A guide to the season of Oscar contenders

With this year's Golden Globes just concluded and Oscar nominations to be announced on Thursday, Jan 15, it can only be that it is awards season in Hollywood.

For adults looking for more intelligent fare, it means it is safe to hit the cinemas now and in the next month, after the year-end holiday season that usually offers entertainment for the whole family.

Follow Life!'s guide to the acclaimed titles and start rooting for your favourites.

yipwy@sph.com.sg

Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee


OPENING SOON

1 BIRDMAN

Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Stars: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone

What: Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, an actor who never really achieved anything since his famous portrayals of superhero Birdman in a series of blockbuster action flicks decades earlier.

He tries to give his own career a boost by writing, directing and starring in a play, but not everything goes his way.

The buzz: Keaton is almost surely going to be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, for giving what many say is a career-best performance. At the Golden Globes on Sunday, he took home the award for Best Actor in a comedy film for the role.

Word is that Inarritu may also get an Oscar nod for Best Director.

Opens: Tomorrow


ST 20150114 LIFIMITATION 978167m

2 THE IMITATION GAME

Directed by: Morten Tyldum

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode

What: This historical drama is centered on English mathematician and logician Alan Turing (Cumberbatch), a key figure in cracking the Nazi German Enigma Code, which greatly helped the Allies to win World War II.

Despite this, he was criminally prosecuted for homosexuality.

The buzz: Cumberbatch has been lauded for his sensitive and moving portrayal of Turing. Likely to be nominated for Best Actor Oscar.

Opens: Jan 22


ST 20150114 LIFBIGEYES 978135m

3 BIG EYES

Directed by: Tim Burton Stars: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz

What: A biopic of American artist Margaret Keane (Adams), who is known for her paintings featuring girls with huge eyes. In the 1950s, however, her then-husband Walter (Waltz) took credit for them and even became a celebrity of sorts at the time, eventually leading to an ugly courtroom divorce battle.

The buzz: Adams and Waltz have been noted for their performances, which means likely Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress for them.

In fact, Adams just won the Best Actress Golden Globe (Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy) for this movie. She has been nominated for the Oscars five times, but has never won. Could this be her year?

Opens: Jan 29


ST 20150114 LIFINHERENT 978892m

4 INHERENT VICE

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Stars: Joaquin Phoenix (left), Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro (right)

What: In this adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's detective novel of the same name, private investigator Doc Sportello (Phoenix) struggles to get a lead on a new case an ex-girlfriend dumps on him involving a real estate magnate, kidnap and the mental asylum.

The buzz: Critics admit that this film is probably "too weird" and "offbeat" for the Academy, but that it could be an Oscar contender for Best Adapted Screenplay.

When: Opens Jan 29


ST 20150114 LIFWILD 979502m

5 WILD

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee

Stars: Reese Witherspoon

What: Based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail, this is the story of a woman who goes on a solo hike that is more than 1,000 miles long in an effort to find herself.

The buzz: Witherspoon has been widely feted for the physically and mentally demanding role, which required her to run up and down hills with a 30kg backpack during her preparation for filming. She could be looking at her second Best Actress Oscar after the one she won for Walk The Line (2005).

Opens: Feb 5


ST 20150114 LIFUNBROKEN 978893m

6 UNBROKEN

Directed by: Angelina Jolie

Stars: Jack O'Connell

What: A war drama about Olympic distance runner Louis Zamperini (O'Connell), who survived on a raft for 47 days during World War II before being taken by the Japanese as a prisoner of war.

The better-than-fiction real-life drama comes from Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 book Unbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption.

The buzz: Inspirational war melodrama? Classic Oscar bait.

Critics have said that this could be a contender for Oscars for Best Picture or Best Director for Jolie, even though it was snubbed with zero nominations at the Golden Globes.

Opens: Feb 5


ST 20150114 LIFVIOLENT 978136m

7 A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

Directed by: J.C. Chandor

Stars: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain

What: In this crime drama, an immigrant couple in 1981 New York City try all they can to protect their fuel business amid trying, violent times.

The buzz: Oscar-winner Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, 2012) continues to impress and has been nominated for the Best Supporting Actress prize for the role at almost every major critics' choice awards. Perhaps, she will be taking home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress too.

Chandor, whose earlier films Margin Call (2011) and All Is Lost (2014) were critically acclaimed, could also be a dark horse contender for Best Director for this gritty work.

Opens: Feb 5


ST 20150114 LIFFOX 979503m

8 FOXCATCHER

Directed by: Bennett Miller

Stars: Steve Carell (photo), Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo

What: This biographical drama follows two Olympic wrestler brothers, Dave (Ruffalo) and Mark Schultz (Tatum), who trained for the 1988 Seoul games under the patronage of millionaire and philanthropist John Du Pont (Carell) - a union that leads to tragedy.

The buzz: Since Foxcatcher premiered at Cannes last year, critics have been talking incessantly of Carell's incredible performance as the schizophrenic millionaire. Donning a prosthetic nose and false teeth, he is almost unrecognisable in the role.

A nomination for an Oscar for Best Actor should be in the bag - you know how the voters love physical transformations (witness Tom Hanks' two Best Actor wins in 1994 and 1995 for playing an Aids sufferer and a savant in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump).

Opens: The Singapore Film Society is bringing in the film in the coming months, pending approval from the authorities. Go to its website (www.sfs.org.sg) for details.


NOW SHOWING

ST 20150114 LIFTHEORY 978170m

9 THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

Directed by: James Marsh

Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones

What: Based on Jane Wilde Hawking's memoir Travelling To Infinity: My Life With Stephen (2013), this biopic looks at her (Jones) relationship with her renowned theoretical physicist exhusband, Stephen Hawking (Redmayne).

The buzz: Redmayne and Jones have been noted for their convincing and touching portrayals of Stephen and Jane Hawking and are considered strong contenders for the Best Actor and Best Actress trophies at the Oscars.

Already, Redmayne has nabbed a Golden Globe Best Actor award for the role.


ST 20150114 LIFTURNER 978901m

10 MR. TURNER

Directed by: Mike Leigh

Stars: Timothy Spall (photo), Marion Bailey, Dorothy Atkinson

What: This biopic looks at the final years of the life of British artist J.M.W. Turner (Spall), an irritable but also talented painter who was as celebrated as he was reviled by the public and the art community.

The buzz: Much praise has been heaped on Spall in the titular role. He nabbed the Best Actor award for it at Cannes Film Festival last year. Could he be in the running for a Best Actor Oscar as well?

The Washington Post wrote that he was "equally enigmatic and transfixing" in the part, while the Hollywood Reporter said that the role was one that "he was born to play".