Rise of the Oscar contenders

The ‘Post’ looks at four of the front-runners for next year’s Academy Awards.

By
November 23, 2016 21:44
Oscar statues are painted outside the entrance to the Dolby Theatre

Oscar statues are painted outside the entrance to the Dolby Theatre . (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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With the summer blockbuster movie season finally over, audiences can look forward to a shift from aliens and superheroes to talky dramas and smaller-scale storytelling. This is the time when movie studios start trotting out their prestige pictures, affectionately referred to as “Oscar bait.” Therefore, let us take a look at some of this year’s movies that have a chance at making the cut.

‘Fences’

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In his third directorial outing (The Debaters, Antwone Fisher), Denzel Washington takes on Fences, August Wilson’s 1985 Pulitzer-winning play of the same name.

Washington takes the lead role in the movie too, playing a one-time promising baseball player now working as a Pittsburgh garbage collector, and the complicated relationships with his wife, son and friends in the 1950s.

The film also stars Viola Davis as Washington’s wife as well as Mykelti Williamson and Russell Hornsby, who are both reprising their Broadway roles.

Fences has had a long history in trying to make it on the big screen. According to an article in Deadline, back in 1987 Wilson’s play was set up at Paramount as a potential vehicle for Eddie Murphy, who was looking for a serious role. But the project became tangled in the playwright’s insistence that Fences should have a black director. “Until the industry is ready to hire a black to direct [Robert] De Niro or [Robert] Redford, blacks should at least be able to direct their own experience,” Wilson said in January 1990, at a conference sponsored by the California Afro-American Museum.

So far early screenings have been very positive: “Fences, full of titanic performances and well-measured support, will be a major awards contender. Viola Davis is unbeatable.

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Sorry, ladies,” Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan tweeted shortly after a screening. “Denzel Washington will be hard to surpass in Best Actor. As garrulous, domineering Troy Maxson, he’s likely to earn his third Oscar.”

Fences is likely to be released in Israel sometime in January.

‘La La Land’


Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s (Whiplash) latest film La La Land is a love letter to both the Golden Age of Hollywood and the long-absent art form of the movie-musical. La La Land follows aspiring, ambitious Mia (Emma Stone) as she tries to make it as an actress, and explores what happens to her life after she begins an intense love affair with Sebastian, an aspiring jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling). John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt and Finn Wittrock co-star.

When La La Land opened the Venice Film Festival in late August, the audience burst into applause barely 10 minutes in (Stone would go on to win the festival’s Best Actress award). Since then, Stone has been considered a front-runner for the Best Actress prize at the Oscars next year.

“I wanted to make characters you could be sitting in a bar with, not people who come to the screen waiting for their moment to shine,” said Chazelle in a recent interview with the BBC. “My whole idea was to take the old-fashioned magic of the musical, make it about today where real life can’t live up to the dream, and ground every moment of it with actors who were invested in giving it realism. That’s actually why it works as a fantasy.”

It took Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz six years to realize their long-held dream of making La La Land.

La La Land opens in Israel December 8.

‘Manchester by the Sea’

One of the highlights of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Manchester by the Sea is a powerful drama focusing on family and grief from director Kenneth Lonergan.

Based on a story originally pitched to Lonergan by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, Manchester by the Sea follows Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a janitor for a rundown apartment complex in Boston, who returns to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea when his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies of heart failure. This forces Lee to care for his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee and Patrick have difficulty connecting in some situations, partly due to Lee’s troubled past.

In a recent interview with People Magazine, Affleck said it was a challenge to play such a dynamic and oftentimes dark role, adding that he constantly pushed himself to stay in the mindset of his character.

“Whenever it starts to feel easy, it makes me feel like I’m not doing all that I can do,” he said. “It’s a great piece of material, and there are some really hard scenes in there. The first time I read it, I knew there would be a lot of challenging aspects to the performance. I was pretty focused the whole time and was very wary if we started having too much fun, then it might ruin the mood.”

Manchester By The Sea came out of festival season strong, with outstanding reviews and Oscar predictions.

Most award season experts agree that Affleck is an almost certain shoo-in for an Oscar nomination (and maybe even win) for Best Actor.

Manchester by the Sea is currently playing in cinemas throughout the country.

‘Loving’

From acclaimed writer/director Jeff Nichols (Mud, Midnight Special), Loving celebrates the real-life courage and commitment of an interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving (portrayed by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), who were arrested in 1958 in their Virginia home because interracial marriage was illegal in the state. Over the next decade they fought their case all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

The new film is inspired by a 2011 HBO documentary about the Lovings called The Loving Story. Its director, Nancy Buirski, is one of the producers (along with British actor Colin Firth and Ged Doherty) who approached Nichols with the idea of doing a dramatic version.

The film’s rave reviews since premiering in May at the Cannes Film Festival has placed it squarely in the race for Oscar attention.

New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis recently wrote, “There are few movies that speak to the American moment as movingly – and with as much idealism – as Jeff Nichols’s Loving, which revisits an era when blacks and whites were so profoundly segregated in this country that they couldn’t always wed... Here, in scene after scene, the story of the Lovings is nothing if not wrenchingly personal.”

Loving opens in Israel on February 9.

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