By John H. Foote
Crazy to be even talking about next year’s Oscars, right? Not really. I promise you the studios are already in full swing setting up release dates, marketing campaigns, festival screenings and for your consideration campaigns for when the films are screened. Next year’s Oscar race is already in motion, the wheels turning. The films that will be there are in various stages of completion, post-production, some shooting, some about to start shooting and given the speed with which they can edit the films these days, many films that have not started shooting could be in the race. Finished on time in a race to meet those all-important Oscar screenings. Case in point, 1917, the prints still wet from the lab for the first screenings.
Never forget Steven Spielberg shot The Post in May and June of 2017, and had it screening for the critics in November. Extraordinarily fast for a major director, for any director. Some work very fast.
How can I begin to predict so far out? The director, if previously nominated, draws attention to their artistry just by making a film. There are names in the business that attract attention from audiences, critics and yes, the ever-fickle Academy. For example, I know Spike Lee is making a film about the Vietnam war, instant Oscar bait. I know Steven Spielberg has remade the Oscar winning West Side Story, and because it is Spielberg, he will attract Oscar attention.
I did stay away from the blockbusters that Nick covered in a previous 2020 preview, with the exception of Wonder Woman 2084, choosing to go with awards bait and the kind of films that ennoble the art form. And no, you will not find a single Disney remake of their classic animation to “live action” which likely means computer generated creations. Nope … not going there.
Through 2020 we can expect new films from filmmakers such as Academy Award winners and nominated artists such as Steven Spielberg, Sofia Coppola, Paul Greengrass, Patti Jenkins, Denis Villeneuve, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Sean Penn, Spike Lee, Ron Howard, Aaron Sorkin, Barry Levinson, Wes Anderson, Joel Coen, Andrew Dominick, Julie Taymor, Taika Waititi, Joe Wright, George Clooney, Terrence Malick, John Lee Hancock, John Patrick Shanley, Adrian Lyne, and if he gets the editing finished on time, Martin Scorsese. That is a tremendous line up of great directors and could yield some terrific films. Of course, there are many more that we are not yet aware of, films that will emerge at the fall festivals stunning audiences and critics and leaping into the Oscar race.
Judging by the pedigree of the filmmakers listed above the year is going to be most exciting 12-month period in many years, though I must state that the last two years have been filled with exciting cinema.
And remember, of the directors we might not know, many will emerge with their work this year to become top notch directors who we watch going forward.
Here is a look.
WEST SIDE STORY (Steven Spielberg)
With Ansel Elgort, Rita Moreno, Corey Stoll. Spielberg has always wanted to make a musical, and he chose a beauty, the famous West Side Story, a reworking of the Romeo and Juliet story set among warring gangs in Manhattan. The original film won 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, meaning Spielberg has a lot to live up too. History has proven he can do pretty much anything and make it work. Rita Moreno, an Oscar winner from the original, has a role in this. If history has taught us anything it is never bet against Steven Spielberg.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON (Martin Scorsese) With Leonardo Di Caprio, Robert De Niro. If the shoot goes well, and it should, and if Thelma Schoonmaker and Scorsese can cut the film in a reasonable amount of time, the picture could be in theatres by November, HOWEVER, that is speculation. There have been times Schoonmaker needed more than a year to cut his work. This one teams Di Caprio and De Niro, both known to be muses of Scorsese’s in a film about the investigation into a slaughter of innocent Indians in the twenties. Oscar awaits … again.
MACBETH (Joel Coen) With Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand. Working without his brother Ethan, the other half of the Oscar winning brothers duo, Joel goes outside his comfort zone in adapting Shakespeare to the screen. Denzel Washington is the Scottish warrior, which alone is worth the price of admission. I so love it when Shakespeare is brought to the screen with a new interpretation. McDormand is Lady Macbeth, and Brendan Gleason is King Duncan. The last great adaptation of the play to film was Roman Polanski’s bloody film of 1971. I am expecting great things from the cast and director.
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (Joe Wright)
With Amy Adams, Anthony Mackie, Gary Oldman, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Based on the bestselling book, the film is described as a thriller about an agoraphobic young doctor trapped in her mind. Adams is among the finest actresses working in movies today and long ago should have won an Oscar. Wright seems to direct films with Oscars attached to them, he might be this generation’s Sidney Lumet. Gary Oldman, Leigh and Mackie round out a strong cast to surround the ever-brilliant Adams. The film has been finished for about six months, but the studio is sitting on it till summer. That could mean they see blockbuster event film.
