With Lee Daniel’s The Butler already getting Oscar buzz, it’s as good a time as any to start talking about the upcoming film season — the “prestige season.” If summer is known as the “blockbuster season,” then the fall is almost certainly known as the season of prestige films, when studios schedule all of the films they feel have the best chance of winning an Oscar.
This year, the fall is looking jam-packed with films backed by considerable talent. Many of the most talented directors and actors have films opening within weeks of each other and one thing is certain: movie-lovers will have a lot of great choices in the coming months.
Just to get you started with what’s on the horizon, here’s a look at five films that are already getting lots of buzz for the Oscars, with more to follow as fall gets closer.
The Monuments Men (Columbia Pictures, December 18)
The Monuments Men is a historical drama co-written, produced and directed by George Clooney, and starring Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchett. The film is based off of the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel. It tells the story of a Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program, an Allied group, whose mission was to save pieces of art and culturally important items before Hitler could destroy them during World War II.
In case the line-up of actors doesn’t tip you off to the kind of prestige Clooney holds these days when it comes to making films, look no further than Columbia Pictures’ (NYSE:SNE) decision to release the film on December 18th. Historically, the later a film is released in the year, the more a studio believes that the film will perform well at the Oscars — the rationale being that the closer the film is to the Oscars, the better the film will be remembered by voters.
Given Clooney’s track record for success and the kind of buzz the film is getting, this would be my best guess for Best Picture without having seen any of the films. If Clooney were to win, that would mean two Best Pictures in as many years — last year winning with Argo.
The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures, November 15)
The Wolf of Wall Street is the newest film by Martin Scorsese, coming from Paramount Pictures (NASDAQ:VIA). The film is a biographical black comedy based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey. The story revolves around a young New York stockbroker who refuses to cooperate in a large securities and fraud case involving corruption on Wall Street, the corporate world, and mob infiltration.
When it comes to the Oscars these days, if Scorsese has a big film coming out, it’s a pretty safe bet he’ll be there. DiCaprio’s inclusion is always a big bonus for critics, and the casting of McConaughey — whose career has seen an incredible revival over the last several years — is sure to bolster the film’s prestige. But the biggest Oscar pull will likely be the film’s controversial Wall Street subject matter which continues to be a huge topic of debate.
Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS Films, December 6)
Inside Llewyn Davis is the newest film written and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen. Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake, the film tells the story of a singer-songwriter navigating the New York folk music scene of the 1960′s. The film is loosely based on the life of Dave Van Ronk.
Like the other directors on this list, anytime there’s a film coming out from Joel & Ethan Coen, it’s immediately spoken about in terms of what it will do at the Oscars. It’s not as if the film hasn’t had any success yet either – Inside Llewyn Davis won the Grand Prix Award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. And if that didn’t tip you off as to how studios see this film faring at the Oscars, CBS Films (NYSE:CBS) is planning a limited release on December 6 followed by a wide release on December 20.
Twelve Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures, October 18)
Coming from Fox Searchlight Pictures (NASDAQ:FOXA), 12 Years a Slave is the newest film by video artist-turned film director Steve McQueen. The film features a ridiculous amount of A-list stars, including Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, and many, many more. The film is based on the autobiography Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup which chronicles his experiences after being kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.
While the buzz surrounding the recently released trailer wasn’t exactly explosive, film fans are more than willing to give the film a shot, as McQueen sports a marvelous track record so far with 2009′s Hunger and 2011′s Shame — both of which won a mountain of awards. And the studio was apparently so pleased with the film’s reception at test screenings that they moved the film up to where it is now — always a good sign.
Saving Mr. Banks (Walt Disney Company, December 20)
Saving Mr. Banks is a biographical drama film that tells the story of Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers and her two-week visit to Los Angeles, where filmmaker Walt Disney attempted to get the screen rights to her famous novel. The Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS) produced film stars Emma Thompson as Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, along with actors Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, and Colin Farrell. This film is directed by John Lee Hancock of The Blind Side and is also scored by Thomas Newman.
In 2011, the script for Saving Mr. Banks – written by Kelly Marcel — was listed on the Black List (a list of scripts voted to be best screenplays not in production). Disney acquired the rights to the film in early 2012, and filming finished on November 22, 2012. While Hancock’s The Blind Side was often criticized for its sentimentality, Saving Mr. Banks would appear to be a perfect story for him to direct. The sheer volume of talent involved with the project, along with Disney’s decision to release the film on December 20, probably points to confidence on the part of all involved that this film has the potential to win awards at the Oscars.