Labor Day has come and gone, and unless you’re dressing up as a ghost, you better not be wearing anything white! With the end of summer comes the beginning of fall and the start of Hollywood’s “Prestige Movie Push!”
We’ll take a look at what the studios hope are their best bets to fill the multiplexes and bring home the Oscars. Once again, a big thank you to our friends at Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) for some synopsis information. Opening dates noted are subject to change at the whim of the studios. Enjoy!
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
The director of “Selma” gives us an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.
OSCAR CHANCES: Will surely make the short list.
THE BIRTH OF A NATION
Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Nate Parker
Set against the antebellum South, the film follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities – against himself and his fellow slaves – Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.
OSCAR CHANCES: After last year’s #OSCARSOWHITE controversy, the early buzz on this film almost guaranteed a bounty of nominations. However, it was recently revealed that writer/director/star Nate Parker and his co-writer, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a fellow college student in 1999. Though Parker was not found guilty and Celestin had his conviction overturned, their alleged victim committed suicide. Not sure how this news will affect the Academy voters.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett and Justin Theroux
Directed by: Tate Taylor
In the film, being compared to “Gone Girl,” a recently divorced woman
takes the train to work every day and imagines the lives of a young couple she
sees every day. Things get weird when the young wife disappears.
OSCAR CHANCES: Blunt is already getting raves for her performance.
Starring: Christopher Guest, Parker Posey and Jane Lynch
Directed by: Christopher Guest
Simply described as “a look into the world of competitive mascots,” this is the latest opus from the great Christopher Guest. Sadly, unless I missed it, this is the first of Guest’s films that does not include Eugene Levy.
OSCAR CHANCES: Possible screenplay nod.
Starring: Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons and Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
A forensic accountant un-cooks the books for illicit clients. What I like about the trailer is that Affleck seems to be a young genius. Maybe this is his chance to play Will Hunting?
OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe.
KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW?
Starring: Kevin Hart
Directed by: Leslie Small and Tim Story
Kevin Hart performs his comedy in front of 50,000 fans.
OSCAR CHANCES: No.
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning and Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Ewan McGregor
In 1968, a hardworking man, who’s been a staple in his quaint community for years, watches his seemingly perfect middle class life fall apart as his daughter’s new radical political affiliation threatens to destroy their family. Based on the novel by Philip Roth.
OSCAR CHANCES: Adapted screenplay?
IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE
Starring: John Travolta, Ethan Hawke and Karen Gillan
Directed by: Ti West
A mysterious stranger and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody cross-hairs of revenge. Ethan Hawke’s second western this season and John Travolta in a cowboy hat for the first time since “Urban Cowboy.” Yee-hah!
OSCAR CHANCES: Sadly Western’s very rarely get recognized.
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.
OSCAR CHANCES: Director Zwick has helmed three of my favorite films (“About Last Night,” “Glory” and “Legends of the Fall” but only has an Oscar for co-producing “Shakespeare in Love.” It’s about time this man was recognized, though I don’t think it’s going to be for a Jack Reacher film.
A MONSTER CALLS
Starring: Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom’s terminal illness.
OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.
TYLER PERRY’S BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN
Starring: Tyler Perry
Directed by: Tyler Perry
Madea winds up in the middle of mayhem when she spends a haunted Halloween fending off killers, paranormal poltergeists, ghosts, ghouls and zombies while keeping a watchful eye on a group of misbehaving teens. I’m scared.
OSCAR CHANCES: I’m going to go out on a limb and say “no”
Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Ron Howard
When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot. The second Felicity Jones film in as many weeks.
OSCAR CHANCES: Sorry, Tom, but your nomination this year is coming from “Sully”
BLEED FOR THIS
Starring: Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart
Directed by: Ben Younger
The inspirational story of World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza who, after a near fatal car crash, which left him not knowing if he’d ever walk again, made one of sport’s most incredible comebacks.
