With the full Academy Award nominations due January 16, 2014, the time has come to start sizing up favorites for the Best Picture Oscar. Voters’ tabulations will determine between five and ten films up for the top prize. From familiar directors and stars to surprising breakout performances, this year’s crop features these films and any of a number of other dark horses. On March 2nd, the Oscars will be broadcast on DirecTV Chicago and through many other U.S. cable providers.
12 Years a Slave
The epic narrative about slavery stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free African American man from the north who is kidnapped and sold as a slave, while Benedict Cumberbatch plays the plantation master in Louisiana who purchases him. Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, and Paul Dano also star in this gripping true story, directed by Steve McQueen (director of Shame).
Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K, Michael Peña
David O. Russell
David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” opens with a title card that playfully states: “Some of this actually happened.” But considering that the movie was originally titled “American Bullshit” and is populated with characters who are bullshit specialists, it’s meant to be taken with a fairly large grain of salt. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Russell has adapted what was an already outlandish story into a ’70s-styled farce filled with a flying circus of conmen, feds, politicians and casino mobsters. Immensely entertaining, impeccably structured and featuring excellent performances from its entire cast, “American Hustle” is one of the year’s absolute best films and a serious contender for every major award.
When we first meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), he’s seen carefully assembling his elaborate comb over with a combination of a toupee, glue and lots of hairspray. But what the paunchy conman lacks in good looks, he makes up for with confidence and intellect, which is what’s made him so successful at ripping people off. Everything changes when he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a former stripper who partners with Irving under the guise of a British businesswoman with royal connections named Lady Edith. Their business practically triples overnight, drawing the attention of ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who catches the pair red-handed and forces them to work undercover for the bureau. Richie wants to make a name for himself by taking down some white-collar criminals, and his first target is Camden mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a family man so desperate to revitalize the New Jersey economy that he’s willing to get his hands a little dirty in the process. It quickly turns into a game of who’s conning who, and yet the one thing that threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down isn’t their mistrust in each other, but Irving’s unpredictable wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).
Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, John Goodman
After the last “Hangover” film left most people with a sour taste in their mouth, it was no secret that director Todd Phillips would have to change up the formula if he ever made another sequel. Unfortunately, despite heeding that advice on the latest installment, “The Hangover Part III” is a really bad movie (like, worst film of the year bad) – a joyless and humorless cash-in that bears little resemblance to the 2009 original except by name. Say what you will about the first sequel, but at least that one actually felt like a “Hangover” movie. I’m still not even sure if “Part III” is supposed to be a comedy, but the shocking lack of laughter would suggest otherwise.
The film opens with a silly gag involving Alan (Zach Galifianakis) buying and subsequently killing a giraffe while transporting it home, and it only goes downhill from there. (Sadly, that’s also just the start of the movie’s streak of animal cruelty.) When his latest antics cause his father (Jeffrey Tambor) to have a heart attack and die, it puts Alan in a bit of tailspin. Concerned about his well-being, the guys (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Justin Bartha) stage an intervention and convince him to get help at a mental health clinic in Arizona. On the way there, however, they’re kidnapped by a surly gangster named Marshall (John Goodman), who blames them for introducing Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) into his life. Apparently, Chow stole a lot of money from Marshall and has evaded him ever since, so he tasks the Wolfpack (minus Doug of course, who’s kept as collateral) to track him down, taking them from Tijuana to Las Vegas, the city where it all began.
Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen
After watching Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine,” it was clear that the writer/director would be one to watch for the future, even if the anti-romance film wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. His follow-up feature, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” reunites Cianfrance with his “Blue Valentine” star Ryan Gosling, and though the movie is hindered by its own set of problems, the multi-generational crime drama makes good on the potential he showcased in his directorial debut. While it’s difficult to talk about the movie without wading knee-high into spoiler territory, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is an impressive piece of American filmmaking that’s every bit as compelling as it is annoyingly flawed.
The movie’s triptych structure is like watching three separate but interconnecting films, and Cianfrance kicks things off with what is easily the best of the bunch as we’re introduced to Luke Glanton (Gosling), a motorcycle stunt driver who reconnects with a former one-night stand named Romina (Eva Mendes) at the local fair where he plies his trade. When he learns that Romina has given birth to his son, Luke agrees to quit his nomadic job and stay in town, even though Romina has already moved on with another man. Determined to do his fatherly duties and provide for his son, Luke decides to put his unique skills to use and start robbing banks, placing him on a collision course with rookie policeman Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an honest family man who gave up his promising career as a lawyer to serve on the force. After becoming privy to some dirty cops in the department, however, Avery must decide what’s more important: his integrity or loyalty to his brothers in blue.
The epic finale to the “Hangover” trilogy hits theaters May 24th, and although there’s no wedding or bachelor party this time around, the new trailer for the third installment promises plenty of crazy hijinks are still in store for the Wolfpack. Check it out below and let us know what you think.