By Valerie Milano
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 7/30/21 – A-list directors enter the Oscar race with an advantage over their competitors, especially with big-scale productions that command millions in-studio marketing. The studios and specialty distributors saved their best for year-end. Much awaited is the last Daniel Craig as James Bond event, No Time to Die (October 8, MGM/UA), directed by never-nominated Cary Joji Fukunaga. Although retired from active service as an agent, the globe-trotting spy James Bond finds himself recruited to rescue a kidnapped scientist and pursing a mysterious villain, who is armed with dangerous new technology.
There is much interest in Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve’s $165-million space epic Dune (October 22, Warner Bros./HBO Max), starring Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Timothée Chalamet, and Zendaya. The 1965 science fiction novel by Frank Herbert has been made into a film several times, most recently by David Lynch in 1984 and John Harrison’s 2000 television series, although there is still an unacknowledged debt to the unsuccessful attempt to film Dune by cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky in the 1970s.
Add to that Steven Spielberg’s foray into Broadway musicals with an update of the 1961 musical classic West Side Story (December 10, Disney), starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler. How Spielberg updates the Leonard Bernstein musical with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim remains to be seen. The 1961 film won ten Academy Awards in its eleven nominated categories, including Best Picture. It received the most Academy Awards (10 wins) of any musical film, including Best Picture. Rita Moreno, as Anita, was the first Latina actress ever to win an Oscar. The soundtrack album won a Grammy Award and was ranked No. 1 on the Billboard chart for a record 54 weeks.
Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth (A24/Apple TV+) will be an interesting venture in black-and-white. It is scheduled as the opening film at the New York Film Festival 2021. It stars Oscar-winners Denzel Washington as the power-hungry Macbeth and Frances McDormand and Lady Macbeth. It will be the first film directed by one of the Coen brothers without the other’s involvement. “I think a very important thing about Joel’s adaptation is that we are not calling it ‘Macbeth,’” McDormand said. “We’re calling it ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth,’ which I think is an important distinction. In Joel’s adaptation, we are exploring the age of the characters and in our adaptation, the Macbeths are older. Both Denzel and I are older than what is often cast as the Macbeths. We’re postmenopausal, we’re past childbearing age. So that puts pressure on their ambition to have the crown. I think the most important distinction is that it is their last chance for glory.”
Guillermo del Toro who recently won an Oscar for The Shape of Water is back with noirish remake Nightmare Alley (December 3, Searchlight), starring Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett as con artists. The novel Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham published in 1946 is a study of the lowest depths of showbiz and its sleazy inhabitants – the dark, shadowy world of a second-rate carnival filled with hustlers, scheming grifters, and Machiavellian femmes fatales. The original film directed by Edmund Goulding starred Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell.
Adam McKay (an Oscar winner for The Big Short) has assembled an all-star cast for Don’t Look Up (December, Netflix), a NASA astronaut comedy starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Timothée Chalamet, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Mark Rylance, and Meryl Streep. This is a comedy about two low-level astronomers who must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.
Two-time directing nominee Paul Thomas Anderson could return to the Oscar fray with ’70s California high school drama Soggy Bottom (November 26, 2021, MGM/UA), starring Philip Seymour Hoffman scion Cooper Hoffman as a young actor who seeks approval from a producer-director (Bradley Cooper). It follows a high school student becoming an actor in the 1970s. The film stars Bradley Cooper, Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Skyler Gisondo, and features Benny Safdie as a gay politician.
Ridley Scott has been nominated three times for an Oscar and this year he has two new films being released. Scott has his own ’70s saga, House of Gucci (November 24, MGM), co-starring Adam Driver and Lady Gaga. In this film, the turbulent marriage and divorce of Patrizia and Maurizio Gucci, the head of the Gucci fashion house, leads to murder.
Ridley Scott also directed the historical drama The Last Duel, which also stars Adam Driver, this time as a man who must fight to the death when accused of rape. Co-writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were co-writers of the screenplay based on Eric Jager’s The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France (2004). Both Damon and Affleck co-star in the film. It tells the story of the December 29, 1386 trial by combat (duel) in which the Norman knight Jean de Carrouges killed the squire Jacques Le Gris. Carrouges had accused Le Gris of raping his wife Marguerite de Carrouges, née de Thibouville, the previous January, and had gone to King Charles VI seeking an appeal to the decision handed down by Count Pierre d’Alençon, whom Carrouges believed favored Le Gris. Whichever combatant was still alive at the end of the duel would be declared the winner as a sign of God’s will. If Jean de Carrouges had lost the duel, Marguerite de Carrouges would have been burned at the stake as punishment for her false accusation.
Oscar nominee Jane Campion’s film The Power of the Dog (est. December 24, Netflix) was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in July 2021. This is a Montana frontier western centered on a sadistic hardscrabble rancher (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose outlook changes when his brother (Jesse Plemons) marries a woman (Kirsten Dunst) with a son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The film is based on Thomas Savage’s novel by the same name and shot in the southern region of Otago, New Zealand.