LAS VEGAS – 20th Century Fox found themselves mostly on the Oscar sidelines last year thanks to “Gone Girl” director David Fincher's unwillingness to partake in such matters, but 2015 looks like it's going to be a completely different story. On Thursday the studio highlighted much of its upcoming slate including footage from expected hits such as “Spy,” “The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials” and “Victor Frankenstein.” What really popped, however, are four titles that could make big waves during the upcoming awards season.
The footage from Ridley Scott's “The Martian” depicts a faithful adaptation of Andrew Weir's novel. A crew of NASA astronauts finds themselves racing to evacuate their base on Mars as a gigantic storm approaches. The problem is one member of the crew, Mark Whatley (Matt Damon), doesn't make the escape vehicle in time. The preview actually begins with Jeff Daniels' character telling a press conference Whatley is presumed dead. Truthfully, he awakes alone on the Red Planet and begins to chronicle how he'll survive what he believes will be a four-year wait to be rescued. Eventually NASA is shocked to discover that Whatley is alive. It's unclear what their plan is, but Whatley's fellow astronauts (including Jessica Chastain) are already safe and secure on a ship on a long way home to Earth. Even though it could mean risking their own lives, they want to lead a “mutiny,” however, and turn the ship around to rescue Whatley (or that's how it appears). Is a happy ending unavoidable? Good question.
Simplified, “The Martian” features familiar elements from “Gravity,” “Interstellar” and “Castaway.” We see shots of Whatley beginning to grow his own food so he can turn 33 days of supplies into 1,460 days of subsistence. A “space docking” reference is eerily similar to the same plot point in Chris Nolan and Alfonso Cauron's films. Still, Fox smartly pushes the impressive cast with shots of Chastain, Kristen Wiig (earthbound and concerned), Donald Glover (appears he's one of the crew), Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor and the aforementioned Daniels. Damon looks slimmed down and 180 degrees more optimistic than…the stranded astronaut he played in “Interstellar” (no, we're still not sure why he decided to take on storylines that are so similar). Is it really an awards movie? This pundit isn't so sure, but it certainly excited some of my peers who were also on hand for Fox's show and tell.
One movie that is absolutely on its way to a top slot on the next contender countdown is Alejandro González Iñárritu's “The Revenant.” The extended footage began with title cards reminding viewers this is a true story and that Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have spent months bringing Michael Punke's novel to life by shooting in the remote wilderness and only in natural light. DiCaprio and Tom Hardy were the only two recognizable cast members, but this dark frontiersman tale seems both epic and intimate at the same time. “The Revenant” looks harrowing and painful. If the cast and crew went through an ordeal filming it the audience is going to feel their pain. Overall, the movie simply looks stunning and you wonder if it's too early to start hyping Lubezki as a potential three-time Oscar winner. One particular shot finds the camera strapped either to the side or leg of DiCaprio as he rides horseback into battle. It's an iconic image, but would we expect any less from Iñárritu and Chivo?
Fox's third awards player looks like David O. Russell's “Joy.” Reuniting Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, Annie Mumolo and Russell's original story appears to be a dark and grounded drama. No hints of dramedy or laughs here. While the footage didn't feature any dialogue there is scarcely any lightness that would remind you of “American Hustle” or “Silver Linings Playbook.” And, as if it was ever a question, you can absolutely put Lawrence on your potential Best Actress nominees for this one. She's clearly the central character. Frankly, “Joy's” surprising tone and imagery make it more of a wildcard than “Martian” or “The Revenant.” The movie also has a Christmas day release, but it will be curious to see if Fox decides to put it on the prestige festival circuit to grow word of mouth.
Lastly, Fox actually kicked off its presentation with a long look at their CG animated adaption of the classic comic strip “Peanuts.” Blue Sky Animation hasn't earned the critical kudos of its peers, but “Peanuts” may change that. The studio made it very clear they revere creator Charles M. Schulz's work and the preview didn't include anything that would even come close to scaring purists. This story is about Charlie Brown and his shy affection for a red headed girl in his neighborhood. You don't need to worry about Snoopy going on a Las Vegas roadtrip or anything silly like that. This is meant to be a tale that stays true to Schulz's original vision. In fact, the best moment was when Charlie Brown has a thought bubble and it appears as a black and white two-dimensional drawing just like the original comic strip. “Peanuts” looks like it has heart without being saccharine and has found away to include Schulz's stylistic flourishes within a 3D context. It's unclear if Pixar's “Inside Out” will have any really competition for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, but “Peanuts” could surprise as a worthy threat for the crown.
Needless to say, while 20th Century Fox has some big blockbusters on hand for the summer, it's Fall and Winter releases will find it smack dab in the middle of major Oscar players. And don't say we didn't tell you way back in April.
Which 20th Century Fox release are you most looking forward to? Share your thoughts below.