Oscars 2015: Biopics, Diversity Dearth Shape Midyear Race

Black Mass
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

As 2015 hits the halfway mark, it’s encouraging that so many upcoming films look promising — because so far, the Oscar possibilities are meager, to say the least.

Once again, fact-based dramas will dominate awards buzz. There are at least 14 with scheduled dates, and another three possibilities for this year. Six of these earn the highest possible praise: People from rival studios like them.

That roster includes “Black Mass,” starring Johnny Depp as Boston mob kingpin Whitey Bulger; “Concussion,” about the NFL’s efforts to deny the repercussions of players’ repeated concussions; “Spotlight,” with Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams as the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered child abuse in the Catholic Church; “Trumbo,” about Dalton Trumbo and the House Un-American Activities Committee; “Truth,” the Dan Rather-George W. Bush scandal pic; and “The Walk,” about high-wire artist Philippe Petit, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Other reality-based pics that are either unfinished or kept under wraps include Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ Cold War drama “Bridge of Spies”; Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea,” with Chris Hemsworth in the story that inspired Moby Dick; “I Saw the Light” (about Hank Williams); “Legend” (the Kray twins); “Snowden”; “Steve Jobs”; “The 33” (the Chilean coal miners); and “The Danish Girl,” starring Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Einar Wegener. They join this summer’s “Love & Mercy” (Brian Wilson) and “The End of the Tour” (David Foster Wallace).

Possible 2015 bows include “Genius” (Lionsgate’s film about lit maven Max Perkins), “The Program” (Stephen Frears’ study of Lance Armstrong) and “Miles Ahead” (Don Cheadle directing himself as Miles Davis).

The bio craze continues a tradition of the past few years, and 2015 has another unsurprising trend: For those of you who protested the lack of diversity in 2014 awards, keep those picket signs handy.

There are very few films with racial-ethnic diversity, and only a smattering directed by women: Angelina Jolie’s “By the Sea,” Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette,” Patricia Riggen’s “The 33,” Marielle Heller’s “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” Gaby Dellal’s “Three Generations” and Isabel Coixet’s charming “Learning to Drive.” So a memo to film execs: If you rush-release about 150 more films directed by women, we will have gender parity this year! At least in that one category.

In May, Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux was asked about the lack of female-directed entries and said, “Attack the Oscars, not the festival!” However, both the Academy Awards and festivals only reflect available product, and this can be traced to studios, agents and, crucially, the money people.

As for the January-to-June period, Oscar potential is slim. If voting were held today, “Inside Out” would win in a landslide. That’s partly because there’s little competition, but this film could go the distance and nab a best-pic slot because it’s funny, touching, smart and original.

“Love & Mercy” is also a player, and there have been contenders in the supporting races. Cate Blanchett steals the show in “Cinderella,” and don’t overlook one of the best performances of the year: Jason Statham in “Spy.” He’s terrific, but could he make the cut? Stranger things have happened.

Here’s a list of upcoming possibilities. They all sound good on paper, but life is full of disappointments. Some will be Oscar contenders, some are better suited for the Spirit Awards, and others will do a quick fadeout. And the awards season will inevitably contain late entries, such as last year’s impactful “American Sniper” and “Selma.”

It’s an extensive lineup, which adds pressure to movies that have opened so far. Of those January-through-June releases, pundits have mentioned “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “Infinitely Polar Bear,” “Woman in Gold” (also fact-based), “Ex Machina,” “Good Kill,” “Clouds of Sils Maria,” “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” “Testament of Youth” and “Far From the Madding Crowd.” But it will be a challenge to keep the memory alive for another six months.

The first half has also seen “Jurassic World,” “Avengers: The Age of Ultron” and the knockout “Mad Max: Fury Road” for artisan consideration, but the 800-pound gorilla is December’s “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”

Future columns will address below-the-line showcases, as well as other animated features, feature docus and foreign-language films.

