Let me state right off the bat that there will probably be a follow-up post or two to this as the award-contender films are released and the field becomes clearer; for a start, I won’t be judging from trailers and press releases like I am right now.  There are no doubt also some dark horses I am unaware of; I am on no publicist’s list yet—they have exorbitant demands for website views that we don’t meet quite yet—and I don’t go to film festivals.

A large film school like NYU, which I attended briefly, is basically divided in two: filmmaking and cinema studies, and rarely do the twain meet, or at least that was the case back in my day.  A small percentage of the filmmaking section goes on to actually make films, while I’m not sure what the cinema studies people do.  They probably become cinema studies teachers themselves, or critics, or historian/archivists, or film festival programmers.  The latter is always what I imagine their profession of choice to be.

There is a triumvirate of festivals coming up—Telluride, Toronto and Venice—which generally narrow down the Oscar race because they tend to include a number of Best Picture nominees from every year, barring the occasional dark horse, but that is rare; it’s too difficult to hide a great feature film from the greedy grasp of programmers keen to be the first to show a winner.

I’m not a big film festival person because, as a modern misanthrope, I dislike crowds, and crowds of geeky, desperate film buffs in particular make me want to shoot up heroin.  Film festivals also try to showcase films you wouldn’t see anywhere else.  Much as I might moan about the Hollywood crap in cinemas, I do like to have my selection whittled down and filtered by the acquisitions departments at Focus Features, Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics first, rather than seeing them at the same time they do. I

’ve never been to Sundance, and hope I never do; generally, I can’t stand their brand of film, it’s like shooting up bad heroin, and if I liked the cold I would live in my native New York City.  Just the thought of the Cannes Film Festival makes my liver throb with anxiety at the beating I’m going to give it by staying drunk for at least a week.  The only one I really like because the city is so fucking cool and it’s spread out and everyone’s not on top of me, and most of all I’ve always had genuine fun, is the Berlinale, but by the time that happens, the Oscar race is almost over, which I suppose is what makes the Berlinale that much cooler—it’s a powerful festival that doesn’t have to give a damn.

Tom Hanks Halley Berry Cloud Atlas

Tom Hanks and Halley Berry in “Cloud Atlas.”

I likewise don’t give a damn if I ever win an Oscar, but I would like to have a film shown at Telluride one day, not because I like the festival or even the town itself, but because they are so picky—it’s so damned difficult to get into, no matter who you are—and because when you submit a film for consideration it goes to either Larry, Moe or Curly at the film department of Dartmouth University, where a top-secret selection process takes place and the line up isn’t announced until the day before the festival starts.  Which in the case of 2012 was today.  You can see the full list HERE.

While I waited for the Telluride list, this article was originally titled Seven Fall Movies to Track, not eight, but once the list came out this morning, the first potential dark horse of the season began neighing loudly and kicking down the stable door by having been selected by all three of the Triumvirate of Festivals, which means it is killer, in this case literally.  Without further ado, let’s introduce

THE ICEMAN

The first reason this was flying so low under the radar is who the hell is Israeli writer-director Ariel Vromen?  All I can see is he’s made a couple of forgettable films, one with Marisa Tomei, the other with Eric Balfour, yeah, the basketball-playing hunny from, like, five episodes of Six Feet Under.  The second reason is The Iceman stars professional Lurch-like creep Michael Shannon, who was awesome in Revolutionary Road, but I guess you have to have some major Israeli connections in your corner to pin a twenty-million-plus dollar film on him in this economic climate (cough, Avi Lerner, cough).

Shannon plays the appropriately named psycho mass killer Richard Kuklinski—aside from the “kook” in the last name, all serial killers seem to be named Richard—a real-life Mafia contract killer who claimed to have murdered over one hundred people in a career spanning three decades, from the sixties through the eighties.  His first victim was a high-school bully he beat to death at the age of fourteen, which is only a year after Israelis become men.

The film also stars Winona Ryder, who must have stolen the right anti-aging serum from somewhere because she isn’t looking any older than the last time we saw her, which was… I don’t remember… and James Franco, Ray Liotta (how can you have a wise-guy film without old Ray?), and Chris Evans sporting a handlebar mustache as another hit man named Mr. Softie, whose cover is an ice cream truck.

I do want to see this.  Yes, I do.

ANNA KARENINA

We’ve already showcased this with an article featuring the six-minute special that Keira Knightley put on her YouTube page.  Even though I am personally closer to this production than any of the others in the putative awards race (so far), I’m not sure about it because I’m both deeply ambivalent about playwright Tom Stoppard and what I’m seeing in the special.  It looks… I hate to use this word… oh, go on, James… pretentious.  I think director Joe Wright is fine, very talented; his is the sort of career I would want for myself.  And I’m all for filmed theater, and this looks ingenious, and Seamus McGarvey has spun his magic with the camera yet again, but… argh!  I can’t put my finger on it.  Hopefully, I’ll love it.

