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4 OF THE MOVIE STARS HIGHLIGHTED BELOW WILL BE WINNERS ON OSCAR NIGHT...BUT THAT LEAVES 16 LOSERS FOR US TO WORRY ABOUT.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the end of the evening on Sunday, February 24, we will know the answer to this question: who will win the Oscars for having given the top performances of 2012? Tragic but true is the fact that only one performer in each category—Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress—will experience the thrill of shedding tears of joy and paying tribute to pricey agents before pressing that coveted statuette to his or her breast and zipping off to the nearest bubbly celebration.

Pity the poor losers! Sure, they'll be good sports and mutter something like, "I'm so happy just to be in the company of these great artists that I feel I'm a winner tonight." But you know, down deep, each of them is feeling this is a perfectly ghastly night. Still, there is a sliver of hope for the actors who go home empty-handed this year: there’s always next year. Bearing that in mind, I invite you to scan this preview of 2013 releases and try to predict which of these actors—be they losers or winners this year--will be hugging an Oscar come February of 2014. --Guy Flatley

 

BEST ACTOR

BRADLEY COOPER
(Nominated this year for “Silver Linings Playbook)
r Linings Playbook”)

“SERENA”

Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, Blake Ritson, Sean Harris, Kim Bodnia

Director: Susanne Bier
Writer: Christopher Kyle

You needn’t have personally experienced the Great Depression to know that millions of Americans were starving and/or homeless during that long, catastrophic time. But filthy-rich timber baron George Pemberton and his elegant wife Serena didn’t have it all that bad. In fact, they lived the high life in the deep south of North Carolina, lolling about on their estate and dreaming of the day when they would share their fabulous fortune with a buggy full of adorable tots. Alas, their rose-colored dream withered overnight. The giddy couple played here by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence got the news that Serena was unable able to bear a child. To be sure, that was a downer for Serena, but for George, the timber titan who felt that a house without toddlers was no home at all, it was unbearable, soul-searing torture.
Can this marriage be saved? Perhaps, but I’d say it doesn’t sound as if Brad and Jen are going to have nearly so much fun here as they had in “Silver Linings Playbook.”

“THE HANGOVER PART 3”

Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Mike Tyson, Jeffrey Tambor, John Goodman, Jamie Chung, Heather Graham, Melissa McCarthy

Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin

There’s no way that Bradley Cooper will not have tons of uncouth fun on his third cinematic trip with his blissfully stoned Wolfpack buddies. Let the testosterone-driven slapstick begin!

"UNTITLED ABSCAM PROJECT"

Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Louis C. K.

Director: David O. Russell
Writer: Eric Singer

Remember Abscam? Okay, so maybe you weren’t around during the seventies and eighties when this FBI sting operation that sent more than one U.S. Congressman to the slammer was front page news. If that’s the case, here’s some of what you’ll learn when you see this movie. For starters, the key witness in the sensational Abscam trials was a man named Mel Weinberg (played by Bradley Cooper). What Weinberg, a flamboyant con artist, managed to do was boldly and shamelessly trick seven members of Congress into taking bribes. That’s right, we said SEVEN!

This true-life shocker will be brought to leathery cinematic life by director David O. Russell, who’s hotter than hot these days, thanks to the roaring success of “Silver Linings Playbook,” which earned him a Best Director Oscar nomination, as well as a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. And, of course, “Silver Linings Playbook” also landed Oscar nominations for Bradley Cooper (Best Actor), Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress), Robert De Niro (Best Supporting Actor) and Jacki Weaver (Best Supporting Actress).

And it should be noted that Amy Adams, who won a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her brassy performance in “The Fighter,” David O. Russell’s 2010 hit, plays Mel Weinberg’s partner in chicanery and fun-in-bed playmate in this spicy Abscam caper.

 

DANIEL DAY-LEWIS
(Nominated this year for “Lincoln”)

On a personal--as well as purely cinematic--level,  director Martin Scorsese and actor Daniel Day-Lewis were made for each other. Which may be why their most awestruck fans are virtually demanding that the two moviemakers get together again. This, after all, is a duo that etched a fastidious, complex, ultimately heartbreaking portrait of social-climbing, self-deluded New Yorkers at the turn of the 19th century in “The Age of Innocence” (1993). It is also the two-man dream team crucially responsible for “Gangs of New York” (2002), a sad and violent account of the bravery and savagery at the heart of the lethal rivalry that ripped through the soul of New York City in the second half of the 19th century. Significantly, in both of these films, Scorsese and Day-Lewis accomplished their artistic goals with an impressive command of intelligence and emotion, all the while respecting an unstated but solemn vow never to abandon their personal vision or to sell their audience short.