OSCAR CHANCES: Both Robert DeNiro and Hillary Swank won Oscars for portraying boxers so never say never. Hell, Stallone got nominated…TWICE!
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
A neurosurgeon with a destroyed career sets out to repair his hands only to find himself protecting the world from inter-dimensional threats.
OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.
Starring: Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington
Directed by: Mel Gibson
WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Mel doesn’t appear in this one but his dead-ringer son, Milo, does.
OSCAR CHANCES: Gibson (Mel, not Milo) already has an Oscar for directing so you never know. I’m sure people have forgotten what all of the hub-bub was about concerning him a few years ago.
Starring: Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Back in the dark ages, Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married. Apparently they had nothing better to do in Virginia at the time.
OSCAR CHANCES: Acting, picture.
Starring the voices of: Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake
Directed by: Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn
Remember those little plastic things with long hair that you used to put on the end of your pencil? When I was a kid we called them Kewpies but apparently they are Trolls and they have their own movie. Good for them!
OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe best hairstyling?
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.
OSCAR CHANCES: Picture, director, acting.
Starring: Naomi Watts and Jacob Tremblay
Directed by: Farren Blackburn
A heart-pounding thriller about a widowed child psychologist who lives in an isolated existence in rural New England. Caught in a deadly winter storm, she must find a way to rescue a young boy before he disappears forever.
OSCAR CHANCES: Unsure, but young Mr. Tremblay should have been nominated last year for “Room.”
USS INDIANAPOLIS: MEN OF COURAGE
Starring: Nicolas Cage and Tom Sizemore
Directed by: Mario Van Peebles
The harrowing true story of the crew of the USS Indianapolis, who were stranded in the Philippine Sea for five days after delivering the atomic weapons that would eventually end WWII. If you saw “Jaws,” this is the tale that Quint tells. Other “Jaws” related facts: this was the original idea for “Jaws 2.” Also: Mario Van Peebles starred in “Jaws the Revenge.”
OSCAR CHANCES: To me it looks like a “made for TV” movie. How about Emmy chances?
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
Starring: Hailiee Steinfeld, Blake Jenner and Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig
High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother. Is that weird? When I was in high-school I wanted to date my best friend’s older sister. Hopefully Stevie Nicks got some money from this.
OSCAR CHANCES: Nada
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jon Voight and Ezra Miller
Directed by: David Yates
The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards 70 years before Harry Potter reads his book in school. Even though Harry Potter and his pals are less than 20 years old it seems like they’ve been around forever.
OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, music (the great James Newton Howard)
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Starring: Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan
An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.
OSCAR CHANCES: Both Affleck and Williams have been nominated in the past so I’m not ruling anything out.
Starring: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Tom Ford
An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale. November is Amy Adams month.
OSCAR CHANCES: Across the board
Starring: Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war. Cotillard isn’t married so maybe we can look forward to reading about “Bradarion” soon.
OSCAR CHANCES: Pitt, Cotilliard and Zemeckis have been there before.
BAD SANTA 2
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates and Tony Cox
Directed by: Mark Waters
Fueled by cheap whiskey, greed and hatred, Willie teams up once again with his angry little sidekick, Marcus, to knock off a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve.
OSCAR CHANCES: I thought Billy Bob deserved a nod for the first film but I’m going to say no.
Starring the voices of: Dwayne Johnson, Alan Tudyk and Nicole Scherzinger
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams
A young woman uses her navigational talents to set sail for a fabled island. Joining her on the adventure is her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui.
OSCAR CHANCES: Animated feature, original song
RULES DON’T APPLY
Starring: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins and Ed Harris
Directed by: Warren Beatty
An unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and the eccentric billionaire who they work for. Beatty has been wanting to do a Howard Hughes-based film since the 1970s. Not sure if this is what he had in mind back then but, after a 15-year absence, it’s great to see him both in front of and behind the camera.
OSCAR CHANCES: Only two people have been nominated in the same year for acting, directing, writing and producing the best picture: Orson Welles and Warren Beatty. And Beatty did it TWICE!
