Oscar Watch: The Contenders Continue to Line Up

It’s time to make your must-see list and check it twice, because the Oscar race is heating up. Over the next four weeks, powerful drama and seductive storytelling will take hold as Hollywood makes its final push towards the 90th Academy Awards on March 4.

 The Disaster Artist – Currently in theaters

In 2003, Hollywood outsider Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed, financed and starred in The Room. The $6 million project made $1,800 at the box office and was dubbed “The Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Nonetheless, the film became a cult classic and is now one of the most popular midnight movies of all time. With The Disaster Artist, James Franco shows the tragicomic process of making “the best bad movie ever.”

The film follows Wiseau (Franco) and his best friend, actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), as they attempt to make the film. For better or worse, passion can get the better of Wiseau, and his filmmaking methods are questionable, but the pair of misfits are defiant in pursuing their vision. As production rolls, life and art intermix as the eccentric creator goes all-in with his atypical cinematic endeavor.

Franco is an artistic jack of all trades — director, actor, writer, documentarian, painter, professor — and now, his performance will likely add “two-time Academy Award nominee” to that list. (He received his first nomination for 127 Hours)

 

Call Me by Your Name – Currently in select theaters (everywhere Dec. 22)

Director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash, I Am Love) is poised to make the leap from relative obscurity to Oscar nominee with his new romance drama. Screenwriter James Ivory (The Remains of the Day, Howard’s End) lost his three previous Oscar races for Best Director, but is currently the favorite to win this year’s award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Breathtaking performances by Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Social Network) and Timothee Chalamet (Lady Bird, Interstellar) have critics and audiences falling in love with this quiet film.

The story takes place during the summer of 1983 in Lombardy, Italy. Elio Perlman (Chalamet) is spending the summer with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) at their 17th century villa when he meets Oliver (Hammer), a doctoral student working as an intern for Elio’s father. The two men instantly connect and spend their days getting drunk on art, culture and their picture-perfect surroundings. As passion and desire consume them both, Elio submits himself to love for the first time, and gives himself over to an experience that will forever alter the course of his life.

Chalamet has already picked up multiple awards for his performance, including the Hollywood Film Award for Breakout Actor, and the movie was awarded the Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Feature Film. Soon, this nuanced romance will feel the love of Oscar.

 

Darkest Hour – Currently in select theaters (everywhere Dec. 22)

Earlier this year, audiences were taken for a ride with Christopher Nolan’s technical masterpiece, Dunkirk. However, the film focused solely on the military battle, without granting insight into back stories or the decisions being made to guide the evacuation. Now, director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Death of a Superhero) have teamed up to show the inner workings of the military operation.

The story unfolds as Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) becomes the British Prime Minister, and is instantaneously thrown into war. Churchill explores a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, while the King (Ben Mendelsohn) looks on with skepticism and his own party plots against him. When the Allied forces are surrounded at Dunkirk, Churchill must rally an unprepared public who is reluctant to embrace him, and find within himself the courage to make decisions which will affect the course of world history.

Oldman captures Churchill’s vulnerability in moments of reclusiveness and demonstrates the Prime Minister’s dominance during war room debates. He transformed himself for the role with sculpted prosthetics of the neck, cheeks, nose and chin, and a wig to match the facial and head shape of Churchill’s. The odds-makers have him as the current favorite to win Best Actor.

 

The Shape of Water – Currently in select theaters (nationwide releases will continue through early January)

Writer/director Guillermo Del Toro is a master mixologist of fantasy and reality. Imagination is his key ingredient, and he always adds the perfect amount of passion and humanity to guide his stories. In 2006, he earned six Oscar nominations for his galvanizing film Pan’s Labyrinth. This year he’s back in full force with an other-worldly fairytale set against the backdrop of Cold War Era America.

The story is centered on Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who works as a cleaning lady in a hidden, high-security government laboratory in 1962 Baltimore. Mute and isolated, Elisa’s world suddenly expands when she and her coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover the lab’s classified secret — a mysterious, scaled creature from South America living in a water tank. She’s taken by his wonder, and eventually, their unique bond evolves into a love that transcends language. However, Elisa soon realizes the creature’s fate and survival lies in the hands of a hostile government and an unhinged marine biologist. 