With luck, that audience may soon see its wish for a third collaboration between Day-Lewis and Scorsese come true. Over the past few years, Scorsese has been planning and then postponing an adaptation of  “Silence,” Shusako Endo’s gripping novel chronicling the horrendous physical and psychological torment suffered by two 17th-century Jesuit priests while on a mission to plant the seed of Christianity in Japan. Initially, the missionaries were to be played by Day-Lewis and Benicio Del Toro, but the project is once again stalled so that Scorsese could focus on “The Wolf of Wall Street,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey.

Isn’t it weird that Daniel Day-Lewis, the front runner in the Best Actor category, may be the only 2012 contender without a new movie playing in 2013?

 

HUGH JACKMAN
(Nominated this year for “Les Miserables")

“THE WOLVERINE”

Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, James Fraser, Brian Tee, Luke Webb, Will Yun Lee

Director: James Mangold
Writers: Mark Bomback and Christopher McQuarrie

Now hear this! Even though Hugh Jackman has made a helluva splash, not to mention a bundle of cash, playing the slippery but decent mutant we all know as Logan/Wolverine in three installments of the “X-Men” franchise, this new sci-fi epic, called “The Wolverine,” is neither a sequel nor a prequel. At least, that’s what the folks in charge of tweaking the news at 20th Century Fox (the parent company that gave birth to this box-office giant) expect us to believe.

Unless someone is pulling our leg, this totally new take on the series will show us a more complex, vile-tempered and, yes, sexy wolverine. For starters, we will first encounter him in Japan, a land new and menacing to him, and he can’t figure out how on earth he got there. And that makes him furious. He calms down considerably when he chances upon a gorgeous babe in distress and falls profoundly in love. The besotted couple soon embark on a full-throttle affair, causing the beauty’s prominent family to go bonkers. Before you know it, the entire community is caught up in a vicious gang war.

Hey, this does sound different. Sex, violence, bigotry, bloodshed, sudden death. Could it be that 20th Century Fox is about to take one tiny step into the 21st Century?

JOAQUIN PHOENIX
(Nominated this year for “The Master”)

“LOWLIFE”

Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner

Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray, Ric Menello

Despite his periodic displays of baffling behavior, Joaquin Phoenix is an actor that writer-director James Gray leans on a lot. And their collaboration, thus far, has paid off handsomely in “The Yards,” “We Own the Night” and “Two Loves.” Now there is a fourth film to add to their prestigious list, and there are persistent rumors that it will be competing for the top prize at Cannes in May. The movie is called “Lowlife,” a title that seems a perfect fit for Bruno Weiss, the character played by Phoenix.

Slithering in dark corners, then surfacing with a bellow into the garish light of a burlesque and brothel-pocked 1920s Brooklyn, super-pimp Bruno stalks his prey without a shred of mercy. Ewa Cybulski, his victim this time, is played by Marion Cotillard—the superb actress mystifyingly excluded from this year’s Oscar nominee lineup despite her bravura performance in “Rust and Bone.”  A penniless Polish immigrant, Ewa is seriously tempted to take a stab at prostitution as a means of supporting her seriously ill sister.

Things couldn’t look darker. Is there no one to rescue Ewa from Bruno’s slimy grip?  It would take a miracle worker. And presumably that’s where Jeremy Renner--as Orlando, the finest, kindest, most virile magician in all of Brooklyn--comes in.

 

DENZEL WASHINGTON
(Nominated this year for “Flight”)

"2 GUNS"

Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, James Marsden, Paula Patton, Fred Ward, Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos

Director: Baltasat Kormakur
Writer: Blake Masters

The two macho weapons in this caper based on  Boom! Studios Graphic Novels by Steven Grant are toted by Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg,  playing a pair of undercover federal agents who infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel. The weird circumstance is that neither member of this mini-team knows what the other member is up to, or even the focus of his ultimate goals. They may in fact be spying on each other for reasons that are crazily complicated.

So, you may wonder, who is legit and who is not, and who in the end is apt to traipse off with a gigantic wad of dough? Eventually, the good/bad boys swallow their pride and join guns to obliterate  their sneaky enemies, whoever they might be. Got that?

