Oscars 2015: Biopics, Diversity Dearth Shape Midyear Race

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).

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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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