Awards Season Analysis:
Oscar voters are starting to fill out their nominations ballots, which are due no later than January 13. See the 2016 Oscar timeline below.
Sundance Film Festival: Amazon Studios scooped up Kenneth Lonergan’s emotionally devastating drama “Manchester By the Sea” (Roadside Attractions), starring acting frontrunners Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams for $10 million. They fared better in the awards derby than rival Netflix did last year by adopting a more theatrically-friendly approach (the film has grossed $32 million domestically so far).
After earning strong reviews, a standing ovation and the two top awards at the Sundance Film Festival, Nate Parker’s “The Birth of A Nation” was deemed an early frontrunner for Best Picture. The Academy not only loves a well-told true story (see “Spotlight,” “Argo” and “12 Years A Slave”), but last year’s diversity controversy promised to shine an even greater light on “Nation” this year. The film was acquired in a bidding war for $17.5 million by Fox Searchlight, which has notched 13 Best Picture nominations in the past 12 years, more than any other company. They proved victorious with “Birdman” two years ago and were positioning “Nation” as their top contender this fall. But Parker was dogged by a college rape scandal as he tried to promote his movie. Searchlight plowed ahead with their commitments to a Toronto press junket ahead of an October 7th commercial opening, which was soft, and the film’s Oscar hopes died with its box office.
Spring: Don’t count out one of the most popular and well-reviewed films of the year, Jon Favreau’s Rudyard Kipling adaptation “The Jungle Book” (Disney, April 4). Like Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” the family film could emerge as a strong contender with support from all the crafts, especially visual effects.
Cannes: Emerging from the festival was CBS Films’ “Hell or High Water,” starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster in a modern heist western set in Texas, which scored the best reviews of the year and became the top performer at the indie box office. Also gaining notice was Focus Features’ “Loving,” the heart-tugging Jeff Nichols true biracial romance starring two acting contenders (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga).
Fall Festivals: “Loving” went to Toronto along with Focus’s well-received “A Monster Calls,” a four-hankie mother-son fantasy drama from Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona (“The Impossible”) starring “Theory of Everything” nominee Felicity Jones, a Supporting Actress candidate. But the distributor changed release dates and the air went out of the balloon; when the film opened at the intense Christmas box office, it was too late to regain that lost momentum.
The fall fests proved a crucible for a raft of other critics’ faves.
COURTESY OF SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT
Venice gave a warm reception to “Hacksaw Ridge,” Mel Gibson’s comeback bid as a director ten years after “Apocalypto.” Andrew Garfield has been lauded for his pacifist soldier medic, earning Critics Choice, Golden Globes and SAG nominations.
Telluride broke out Damien Chazelle’s audacious musical romance “La La Land,” starring Best Actress contender Emma Stone, as well as Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age ensemble drama “Moonlight” (A24), featuring Supporting Actor hopeful Mahershala Ali (“House of Cards”). Clint Eastwood’s airplane rescue drama “Sully,” starring well-reviewed Tom Hanks (Warner Bros.) went on to be the year’s highest-grossing drama ($228 million worldwide). Also a hit at the box office ($153 million worldwide) was Denis Villeneuve’s brainy sci-fi thriller “Arrival” (Paramount), starring Telluride tributee and Best Actress contender Amy Adams, who also leads Tom Ford’s Venice/TIFF entry “Nocturnal Animals,” which didn’t hurt.
The Weinstein Company
Also playing well in Toronto was Weinstein Co’s Oscar pick for this year, Garth Davis’s tearjerker “Lion,” starring Dev Patel in a true story about a man who lost his family when he was five years old and uses Google Earth to try and find them again. Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe” (Disney, September 30) also snagged strong reaction at TIFF, especially for Lupita Nyong’o as a fierce mother trying to help her chess-playing daughter escape the slums of Kampala. But Disney struggled to find an audience for the film, which should have been nurtured as a slower release and topped out at $9 million worldwide.
Debuting at the New York Film festival was Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical “20th Century Women” (A24), starring Annette Bening in a rich comedic role as a woman much like his mother, which scored rave reviews and Critics Choice and Golden Globes nominations for Bening.
Scoring with audiences and critics over the holidays were “Hidden Figures,” a sleeper Fox hit starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae as three 60s NASA math whizzes, and Paramount’s film version of August Wilson’s Tony-winning Pittsburgh play “Fences,” co-starring the director Denzel Washington and Viola Davis and much of the cast of the 2010 Broadway revival. Also from paramount, nabbing strong reviews but modest audiences, was Martin Scorsese’s austere Japan religious drama “Silence,” starring emaciated actors Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver.