After spending all week trapped in the bowels of a smoky, maskless, packed Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for CinemaConand having sat through the various studio presentations looking for possible clues as to what might be at stake for the 95th annual Academy Awards, I can say that two of the names we’ll most likely hear about might be two of the more unexpected: Tom Cruise and Harvey Weinstein. I’m not hallucinating. I’ll get to both in a second, but first I must say that Oscar pundits don’t really come to this annual exhibitor convention with realistic expectations of seeing the top contenders for the awards.
No, it’s more to excite theater owners and managers who invade the Coliseum to see Dwayne Johnson or Keanu Reeves tout their upcoming sequels and/or Marvel movies. The collective takeaway after four days of this thing is over, over, After of the “IP” (a favorite phrase at CinemaCon) that serves as comfort food for theaters, and includes more John Wick, After jurassic world, After Aquaman, After Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Thor, Black Panther, Fast & Furious and particularly path, path more than Avatar, with four sequels and the first set to go in December as the short but impressive teaser got the assembled crowd excited.
But the potential Oscar discoveries? Well, not as easy to spot, but based on the names involved and their own Academy history, we can offer you a brief rundown.
So let’s start with Paramount and Top Gun: Maverick. The studio, after five release date changes due to the Covid, finally unveiled the whole Thursday. and it was a triumph, a continuation of 36 years in the making of a superstar creation original for Cruise that is not just a Upper gun which surpasses the first but does it in every way and proves to be perfection as an example of the lost art of what makes a full-scale Hollywood film. In other words, exactly the kind of film that Oscar will never take seriously but should. I said the same thing about last year Spider-Man: No Coming Home, but it was relegated to just one nomination for visual effects, and was certainly, like this, the kind of film that needs to be seen on the biggest screen with a massive audience.
With Oscar voters becoming more accustomed to their digital screening room and home viewing, hopefully lead them to celebrate a blockbuster example of perfection like Top Gun: Maverick is probably a lost cause, but I say to Oscar voters, “Get yourselves together and open your eyes and hearts to what this industry has always been about. The CinemaCon crowd was electrified by this, ticket buyers sure will be, and you should be. It’s not an easy accomplishment, and while Cruise was nominated for more Oscar performances than his second time as the Maverick, I’d say it’s a true movie star performance for the ages, perhaps. to be his best to date. And a studio insider told me he thought that too. The 1986 original was nominated for four Academy Awards (Editing, Sound) and won Best Song (“Take My Breath Away”). Lady Gaga’s new song in the end credits will likely bring her back to the Oscars, but this movie deserves more, even if voters and snobby pundits don’t want to give it that chance. In Vegas, he stole the show, and he’ll probably do the same in Cannes.
Paramount also showed the first images of Damian Chazelle’s long-awaited Hollywood film. Babylon, featuring brad pitt (which also plays in Sony’s summer hope high-speed train), and it looks like Oscar is written on it. We already know how much voters love movies about movies, and the The Earth the director seems to have the goods here for a perfectly timed December opening. A senior studio executive told me, and I believe him, that this footage was just a peek, which the film itself delivers, firing on all cylinders. I can not wait. Hope is eternal.
As for Weinstein – who made his career reshaping the way the Oscars were thrown and won, based on footage shown from Universal’s fall release She says – he will come back in a very weird way as the subject of a All the president’s men-style history of investigative reporting by The New York Times who knocked him down. Putting women front and center and focusing on the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (played by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan, respectively), seems to have real awards potential. In fact, I’d say that between Universal and its specialty division Focus Features (celebrating its 20th anniversary this year), there was a lot of Oscar fodder, more than any other studio to be sure. Jordan Peele, whose get out earned him the original screenplay as well as nominations for directing and best picture, has the intriguing No. We’ll see if it’s in the same league, but the footage was impressive. I can imagine maybe some action for Billy Eichner’s first all-LGBTQ rom-com, Brothers, especially in precursor awards shows that separate comedy, which could give it a boost. Who knows? It looks fun and certainly innovative.
Focus offers a multitude of possibilities, but that of James Gray armageddon time starring Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong definitely feels like it’s got the goods and will be in Competition at Cannes to up the ante. Todd Field’s (Small children, in the bedroom) first film in 16 years, Tar has Cate Blanchett as the bandleader and looks intense, but the teaser doesn’t tell us anything except don’t count Cate already. Former Oscar Nominee Lesley Manville Gets What Looks Like A Charming Light Bend Mrs. Harris goes to Paris, so it’s something to look forward to for Manville fans. There was no mention of Steven Spielberg’s very personal personality The Fabelmans, but you can bet Uni will be racing with that one and the fledgling season begins.
Warner Bros, which won seven Oscars this year between Dunes and, uh, Will Smith, seems to be back in the running with Baz Luhrmann Elvis, not only for stars Austin Butler and Tom Hanks, but also for dazzling craftsmanship, as you’d expect. This one is also heading to Cannes ahead of a summer release, but is sure to be an early contender, taking up a lot of time during Warners’ presentation. The plot of Olivia Wilde don’t worry darling came to my attention based on footage from a film that she says was inspired by the likes of Creation, The Truman Show and The matrix, among others. It sure is hot. Unfortunately, he was overwhelmed with coverage of what turned out to be a child custody case involving ex Jason Sudeikis when someone managed to hand him an envelope she opened on stage which turned out to be a summons. Strange moment indeed, but I’m looking forward to the movie and hope it lives up to it.
Sony has a great best-selling adaptation in Where the Crawdads sing from Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, but the trailer doesn’t scream Oscar. We’ll see this summer. Viola Davis appears to be delivering another fierce turn woman king, which she also produced so don’t count that Tri Star entry at this early stage.
Disney didn’t show much other than big chunks of its summer movies, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and the very promising Pixar toon Light year, with the above Avatar 2 teaser (can it match the 2009 original and land in the Best Picture race again?). But the studio had an intriguing, if confusing, look at David O. Russell’s latest star-laden film. amsterdam, which is a period piece featuring the unrecognizable Christian Bale, John David Washington, Margot Robbie, Robert De Niro, Rami Malek, Chris Rock, and Taylor Swift, among others. Russell’s films are hard to encapsulate in a trailer, and this one is no different, but coming from the filmmaker behind Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and The fighter, you can expect Disney to do an awards show for this 20th Century Studios movie. The Oscar Searchlight magnet received lip service for his lineup with brief mentions and no footage, so we’ll be waiting for his photos.
Lionsgate didn’t really have many things that seemed like instant contenders, but the executives tell me they’re very high for the next chapter of the Wonder franchisee called white bird, which stars Helen Mirren and a young cast. This seems good. There is also Are you there God? It’s me Margaret which comes from producer James L. Brooks and Associates and is the work of his discovery Kelly Fremon Craig, who brought us the terrific, if overlooked, The edge of seventeen, that I loved.
Neon also got a top spot, and its hottest title outside of CinemaCon was David Cronenberg’s upcoming Cannes competition entry. Crimes of the future. which looked quite upsetting judging by the pictures. Although revered, Cronenberg was never personally nominated for an Oscar, and his movies may be divisive, but he’s a major filmmaker, so maybe this time will be different. Cannes can definitely help, and that’s the next stop on the off-season movie tour we might be talking about in the fall. Remember this year’s Best Picture winner, CODA, had already been seen, acclaimed and showered with awards at Sundance long before then last year. Not everything has to be posted after Labor Day, folks.