Who: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti
What: In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
When: October 18th
Why: The way people were talking about “12 Years a Slave” at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, you’d think that the Steve McQueen drama had already won the Oscar for Best Picture. But no matter how effusive the praise may have been, it’s impossible to make those kinds of predictions with several other award contenders still yet to be seen. Nevertheless, “12 Years a Slave” does sound like the quintessential Academy Award movie, from its challenging subject matter (based on a true story, no less) to the incredible ensemble cast. It’s nice to see Chiwetel Ejiofor finally getting the credit he deserves, and between his lead performance and McQueen regular Michael Fassbender’s turn as a villainous slaver owner, it’s easy to see why the film has Oscar gold written all over it.
Who: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Carice van Houten and Alicia Vikander
What: The true story of two men’s quest to expose the corruptions of power that turned an Internet upstart into the 21st century’s most fiercely debated organization.
When: October 18th
Why: The story behind WikiLeaks is one that seems tailor-made for the big screen treatment – especially with a protagonist as captivating as the website’s enigmatic founder, Julian Assange – so it’s no surprise that the movie is already drawing comparisons to the likeminded “The Social Network.” Similar to that film, “The Fifth Estate” boasts an intriguing tale about an Internet startup and a fantastic cast led by two of the more exciting rising talents working today. In this case, those actors are Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl, and their involvement alone makes the movie worth seeing. Whether director Bill Condon is able to deliver an experience as fascinating as the real-life story is another question, but based on the mixed reaction from its Toronto premiere, it’s going to depend largely on what side of the debate you fall on.
Who: Robert Redford
What: After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.
When: October 18th
Why: The talky financial thriller “Margin Call” did a better job of showcasing writer/director J.C. Chandor’s screenwriting skills than his ability behind the camera, but for his sophomore effort, Chandor has bravely removed that variable from the equation. “All Is Lost” is a one-man show in the truest sense, and as such, there’s very little dialogue for Chandor to lean on. Fortunately, he managed to enlist Robert Redford as his leading man, and though the veteran actor hasn’t delivered a noteworthy performance in several years, it would be crazy to think that he won’t earn an Oscar nomination for his work here. The movie was a big hit at this year’s Venice Film Festival, and between its “Life of Pi”-like survival story and Redford’s reportedly triumphant performance, this is one you’ll want to hunt down at your local indie theater.
Who: Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem
What: A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.
When: October 25th
Why: It’s been awhile since Ridley Scott’s last great film, but he never fails to attract the best talent possible. Though frequent collaborator Russell Crowe isn’t involved in the director’s latest project, Scott has nevertheless landed an impressive ensemble cast comprised of two former Oscar winners, an Oscar nominee and two Golden Globe nominees. “The Counselor” has the unfortunate distinction of being released during one of the most competitive awards seasons in recent history, but with an original script by Cormac McCarthy, the potential for this one is still pretty high. In fact, I’m actually looking forward to just sitting back and watching these great actors go toe-to-toe without any preconceived expectations that it has to be award-worthy for it to be any good.