THE LAST PLANET (Terrence Malick) With Geza Rohing, Mark Rylance, Matthias Schoenarts, Ben Kingsley. Malick bounced back from raging self-indulgence to give us the superb, yet tragically underseen A Hidden Life in 2019 so I find myself looking forward to this film about Jesus Christ. As with any Malick film expect something beautiful to look at with risky, even controversial sequences. Rohing portrays Christ while Oscar winner Rylance is Satan. Rumours state that the film is four different areas in the life of Christ and his battle with evil, in this case Satan.
FONZO (Josh Trank) With Tom Hardy. Long in prison, Al Capone begins to feel the effects of his diseases (syphilis) on his mind as they begin the ravaging of his mind. It is just a matter of time before Hardy delivers an Oscar winning performance, and this could indeed be it. Sounds like an actor’s dream and expect Hardy, highly respected by these in the business to respond with greatness.
DUNE (Denis Villeneuve) With Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Gerguson, Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa. Frank Hebert’s massive novel gets the remake treatment here from Villeneuve, one of the hottest directors in movies right now. The original film back in 1984 was butchered by the studio, causing director David Lynch to disown the film, which ended up being a colossal bomb at the box office and with critics. Hopes are high for this remake, especially given Villeneuve is directing. Given the advances in CGI effects, the visuals should be spectacular, and with the gifts of the director in narrative storytelling, expect something near miraculous.
GOOD MORNING MIDNIGHT (George Clooney)
With George Clooney, Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler. Clooney stars as a lonely scientist racing to prevent a group of fellow scientists from returning to society and a global disaster. Clooney is a gifted director and actor, so expect something very special. The last great film Clooney directed was the Oscar nominated Good Night and Good Luck (2005) and he should have won the Oscar for Best Actor for The Descendants (2011).
NEWS OF THE WORLD (Paul Greengrass) With Tom Hanks. Hanks is a man in the Wild Wild West who travels from town to town delivering the news from the rest of the world. In one town he is forced into helping find a child who has been kidnapped giving him a view of the Old West he did not anticipate having to see. Greengrass is among the most exciting directors at work today, his films always having a brutally realistic feel to them, and Hanks continues to amaze as an actor, evolving, growing, never disappointing.
WONDER WOMAN 1984 (Patti Jenkins) With Gal Gadot, Chris Pine. Though anticipation is huge for this second installment in the Wonder Woman franchise, everyone is talking about the casting of Chris Pine and his reappearance as Steve, her lover, killed off in the first film. Is there a time warp she passes through? How does she pull off this wonder? Gal Gadot was magnificent as Wonder Woman, soulful, compassionate, and no one else should ever be considered for the part. It should be huge and could crack the Oscars, as the first one very nearly did.
THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE (Michael Showalter)
With Jessica Chastain, Vincent D’Onofrio, Andrew Garfield. One of the greatest actresses working in American cinema, Chastain tackles the role of Tammy Faye Baker as the world of the televangelists crashes down around them. The actress is set to portray two other biographical characters very soon, Tammy Wynette in a biography of the country singer’s life, and if Cate Blanchett balks at portraying Lucille Ball, Chastain has stated she will do it. This one could be controversial as there are many open wounds left by the Bakers. Expect a legendary performance from Chastain.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH (Wes Anderson) With Adrien Brody, Benecio Del Toro, Tilda Swinton, Timothee Chalamet, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand. A group of reporters work on an American newspaper in France in the 20th century. The film explores the adventures of these journalists as they do their jobs to report the news. Anything directed by Wes Anderson is exciting, and his film The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) was the year’s best film despite what the Oscars said. Look for critical raves. Anderson is among the greatest directors of this generation. The trailer just dropped and it’s dazzling, filled with chaos and imagery and performances that excite me. Cannot wait.
DA 5 BLOODS (Spike Lee) With Chadwick Boseman, Giancarlo Esposito, Jean Reno, Paul Walter Hauser. Spike Lee does Vietnam. Though his last foray into war, The Miracle of St. Anna (2006) was atrocious, hopes are high for this Netflix produced memory picture about a group of veterans who return to Vietnam to heal their scars and escape their ghosts. When on his game Spike can be among the best in the business, and his writing is exceptional. I am thinking this is going to be a major player next year. The Academy awarded Spoke his first Oscar for writing BlacKkKlansman (2018) and I think they would love for a Best Director award to go with that.
HILLBILLY ELEGY (Ron Howard) With Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Haley Bennett, Bo Hopkins. If Ron Howard of Apollo 13 (1995) and Frost/ Nixon (2008) shows up to direct, this could be the film of the year. Based on the J.D. Vance memoir about life in the hills of the Appalachian Mountains, where there dwells a hillbilly family. This looks like it could be one of Howard’s stretches as a director, which has worked wonders for him in the past. Amy Adams will likely take another run at the Best Actress Oscar and Glenn Close could be in the running for supporting actress. the book was fantastic, and this one excites me because it is just so different. Dare I suggest an original film? Getting good vibes from this one, could be a major Oscar player come next year.
