In theory, there is nothing wrong with having your film labeled “Oscar bait.” Sure, it insinuates that the picture is being released or aimed at an audience interested in awards worthy films, but most of the time they usually turn out more than O.K. Some major Oscar bait movies this year were “The Descendants,” “War Horse,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “The Ides of March” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Of course, “Carnage,” “Anonymous” and “J. Edgar” had that label too. Focus Features, which has had a superb year so far with “Beginners,” “Tinker,” “Jane Eyre” and the upcoming “Pariah,” released their 2012 schedule today and – no surprise – a number of potential contenders for the next Oscar season made the list.
Paul Weitz’s “Being Flynn” arrives in March and while it has icon Robert De Niro and former nominee Julianne Moore, it’s likely an early art house play. More intriguing is “Seeking A Friend At The End Of The world.” The unconventional flick features Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as two people who embark on a road trip with the end of the world almost at hand. We’re guessing a SXSW slot for that one.
Screaming for a Cannes Film Festival premiere is Wes Anderson’s first live action film since “The Darjeeling Limited” in 2007, “Moonrise Kingdom.” The late May release is described as a tale of young love with the adults played by Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman. And that’s two winners and two other nominees among the six of them (not counting Anderson’s two nominations). And, again, it’s Anderson. At some point he’s gonna be due.
On the animation side, LAIKA returns with their first stop motion creation since the beloved “Coraline,” “ParaNorman.” Just on pedigree, the August release will be on the shortlist for best animated feature along with “Brave,” “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” “Frankenweenie” and “The Pirates! Bands of Misfits” and “Rise of the Guardians.”
Looking as though it will be ready for a Venice, Toronto or New York Film Festival debut is “Hyde Park on Hudson.” A possible comeback for Roger Michell, the period piece finds Bill Murray as FDR, Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt and Laura Linney as their daughter Daisy. The film is inspired from real life events when the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) traveled to New York to try and convince the U.S. President to join the war effort in Europe. With that cast? That subject matter? Oscar bait 101.
Focus’ real player, however, is Joe Wright’s fourth film with the mini-major, “Anna Karenina.” The adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic tale features an all-star cast including Knightley (her third film with Wright), Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Emily Watson and Olivia Williams. The subject matter, the cast and Wright’s pedigree (“Atonement,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Hanna”) will make “Karenina” one of the most anticipated films of 2012. No pressure Joe.
Other films likely to play the awards season game next year include Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the musical version of “Les Miserables” and of course, Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Are you excited for next year?
Here’s more information on Focus Features releases for 2012.
In Theaters: March 2, 2012 (select cities)
Being Flynn is the new dramatic feature from Academy Award-nominated writer/director Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”). Adapted from Nick Flynn”s 2004 memoir “Another Bulls-t Night in Suck City,” the movie explores bonds both unbreakable and fragile between parent and child. Paul Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine” and “There Will Be Blood”) portrays Nick Flynn, a young writer seeking to define himself. He misses his late mother, Jody (four-time Academy Award nominee Julianne Moore), and her loving nature. But his father, Jonathan, is not even a memory, as Nick has not seen the man in 18 years. Jonathan Flynn (two-time Academy Award winner Robert De Niro) has long defined himself as a great writer, “a master storyteller.” Suddenly facing eviction from his apartment, Jonathan impulsively reaches out to Nick and the two come face-to-face.
Director: Paul Weitz (“About a Boy,” “In Good Company”)
Writers: Paul Weitz; Based on the memoir Another Bulls-t Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
Cast: Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Olivia Thirlby, Lili Taylor, Wes Studi, Julianne Moore
“Seeking A Friend At The End Of The World”
In Theaters: April 20, 2012
The feature directorial debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria stars Golden Globe Award winner Steve Carell and Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley. Set in a too-near future, the movie explores what people will do when humanity”s last days are at hand. As the respective journeys of Dodge (Mr. Carell) and Penny (Ms. Knightley) converge, the two spark to each other and their outlooks – if not the world”s – brighten.
Writer/Director: Lorene Scafaria (“Nick & Norah”s Infinite Playlist”)
Cast: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Rob Corddry, Gillian
acobs, Derek Luke, Melanie Lynskey, TJ Miller, Mark Moses, Patton Oswalt, William Petersen
In Theaters: May 25, 2012 (select cities)
The new feature from two-time Academy Award nominee Wes Anderson. Set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s, the film follows a young boy and girl (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) falling in love. When they are moved to run away together, various factions of the town mobilize to search for them and the town is turned upside down – which might not be such a bad thing. Bruce Willis plays the town sheriff; two-time Academy Award nominee Edward Norton is cast as a camp leader; and Academy Award nominee Bill Murray and Academy Award winner Frances McDormand portray the young girl”s parents.
Director: Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Rushmore,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox”)
Writers: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (“The Darjeeling Limited”)
Cast: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton,
Jason Schwartzman, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward
In Theaters: August 17, 2012
The new 3D stop-motion comedy thriller from animation company LAIKA, re-teaming the company with Focus Features after the groundbreaking Academy Award-nominated “Coraline.” “ParaNorman” is, following “Coraline,” the company”s second stop-motion animated feature to be made in 3D. In “ParaNorman,” a small town comes under siege by zombies. Who can it call? Only misunderstood local boy Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is able to speak with the dead. In addition to the zombies, he”ll have to take on ghosts, witches and, worst, of all, grown-ups, to save his town from a centuries-old curse. But this young ghoul whisperer may find his paranormal activities pushed to their otherworldly limits.
Directors: Sam Fell (“The Tale of Despereaux,” “Flushed Away”) and Chris Butler
Writer: Chris Butler
Cast: Casey Affleck, Tempestt Bledsoe, Alex Borstein, Jodelle Ferland, John Goodman, Bernard Hill, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Elaine Stritch
“Hyde Park on Hudson”
In Theaters: 2012 TBD
In June 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Academy Award nominee Bill Murray) and his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) host the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) for a weekend at the Roosevelt home at Hyde Park on Hudson, in upstate New York – the first-ever visit of a reigning English monarch to America. With Britain facing imminent war with Germany, the Royals are desperately looking to FDR for support. But international affairs must be juggled with the complexities of FDR”s domestic establishment, as wife, mother, and mistresses all conspire to make the royal weekend an unforgettable one. Seen through the eyes of Daisy (Academy Award nominee Laura Linney), Franklin”s neighbor and intimate, the weekend will produce not only a special relationship between two great nations, but, for Daisy – and through her, for us all – a deeper understanding of the mysteries of love and friendship.
Director: Roger Michell (“Venus,” “Notting Hill,” “Persuasion”)
Writer: Richard Nelson; Based on his radio play
Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams,
Elizabeth Marvel, Elizabeth Wilson, Eleanor Bron
In Theaters: 2012 TBD
The third collaboration of Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley with director Joe Wright, following the award-winning box office successes “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement,” is the epic love story “Anna Karenina,” adapted from Leo Tolstoy”s classic novel by Academy Award winner Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”). The story unfolds in its original late-19th-century Russia high-society setting and powerfully explores the capacity for love that surges through the human heart, from the passion between adulterers to the bond between a mother and her children. As Anna (Ms. Knightley) questions her happiness, change comes to her family, friends, and community.
Director: Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Hanna”)
Writer: Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”); Based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy
Cast: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen,
Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Emily Watson, Olivia Williams, Ruth Wilson
For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HItFixGregory on Twitter.