And speaking of great artisan work, Vin Diesel predicted “Furious 7” will win best picture. Diesel may have had tongue in cheek, but he raises a good question: Will 2015 be the year that the Acad voters return to form and nominate popcorn movies? Most of the above movies look smart, artistic, ennobling. But fun? That remains to be seen.

“Southpaw” (Antoine Fuqua, Jake Gyllenhaal, the Weinstein Co.)
“Tangerine” (Sean Baker, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Magnolia)
“End of the Tour” (James Ponsoldt, Jason Segel, A24)
“Irrational Man” (Woody Allen, Emma Stone, Sony Pictures Classics)

“Learning to Drive” (Coixet, Patricia Clarkson, Broad Green Pictures)
“Ricki and the Flash” (Jonathan Demme, Meryl Streep, Sony)
“Grandma” (Paul Weitz, Lily Tomlin, Sony Classics)
“Diary of a Teenage Girl” (Heller, Bel Powley, Sony Classics)

 <p><strong>Denis Villeneuve</strong></p> <p>Villeneuve is on an incredible roll following the “Incendies,” “Prisoners,” “Enemy,” plus the news that he’ll be directing the “Blade Runner” sequel. Will his violent drama (starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro) continue the trend? The smart money says yes. With just cause, the Cannes organizers have been smitten with 26-year-old Montreal talent Xavier Dolan , but the Quebec director who thrills me most is relative veteran Villeneuve, whose Mexican cartel thriller marks his first feature to play Cannes in 17 years. -<em>Scott Foundas & Peter Debruge</em></p> <p>

“Black Mass” (Scott Cooper, Johnny Depp, WB)
“99 Homes” (Ramin Bahrani, Andrew Garfield, Broad Green)
“Sicario” (Denis Villeneuve, Emily Blunt, Lionsgate)
“Three Generations” (Gaby Dellal, Naomi Watts, TWC)
“Time Out of Mind” (Oren Moverman, Richard Gere, IFC Films)
“Wolf Totem” (Jean-Jacques Annaud, Shaofeng Feng, Columbia)

“Adam Jones” (John Wells, Bradley Cooper, TWC)
“Bridge of Spies” (Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, DreamWorks)
“Freeheld” (Peter Sollett, Julianne Moore, Lionsgate)
“I Smile Back” (Adam Salky, Sarah Silverman, Broad Green)
“Legend” (Brian Helgeland, Tom Hardy, Universal)
“The Martian” (Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Fox)
“Rock the Kasbah” (Barry Levinson, Bill Murray, Open Road)
“Secret in Their Eyes” (Billy Ray, Chiwetel Ejiofor, STX Entertainment)
“Steve Jobs” (Danny Boyle, Michael Fassbender, Universal)
“Suffragette” (Sarah Gavron, Carey Mulligan, Focus Features)
“Truth” (James Vanderbilt; Robert Redford, Sony Classics)
“The Walk” (Robert Zemeckis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sony)

“Brooklyn” (John Crowley, Saoirse Ronan, Searchlight)
“By the Sea” (Jolie, Brad Pitt, Universal)
“I Saw the Light” (Marc Abraham, Tom Hiddleston, Sony Classics)
“Remember” (Atom Agoyan, Christopher Plummer, A24)
“Spotlight” (Thomas McCarthy, Mark Ruffalo, Open Road)
“Trumbo” (Jay Roach, Bryan Cranston, Bleeker Street Media)
“The Danish Girl” (Tom Hooper, Eddie Redmayne, Focus)
“The 33” (Riggen, Antonio Banderas, Alcon)

“Carol” (Todd Haynes, Cate Blanchett, TWC)
“Concussion” (Peter Landesman, Will Smith, Sony)
“The Hateful Eight” (Quentin Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson, TWC)
“In the Heart of the Sea” (Ron Howard, Chris Hemsworth, WB)
“Joy” (David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence, Fox)
“The Lady in the Van” (Nicholas Hytner, Maggie Smith, TriStar)
“The Revenant” (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Leonardo DiCaprio, Fox)
“Snowden”(Oliver Stone, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Open Road)
“Youth” (Paolo Sorrentino, Michael Caine, Searchlight)'<em

