Quick Guide to Oscar Season

Erin Batchelder '17 Assistant Arts Editor 

It’s those last few weeks before the Oscars 2015 cut-off when studios release their critically acclaimed films for mainstream audiences. While some films have been finished and ready since last spring, studios hold off on a wide release so that they are freshly remembered by the time Oscar ballots go out to the Academy.

The Theory of Everything (Focus Features) Directed by James Marsh, “Theory” gives the usual cinematic spin on the life of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. The two young stars Eddie Redmayne (Hawking) and Felicity Jones (who plays Hawking’s ex-wife Jane Wilde Hawking) give riveting performances that have won critical acclaim after the film’s premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. Overall, the film is a perfect combination of drama, real-life history, and romance that historically plays so well among the Academy.

Selma (Paramount Pictures) In the midst of the current revolution in America, “Selma” is being met with high anticipation. Directed by Ava DuVernay, the film tells the story of none other than Martin Luther King, in particular focusing on the 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery. If the film’s trailer is any indication, “Selma” has the promise of being one of the most emotionally charged films to be released all year and with the response to the shooting of Michael Brown and a racially biased justice system continuing to gain momentum, its relevance will inspire thousands across America to head out to the theaters.

Inherent Vice (Warner Brothers) But let’s not forget that the Academy is still at the beck and call of any established auteur — especially those of the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson’s spin on the Thomas Pynchon novel got mixed critical reviews: While some celebrated the performances, others called out the similarities between “Vice” and David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” (which received 10 nominations). What I’m more interested in is whether or not the Academy with thrown the film’s star — Joaquin Phoenix — a bone this year. Phoenix, after destroying most of his Hollywood credibility through a study of celebrity (“I’m Still Here” (2009), has slowly been making a comeback with nominations two years in a row in the Best Male Actor category. It’ll be interesting to see if he’ll finally make it to the stage this year.

Still Alice (Sony) Starring Julianne Moore, “Still Alice” appears to be a shoo-in for a couple of nominations (Best Picture and Best Actress in particular). As a film that explores in-depth the life of a complicated female, the Academy is sure to throw a little attention its way, but its main competition would be this summer’s “Belle.” However, the two films are different enough that they could both find a spot on the coveted group of eight films that will receive a nomination.

Foxcatcher (Sony) This might seem like a strange one, but bear with me. “Foxcatcher” is a biographical drama about the life of Olympic Wrestling champion Mark Schulz (played by Channing Tatum) and his paranoid-schizophrenic millionaire coach John du Pont (Steve Carrell). And the film is directed by Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”) who won Best Director at Cannes for this film. While Carrell is in no need of a career make-over, this role is bound to revitalize his career and possibly earn him his first Oscar.

The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company) Benedict Cumberbatch, departing from his breakthrough role in BBC’s “Sherlock,” plays the film’s lead, scientist Alan Turing. Turing helped crack Nazi Germany’s enigma code only to be criminally prosecuted for being gay. The dark themes and subject matter, alongside Weinstein’s support, make this film a definite contender. At the Toronto International Film Festival, the film took the top honor, “People’s Choice Award for Best Film.” While taking home Festival Grand Prizes and an Oscar are very different things, the film’s critical success will have nothing short of a positive influence on the Academy.

The 87th Academy Awards, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, will take place on Feb. 22, 2015. Release dates of discussed films vary. Nominations will be revealed Jan. 15.