Thursday, December 13, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty, Les Mis, and Django Unchained Poised for Strong Award Season Runs

While it's far from being a three horse race for Best Picture, the trifecta of films set to release in December are rapidly garnering copious amounts of Oscar buzz. The early favorites such as Argo, Lincoln, and The Master should certainly not be forgotten, but the December newcomers are quickly overshadowing their Oscar-hopeful counterparts. Headlining this group is Katheryn Bigalow's bin Laden manhunt film, Zero Dark Thirty. Not to be ignored is Tom Hooper's gorgeous adaption of the musical, Les Misérables, and rounding out the trio is Django Unchained, the latest brutally brilliant film by Quentin Tarantino.

Although this group may not seem to have much in common (seriously, who'da thought that a musical, a gritty war film, and a slavery romp with Tarantino would be mentioned together?), all three are poised to make strong award circuit runs.

Even though the general public has not been able to view it yet, Zero Dark Thirty has already won Best Picture awards from the New York Film Critics Circle, Boston Society of Film Critics, and the National Board of Review. Jessica Chastain is also getting critics all abuzz with her performance as a steely CIA agent driving the search for 9/11 mastermind, Osama bin Laden. Director Katheryn Bigelow is no stranger to the Academy Awards, as her last film, The Hurt Locker, exploded during the 2009 award season. While the praise is nice and the awards Zero Dark Thirty have amassed are flashy, it should be noted that no film that has won the prestigious National Board of Review Best Film award has gone on to win the Oscar since Danny Boyle's incredibly overrated feelgood flick, Slumdog Millionaire. It will be interesting to see if the political controversy Zero Dark Thirty is already stirring up will end up hurting or helping the film. The movie is by all reports, a pretty tough pill to swallow. However, it remains to be seen if this will turn off the Academy or not.

If gritty torture scenes are hard to watch, add some inspirational singing and sit back and enjoy the tear-jerker of a movie, Les Mis, the film adaption of the Tony Award winning musical of the same name. Set to debut on Christmas Day, this film has all the ingredients necessary for a strong award show running: an Oscar-winning director in Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), Oscar-winning/nominated cast members (Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, and Sascha Baron Cohen), as well as incredibly talented actors not to win/be nominated for Oscars (Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfriend, and newcomers Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Banks). Not only is the acting superb, but the music itself is beyond incredible. While most musical to film adaptions record  musical numbers prior to filming, Hooper decided to have his actors sing while act. This adds an incredible amount of additional depth to the emotionally charged songs that comprise much of Les Mis. Musicals don't usually fare well at awards shows, especially the Oscars; however, Hooper's adaption looks far from being the usual run-of-the-mill musical.

Last but not least comes Tarantino's Basterds follow-up, Django Unchained. While certainly a wild card when it comes to the Academy Awards, Tarantino is no stranger to them either. Even though Inglorious Basterds was good, Django Unchained may be the best Tarantino film we've seen since Pulp Fiction. The brutality in the film is said to be as hard to watch as some of the most infamous scenes from Pulp Fiction and even that ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs. Cringe. Led by Academy Award winners (for Basterds) Christoph Walz and Jamie Foxx (Ray), along with Academy nominated Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond, The Aviator), this film should make plenty of noise in the thick of the award season. DiCaprio's performance as sadistic plantation owner, Calvin Candie, has already won him the National Board of Review for Best Supporting Actor, and plenty of other award circuit buzz. While overly violent films are often overlooked by the Academy as being petty, Tarantino's mastery of this device is usually universally lauded in every project he's worked on.

While there is plenty of time for other films to pick up steam, these three will be definite forces to be reckoned with come the award show season.

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