“Beasts of No Nation” (Cary Fukunaga, Idris Elba, Netflix)
“Macbeth” (Justin Kurzel, Michael Fassbender, TWC)
“Room” (Lenny Abrahamson, Brie Larson, A24)
“Son of Saul” (Laszlo Nemes, Geza Rohrig, Sony Classics)
“The Dark Horse” (James Napier Robertson, Cliff Curtis, Broad Green)
“The Light Between Oceans” (Derek Cianfrance, Alicia Vikander, DreamWorks)

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  1. Reblogged this on HBS Talent Management and commented:
    Blythe Danner absolutely deserves an Academy Award nomination for I’ll See You In My Dreams!

  2. I see Macbeth taking the lead in the awards for acting. Can’t beat Fassbender and Cottiliard

  3. Kelly says:

    Peter Pan, Jurassic World looks amazingly well made..everything else is a money grab or reboot or lets get the new kids obsessed with what we made in the 90s.

    Jurassic World 1993
    Terminator 2 1991
    Hook 1995
    Mission Impossible 1996

    Worth seeing…JW and PAN

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      JW NOT a money grab or reboot???

      • jurassicworldmg says:

        Jurassic World has real visitors and the dinosaurs get loose and they terrorize*

      • jurassicworldmg says:

        Jurassic World is a reboot of the 1990s movies. JW is a money grab, clearly the story is like Jurassic Park….which has visitors who test the park so they can endorse it but dinosaurs get loose and terrorize the staff and visitors….Jurassic World has real visitors and they get loose..and terrorize the staff and visitors…

        Its a reboot its a different version of the same story

  4. TrixieT says:

    I’m less concerned about the diversity of the films this year than I am about the quality of the films. We’re halfway through the year, and I still haven’t seen any four-star films. I know that’s rather common, given the industry’s overwhelming tendency to save Oscar-bait movies until the very end of the year, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that 2015 will be an underwhelming year for cinema. Around this time last year, we had Boyhood. This year we’ve got Mad Max and Inside Out, which, while excellent films, don’t exactly reach the high poetry of a four-star release. Ditto Ex Machina, It Follows, and Love and Mercy. And still other films, like Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, which received high praise at Sundance, have failed to live up to expectations. I’m not sure a string of middlebrow, Oscar-bait biopics will improve things.

  5. Red Camera says:

    Not exactly a great promo for the Oscar show. I think a Razzie show would be more entertaining. Here are my pics so far: (disclaimer–a nomination does not necessarily mean the film wasn’t entertaining)

    Worst picture: Hot Tub Time Machine 2
    Worst actor: Jai Courtney, Terminator Genesis
    Worst actress: Scarjo, Avengers Age of Ultron
    Worst supporting actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator Genesis
    Worst adapted screenplay: Terminator Genesis for its take on Hot Tub TIme Machine 2
    Worst production design: Tomorrowland
    Worst cinematography: Unfriended.

  6. Vincent Guarino says:

    Am I crazy for thinking Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a genuine shot at a nomination?

    • Andrew says:

      I could see Force Awakens being a contender for some big tech awards: vfx, sound design, and maybe editing (if the movie is really good). But it probably has zero shot at a major nomination like picture/director. Star Wars was nominated for best picture back in 1977, but that was a filmmaker driven, low budget production based on an original idea that took the industry by storm. In comparison, FA is a studio driven popcorn movie sequel. Not saying it won’t be good– but major awards are unlikely.

    • Pedro says:

      No. If it’s good, no. It’s the film that turned James Cameron into a filmmaker. People in Hollywood have a lot of love for it. A good Star Wars film has a shot. The original was nominated.

      • Kate H says:

        No one has seen ‘The Force Awakens’ yet, so it can’t have turned anyone into a film-maker, least of all a director who made his first feature 34 years ago.