The film took home top prize at the Venice film Festival, and standout performances by Hawkins, Spencer, Michael Shannon and Richard Jenkins have the movie in prime position to become a top contender in multiple Oscar categories.

 

I, Tonya – Currently in select theaters (nationwide releases will continue through early January)

The moment became ubiquitous: Nancy Kerrigan screaming, “Why?!” in her white lace dress and figure skates. Then, reports surfaced that the ice princess was the target of an attack orchestrated by her archrival. What ensued thereafter became one of the most sensational scandals in sports history, and America couldn’t get enough of Tonya Harding.

Screenwriter Steven Rogers takes the story beyond the scandal to reveal the side of Harding, portrayed by Margot Robbie, most have never seen. The dark comedy delves into Harding’s relationship with her vitriolic mother (Allison Janney) who controlled her career, and regularly beat her down with verbal assaults. The film also exposes the torment of Harding’s marriage to Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) — the mastermind behind the attack. All the players coalesce, including Harding’s bumbling bodyguard and hitman, Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Hauser), for a spellbinding ride through Crazy Town, USA.

Robbie submerges herself into the role — taking rigorous skating instruction, meeting with Harding face-to-face, and becoming one of the film’s producers. Janney delivers a laser-sharp performance, and has already won the Hollywood Film Award for Best Supporting Actress (she is the current Oscar front-runner in the same category). In a year full of powerful female performances, few will be more bewitching than this pair of on-screen auteurs.

 

The Post – In select theaters Dec. 22 (everywhere Jan. 12)

Steven Spielberg is directing Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in a film about the race to publish the Pentagon Papers… There’s nothing more I need to say to sell you on this film, but I’ll continue…

Streep portrays Catherine Graham of the Washington Post, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper; Hanks plays Ben Bradlee, the Post’s editor-in-chief. The film plunges into the unlikely partnership between Graham and Bradlee as they fight to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spans three decades and four U.S. presidents. The journalists set aside their differences, risk everything (including their very freedom), and take on the New York Times, the Nixon administration and the Supreme Court for a singular reason: uncover the truth.

Aware of the film’s timeliness, Spielberg, Hanks and Streep cleared their schedules in order to shoot the movie this past spring, and place it on the fast-track for release. Not only does the film celebrate the necessity of a free and independent press, it shines a spotlight on the treatment of women in a male-dominated workforce. Complete with an all-star supporting cast including Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Carrie Coon, Bradley Whitford and Jesse Plemons, the movie has all the momentum to make a big splash at this year’s Academy Awards… Oscar has always had a soft spot for journalistic juggernauts.

 

Phantom Thread – In theaters Dec. 25

Cinematic hearts broke wide open the world over when Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting earlier this year. He is the only performer to win three Academy Awards in the Best Actor category, and his dedication to the craft has made him the standard bearer for method acting. For his final role, Day-Lewis has reconnected with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson for a twisting tale of glamour and debauchery. (Their first collaboration, There Will Be Blood, earned Day-Lewis his second Oscar).

The film is set in 1950s London where the House of Woodcock is the hub of British fashion — dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites and debutantes. The genius behind the exquisite gowns, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), has a distinct creative method: Seek out a muse for inspiration and companionship until she has served her full purpose, then move on to the next personal/professional conquest. While Reynolds is the artist of his operation, his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville) keeps the day-to-day business on track. Every part of Reynolds’ perfectly patterned life is running smoothly until he comes across a young, confident waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps). Her form is perfection and he takes her into his life where she quickly becomes a fixture… The ultimate seducer has met his match, and he’s driven mad by love. As events unfold, Reynolds experiences an artistic evolution, while the women with whom he has surrounded himself keep his brand a running success.

It seems kismet for Day-Lewis’ last role to be one of lustrous beauty. He is arguably the most affecting actor of all time, and it’s suiting for his final performance to encapsulate the sensuousness and passion he brought to the screen for 46 years.

 

This has been and eclectic year in film as blockbusters, Hollywood heavyweights and indie flicks are all vying for Oscar’s attention. The suspense will be over when the Academy announces its nominees on Jan. 23.

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