I believe this puzzler may turn out as tricky and provocative as Washington’s last nervous-making thriller. Do you think they should call it “Flight Two”?

 

BEST ACTRESS

JESSICA CHASTAIN
(Nominated this year for “Zero Dark Thirty”)

"MAMA"

Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nelisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet

Director: Andres Muschietti
Writers: Neil Cross, Andres Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti

This low-budget horror flick, shot late in 2011, was finally released by Universal one week after Jessica Chastain’s recent Oscar nomination for “Zero Dark Thirty.” The reviews for “Mama” and its leading lady were largely enthusiastic, and it opened Number One at the box office, leaving Arnnold Schwarzenegger’s wildly hyped “The Last Stand” in the dust.

In case you haven’t yet seen “Mama,” here’s a little bit of what it’s all about: Two very blonde and very weird little girls thought to have been murdered by their loony dad (who had already exterminated their loony mom) are discovered in an abandoned cabin in the middle of a forest by trackers hired by the girls’ uncle. As it turns out, the kids are definitely not all right. Fiercely grunting, screeching, clawing and speeding through the cabin on all fours, they seem more animal than human. Nevertheless, their uncle feels duty-bound to transport them to the home he shares with his girlfriend Annabel, a Goth rocker notably lacking the maternal touch. She’s played by Chastain, who is virtually unrecognizable with her short raven hair, thick mascara and cynical smirk.

Still, you can’t really blame Annabel for feeling put-upon. Little Victoria and Lilly are surely enough to jangle anyone’s nerves, especially when they appear to be conspiring with an invisible creature they may have brought with them from their forest abode. They call her Mama. But the breaking point for Annabel comes when the ferocious, shrill-voiced, rotting-faced Mama becomes all too visible. Like they say, seeing is believing the worst.

 

"THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: HIS"
"THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: HERS"

Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Ciaran Hinds, Viola Davis, Bill Hader, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Nina Arianda

Director: Ned Benson
Writer: Ned Benson

Here we have the bitter end of a hot love affair told from the conflicting view points of the chilled-down lovers. Actually, what we have here are two separate films, each featuring the same cast and similar (but not identical) story lines. It goes without saying that if  you shell out for one film and find it less than wonderful, you needn’t feel obliged to see and hear the other side of the story. Even if the flicks are playing on a double bill, you may want to settle for just one version, be it his or hers.

 

JENNIFER LAWRENCE
(Nominated this year for “Silver Linings Playbook”)

"SERENA"

Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, Blake Ritson, Sean Harris, Kim Bodnia

Director: Susanne Bier
Writer: Christopher Kyle

Even those Americans who did not live through the Great Depression know that millions of people were hungry, homeless and emotionally shattered. But filthy-rich timber baron George Pemberton and his perfectly swell wife Serena enjoyed a mega-privileged life down south in North Carolina, luxuriating on their estate and dreaming of the day when they would have a brood with whom to share their good fortune. Their dream, however, was torpedoed. Overnight, the giddy couple played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence learn that Serena will never be able to bear a child. To be sure, this is sad news for Serena, but it hits George, the timber titan who doesn’t feel that a house without toddlers is a home, with the force of a thunderbolt. Can this marriage be saved? Maybe, but I’d say it doesn’t sound as if Brad and Jen are going to have nearly so much fun here as they had in “Silver Linings Playbook.”

"THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE"

Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, Jena Malone, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer

Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt

Returning to familiar, hyper-violent territory, Jennifer Lawrence once again engages in the kind of lethal gymnastics she performed so proficiently in the grabber that established her as a surefire bankable player. Fine, but if she wants to play the sequel game, we hope she’ll soon tackle “Silver Linings Playbook Two.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman? He may or may not be a smooth fit for this action-crammed scenario. Whatever the case, he’s surely drawing a handsome enough salary to make it possible for him to write, direct and act in the sort of off-center movies he does so brilliantly.

 

EMMANUELLE RIVA
(Nominated this year for “Amour”)

"A GREEK TYPE OF PROBLEM"

Nicole Garcia, Eric Caravaca, Patrick Mille, Gaspard Ulliel, Emmanuelle Riva

Director: Brigitte Rouan
Writers: Brigitte Rouan, Jean-Francois Goyet, Guy Zilberstein

Emmanuelle Riva, who gave one of the most intriguing and powerful performances ever etched on celluloid in Alain Resnais’ classic “Hiroshima, Mon Amour,” worked a similar miracle as a woman courageously approaching the end of her life in Michael Haneke’s  harrowing  “Amour.” She could—and I would say should—win the Oscar this year. Turning 86 on the day of the ceremony, she would be the oldest actress ever to receive the award. It would be the perfect birthday present.