Here’s a more standard trailer:

ARGO

Speaking of enviable careers, you go, Ben Affleck.  You’re a total stud, very talented, hats off to you.  I am really keen to see this because 1979-80 was the dawn of my political awakening; I have often talked about the Iran hostage crisis in these pages.  I believe it is even more significant in terms of the irreparable schisms it caused domestically in the U.S. than it’s given credit for, so I’ll be interested to see how Affleck treats this, even if the story focuses on six Americans who have taken shelter in the Canadian embassy, not on the hostages from the American mission, who were so cynically released by the Republicans on the day of Reagan’s inauguration.

Argo also features Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston and someone I’ve been tracking since seeing him in Damages, Chris Messina, a truly talented hunny.

LINCOLN

When I was going over what I think are the Oscar contenders with PFC contributor Chris Cramer the other day on the phone, at the end of my list he added, “And Lincoln.”  Because it had completely slipped my mind.  Because I really don’t care.

Yes, it stars Daniel Day Lewis.  Yes, from the two pictures Steven Spielberg has generously released DDL looks amazing as Lincoln, yes, he’s gone all method again, and wouldn’t stop building log cabins, giving momentous speeches and emancipating slaves even in his sleep, I’m sure.  But I just don’t care about this story any more, even though I’m sure it will be positively symphonic in Uber-Master Spielberg’s hands.

There is no trailer for this, yet, and I guess the GOP didn’t manage to nab it for their dull-as-shit convention, even though Lincoln was one of their greats.  So you’ll have to make do with the poster image and keep analyzing DDL’s profile for any sign of Oscar gold.  The lack of a trailer has the entertainment press gagging for this film by now—it opens November 16 wide, so this trailer delay is unusual.  After Spielberg thudded with another sure thing last year, War Horse—I mean, how you can be him and fuck that up is a cautionary tale, if there ever was one—maybe they’re being extra careful with Lincoln.

Oh, who knows?  I don’t care. Go away.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON

As you have no doubt heard already, HPOH is this year’s The King’s Speech, but told from an American point of view, brought to you by Notting Hill director Roger Michell.  From the trailer, it doesn’t look like a Best Picture contender, but Bill Murray as FDR will likely get a nod; he is well liked in the industry, more so now than when he was younger, and he doesn’t make crap, just very quirky stuff, namely when he teams up with Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch.

Not much more to say.  You’ve seen this film before: The British royal family is just as dorky as your relatives; aristocratic Americans are just as boorish as other Americans, but still as lovable and egalitarian as all Americans; and you’re a total Grinch if you don’t leave the theater feeling warm and tingly with a spring in your step.

Bah humbug.

THE MASTER

This is the first of the three films I am backing for gold.  The casting in this is so crunchy—Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Laura Dern—and the subject so ripe for director Paul Thomas Anderson’s brand of ghastly American Gothic dissection.  Yes, someone in Hollywood finally had the balls to take on Scientology, and who better than Harvey “Extra Pepperoni and Cheese” Weinstein?  Well, maybe Scott Rudin, and maybe…. Oh, never mind.  They’ve made it, it looks awesome, good for them. I am there for a midnight screening September 21st.  Period.

LIFE OF PI

This is the second of my favorites to win, or at least be nominated for BP, although I honestly don’t think it’ll beat out The Master when the chips are down and the race is on.  Nobody out there is as excited about this as I am, for some reason; or maybe they are in India, I’m not keeping track.

I loved the book so much, and I think Ang Lee is one of the five best directors right now.  But best of all I won a poster online signed by Lee, which is now sitting rolled up in my bedroom closet.  He signed it in Chinese!  I truly am a tiger winner, just like Charlie Sheen.

Synopsis: An Indian boy named Pi survives for weeks at sea on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, co-starring a phosphorescent whale.

CLOUD ATLAS

My numero uno, my greatest hope.  This is one of the few films I am so excited about I am jealous I didn’t get to act in it, and I don’t consider myself an actor.  I want this to win for many reasons, most of all because the book was the best thing I read during the first decade of this century.

I’m going to show you two vids, one of which I’ve already put in an earlier piece about this film, so that will go at the end.

First up, how amazing is transgender director Lana Wachowski in this goofy promo commentary she did with her co-directors, brother Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer?

I love that these guys spent over a hundred and fifty million to make this, it runs almost three hours, it isn’t any one particular genre, and it stands a snowball’s chance in hell of recouping, much less making a profit.  Yet it is clearly a far worthier box-office turd than others from this past summer, like John Carter, Battleship, and Total Recall.  But what is best about this—and this makes me grin so much I hope you can see my pearly chipped teeth through these words—is the Wachowski’s last film was Speed Racer, the seventh biggest box-office flop of all time.

They just don’t care.  And I think that’s awesome.  They made their money on The Matrix series, nobody can touch that, so now they’ll just do whatever the fuck they please, and that includes a sex change.  Thank you very much.

See, when I hear clichés like “You’re only as good as your last movie,” from now on I’m going to visualize Lana’s fuchsia dreads dangling over maroon lipstick and hear that popping sound she makes with her finger in her mouth.  (True, they got this financed in Germany and Hong Kong, not in Hollywood—Warners couldn’t have come in for more than twenty-five percent, if that much—but stop quibbling and let me at least sound like I know what I’m talking about.  Sheesh!)

Here, once again, is their audacious six-minute trailer:

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