Critics Roundtable: Winter Movie Season Is Here, But Where's The Oscar Buzz?

At this point, the summer blockbluster season is but a speck in our rear-view mirrors. But fret not: There are plenty of intriguing films — both big and small budget — still coming on the horizon in the winter months. Here, Central Track's three main film critics (Javier Fuentes, Angela Jones and Kip Mooney) take a look at the movies they're most looking forward to and which ones might have a chance at earning an elusive Oscar.

Javier Fuentes: I'll be honest. When it was first determined that we were going to be doing a winter movie preview roundtable, I really couldn't think of too many films I was really looking forward to — at least not off the top of my head. Then I looked at the calendar. It's actually a much more packed couple of months than I realized.

Most of the stuff I'm looking forward are more genre fare, with some Oscar-bait stuff mixed in. First of all, I really need to see Spectre, the just-released new Bond movie. Apart from the fact I love Skyfall, I am so freaking excited about the fact this one should tie up some plot points that were started with Quantum of Solace.

Also? Going off the trailers, Krampus looks like it's going to be awesome. It could be the American Rare Exports, although the PG-13 rating could hinder it.

Then, obviously, there's Macbeth with my boy Michael Fassbender. The trailer was gorgeous. I love that actor. The director did the brutal Snowtown Murders, which is interesting as hell. And, yeah, I know that the Star Wars movie is coming out and I will totally see it ASAP. But I would be lying if I said I was excited at all about it.

How about you guys?

Kip Mooney: I'm also pumped about Spectre. The reason I loved Skyfall so much — and the reason Quantum of Solace wasn't as successful — was the villain. Javier Bardem was magnificent, flashing that Cheshire Cat grin while talking about murdering hundreds of people or turning an interrogation into a seduction. Spectre boasts two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as the bad guy, and I could not be more excited to see him play “the author of all [Bond's] pain.”

And, of course, I must finish The Hunger Games series, even though it's pretty much a rip-off that Mockingjay was split into two films.

Speaking of obligations, I will of course be there to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Unlike many of my friends, I frankly grew out of my Star Wars phase in my teens. But, as a big fan of all of J.J. Abrams' films, I am excited once again to see how he handles the biggest franchise of all time.

Really, though, it's truly the Oscar hopefuls that excite me the most. Spotlight, about the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered child abuse in the Catholic Church, boasts a great ensemble cast (including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams). Carol, a lesbian romance set in the 1950s, features Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett at the top of their games (plus Kyle Chandler, who played Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights as the spurned husband). And then there's The Revenant, Alejandro Iñárritu's long-delayed follow-up to Birdman. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a fur trapper left for dead after a bear attack in that one, and when he wakes up, he's got only one thing on his mind — revenge. DiCaprio will be in peak form, but I'm most excited about the awe-inspiring long takes from Emmanuel Lubezki, who won the last two Oscars for cinematography.

Angela Jones:You guys have hit on many that I'm excited for already — Spectre, MacBeth and Mockingjay all being at the top of that list. I actually hated the book Mockingjay, but I'm hoping this second part will adapt the movie to make it much more cohesive than the book was.

Another holiday movie I'm definitely looking forward to is The Hateful Eight. Tarantino rarely disappoints, and this film looks like more gritty than a few of his more recent films. Plus, it looks rather quirky based on the one trailer we've seen.

Speaking of trailers: I can't even watch trailers for The Good Dinosaur without tearing up. Damn you, Pixar! I'm so pumped about that one: It's such a fun concept, and Pixar knows they need another home run after how great Inside Out was earlier this year. I'm expecting awesome things.

I always enjoy a good comedy for this time of year, too, and for some reason, The Night Before looks hilarious to me. Maybe it's just me crushing on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but it's directed by Johnathan Levine, of Warm Bodies and 50/50 fame, who I really like. I'm sure there will be some stupid humor in it, but I have a feeling it will leave me in stitches.

Now, here's my question: Are there any movies you wouldn't see even if someone paid you?

Kip: Well, you wouldn't catch me dead in a theater showing Point Break, the least necessary remake since Bad News Bears. Kathryn Bigelow's original version is an action masterpiece, one that certainly won't be improved upon by the cinematographer from the Fast & Furious films. I'd also gladly jump from a plane without a parachute before I'd ever see Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Road Chip.

Angela: Yes, I totally agree about the next Alvin & The Chipmunks movie. What number is this? Three? Four? It feels like this property has been stretched beyond its limits.

