Monday, June 15, 2009

EXAMINER #5: 10 summer movies with a shot at awards glory

In my world, it’s never too early to start talking about the Oscars. Awards season has become a yearlong marathon and I’m just feeding the beast. With that in mind, here are 10 summer movies that voters could still be talking about this winter.
Best Picture: Realistically, Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” is probably the most likely summer Oscar nominee, considering its esteemed pedigree. However, “The Hurt Locker” is the kind of smart thriller that could make a dent during awards season and blow the race wide open. But if I had to pick one summer movie that will earn some kind of Best Picture nomination, it would be Judd Apatow’s “Funny People,” which has a great shot as the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical. Friends who have seen it have come away impressed with one arguing that it’s better than the director’s two other films, “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” High praise, indeed.
Best Director: You’d have to go back a few years to find the last female nominee for Best Director but 2009 is shaping up as the year of the female filmmaker, Though questions still linger around Mira Nair’s “Amelia,” even with two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank as the famed aviatrix, Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” made quite an impression at Cannes, and Lone Scherfig’s “An Education” was the talk of Sundance. Yet its “The Hurt Locker’s” keymaster Kathryn Bigelow who proves she can blow stuff up with the best of the boys, having delivered a visceral, adrenaline-fueled ride that had me on the edge of my seat. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve seen a movie as well-crafted and executed as The Hurt Locker, and credit Bigelow for making a tough, suspenseful movie with real balls.
Best Actor: Most “experts” would choose Johnny Depp as the leading summer contender in this category, since his turn as John Dillinger in “Public Enemies” will certainly garner at least some attention from awards voters. But it’s confession time, gang; Depp has lost me over the past few years, and I know I’m not alone. Let’s look at the history: He was nominated for seven Golden Globes before finally winning in 2008 for “Sweeney Todd.” And he’s been nominated for three Academy Awards in the last five years, but the movies have been the first “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Finding Neverland” and “Sweeney Todd.” Are those REALLY Depp’s three best performances? No “Edward Scissorhands” or “Ed Wood,” or at least six other performances in six much better movies? So if you’re looking for some Johnny Depp love, you’ll find it in the potholes of my “Scissorhands” DVD. I jumped off his bandwagon the day he sold out to Disney. So who’s left?
Duncan Jones’ “Moon” allows Sam Rockwell the opportunity to shine, and the actor responds with some of the best work of his fine career in the sci-fi drama, working pretty much alone for the entire movie. But while I was impressed overall with Jones’ debut feature (particularly Clint Mansell’s haunting score), I was also never totally comfortable with its screenplay, and personally, I feel critics are overrating the film.
Jeremy Renner is bound to breakout after his fearless, ferocious performance in “The Hurt Locker” and Adam Sandler (so good in 9/11 drama “Reign Over Me”) will get some serious Golden Globes consideration for his Apatow collaboration “Funny People,” but for my money, the honest-to-God most likely nominee (at least for Globes love) is “Brüno” alter-ego Sacha Baron Cohen, who won the Globe for Best Actor in 2007 for “Borat.”
Best Actress: It’s a slow three months for actresses outside of romantic comedies and bloody genre pics, but for those interested, Michelle Pfeiffer is supposedly divine in Stephen Frears’ “Chéri.” The film received mixed reviews overseas but Pfeiffer has always been an American favorite, and her campaign still has heat.
Best Supporting Actor: As much as I loved Anthony Mackie in “The Hurt Locker,” the loudest awards buzz surrounds German actor Christoph Waltz, who plays Hans “The Jew Hunter” Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds.” Reviews out of Cannes say he’s the one to watch amongst the ensemble. It’ll also be interesting to see whether “Basterds” is eligible for Best Foreign Language film, since apprx. 60% of the dialogue is non-English. Another possible contender is Billy Crudup, who plays J. Edger Hoover in “Public Enemies.”
Best Supporting Actress: I’ve heard Leslie “Apatow’s Wo-“ Mann steals the show in “Funny People,” (her husband always knows how to use her comic skills) and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard returns to the bigscreen as Depp’s squeeze in “Public Enemies,” but there’s one actress you can never count out of the awards race and that’s Meryl Streep, who is rumored to give a delicious performance as Julia Child in “Julie & Julia.” I also wouldn’t discount the young duo of Abigail Breslin and Sofia Vassilieva who star in the cancer drama “My Sister’s Keeper.”
Best Original Screenplay: There are a lot of options here. Apatow was nominated for a WGA Award for “Knocked Up” and Funny People seems to be more mature than his other work. Woody Allen has a million Oscar noms and a new movie with Larry David called “Whatever Works.” “The Hurt Locker” is a well-structured nail-biter thanks to journalist Mark Boal’s airtight screenplay. And Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday” is the most brilliant film to come out of the thriving mumblecore movement. But a romantic comedy in which the guy doesn’t get the girl? How bold! That’s why I’m giving the nod to Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter’s “500 Days of Summer,” which was a 2006 Black List finalist that could wind up being this year’s “Juno.” That trailer is simply irresistible.
Best Adapted Screenplay: As a filmmaking God, Michael Mann is always a threat in the Best Director category, but in my humble opinion, he stands a better shot of sneaking into this category come January for co-writing “Public Enemies” with Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman. Other than that, there aren’t many real contenders in this category coming out this summer although “Brüno” looms as a real possibility since most of its writing team was Oscar-nominated for “Borat.” Other adaptations include “Chéri,” “I Love You Beth Cooper,” the long-delayed adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and of course, the latest installment of the “Harry Potter” series, which hasn’t garnered any major screenplay nominations, although scribe Steve Kloves was once nominated for “Wonder Boys.”
Best Documentary: The environmental doc “The Cove” has been making waves since its debut at Sundance. Look for it to be this year’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” According to Variety, “Eco-activist documentaries don’t get much more compelling.”
Best Animated Feature: It looks as though the Academy Awards’ animation category could have five nominees this year as opposed to three, so Hayao Miyazaki figures to be a shoo-in for a slot considering his history. The acclaimed Japanese filmmaker returns to theaters with “Ponyo,” and while he’ll have to contend with Pixar’s “Up,” Henry Selick’s “Coraline,” Wes Anderson’s take on “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Shane Acker’s “9,” the third “Ice Age” film, Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol” and Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog,” Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have history on their side having won the Oscar for “Spirited Away” in 2003, in addition to a nomination for “Howl’s Moving Castle” in 2006. Early word has been promising, with Variety comparing the film to “The Little Mermaid.”
The 10, again, in order of release date: “Chéri” (June 26); “Public Enemies” (July 1); “Brüno” (July 10); “The Hurt Locker” (July 10); “500 Days of Summer” (July 17); “The Cove” (July 31); “Funny People” (July 31); “Julie & Julia” (Aug. 7); “Ponyo” (Aug. 14); “Inglorious Basterds” (Aug. 21)

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