Can you feel the chill in the air? That’s the specter of awards season making its way into the room, as today’s opening of the Venice Film Festival unofficially kicks off another run of Oscar bait (plus the Academy is getting things going by announcing the producers of the 2016 ceremony). There will also be plenty of other movies that don’t seem produced solely for the sake of awards recognition, but in this brief fall preview supplement I’d like to focus on the upcoming releases that truly resemble a worm on a hook cast in the direction of Academy voters.
As much as it’s fun to label things Oscar bait, I don’t necessarily consider it a derogatory term. But I also don’t think any movie is made just to win awards. Well, maybe a few now and then, but even if so I consider such movies to be in a special category of cinema all its own, and I honestly tend to like a lot of them. I may not believe they’re the best pictures of their respective years, but I accept and appreciate even Crash, The King’s Speech and Shakespeare in Love for what they are.
There are a number of dramas hitting theaters and/or the festival circuit in the next few months that I see myself also liking, whether or not their bids for Oscar consideration pan out or not. And whether or not they’re candidates for a ton of backlash when they are nominated. Here are five of these dramas, each of which we’ve so far gotten a peek at via trailers:
The Danish Girl
The director of The King’s Speech and the guy who just won the Best Actor statue for playing a famous paralyzed physicist add up to the kind of Oscar bait that looks like it came from a formula developed in a science lab. It’s a period piece and about a real person (Lili Elbe) and that real person went through a significant physical change while becoming a leader of LGBT identity (she was the first transgender person to receive sex reassignment surgery). Sure, with Tom Hooper at the helm it will have some by-the-book biographical beats, but we don’t have to forget it’s a movie. And it will be hard to see the character on screen as anyone but Eddie Redmayne in makeup and a dress, but that won’t take away from whether or not he gives a brilliant performance. Opens 11/25.
Another true LGBT story, this one already with an Oscar-winning history. It’s a remake of the documentary short of the same name that won the Academy Award in that category in 2008, about a lesbian woman attempting to earn the pension benefits of her late partner. The trailer makes it look sappy as hell, but that’s what audiences expect with a drama involving a couple in love where one of them is dying and together they’re attempting to fight a system. The story is more history now than cause, given that same-sex marriage is legal (of course, Kim Davis is keeping it a big issue in the news), so hopefully it doesn’t feel like something trying to change the world. One element worth watching for is whether Ellen Page can earn another Oscar nomination to go with her Juno nod from 2008 (yep, same year as the original Freeheld’s win). Opens 10/2.
Hey, Meryl Streep is in this, and that makes it an automatic Oscar-watch movie. Her role, as British suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurt, doesn’t look to be too large in the context of this work of historical fiction, but Streep’s presence is always heavy. Carey Mulligan is the lead, playing a made up character who joins the movement advocating for women to have the right to vote. One thing that makes the film stand out from the usual Hollywood dramas of this kind is that it’s written and directed by women, so hopefully there’s no compromising its feminist voice. It could truly be on par with Selma, another voting rights drama that earned a Best Picture nod this year but was anything but your common, conventional Oscar-bait biopic. Admittedly, though, so far the most interesting thing about the film is Helena Bonham Carter’s ancestral significance to the history involved: her great-grandfather was an anti-suffrage Prime Minister of UK at the time. Opens 10/23.
The last time I got excited about a Johnny Depp movie that looked like a wannabe Martin Scorsese film – Ted Demme’s Blow – I was sorely disappointed. But this time I’m more excited about his performance than the movie as a whole. Yes, he’s still a great actor, just one who does too many cartoonish characters for Disney and Tim Burton of late. I don’t care if his portrayal of notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger is Oscar-worthy or not. I’m just intrigued by it. And I hope he takes it somewhere beyond the surface look and sound of the performance. Mostly I want it to be good enough that it’s well-received and he can feel good about doing work that isn’t just another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel so maybe he won’t do so many more of those – of course, we mustn’t forget the first installment did garner him his first Oscar nomination. Opens 9/18.
Okay, this one looks pretty terrible for the most part. Jay Roach is still just the guy who made the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents movies, plus a couple bad comedies outside those franchises and a couple decent made-for-cable dramas involving recent presidential elections. His latest, a biopic about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo looks like something that should be premiering on HBO, not hitting theaters with Oscar hopes. Still, once we can watch it on the small screen, I’m all for Bryan Cranston cartoonishly portraying an important figure in Hollywood history with Louis C.K. doing a bad accent as a fellow blacklisted screenwriter and Helen Mirren seemingly playing herself. I’ll be surprised if this cardboard cutout of a biopic does receive any attention from the Academy, but I’ll also be surprised if it’s not enjoyed for its ensemble cast.