Spall (Harry Potter, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) stars in the biopic about the English Romantic landscape painter, watercolorist and printmaker, J. M. W. Turner. The film captures Turner living out his golden years in eccentric style. With bubbling support following the London Film Festival, critics are buzzing about a potential Best Actor nod for Spall.
The Theory of Everything – Director James Marsh, creator of the provocative documentaries Project Nim and the Academy Award-winning Man on Wire is now dipping his toes into a new genre of storytelling. The film depicts the whirlwind relationship between Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Jane Hawking, who is portrayed by the darling of indie romantics, Felicity Jones. Tortured by Stephen’s diagnosis of a rare motor-neuron disease related to ALS, the couple battle his prognosis and each other all the while grappling with acceptance. The picture benefits from supporting roles by Emily Watson and Charlie Cox, the dashing Irish lad who dismantled our heartstrings as Owen in Boardwalk Empire.
Foxcatcher – Once in a great while a collision of minds explodes into the stratosphere of cinematic wonder. In one of the most anticipated films of the year, director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote) teams up with writers E. Max Frye (Band of Brothers) and Dan Futterman(Capote, In Treatment) to tell the true story of wrestler Mark Schultz. Channing Tatum portrays Schultz, with a glistening trifecta of supporting roles from Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna Miller. Steve Carell deliver a transformative performance — complete with a prosthetic nose, false teeth and a receding hairline — to portray multimillionaire, writer, athlete and sponsor John du Pont in this crushing saga of ego, glory and devastation.
The Imitation Game – Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, War Horse), Keira Knightley (Love Actually, Pride and Prejudice) and Matthew Goode (A Single Man) join forces to give us a taste of 1940s wartime hacking. The film stirs up details of the German enciphering machine, Enigma, that aided the Axis’ military powers through World War II. The story follows English mathematician and logician Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) —an enigma himself — as he pushes himself to the brink of insanity in the name of freedom. Complete with trysts of greed and seduction, director Morten Tyldum has the potential to rise from obscurity into Oscar’s watchful eye.
This fall’s crop has all the trimmings of a bountiful trip to the Academy Awards in February. However, there will also be a fresh rollout of could-be contenders this holiday season. Stay tuned for the Holiday Film Preview, coming in late November.
*This article also appeared in the Loyola Phoenix.