You may have noticed, in the past few weeks, that aside from Hugo and the pure concentrated essence of happy that is The Muppets, everything out in theaters right now is depressing as shit. That’s right, everyone. It’s Oscar season! Time for frontal nudity, gratuitous sequences of crying and at least one comedy that manages to sneak in there for people who just can’t handle another movie in which Colin Firth does stuff that’s marginally touching and cleans house as a result. It’s hard to suss out which movies are going to be worthwhile, especially when some have already been hit or miss. (I apparently didn’t like The Descendants as much as everybody else in America.) So, with one month left, I’ll suggest five Oscar candidates that you should be a bit warier about, despite all the hype.
Five Oscar movies to check out (or not)
1. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Dec. 21)
Why it’ll work: The original Swedish trilogy had the lean, ruthless pacing of the best thrillers, and it shouldn’t be too hard for David Fincher to adapt Stieg Larson’s perverse, violent story for U.S. audiences. That Niels Arden Oplev’s original film looked like a Fincher flick in virtually every way doesn’t hurt. Plus, it’s hard to picture a more perfect actor for embattled, noble journalist Mikael Blomkvist than Daniel Craig…
Why it won’t: …but it’s quite easy to picture others ahead of Rooney Mara in the pivotal role of Lisbeth Salander. Noomi Rapace already delivered a stunning turn in the original films, and so far I’m still not sold on Mara. Based on the trailers, there’s something waif-like about her performance that doesn’t quite gel with the idea of Lisbeth as an unhinged, damaged woman prone to abrasive violence at the drop of a hat. Fincher’s remake is going to live and die with her.
2. War Horse (Dec. 25)
Why it’ll work: Because it’s Steven Spielberg, and this isn’t the first time he’s taken a seemingly dumb idea (War of the Worlds remake, for one) and spun gold. If nothing else, Janusz Kaminski’s presence behind the camera ensures that it’ll be absolutely stunning to look at. There’s also the fact that Spielberg has mastered the art of taking unusual stories and turning them poignant.
Why it won’t: For fuck’s sake, it’s about a horse that survives a war. The shots of the horse staring majestically at the horizon have garnered laughs every time this trailer has run in theaters I’ve been in, and I can’t really imagine how much steam even Spielberg can get out of what looks like a pretty generic boy-and-his-horse movie.
3. The Iron Lady (Dec. 30)
Why it’ll work: Meryl Streep takes on Margaret Thatcher, one of the more controversial political figures of the past few decades. (Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta was partially based on her tenure as prime minister.) If there’s an actress alive who could pull off empathy for a woman a lot of people just don’t like, it’s Streep, whose mannerisms in the trailer are beyond unnerving.
Why it won’t: Everything I’ve read about this film just smacks of a generic biopic, something that probably won’t stop Streep from winning her third Oscar but will make it hard to enjoy anything about this movie that’s not her performance. There’s also the matter of how biased a point of view director Phyllida Lloyd wants to take; if it’s either a smear piece or a canonization, expect to hear people flipping out.
4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Dec. 25)
Why it’ll work: Stephen Daldry has appeared to strike oil in finding Thomas Horn to play Oskar Schell in his adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s beloved novel. The story of a boy who goes on a journey through New York after his father dies on September 11th, Horn has to carry the story, and just his few moments in the trailer are heartbreaking. The fact that he gets to work opposite Viola Davis, Tom Hanks (briefly) and Max Von Sydow, among others, doesn’t hurt.
Why it won’t: Sandra Bullock. I’m kidding, but Foer’s novel is touching and genuine without veering off into the saccharine, and it wouldn’t be difficult at all for Daldry to make that mistake. There’s going to be a very fine line between emotional exploitation and legitimate heart here, and it’s doubtful there’s much room in between.
5. Young Adult (Dec. 9)
Why it’ll work: The only saving grace of the interminable Juno was director Jason Reitman’s ability to find heart under several oppressive, suffocating levels of treacle. Lest this come off like a bash session against Diablo Cody, I’ve found much of her writing entertaining, except for her two produced screenplays, and it looks like she’s finally figured out the balance between forcible quirk and actual comedy here. It’s also tough to remember the last time Charlize Theron did something as light as the story of a former high school alpha female determined to steal back her married ex-flame.
Why it won’t: As long as Cody has screenplay credit, I’ll be sweating the inevitable hard turn into obnoxiousness on the level of Juno. It’s also paramount that Theron isn’t likable, or at least that the film doesn’t try to shoehorn likability. I’m a sucker for movies about mostly irredeemable people (Observe & Report will go down as a masterpiece down the road, mark my words), and Young Adult‘s best chance is if it follows a darker trajectory.