I have also become more apathetic about In The Heart of the Sea, the tale about a whaling boat being sunk by a sperm whale and the crew members who were at sea for 90 days in 1820. This film was supposed to come out last year, then it got moved to this past spring, and now it’s coming out right when the Oscar race will be happening. I feel like this film will be advertised to death, and any buzz about it will be killed from the constant commercials and plugs. I wish it had come out earlier this year instead.

Javier: Honestly, there's not much that I wouldn't see. But, that said, I would rather go blind than to watch some derivative family holiday movie like Love The Coopers. I'm already such a Grinch when it comes to Christmas, but then you add poorly written sentimental schlock and unnecessary slapstick, and I want to burn down everything Christmas-related. So, basically, it'll be my mom's favorite movie of the year.

But, Kip, thanks for reminding me about about The Revenant. That first trailer left me shaking — and, honestly, I just want to see another great DiCaprio performance. The dude has been on fire for a while, even if the movies he stars in is complete garbage (see: The Great Gatsby).

I also wanted to give a shout out to director Charlie Kaufman's collaboration with stop-motion animator Duke Johnson, Anomalisa. I already saw this one Fantastic Fest, but I want to revisit it already. It's told through puppets and stop-motion animation, and it tells the story of a businessman traveling to a conference and meeting an extraordinary woman. Unlike Kaufman's previous work, it's not as flashy or overwhelming visually. Rather, the movie's color palate is boring and beige, meant to represent the deep depression the protagonist is in. It's heartbreaking and wonderful all at the same time. I'm hugging my cat as I write this.

Also, Angela, I gotta say: I'm not too hyped for The Good Dinosaur. I didn't connect with Inside Out as much as you and seemingly everyone else, and I honestly think that the Pixar brand just isn't what it used to be. At the same time, I think Victor Frankenstein with James McAvoy as Victor and Daniel Radcliffe as Igor looks fun. So what do I know?

Not much because, I'm also a little weirded out that the remainder of the year isn't full of obvious Oscar-bait stuff. Even the movies like Carol and Anomalisa aren't really conventional Oscar movies. Or does David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook) have another gem up his sleeve with Joy?

Kip: Joy is going to be a hard sell for sure, but Jennifer Lawrence is undeniable. She's guaranteed an Oscar nomination at the very least, even if the movie is not.

But I agree: This does feel like a very weird year, awards-wise. Nothing really seems like a sure thing, so it's anyone's guess. I'm a little more optimistic than Angela about In the Heart of the Sea, because I was one of the few people who saw Rush, Ron Howard's last collaboration with Chris Hemsworth, and a very underrated film.

Do y'all think Sisters will be any good? I love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, so I feel like I should be gung-ho for this one, but I'm not.

Angela: There's no doubt that Lawrence will get her third nomination for Joy. And I could see the film getting nominated, too, since there's so many slots for Best Picture.

As for Sisters, I thought about seeing it for a minute, but then I remembered that Baby Mama wasn't that great. Maybe Fey and Poehler have changed their formula, but I'm with you: I'm not running out to the theater on Day One for that one.

But you guys are right, it does feel weird that there's no clear front runners for the Oscar race. Maybe it will make the race more interesting? I hope so. Plus, I also enjoy seeing smaller movies getting nominations, which gets more butts in the seats during their release runs.

Javier I think we can all agree on that point.

To close out this discussion: Is there any one movie that you're rooting for based on advanced reactions or trailers?

I might be gushing more than I need to here, but I really have high hopes for how Anomalisa does. I think Kaufman should've won all of the awards for Synechdoche, New York, and Anomalisa manages to tell a simple and very tragic story in a more deceptively surreal manner.

Kip: I'm hoping that Carol is as good as its acclaim and that it isn't what Brokeback Mountain was — a movie with some great performances whose flaws were often glossed over because of how groundbreaking its subject matter was. There are so few LGBTQ romances in film, in general, so I'm hoping that the movie stands on its own, that it lives and dies on its merits and not merely on its importance.

Angela: I think we all should be rooting for The Revenant, right? Poor Leonardo DiCaprio needs his statue. Like you guys have mentioned, the film looks so gritty and intense. Maybe getting almost mauled to death by a bear and trudging through the mud is just the ticket Leo's been seeking. I hope it is, at least.

For more film coverage, head here.

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