What’s next for the still vibrant Riva? In “A Greek Kind of Problem,” a comedy-drama in which she receives tenth billing, Riva plays Granny, a spirited member of a clan that is determined to have one helluva reunion in Greece despite that country’s crippling financial troubles. Director Brigitte Rouan has a solid reputation, but one can’t help but wish that superb writer-director Michael Haneke will soon create another major role for his sublime French leading lady.

Viva Riva!


QUVENZHANE WALLIS
(Nominated this year for “Beasts of the Southern Wild”)

"TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE"

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhane Wallis, Michael Kenneth Williams, Dwight Henry, Alfre Woodard

Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Steve McQueen and John Ridley

The phenomenal Quvenzhane Wallis richly deserved all the raves she reaped for her performance as Hushpuppy, the brave, invincible child of the Bayou in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  She was 6 when she made this crowd-pleasing indie, and now, at the age of 10, she might well turn out to be the youngest person ever to take home an Oscar.

Will Quvenzhane score a second Oscar nomination next year? It’s too soon to make a prediction, but what we do know is that Steve McQueen, the film’s director and co-writer, is the abundantly gifted Brit who propelled Michael Fassbender to spectacular heights in “Hunger” and “Shame.” In “12 Years a Slave,” set in 19th century New York, McQueen applies major directorial focus on the invariably compelling Chiwetel Ejiofor, cast as a free black man who is kidnapped and transported to the deep south, where he is forced into slavery.

Other actors sure to benefit from McQueen’s wizardry include Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard Paul Dano and, once again, Michael Fassbender. And, of course, Quvenzhane Wallis.

 

NAOMI WATTS
(Nominated this year for “The Impossible”)

"TWO MOTHERS"

Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn

Director: Anne Fontaine
Writer: Christopher Hampton

This versatile international star, who grew up in England but is now delighted to be a resident of Australia, has done solid work in collaboration with some of the world’s most distinguished and innovative directors, such as David Lynch in “Mulholland Dr.,” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu in “21 Grams,” Michael Haneke in “Funny Games,” David Cronenberg in “Eastern Promises” and Clint Eastwood in “J. Edgar.”

Yet not one of those performances was honored with an Oscar. The question now is will she finally get her  due in French director Anne Fontaine’s “Two Mothers,” based on a short story by Doris Lessing about a couple of highly sexed long-time Aussie pals named Lil and Roz.  Lil (Naomi Watts) is a widow, and Roz (Robin Wright) does have a still-breathing husband, but he’s boring and spends an awful lot of time away from home.

But wait—you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.  One steamy day down on the private, oceanside beach, Roz surrenders to an erotic impulse and initiates what she assumes will be a hot but secret affair with the hunky late-teen son of Lil. The secret does not remain a secret, and as you may have heard, loose lips do indeed sink ships. Lil’s response to Roz’s romp with her violated lad is to slip between the sheets with Roz’s own muscular, horny teen the next time he comes calling. That may or may not climax in sweet revenge.

Will the members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reward these amoral mothers with a decisive thumbs down? Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean Naomi Watts is necessarily out of the Oscar race. Take a look below.

"DIANA"

Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Geraldine James, Juliet Stevenson, Laurence Belcher

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Writer: Stephen Jeffreys

The whole world seemed to sob in unison on the evening of August 31, 1997 when reporters interrupted run-of-the-mill TV shows to announce that Diana, Princess of Wales, had perished in Paris, along with her lover, Dodi Fayed, in a blood-splattered car crash caused by a drunken chauffeur. The young, beautiful and emotionally vulnerable Diana had traveled a twisting path  from her over-the-top storybook wedding to Prince Charles, a man whose true mate was an older, tough-fibered woman, to her humiliating divorce in 1995, and her triumphant comeback as a stylish, ceaselessly empathetic humanitarian. It’s no wonder someone wanted to make a movie about Diana. That someone turned out to be Oliver Hirschbiegel, the German director of "Downfall," a striking 2004 Oscar-nominated drama about the final days of Adolf Hitler. His  new movie, called “Caught in Flight,” stars Naomi Watts and its primary focus will be on Diana’s two-year, post-divorce affair with Hasnat Khan, a Pakistani heart surgeon she christened “Mister Wonderful.” She sometimes called his London flat home, and he did the same for her digs in Kensington Palace. But in the end, this devout Muslim, played by Naveen Andrews, decided that their odd-couple relationship was unworkable. And so he politely dumped his princess. According to close friends, Diana was shattered. Shortly thereafter, the fatal flight with Dodi took place.

