The stories are varied: A man ages backward, a nun suspects a priest of pedophilia, the rise and fall of a Latin American revolutionary, a married couple questions their life choices and a classic confrontation between a journalist and a politician. The sources are plays, popular novels and pure imagination. The directors are A-list: David Fincher, Ron Howard, Steven Soderbergh, Gus Van Sant, John Patrick Shanley and Sam Mendes. And their stars — Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro, Sean Penn and Leonardo DiCaprio — are some of Hollywood’s best. But will one of these six films take home the best picture Oscar? We’re betting on it.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng Director: David Fincher Story: Pitt stars as Benjamin Button, who is born as an 84-year-old man (in infant size) and spends his life aging in reverse. Henson co-stars as the woman who takes care of him during his early years (as an old man). Tilda Swinson stars as the wife he has in his 50s, and Blanchett is the great love of his life that he meets at 40, and then again when he turns 20. Worth seeing? Yes. Early reviews of this film have been all over the map. An unnamed ‘industry spy’ told Variety’s Ann Thompson, “The achievement is big and bold and ambitious and life-affirming, but the sentimentality is always toughened by the continual sense of loss and deep sadness at the transitory nature of the human condition.” OK. Meanwhile, another anonymous review from a “friend” of the folks at Playlist said, “the film wasn't the tearjerker we all heard it was supposed to be and was much more of an ‘emotional dud’.” Who to believe? Well, don’t be surprised if this film, which uses CGI to age Pitt, is this year’s Oscar winner. Web site: http://www.benjaminbutton.com/ Release date: Dec. 25
“Revolutionary Road” Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, Kathryn Hahn, David Harbour, Kathy Bates Director: Sam Mendes Story: DiCaprio and Winslet star as a young couple in the 1950s who find themselves buying into the conventions of the age: house in the suburbs, two kids, a meaningless job for DiCaprio in the city. But dissatisfaction with the conformity of the life they’ve chosen threatens to tear their marriage apart. Worth seeing? Yes. The “Titanic” duo reunites under the watchful eye of Winslet’s real husband, “American Beauty” helmer Mendes. Variety’s Anne Thompson wrote, “The movie offers some possibility of hope for the rest of us. It lives and breathes. As do DiCaprio and Winslet.” Critic Glenn Kenny wrote, “This is a pretty uncompromised, and uncompromisingly bleak picture — one that I hope finds an audience.” The Playlist weighed in as well, writing, “It’s a terrific movie and one that is likely to rank among the year’s best.” Web site: http://www.revolutionaryroadmovie.com/ Release date: Dec. 26
Starring: Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego LunaDirector: Gus Van SantStory: Penn stars as Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in America. The film tracks the last eight years of his life, after he and his lover (Franco) move to San Francisco. With help from a young activist (Hirsch), Milk takes the plunge into politics, angering an intolerant politician (Brolin) who ultimately becomes Milk’s undoing. Worth seeing? Yes. “Brokeback Mountain” proved that a story with a gay relationship at its center could be an Oscar contender. Pay no attention to the manufactured controversy about Focus Features “burying” the film, this film will appear on the Oscar best picture list. Movie City News critic David Poland wrote that the film is a “brilliant, powerfully humane piece of work that reaches well beyond the issue of gay rights or any idea that this is a gay-only film.” Hollywood Elsewhere.com’s Jeffrey Wells isn’t quite as effusive, writing, “It's not a great film, it's a very honorable one.” Many Oscar contenders here, including Penn, Brolin and Franco. Web site: http://www.filminfocus.com/focusfeatures/film/milk Release date: Nov. 26
Starring: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones, Sam Rockwell, Matthew Macfadyen, Kevin BaconDirector: Ron Howard Story: Based on Peter Morgan’s play (which was in turn based on James Reston, Jr.’s book), the film focuses on the events leading up to David Frost’s (Sheen) 1977 interview with Richard Nixon (Langella), and their classic confrontation. Frost had been known as a lightweight celebrity interviewer and playboy; Nixon hadn’t done an interview about Watergate since his resignation. Rockwell co-stars as Reston, who was part of Frost’s Nixon preparation team. Worth seeing? Yes. Langella took home a Tony for his work as Nixon. He’s a lock to get nominated for an Oscar, and Sheen could sneak in there as well. The play was absolutely electrifying on Broadway, but will Howard be able to translate the tension to the screen? Howard told the New York Times, “I think the tight quarters and the intensity, particularly in the second half, are a huge dramatic asset.” However, InContention.com’s Guy Lodge wrote, “Howard’s hands-off direction makes for an oddly bloodless viewing experience.” Disagreeing is Hollywood-Elsewhere.com’s Jeffrey Wells, who wrote, “It's more satisfying, more underlined (but in a subtle way) and more clearly wrought than the play, frankly.” Web site: http://www.frostnixon.net/ Release date: Dec. 5
“Doubt” Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola DavisDirector: John Patrick Shanley Story: Shanley brings his Pulitzer Prize-winning play to the big screen. Set in 1964, Hoffman stars as a popular priest who is accused by a severe old-fashioned nun (Streep), who is also principal of the school, of abusing a 12-year-old black student (Joseph Foster). Adams plays a younger nun who at first suspects the priest, but then begins to doubt his guilt. Worth seeing? Yes. If she nabs it, this would be Streep’s 15th Oscar nomination. Hollywood-Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells wrote, “‘Doubt’ doesn't waste a frame or a line or a single shot, and it leaves you hanging in just the right way. That is to say it disturbs and agitates without resorting to easy catharsis.” However, Variety's Todd McCarthy thinks Streep’s performance might be the film's one flaw. “Streep overdoes the melodrama, thereby turning Sister Aloysius into more of a stock figure than she ultimately seemed onstage,” he wrote. Still, just the chance to watch Hoffman and Streep face off on screen seems worth the ticket price.Web site: http://www.doubt-themovie.com/ Release date: Dec. 12
Note: All dates are subject to change.