Starring: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Garth Davis
A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.
OSCAR CHANCES: Many
LA LA LAND
Starring: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
From the creator of “Whiplash” comes a film about a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. And it’s a musical!
OSCAR CHANCES: Early film festival buzz say’s this may be the film to watch (both on screen and at awards time!)
Starring: Jessica Chastain
Directed by: John Madden
An ambitious lobbyist faces off against the powerful gun lobby in an attempt to pass gun control legislation.
OSCAR CHANCES: Actress. Madden directed the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love.”
OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY
Starring: Jason Bateman and Jennifer Anniston
Directed by: Josh Gordon and Will Speck
When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand.
OSCAR CHANCES: Zip
Starring: Will Smith and Keira Knightley
Directed by: David Frankel
A tragic event sends a New York ad man on a downward spiral.
OSCAR CHANCES: I’ve already had to apologize to Will Smith twice for doubting he’d get nominated for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” There won’t be a third. Good luck Will.
Starring: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis
Directed by: Denzel Washington
An African American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. Based on the August Wilson play.
OSCAR CHANCES: YES!
Starring: Michael Keaton and Patrick Wilson
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
The story of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. You may look at your next hamburger differently. Keaton is said to be so good that they pulled the film from it’s original release date.
OSCAR CHANCES: Keaton
A KIND OF MURDER
Starring: Patrick Wilson and Jessica Biel
Directed by: Andy Goddard
In 1960s New York, Walter Stackhouse is a successful architect married to the beautiful Clara who leads a seemingly perfect life. But his fascination with an unsolved murder leads him into a spiral of chaos as he is forced to play cat-and-mouse with a clever killer and an overambitious detective, while at the same time lusting after another woman. This will be a day of decisions for Patrick Wilson fans.
OSCAR CHANCES: Don’t see any
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
Starring: Felicity Jones, Jimmy Smits and Warwick Davis
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Or, as I like to call it, “Episode 6.5” The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans to the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow. Holy crap! The Death Star, Leia’s family, Darth Vader AND Wicket the Ewok? I’m already in line!
OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, make up.
20th CENTURY WOMEN
Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Laura Wiggins
Directed by: Mike Mills
The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.
OSCAR CHANCES: Can anyone tell me why Annette Bening hasn’t won an Oscar yet? Didn’t think so. Keep your fingers crossed.
Starring: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Justin Kurzel
When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society. This synopsis seems so crazy considering the cast. I wonder if the two leads made the same mistake Bill Murray did when he thought “Garfield” had been written by one of the Coen brothers!
OSCAR CHANCES: Fassbender elevates everything he’s in so I’m not saying no!
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early. It’s so weird to see Lawrence in a movie at the end of the year NOT directed by David O. Russell. Oh well, there’s always next year.
OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, technical stuff
Starring: Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Monaghan
Directed by: Peter Berg
An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it. Sounds better than what I thought it was – knowing Wahlberg is a huge New England Patriot fan I thought it was about a day with Tom Brady. The third film by Wahlberg and director Berg and second this year.
OSCAR CHANCES: Oh yes.
Starring the voices of: Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Garth Jennings
A koala named Buster Moon has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.
OSCAR CHANCES: Animated film….maybe.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey and Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Stephen Gaghan
An unlikely pair venture to the Indonesian jungle in search of gold. When he was outrageously thin in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” McConaughey still looked good. In this one he’s bald and….dammit!
OSCAR CHANCES: No sir.
Starring: James Franco and Bryan Cranston
Directed by: John Hamburg.
A dad forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s young rich boyfriend. Based on a story by Jonah Hill. Somebody needed money.
OSCAR CHANCES: I’m ashamed that I have to include those words with this film.
Starring: Adam Driver
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Set in the present in Paterson, New Jersey, this is a tale about a bus driver and poet.
OSCAR CHANCES: Love Jarmusch. Maybe a witting nod.