ANNETTE (Leos Carax) With Adam Driver, Marion Cotlillard, Simon Helberg. When a standup comic and opera singer marry, they have a child with special gifts that upend their world. Driver is perhaps the hottest actor in movies right now, possessed of huge gifts, and Oscar winner Cotillard is always a welcome presence in any film. Simon Helberg stole every scene he was in as the piano player in Florence Foster Jenkins (2017), stealing moments from Meryl Streep, no less. He is so much more than one of the Big Bang guys.
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO SEVEN (Aaron Sorkin) With Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sasha Baron Cohen, Frank Langella, William Hurt, Michael Keaton, Mark Rylance. Finally this long gestating film will come to the screen after a long period of time in which Steven Spielberg was going to direct. The film explores the seven men charged with conspiracy after organizing a protest about the war in Vietnam at the 1968 Democratic convention. The cast is exceptional, and Sorkin has proved to be as strong behind the camera as he is writing for film and television. This one could be a major Oscar player.
NEWSFLASH (Alfonso Gomez-Reton) With Chris Pine, Mark Ruffalo. With the role of Walter Cronkite suddenly open after the departure of Seth Rogen, Chris Pine steps in leading to great excitement. Pine has proven himself both movie star and fine actor, and personally I am excited about seeing him as Cronkite. The film explores the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the madness that took place at CBS news as Cronkite went live with reports from Dallas. His emotion and class while reporting is now legendary.
THE GLORIAS (Julie Taymor)
With Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore, Bette Midler, Timothy Hutton, Janelle Monae. Oscar winners Vikander and Moore share the role of feminist activist Gloria Steinem in the great Julie Taymor’s take on her life. Taymor is thrilling when in the zone, fearless, filling the screen with wild originality. Count on this to be at least controversial, and Oscar bait. Taymor is enormously gifted and here she takes on the life of one of the most important voices of the 20th century. Personally I cannot wait, Taymor has never disappointed.
THE LAST DUEL (Sir Ridley Scott) With Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Ben Affleck. Set in the 14th century France, this tale of knights, armor, jousts and combat, brutal combat, is helmed by Sir Ridley Scott, and written by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener, starring Damon, Affleck and Adam Driver. Given the track record of Scott, expect something entertaining with depth, well-acted and exciting. It has been a long time since Affleck and Damon wrote together, all eyes will be on them and the narrative.
MANK (David Fincher) With Gary Oldman, Tom Burke, Lily Collins, Amanda Seyfried. Herman J. Mankiewicz (Oldman) was known to friends in the film industry as Mank. This film will explore his co-writing of Citizen Kane (1941) with the film’s director and star, young genius Orson Wells (Tom Burke). Hollywood loves films about their history, and Fincher is a genuine master director, which should make this a festival favourite this fall, and Oscar bait. Look for Oldman to go for a second Best Actor statue, this one perhaps deserved. Anything Fincher does is exciting. Anything. The man could make a film about the phone book and make it work.
ON THE ROCK (Sofia Coppola) With Bill Murray, Rashida Jones. Bill Murray rocks people! The last time Sofia Coppola worked with Bill Murray they received Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Murray), Best Director (Miss Coppola) and Coppola won an Oscar for her script of Lost in Translation (2003). Coppola is among the more original voices out there, her Marie Antoinette (2006) one of the greatest underappreciated films of the decade. I am curious what she and Murray have to say about a playboy father who has his long-estranged daughter enter his life after a very long time out of it. Expect something special.
THE WAY BACK (Gavin O’Connor)
With Ben Affleck. As a drunk hired to coach the high school basketball team, Affleck has a shot at grabbing an Oscar for Best Actor to match his little brother Casey. The Academy loves actors portraying alcoholics, and there has been a sense in Hollywood that after ignoring Affleck for Best Director on Argo (2012) that they owe him. I hate that kind of talk, that way of thinking. If the actor does what I think he can, he will deliver a knockout performance though the early release does not bode well.
BERNSTEIN (Bradley Cooper) With Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan. After the stunning artistry of his Oscar nominated A Star is Born (2017) all of Hollywood is waiting for Cooper’s second directing job, the life of brilliant composer/ conductor Leonard Bernstein. Cooper, four times nominated for an Oscar in the acting categories, has cast himself as Bernstein, so yes, there is great excitement surrounding this one. Now all he has to do is get it finished on time to meet the December 31 deadline. Hollywood loves a biography, and despite snubbing Cooper for Best Director last time, they see to admire him too.