  7. anonymous says:

    What about Pan? Why isnt that considered? Child hood classic Robin Williams would be proud and I know is shouting “Bang-erang Peter!” from heaven!

  8. anonymous says:

    Didn’t Birdman win Best Director and Best Picture and it was directed by an amazing Mexican filmmaker?

    Didn’t Elizabeth Banks, a woman, direct “Pitch Perfect 2????”

    A woman and a mexican both made different but amazing films we all saw in the past year and we are still getting thrown into this racial-ethnic diversity topic?

    If movies keep getting interrupted by politically correct junkies their going to spoil the fun for movie audiences who just want to escape and be entertained!

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      Yet they ignored David Ojelowo who was wonderful in SELMA!!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Right. We need more period pieces from the good old days and films taking place in Northern Europe and we need to entertain the movie audiences who flocked to see films like ‘Boyhood’ in theaters.

  9. Sal U. Lloyd says:

    Well, let’s see . . .

    BLACK MASS, a reworking of THE DEPARTED?

    SPOTLIGHT, this year’s Catholic-bashing movie like PHILOMENA?

    THE BRIDGE OF SPIES, this year’s T. Hanks Ra! Ra! USA propaganda?

    I SAW THE LIGHT the Hank Williams bio that the unproduced Schrader script might have been?

    LEGEND do they HAVE to make a movie about the Krays every twenty years???

    BY THE SEA wasn’t Jolie’s last movie “out at sea”??? Maybe this time she hopes for a directors’ nom?

    THE MARTIAN this year’s INTERSTELLAR–with lesser reviews???

    SNOWDEN didn’t Ollie Stone see THE FIFTH ESTATE? It tanked!

    Next . . .

    • hmm says:

      Oliver “Salvador/Platoon/JFK” Stone and the Snowden story is a dream match, though.

      • Patrick says:

        Spotlight and Philomena are totally different. Both are true. The abuse of unwed mothers in the laundries, the selling of their children, the rape of children by priests, and the coverup by the hierarchy are all factual.

  10. CelluloidFan35mm says:

    Whatever happened for being recognized by merit or actual quality?
    Sounds like people are pushing for an affirmative action Academy Awards and looking to recognize work based on gender and race instead of the quality of the work.

  11. john says:

    Looking forward to Jennifer Lawrence’s Joy!

  12. tlsnyder42 says:

    The list above doesn’t include any of the tentpole releases most moviegoers want to see the most. I was tired of this pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-artistic snobbery back in the 1970s, and it’s still going strong!

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      Exactly WHAT pseudo-intellectual artistic snobbery back in the 70s??? Back in the 70s, Hollywood KNEW how to tell a story, unlike today.

    • You said it brother, now lets go drive in our Ford to McDonalds for dinner, then we can drink some Buds, eat some Doritos, listen to Justin Bieber, then watch reruns of Two and a Half Men, screw those pseudo-people-with-good-taste, the masses know that the world only makes the best for us, that is why all this stuff is so popular. If only Adam Sandler and Vin Deisel would release a new movie every week, life would be perfect.

    • Bill B. says:

      Pseudo-intellectual films of the 70’s?! Patton, The French Connection, The Godfather, The Sting, The Godfather, Part II, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, Annie Hall, The Deer Hunter & Kramer vs. Kramer. These are the Oscar winning best pictures of the 70’s. Other than Annie Hall & possibly The Deer Hunter, I doubt that many would consider these very popular pictures in their day to be pseudo-intellectual films. The thing about all of them, again with the exception of Annie Hall, is that these were all big commercial as well as critical hits. Nearly all of them are original, intelligent and well made. There was a time when the film-going public and those who give out awards were on the same page. The Oscars and other awards are still giving their statues to quality films like the above. It is the public’s taste that has gone astray spending their money on an array of look-a-like Marvel comic book movies and endless sequels and remakes.

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