Oscar Voters: Keep These Vital Actors and Movies in Mind as the Season Takes Hold

Sending up a flare before these entries end up buried under the rubble of the season.

This week, Variety kicks off its coverage of the 2015 Oscar season in style, with our annual Awards Launch issue. But as we dive headlong into a fray that is bound, as ever, to recycle familiar talking points and contenders, we would be remiss not to pause to shine a light on worthy players who may well end up getting buried in the campaign avalanche.

Yann Demange’s “’71,” part of a triptych of films that introduced the world to actor Jack O’Connell, premiered at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, but remains one of the best films of 2015. (It was finally released in February.) A nail-biting cross between “Judgment Night” and “Bloody Sunday,” and set along Belfast’s tumultuous Falls Road during the height of 1971’s Catholic/Protestant strife, it’s a unique playground for O’Connell, compared with his breakout work in “Starred Up,” and his stab at gravitas in “Unbroken.” Featuring stirring photography, razor-sharp editing and Demange’s perfectly tuned helming, it’s worth catching up with this one.

Ditto Sundance bow “Mississippi Grind,” released Sept. 25. Writers-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck hit a speed bump with 2010’s “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” but with penetrating dramas like “Half Nelson” and “Sugar,” they had already brought a unique vitality to the indie scene. In “Mississippi Grind,” a character study of a man with a gambling addiction, Ben Mendelsohn delivers a wonderfully layered performance that’s so palpable you can almost feel the tremors in your stomach. Still, it’s hard to see him competing with other thoroughly marketed big guns, even with savvy distributor A24 steering the ship — though the scrappy New York outfit is clearly coming into its own with films like “Ex Machina,” “The End of the Tour” and “Room”.

Another young indie distributor serving the art house well is Broad Green Pictures, with offbeat films like Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes.” That film, which began its journey at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, has stirred deserved talk for Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, though Laura Dern is easy to take for granted in a less-carved-out role. Most notable, though, might be Bahrani’s efforts on the page, creating the kind of character-focused, genre-flirtatious work that scored points for “Nightcrawler” last year.

Elsewhere, while Blythe Danner and Lily Tomlin have rightly drawn awards chatter for their performances in “I’ll See You In My Dreams” and “Grandma,” respectively, Sam Elliott delivers breathtaking supporting performances in both films — enigmatic and slick in “Dreams,” spurned and quite complex in “Grandma” — and makes both turns look effortless.

Finally, while “Love & Mercy” certainly looks to remain on the radar, staying fresh in voters’ minds thanks to intimate, once-in-a-lifetime, Brian Wilson concert events — and John Cusack and Paul Dano are sure to draw continued enthusiasm for their dual depictions of the fragile artist — here’s hoping Elizabeth Banks’ beautiful, empathetic performance (the heart of the movie, really) can stay in the conversation.

There’s also Bel Powley’s complex portrait in “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” the intriguing metaphor of David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows,” and Jason Segel’s spin on David Foster Wallace in “The End of the Tour” to consider.

And these are all just the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully voters can find time to sample the work of these worthy contenders as more robust Oscar campaigns rev their engines throughout the rest of the season.

More Film

  • Jennifer Lopez Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez-Owen Wilson Film 'Marry Me' Moves Back to Universal From STX

    The Jennifer Lopez-Owen Wilson romantic comedy “Marry Me” has moved from STX back to its original home, Universal Pictures. STX previously took over the project in April. Kat Coiro is directing from a script written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Colombian singer/rapper Maluma has joined the cast and [...]

  • Austin Butler to Star as Elvis

    Austin Butler to Star as Elvis in Baz Luhrmann's Biopic

    Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic has found its king of rock ‘n’ roll. After numerous screen tests, Austin Butler has been tapped to play Elvis Presley in Luhrmann’s next feature film for Warner Bros. The studio tested with a handful of actors in full hair and make-up at the end of June to see who [...]

  • 'The King's Man' Trailer Debuts With

    'The King's Man' Trailer Showcases Secret Service's Origins

    Disney is promising plenty of sword-fighting, gunplay and devastation in its first teaser trailer for the Fox spy comedy prequel “The King’s Man.” The studio unveiled a first look Monday that sets the stage for an origin story of the private British  intelligence service, portrayed in the two previous films in the franchise: 2014’s “Kingsman: The [...]

  • Emma Stone Damien Chazelle Babylon

    Emma Stone Eyes Damien Chazelle's Next Film 'Babylon'

    “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle is heading back to Hollywood for his next feature film “Babylon,” and Emma Stone is in early talks to star. Sources say Chazelle has met with a handful of suitors over the past couple weeks, and Paramount and Lionsgate are both vying to land the project. While Chazelle previously [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    2019 Imagen Awards Nominations: Jennifer Lopez, Antonio Banderas and More

    Jennifer Lopez and Antonion Banderas are among this year’s Imagen Awards nominees, which span a range of categories including informational programming, on-air advertising, outstanding individual performances and prime time programming in film and television. The Imagen awards were first established in 1985 upon recommendation from TV veteran Normal Lear in an effort to recognize more [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content