HARRY HAFT (Barry Levinson) With Ben Foster. Forced to box for food, to entertain their captors in Nazi concentration camps to stay alive, Haft was a true warrior though, having survived Auschwitz, he is now haunted by the memories of the camp and the men who died after losing to him in the ring. Foster has flirted with major stardom and Oscar attention for quite some time, and Levinson, an Oscar winner for Rain Man (1988), could be the director to get him there. Peter Sarsgaard and Danny De Vito co-star, but it seems as though Levinson has built his film around Foster. The Academy loves Holocaust films. The last time Levinson was in the Oscar race was for Bugsy (1991).
FALLING (Viggo Mortensen) With Viggo Mortensen. The actor I admire at this moment most makes his directorial debut here, taking the lead role as a very conservative father who moves to be with his children, hoping to fit into their busy and equally alternative lifestyles. Always a pleasure to see Mortensen onscreen, I suspect he possesses equal talents as a director. The actor excels when portraying ordinary men who possess the extraordinary within and if any actor can direct, I suspect he can.
RADIOACTIVE (Maryjane Satrapi)
With Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley. I saw this at TIFF last year and loved Pike as Madame Curie, who discovered radiation. As a brilliant scientific mind in a man’s world, the film speaks to issues of today, while exploring, quite brilliantly how she came to study and refine her discovery. In some startling flash forwards through history we see the unspeakable horrors (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) man creates with radiation, though Curie hoped only for good, and in fairness, some good (cancer treatments) has come out of it. Pike is again the centerpiece of the film, superb as always.
THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK (Alan Taylor) With Jon Bernthal, Vera Fermiga, Michael Gandolfini, Ray Liotta. HBO had one of the greatest TV series in history with The Sopranos and there had been much discussion of a film until the death of star James Gandolfini. Undeterred, they have gone forward with a prequel which will explore the lives of the parents of the mobster, and the characters who later in life surrounded Tony. Michael Gandolfini, son of James, will play young Tony becoming increasingly aware that his father is involved in organized crime and that is where he wishes to be. The creators of the TV show had a heavy hand in the creation of this film, meaning it could be brilliant.
FLAG DAY (Sean Penn) With Josh Brolin, Miles Teller. Sean Penn steps behind the camera again, hopefully to repeat the success he had with the landmark masterpiece Into the Wild (2007). Penn has always proven a gifted director, smart with actors, a wizard with the camera. Here he explores the lives of a group of soldiers who to make ends meet begin robbing banks. Brolin is a fine actor in the right role, and Teller is on the rise. Could be brilliant.
THE LITTLE THINGS (John Lee Hancock) With Denzel Washington, Jared Leto, Rami Malek. A great cast in this thriller from Hancock which deals with two cops, radically different, on the trail of a vile serial killer terrorizing the city. Washington commands the screen in the right role, Leto can be a scene stealer in the right film, and Malek, well he did win that Oscar he did not deserve, but no question he is a gifted actor. Hancock is hit and miss, hoping this is a hit.
WILD MOUNTAIN THYME (John Patrick Shanley) With Emily Blunt, Jon Hamm, Christopher Walken, Jamie Dornan. Based on Shanley’s play, the film explores the tug of war within a family when a father threatens to give his farm to his nephew rather than his son. The cast is quite fine, with Blunt giving another turn for Oscar attention that never seems to come her way despite deserving work. And Walken? Anytime he is onscreen, I am in the audience. Shanley was a gifted writer long before he began directing, but no question he knows what he is doing behind the camera.
RESPECT (Liesl Tommy) With Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Tate Donovan. With Jennifer Hudson as the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, you have to be at least curious, don’t you? The lady can sing no question as she proved in her Oscar winning performance in Dreamgirls (2006). She needs to atone for Cats (2019) though she is not alone in that and hardly the reason the film failed. I suspect she will do just fine here as Franklin and with the strong cast around her could land in the Best Actress next year. Hollywood does love musical biographies, though the snub of Taron Edgerton in Rocketman is puzzling.
THE FATHER (Florian Zeller)
With Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman. It has been many years since Anthony Hopkins terrified audiences in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), but his work in last year’s The Two Popes (2018) was stellar and shown he still has whatever it is great actors have. Here he is an aging man struggling with his own sanity as his entire world changes and he begins to doubt himself. Are they his children? Are they really trying to help him? A huge sensation at Sundance where Hopkins drew raves, the film seems on the path to the Oscars for the actor next year.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.