By John H. Foote
The Aviator was headed for Oscar glory, there seemed no stopping this superb Howard Hughes in Hollywood biopic with Leonardo Di Caprio as Hughes for no less than Martin Scorsese. Critics loved the film, audiences adored it, this was the film that was finally going to bring the great Scorsese that elusive Oscar. Exploring the life of Hughes before mental illness took hold of his fragile mind, the film is both an intimate character study and soaring epic about movies and flight.
But then a funny thing happened. Out of left field came Million Dollar Baby (2004), a boxing film that becomes a very special love story from director Clint Eastwood was released to rapturous reviews and suddenly The Aviator was headed for a crash landing. On Oscar night Scorsese’s film won five of its 11 Academy Award nominations, but not Best Picture or Best Director which was scooped by Million Dollar Baby and Eastwood.
Until that final envelope is opened, we never know and even then, as was seen three years ago when Moonlight bested La La Land despite Faye Dunaway’s faux pas.
There was a time films released a year before the Oscars were handed out often won Best Picture and Best Director. The Godfather (1972), Annie Hall (1977), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) to name three. In the years more recent, films released in the fall and winter seem to be the major contenders.
There are six major films still unseen yet in the film world. By and large, all the contenders for the Academy Awards have screened at Venice, Telluride, Toronto or New York Film Festivals. Terrence Malick’s magnificent A Hidden Life was seen as far back as May at Cannes, and represents the best work of his career. It’s screening at TIFF made clear it is in the Oscar race, but will not be released until December.
Six movies still to come, six that could shake up the Oscar race, though seriously, is any film really going to challenge Scorsese’s The Irishman? Personally I cannot see such a thing happening, but at least four of the films being discussed could give it a good run.
Oscar winner Sam Mendes has never so much as flirted with the Academy Awards after winning Best Director and Best Picture for American Beauty (1999), his debut. He should have been nominated for Road to Perdition (2002) and Revolutionary Road (2008), but was viciously snubbed. Between 1999 and 2019 he also gave audiences and critics the best Bond film, Skyfall (2012). His WWI epic, shot by Roger Deakins, looks glorious but never judge a film by a trailer. Those who have seen the film are enchanted by its raw, visceral realism and the dark urgency suggested by the exceptional footage we have seen thus far. There has never been a definitive picture about the First World War, perhaps, until now. This above all others will challenge Scorsese.
Best Director nominee Greta Gerwig, just the fifth woman to be nominated for Best Director. is back with a new adaptation of the classic piece of literature Little Women. Previously filmed, several times, Gerwig promises a fresh approach to the film with her exceptional cast which includes Saoirse Ronan, Laura Dern, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Chris Cooper, Timothee Chalamet and Meryl Streep. Damned impressive cast with a script written by Gerwig. Ronan is fast becoming the finest actress of her generation, and is surrounded her by an astounding group of talent. Little Women could be HUGE. Would it not be fantastic if this created an interest in bringing classic literature to the screen? New film versions of Moby Dick, A Tale Of Two Cities, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ... could be exciting.
An incredible trio of actresses alone make this a must see film in December. Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidmam and Margot Robbie, share the screen in this film about the sex scandal at Fox News involving Roger Aisles, portrayed by the great John Lithgow. Malcom McDowell appears as Rupert Murdoch and the always interesting Kate McKinnon rounds out a remarkable cast. Theron has the juiciest role as Megan Kelly, and the gifted actress never disappoints. Multiple Emmy winner Jay Roach directs what could be a last minute knockout. If this film is as incendiary as I suspect it will be, look for controversial reactions, great reviews, potential Oscar nominations for the trio of ladies, Lithgow and the screenplay.
THE BALLAD OF RICHARD JEWELL
Initially hailed as a hero for reporting a bomb in Atlanta in 1996, Jewell was later accused of planting the bomb. Clint Eastwood has made what will likely be a very fine biography of a man who was put through hell. Paul Walter Hauser lands the plum role of Hauser, the role of his lifetime in an Eastwood film. Sam Rockwell portrays his lawyer, perhaps looking for a third consecutive nomination, along with Kathy Bates and Olivia Wilde. Being an Eastwood film it is immediately taken seriously as an Oscar contender. Eastwood has done this a couple times, with Million Dollar Baby (2004) and less so with Gran Torino (2008). Warner Brothers believes in the nearly 90 year old director, with reason. We will see. The fact they ignored him for Gran Torino, Scully and The Mule could mean they have given him all he is going to get.
STAR WARS – THE RISE OF THE SKYWALKER
The final (really, truly…honest?) installment of the Star Wars films, brings closure to the new story. Is Luke really gone? Will Leia walk through space again? Is Kyle Ren truly gone to the Dark Side? Is Rey connected to Luke or Leia? Will Director J.J. Abrams bring something special to this finale that could, maybe, however unlikely catapult it into the Oscar race? I doubt it, but you never know! Nothing surprises me anymore, not after The Blind Side (2009) was a Best Picture nominee. Bear in mind Star Wars (1977) was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won a whopping seven. Never forget that.
Will Les Miserables (2012) director and Oscar winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech (2010)) bring magic to the iconic stage musical Cats? The trailer either thrilled or disgusted viewers. I was neither, meaning everyone at the studio is holding their breath. Originally Cats was going to be an animated film but Hooper has merged his actor with CGI magic, so we are in for something unique. Jennifer Hudson will sing the classic “Memory”, likely bringing the house down. Sharing cat whiskers with her will be Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, James Corden, and Taylor Swift, all hoping to do justice on film to a Broadway legend. Hopefully Hooper uses less close ups than he did in Les Miserables. Say what you want, I am looking forward to hearing Hudson belt out “Memory”, the signature song of the play. Expect goosebumps.
One of Canada’s best-known film critics, he spent 10 years on TV as co-host of Reel to Real, and another 10 in education (still writing as a critic) as Director of the Toronto Film School, where he created the curriculum for three programs and taught film history. Film has always been his passion. He has written for magazines such as Toronto Life, Fashion and Hollywood North, been quoted in the Los Angeles and New York Times, as well as the major Toronto dailies. Online he has written for such sites as The Wrap, In Contention, Awards Circuit and The Cinemaholic. His first book Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker, was published in 2010. His second Steven Spielberg: American Film Visionary, a massive volume, has just found a publisher and he’s working on American Film Renaissance – 1967-2018 with Nick Maylor. As a critic, he has had the good fortune to interview directors and stars such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Emma Stone, Jane Fonda, and countless others. As he quips, “Everyone but Jack Nicholson!”