Earlier this week, I previewed this summer’s crop of big-budget would-be blockbusters and asked the question: What will be the biggest and best movie of the 2015 summer season?
Today, my attention gets turned to the smaller films—the ones that would be happy to crack $30 million at the box office—in an attempt to jumpstart the 2016 Oscar race.
History tells us a handful of Oscar contenders will be released this summer. 2014 had Boyhood. 2013 brought us an all-time-great Best-Actress-winning performance (Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine). The summer of 2012 saw the release of Oscar darling Beasts of the Southern Wild, while 2011 was the year The Help broke out and became both an Oscar player and a major financial hit for Disney.
I count eight titles with summer release dates and at least a half-decent chance at Oscar recognition. Realistically, only two or three will earn nominations, but considering we haven’t even gotten to Cannes yet, anything is possible when it comes to the 2016 Oscars.
Far From the Madding Crowd
This one has already opened to very positive notices. I’m not sure it’ll resonate at the end of the year because there doesn’t seem to be a ton of passion for it, but if Fox Searchlight campaigns for it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some craft nominations or even a nod for Carey Mulligan.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
This year’s big Sundance movie, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl tells the story of an awkward high-schooler who learns some important life lessons after spending time with a terminally ill classmate. It sounds awfully schmaltzy, but I’ll take the word of basically everyone who has seen it and raved about it since January.
Woody Allen is a mainstay on the summer movie calendar, but when it comes to Oscars (and quality more generally speaking), his track record is decidedly mixed. The aforementioned Blue Jasmine was a player. So was Midnight in Paris. But last year’s Magic in the Moonlight came and went without much of a peep, and the less said about 2012’s To Rome with Love, the better.
I’m really bullish on Irrational Man, but also a tiny bit worried about its subject matter. The world’s greatest actor working today, Joaquin Phoenix, stars alongside new Allen muse Emma Stone, and its trailer gives off serious Midnight in Paris vibes. Sounds great, right? Well Phoenix is playing a professor who may or may not be engaging in an affair of sorts with Stone’s character, his student. We’ll see what happens with that…
Ian McKellen looks poised for a Best Actor nomination playing literature’s most famous detective with a twist. His Sherlock is old, retired. And those who saw this one at Berlin in February said it was a very refreshing take on both the character and the genre. I’m intrigued.
Jake Gyllehaal has very quietly become another one of our greatest working actors. His last four performances—End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy, and Nightcrawler—could all be career-bests for a lesser actor. And with the latter, I think the character he created is one we’ll remember fifty years from now. Will we say the same about Southpaw‘s Billy Pope? Who knows. Antoine Fuqua has helped create one of those characters before in Detective Alonzo Harris (for which Denzel Washington won an Oscar!) Based on what we’ve seen, I’d say this could absolutely be a play for Jakey G., and I’m crazy psyched for this movie.
Ricki and the Flash
Here’s Meryl Streep, and you can’t help but think she’ll be in the Oscar mix playing a rock-and-roll musician trying to make good with her family after past mistakes in Jonathan Demme’s latest film. It’s the director that’s got me excited for this one; You won’t find a bigger fan of Rachel Getting Married. I’m a little nervous about Diablo Cody’s screenplay—her writing just isn’t my cup of tea—but she’s definitely talented, so maybe this will be more my speed. I’m curious.
Straight Outta Compton
This is one of my three most anticipated films for the rest of the year. The story of the NWA is super dynamic, and I really think the right filmmaker is at the helm. There’s a timely element, too, that might resonate with people (or drum up loads of controversy). Either way, I’m not sure Oscars are in the cards, but if it’s good enough, I wouldn’t rule it out. And regardless, I’m beyond excited.
Other smaller, limited-release titles that I’m excited for this summer that probably won’t make a dent in the Oscar conversation:
Saint Laurent premiered at Cannes last year. It’s French director Bertrand Bonello’s latest and apparently features a pretty dynamic lead performance from Gaspard Ulliel.
Andrew Bujalski’s Results premiered at Sundance. Its reception was decidedly mixed, but the guy who gave us Computer Chess a few years ago is always worth keeping an eye on, right?
Pigeon (or the film formerly titled A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence) took home the Golden Lion at Venice last year. It’s the first film in eight years from Swedish auteur Roy Andersson.
Another title that made noise on last year’s festival circuit, The Tribe is told entirely through sign language (no subtitles!) which ought to make for a very unique viewing experience. It has a lot of passionate supporters.
Manglehorn didn’t appear to be the best-received film of David Gordon Green’s career, but it’s nonetheless a David Gordon Green film, which means I’m so there. (Al Pacino stars. That helps too.)
Finally, The Look of Silence is the follow-up to the extraordinary documentary The Act of Killing. Need I say anything else?
2015/2016 Oscar Season, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Far From the Madding Crowd, Irrational Man, Manglehorn, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Mr. Holmes, Results, Ricki and the Flash, Saint Laurent, Southpaw, Straight Outta Compton, The Look of Silence, The Tribe