And the drama begins.
As the fall festival circuit ramps up, so do the number of dramatic films, many of which are vying for Academy attention come the winter. Fall is also the home of many feel-good dramas that don’t have much awards potential. Let’s see if we can’t sort them out.
Written and Directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, Olivia Wilde
Summary: A struggling writer (Cooper) finds an old manuscript and publishes it as his own work. Acclaim and fortune find him, but so does the original author (Irons).
The Word: “The Words” debuted at Sundance this year to middle-of-the-road reviews, but for being first-time directors, to land this kind of a cast with Cooper, Saldana, Irons, Wilde, Dennis Quaid, J.K. Simmons and Ben Barnes says you definitely something with promise. Klugman and Sternthal have story credits on “Tron: Legacy.”
My Thoughts: I’m not really sold on this one thanks to its release window and the unenthusiastic response, not to mention I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in this trailer. The cast has my attention, however.
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Summary: After returning home from the war, a troubled man (Phoenix) encounters an influential religious figurehead named Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), but their partnership might have serious repercussions for the both of them.
The Word: It’s been five years since we last received a Paul Thomas Anderson film and hopefully it’s worth the wait. The big piece of context for this follow-up to “There Will Be Blood” is that it’s based loosely on the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. It will be interesting to see if controversy brews as a result. There’s no controversy, however, over whether we’ve gotten another knockout from PTA.
My Thoughts: Anderson’s films are nothing short of stirring and powerful works of fiction grounded in historical context but very fictional nonetheless. I expect nothing less from “The Master” and given the five-year hiatus, I expect him to have brought it up a notch.
Directed by Robert Lorenz
Written by Randy Brown
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake
Summary: An aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves (Eastwood) takes his daughter (Adams) on one last recruiting trip.
The Word: Eastwood agrees to get back in front of the camera once more for his longtime assistant director, Lorenz, though it remains to be seen how Eastwood’s “chair episode” at the Republican National Convention will affect the public perception of the film. Adams and Timberlake by themselves would be good, but he certainly overshadows them here.
My Thoughts: I think the slant on baseball movies right now is a fine one, but I don’t think I can watch Eastwood act crotchety again. I would be shocked if this had any kind of Oscar potential, but the fall release certainly indicates it could be if it turns out better than I expect.
Directed by Daniel Barnz
Written by Brin Hill, Daniel Barnz
Starring: Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holly Hunter, Oscar Isaac
Summary: When they realize that their children’s inner-city school is failing them, two concerned parents (Davis and Gyllenhaal) vow to fight all the bureaucracy in order to make a change in the education system.
The Word: After an experiment gone wrong directing supernatural teen romance “Beastly,” filmmaker Daniel Barnz (“Phoebe in Wonderland”) gets his hands on something meatier and nabbed a could Oscar-caliber talents in Davis and Gyllenhaal to help. The story is pretty self-explanatory, and it seems more dramatic than uplifting/feel-good.
My Thoughts: Whenever Davis selects a project I take notice, so as far as that goes, “Won’t Back Down” has my attention. Considering the lack of promotional material thus far, this doesn’t look like an awards contender, just a solid “people fighting the system and making a difference” movie.
Directed by Michael Apted, Curtis Hanson
Written by Kario Salem
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston, Elisabeth Shue, Leven Rambin
Summary: A surfing vet (Butler) agrees to mentor an ambitious teenager (Weston) on how to surf the mavericks surf break, a wave of legendary size.
The Word: Surfing movies have given us everything from “Blue Crush” to “Point Break,” and while I wouldn’t call it a traditional sports drama, “Chasing Mavericks” appears to be the closest thing we’ve gotten to a real surfing movie to this point. Interesting to see such an experienced pair of directors in Michael Apted (“The World is Not Enough”) and Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”) take the controls of this one.
My Thoughts: Can’t say that a formulaic surfing film gets me going, but the gravitas brought by the two directors suggests that it has some potential to be good, like “The Blind Side” good, if that makes sense.
Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Written by Andy and Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, David Mitchell (book)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Xun Zhou, Susan Sarandon
Summary: A series of interconnected plots and stories that span centuries. The story is about how we are connected through time and that one action impacts the past, present and future.
The Word: Can’t say I know what’s going on in this story, but I’m sure seeing this as a film must be exciting for fans of David Mitchell’s book, who probably dismissed the material is unlikely to be brought to the big screen due to sheer complication. With the Wachowskis (“The Matrix”) and Tykwer (“Run, Lola, Run”) behind the camera and just the scope of what we’ve seen in the extended trailer, we either have something truly special or a total mess on our hands.
My Thoughts: I am excited for this movie but also nervous about it. It looks like it could be incredible or just a colossally ambitious failure that was doomed from the start. Early word has me still cling to hope for the former, even though its unclear whether Oscar nominations could extend beyond the production categories.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by John Gatins
Starring: Denzel Washington, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, John Goodman
Summary: A pilot (Washington) miraculously lands a crashing plane, saving hundreds and becoming a hero, but when alcohol was found in his blood, a controversy arises.
The Word: Zemeckis, the famed director of “Back to the Future” and “Forrest Gump” finally puts aside the motion-capture experiments to return to bare-knuckles filmmaking for the first time since 2000’s “Cast Away.” He’s gathered some excellent talent to do so and a reliable box-office draw in Washington. John Gatins (“Real Steel,” “Coach Carter”) wrote the script.
My Thoughts: I think a lot of folks will go in expecting something action oriented given the number of shots the trailer shows of Washington trying to land the plane, but this looks like a legitimate drama. Award worthy? Not so sure about that, but even if it doesn’t get that attention it might be the only drama to make a dent at the box office.