By Joshua Tyler Dec 5, 2005, 7:20 GMT
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It’s Oscar season, a phrase that has nothing to do with the actual presenting of the Academy Awards (that won’t happen till March 2006) but rather indicates that this year’s round of vicious vying for attention has begun. November and December are the fiercest months for Oscar hopefuls, as studios time their movies to arrive in theaters close enough to the day Oscar ballets are in that the movie will still be fresh in the minds of voters.
The bonus for average moviegoers is that you can’t throw a bag of popcorn without hitting a good movie in the months of November and December. Of course it’s not just late-year releases that win Oscars, holding your movie till then only increases the chances. So, here’s a look at 2006’s batch of hopefuls.
Thandie Newton in 'Crash'
Let’s start with a movie that missed the traditional late-year window, ‘Crash’. Paul Haggis’ ensemble drama garnered rave reviews and lots of Oscar talk… when it was released in May. It may be a case of out of sight, out of mind for ‘Crash’ with Academy voters, whether or not it’s the best film of the year.
‘Cinderella Man’ faces the same problem, but they’ve tried to fix it by re-releasing the movie in select theaters November 11. At the same time, Universal has been pushing ‘Cinderella Man’s’ DVD release. The movie was virtually ignored by audiences when it had its first go-round this summer, despite rave reviews. But Universal clearly believes in the movie and they’re doing their best to get it a much deserved second shot at the title. Of course it’s all futile if Russell Crowe punches out some poor bellhop again. That never helps.
Peter Jackson is back in December. He’s fresh out of hobbits, but he’s bringing a monkey instead. His remake of ‘King Kong’ is bound to get some attention for its visual effects, but unlike ‘Lord of the Rings’, don’t expect awards attention for it beyond that. It’ll make a lot of money, but that doesn’t guarantee much with the Academy Awards.
Where the Unicorns roam in 'Narnia'
Disney’s ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’ and Warner Bros. fourth ‘Harry Potter’ are in much the same position. ‘Narnia’ is a big budget fantasy epic based on the beloved series of children’s novels written by C.S. Lewis. The house of mouse is hoping for a big box office take, but if they’re looking for anything other than visual effects awards they probably aren’t being realistic. ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ should expect the same. It’s a case of been-there-done-that for the boy wizard, and though the new movie promises to be a more adult take on Hogwarts with the series’ first ever PG-13 rating, it’s unlikely to make an impression on the Academy.
Instead, it’ll be serious, fall-released movies like ‘Brokeback Mountain’, ‘Walk the Line’, ‘Munich’ and ‘Jarhead’ getting the most Oscar attention. These are films that have already done well in early festival and critics awards, and the buzz around them is phenomenal.
‘Brokeback Mountain’ is easily the early favorite to win 2005’s best picture. Directed by Ang Lee and starring Jake Gyllenhall and Heath Ledger, it’s the story of two gay cowboys finding love on the open range. The premise may sound a little funny, but the movie is being taken seriously by those who’ve seen it. Expect it to be in consideration for acting awards as well, Heath and Jake may be giving Oscar worthy performances.
‘Jarhead’ could get a boost just for being the right movie at the right time. Directed by Sam Mendes it’s a day-in-the-life of soldiers during the first Iraq war, Desert Storm. With Americans’ increasingly dissatisfied with the current war in Iraq and the U.S. President’s approval ratings at all-time lows, ‘Jarhead’ might end up striking just the right chord to get people’s attention. The same sort of current-event powered forces conspired to make ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ a big hit for Michael Moore in 2004.
Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in 'Walk the Line'
Following in the footsteps of last year’s big awards whore ‘Ray’ is 2005’s biopic du jour ‘Walk the Line’. Really though, it looks good. Instead of watching a blind musician grope around the dark, this one’s the tale of storied rock and roller Johnny Cash. Joaquin Phoenix plays Cash, and from the trailers his performance looks dead on. He’s undergone an amazing transformation to play the character, and unlike the lip synching Jamie Foxx, Phoenix is actually singing Cash’s songs. The life of the Man in Black is compelling enough to make ‘Walk the Line’ a major Oscar contender.
Then there’s Steve Spielberg’s ‘Munich’. After several years of space aliens and wacky illegal aliens (Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal’) Spielberg is returning to the gritty, dramatic style he brought to bear on history-based movies like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Schindler’s List’ for a film about the terrorist assassination of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics. ‘Troy’s’ Eric Bana stars as a Mossad agent tracking the Palestinian terrorists who committed the murders. Information on the movie is sparse so far, but any time Spielberg releases anything Oscar buzz follows. Like ‘Jarhead’, it’s tackling an issue at the forefront of the public consciousness, and could do well because of it.
Also getting some attention are movies like ‘Syriana’, ‘The New World’, and ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’. ‘Geisha’ looks beautiful, but is there any more to it? ‘The New World’ comes from acclaimed director Terrence Malick, but it might end up as another ‘Alexander’. ‘Syriana’ is an issue movie set in a bleak, oil shortaged future; but it runs the risk of being too preachy for most Oscar voters.
Musicals are back looking for attention this year. Blame ‘Chicago’ for it. Since that film’s big awards success a couple of years ago, Hollywood’s been trying and failing to recreate it. Last year we had ‘Phantom of the Opera’, this year we’ve got a silver screen version of ‘Rent’ and a movie based on a play based on a movie, ‘The Producers’. The very idea of ‘The Producers’ is confusing, I can’t imagine it’ll result in a movie that’s much better. Neither movie stands much chance of re-igniting Oscar’s interest in the movie musical. Once was enough.
Whoever takes home 2005’s Best Picture, we’re the winners. Oscar season is a great time to go to the theater.