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The Academy Awards: Early Predictions & What to Watch

Oscars

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I love this time of year. The air is crisp, the sweaters are cozy, and, more importantly, the films most likely to be up for Academy Awards start rolling through the theaters. I have always enjoyed watching the Oscars. Glamorous stars glide down the red carpet in sparkly dresses, tears flow as first-time winners give heartfelt acceptance speeches, and the orchestra plays classic themes that remind you of what it’s like to sit in a dark theater awaiting the world-transporting story about to flash across the screen. In short, it’s magical. But, let’s be honest, most people are unfamiliar with the films up for those little golden statues.

Crowds fill the seats for summer blockbusters and eagerly-awaited adaptations of bestselling teen romances, but rarely do you see sold-out theaters for, let’s say, the 2011 Best Picture winner, the silent, black-and-white homage to early Hollywood, “The Artist.” In general, though, the nominated films are true works of art that seek to tell the truth about the world we live in. They provide us with new insight about the past and fresh hope for the future. They make us feel that we’re not the only ones going through pain and confusion and they remind us that, in the darkest of times, there is still light to be found.

I used to be the person watching the ceremony with no clue about any of the films honored; however, in recent years, I have taken it upon myself to not only participate in the excitement of Oscar night, but to acclimate myself to the directors, actors, and writers that push the boundaries of filmmaking and portray the complexity of the human experience. This awards season, I look forward to films that make me see life through a different-colored lens. With a promising horizon of upcoming films, and Chris Rock set to host the 88th annual ceremony, this year’s Oscars are sure to be filled with excitement and entertainment. Here is a list of some of the movies I’m most excited to see in the coming months and what I predict (and hope) will be up for nominations come February 28, 2016.
Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs
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Yes, there have been multiple releases chronicling the life of the late CEO of Apple. Yes, this biopic is worth the watch, even if you already saw the 2013 Ashton Kutcher film. Yes, this will be up for nominations at this year’s Academy Awards. The Oscars have a long history of favoring biopics–half of the Best Picture nominees last year were based on historical figures–yet this seems to go above and beyond the traditional format of such films. I went to see this over the weekend and I was impressed by the artistic and unique storytelling. Partitioned into three, play-like acts each set before the launch of a groundbreaking Jobs project, director Danny Boyle‘s (“Slumdog Millionaire”) vision comes across clear as we get to know the man behind the celebrated company through his relationships and evolution as the years go by. Michael Fassbender‘s (“12 Years a Slave”) performance as Jobs is intricate and nuanced; his thorough portrayal of the innovation and calculation with which Jobs conducted both his personal and professional life will most likely win him a Best Actor nominee. Likewise, Kate Winslet (“The Reader”) showed both vocal and emotional complexity as the Polish Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’s “work wife.” This would mark her seventh nomination if she gets a nod for Best Supporting Actress. Of course, actors can do little without a script, and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) delivers. The dialogue in this film is intense and precise; each word is carefully crafted. Though Boyle, Fassbender, Winslet, and Sorkin are my top bets for receiving nominations, others, such as Alwin H. Küchler for Cinematography and Seth Rogen (“This is the End”) for his portrayal of Steve Wozniak, could also make the cut come February.
Room

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I’m excited about this film for two reasons. I read Emma Donoghue’s novel years ago and was captivated by the story of a mother’s love and her willingness to do whatever it took to save her son, and I believe that Brie Larson’s (“Short Term 12”) performance as Ma will be a career-changer and earn her a Best Actress nominee. Larson plays a woman who was kidnapped, raped, and kept in a small garden shed for over five years. Jack, played by young newcomer Jacob Tremblay, is the son she shares with her captor. Ma has tried to make life as normal as possible for Jack, sheltering him from the truth that a whole world exists outside of “room.” Yet, when an opportunity for them to escape arises, they risk everything for a chance at a new life together on the outside. This film promises outstanding performances from both Larson and Tremblay, and hopefully their onscreen relationship showcases enough talent to earn them recognition. With already a handful of awards in tow from various film festivals, “Room” is sure to garner some nominations at this year’s Academy Awards. Regardless, this film is sure to raise hairs and bring tears to audiences everywhere, so if you go, bring tissues.

The Danish Girl

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Caitlyn Jenner filled our media streams earlier this year and television shows, like the Emmy-award winning “Transparent,” are increasingly celebrating and introducing transgender characters and storylines. It is no surprise, then, that this film is finally making its way to theaters at such a pivotal moment in history. The story focuses on the life of Einar Wegener, later to become Lili Elbe as one of the first men to undergo gender reassignment surgery. I’m counting on a moving story, however, I’m mostly on edge to find out if Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) will follow in the steps of those, such as Tom Hanks, to win back-to-back Oscars. Last year, he took home the prize for his physically demanding portrayal of Stephen Hawking, and this year his role as Elbe is definitely one that the Oscars tend to fawn over. Think Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” or Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry.” I’m also a fan of director Tom Hooper‘s (“The King’s Speech”) body of work, and hope to see this gain him another nominee. As period pieces usually go, we can expect a hauntingly beautiful score by the talented Alexandre Desplat (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and creative transformations by the makeup department and costume designer Paco Delgado (“Les Misérables”). Overall, this film screams Oscars. Only time will tell if the pieces come together to deliver a true work of art.

Carol

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It’s not often we get to see two women as the focal points for a film, and I’m gearing up for knockout performances from both Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo”) and Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”). Mara plays Therese Belivet, a young store clerk who falls for Blanchett’s character, Carol Aird, an older, married woman. Set in the 1950s, we are sure to see tensions rise as the nature of this relationship becomes unraveled and tested against a largely conservative society. Blanchett already has two Oscars under her belt, and Mara received a nomination in 2012. It is likely we will see their names amongst the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress lists, though we won’t know for certain how they will be campaigned until later in the season. Additionally, I’m looking forward to the exploration of what it actually looked like to be a woman in that era wanting more than kids and a white picket fence. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price of Salt, the screenplay by Phyllis Nagy could be a contender for Best Adapted Screenplay. It is always special to see a story actually come from the time it was set in, so I’m sure we will experience an even greater sense of truth about the cost of stepping outside norms to pursue love within an otherwise traditional society.

Spotlight 

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Here is a film studded with stars. Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”), Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”), Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones”), and many more familiar faces make up the cast of this film that focuses on the Boston Globe’s uncovering of the Catholic Church child molestation scandal. That being said, I’m banking on at least two names appearing in the acting categories at this year’s Academy Awards. Could Rachel McAdams receive her first Oscar nomination? We shall see. I’m looking forward to an excellent ensemble performance. A strong cast can really raise a film to the next level, and I’m excited to see how these actors work together to portray the team that brought the Catholic Church scandal to light. I’m also interested in learning more about the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation from 2002. It is a story we all know, or are at least familiar with, so it will be interesting to see how the events are portrayed. Director and screenwriter Tom McCarthy was last nominated for an Oscar for Pixar’s “Up,” and I’d say this story is a little darker than the adventures of an elderly man and a cub scout. We’ll see in February if his work on “Spotlight” will gain him recognition for either, or both, of these categories.

Of course, this list is short of comprehensive. There are many more amazing films set to release in the coming months and many more category prediction slots to fill. But if you want to jump on the Oscar train and see some of the films most likely to gain attention at this year’s awards, these are a good place to start. Happy watching!

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