The summer movie season was among the most divisive and disappointing in years to many people – even fanboys. But with Oscar season coming shortly, movie fans are looking forward to some relief and quality, even though prestige movies are often saved until November and December. However, there are five weekends ahead that seem set to start the fall on a high note, and erase several months of frustration.
From Sept. 20 to Oct. 18, there will be at least one movie released that already has rave reviews and/or Oscar buzz attached. After the first two-thirds of the year, that would be an oasis to movie goers after the desert that 2013 has been, at least when it comes to wide releases. While the independent scene has had its usual share of sleepers, the studios have been lagging behind as usual – but that could start to change soon.
The first buzzy release comes on Sept. 20 with Prisoners, which would appear to be a generic vigilante film with vengeful parent Hugh Jackman torturing his daughter’s suspected kidnapper. Even with Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Terrance Howard, Maria Bello and Paul Dano involved, all-star casts can be wasted in genre films too.
Yet when it played in the Tellrude and Toronto film festivals, the raves suggested that Prisoners goes a bit deeper than the average vigilante/revenge movie – and goes longer at 158 minutes as well. While it may not have Oscar legs, even with Jackman getting even better early reviews than he did with Les Miserables , Prisoners may indeed set the tone for a promising fall ahead.
The next week brings another movie that was easily dismissed at first, but is getting better buzz than expected. Rush has Ron Howard going into the world of Formula One, dramatizing a famed season-long duel between two top drivers in the mid 1970s. With Howard directing and Chris Hemsworth stepping away from his Thor hammer, Rush would appear to be designed for dollars, not awards.
But like Prisoners, Rush has overcome the early skeptics in initial screenings and is shaping up to exceed expectations. And although both films are Oscar long shots, they are still getting more respect than most films of their respective genre. In addition, Rush is getting some early Best Supporting Actor attention for Daniel Bruhl as Hemsworth’s rival, so it can play a small part in awards season that way.
If Prisoners and Rush are the pleasant surprises that serve as appetizers, Oct. 4 may just be the beginning of the main course. Gravity has built up so much buzz with its trailers and film festival appearances, it is already drawing favorable comparisons to 2001 . At the least, it may be one of the rare 3D movies these days that actually needs to be seen in 3D, as director Alfonso Cuaron and his trademark long tracking shots follow Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating helplessly in space after a disaster.
It is already clear that Gravity is the first prospective Oscar contender of the fall, with the expected high praise for Children of Men director Cuaron and Bullock returning to the Best Actress race. Of course, the general public may or may not take to an artsy space movie that floats around two major stars for 95 minutes. Even 2001 took several years and decades to be fully appreciated, but Gravity will need people other than critics and bloggers to speed the process along.
After Gravity comes a safer bet by comparison, as Tom Hanks teams with Bourne and United 93 director Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips . The true story of Somali pirates abducting a cargo ship and its captain could evoke memories of United 93, although the trailers make it look more like a commercial thrill ride, a la the Bourne films.
N evertheless, this is another movie with early buzz that suggests commercial appeal and critical acclaim . And with Hanks appearing in disappointing flops in the last few years, he is due to have Oscar buzz around him again – though he could also take care of that by playing Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks this Christmas.
After four straight weekends of at least one potential high quality movie in wide release, Oct. 18 will be headlined by the remake of Carrie and the Stallone/Schwarzenegger team up Escape Plan. Regardless of those films, those in select areas can still head out to see not one, but two major Oscar contenders open in select theaters – including what may be the top favorite already.
Tellurude and Toronto have showed nothing but praise and preliminary Oscars for 12 Years a Slave . Once it starts coming to theaters on Oct. 18, all those who follow the Oscar chase will be hearing about Schindler’s List comparisons, director Steve McQueen, lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and supporting contenders Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o until February 2014 – at least according to everyone who’s seen it so far.
These critics appear set to engrave Ejiofor’s Best Actor Oscar already, just like they engraved Daniel Day-Lewis’s in advance last year. However, Ejiofor’s top competition is having his own movie released in select theaters on the same weekend. Every year, the Oscars seem to have at least one legendary, winless actor in contention for what may be his or her’s last shot at the gold – and Robert Redford seems to have that slot locked for a near-silent performance as a stranded ship captain in All Is Lost.
Will a legendary Hollywood icon finally win his first Oscar, at the expense of a black actor in a landmark film about the African American experience? When Al Pacino did it to Denzel Washington over 20 years ago, it didn’t go over so well in the long run. If such a showdown is at hand between Ejiofor and Redford, it will start on Oct. 18.
After that, the five straight weeks of quality may or may not continue, as Oct. 25 is headlined by Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy’s unseen The Counselor. Then when November and December come, it should be the usual crapshoot of Oscar bait films that either take off or become dead on arrival.
There are no sure things this time of year, as no one saw Argo winning when it was released early last October. In the case of Prisoners, Rush, Gravity, Captain Phillips, 12 Years a Slave and All Is Lost , they could all lose to some other contender down the road. But that is a story for the Oscar derby, whereas at this point, the movie going public just wants some relief from this summer’s string of anticlimactic, divisive blockbusters.
Fortunately, critics seem to be telling them that from Sept. 20 to Oct. 18, there will be at least one worthy film to see per week. Of course, once the rest of the critical community sees them outside of film festivals, they can make them look divisive as well, to say nothing of the general public.
Yet for now, the possibilities and high hopes already raised by these films is a breath of fresh air – even if movie audiences felt so before the summer let at least half of them down.