And if “Diana” doesn’t bag a statuette for Naomi, stay tuned for “Marilyn,” her next ambitious biopic. Mailyn, of course, will be Marilyn Monroe, in this drama based on the biography by Joyce Carol Oates and directed and written by Andrew Dominick, the no-holds-barred Aussie who gave us “Chopper,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “Killing Them Softly.”

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

ALAN ARKIN
(Nominated this year for “Argo”)

"GRUDGE MATCH"

Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin, Kevin Hart, Jon Bernthal

Director: Peter Segal
Writers: Tim Kelleher, Doug Ellin, Rodney Rothman

It’s been 33 years since Robert De Niro punched us with his Oscar-winning portrayal of obsessive, loose-cannon boxing champ Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece “Raging Bull.” And it was 37 years ago that a minor actor with the preposterous  moniker of Sylvester Stallone startled us with a knockout performance as Rocky Balboa, a pugilist who stepped into the ring as a loser and stepped out as “Rocky,” an overnight legend. Nominated as Best Actor of 1976, he was kayoed by Peter Finch, who became a legend himself in “Network.”

The boxing match in this macho, shot-in-New Orleans comedy is given birth when a pushy fight promoter (Kevin Hart) succeeds in selling the former ring rivals played by De Niro and Stallone on a final glove-to-glove confrontation. They may have to do a little brushing up, since neither boxer has publicly engaged in sparring for at least 50 years.

May the best old codger win! 

 

"WILD OATS" 

Shirley MacLaine, Jack Black, Jacki Weaver, Alan Arkin, Maria Bello, Jon Voight

Director: Howard Deutch
Writers: Gary Kanew and Claudia Myers

It’s infuriating to hear hot-air politicians bellyache about the money the so-called Big Government of The United States wastes on Social Security payments to the elderly. That’s total nonsense; the seniors earned those benefits and they should never be denied what they paid for. Nor should the amount they receive each month be trimmed. If anything, it should  be increased.

If you believe what I believe, you may end up rooting for the savvy senior played by Shirley MacLaine in this indie comedy.  When she opens the envelope containing her monthly Social Security check, she sees something to gasp about. Instead of the usual figure of $900, the sum on the check is $900,000.  What a difference 3 zeros can make! It’s a pity she must return the check to the authorities. Or must she?

The answer is that she’s off in an instant to the suddenly affordable sweet life in Las Vegas, accompanied by her best pal and partner in crime, played by Jacki Weaver.  Overnight, everyone in the country knows plenty about these front-page fun-loving runaways. Among the mob eager to track the progress of the duo are numerous Social Security agents and a couple of sticky-fingered con artists presumably played by Alan Arkin and Jack Black.

This could be the start of a whole new life for incarnation disciple MacLaine.

 

ROBERT DE NIRO
(Nominated this year for “Silver Linings Playbook”)

"MALAVITA"

Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron, Dominic Chianese, Ricardo Cordero

Director: Luc Besson
Writers: Luc Besson and  Michael Caleo

In what may be a sentimental journey back to the good old days, Michelle Pfeiffer, who shot to major stardom in “Married to the Mob,” Jonathan Demme’s 1988 laugh-packed thriller, will once again get cozy with major criminals. That’s  because she and her husband, played by Robert De Niro, are members of a an exceptionally successful mafia clan. All that changes, however, when it becomes clear that they and their children have been targeted for assassination. So naturally they shout yes when the folks at the FBI offer them a top-secret relocation in Normandy.

Fine, except for one little thing. The new family in town refuses to follow each and every rule of proper French society. They still tend to perform a few tasks in the swift, practical mafia way. So it’s imperative that  FBI “handler” Tommy Lee Jones steps in and shapes them up. Will Tommy Lee succeed, or will the tightly knit family perform a makeover on him?

"GRUDGE MATCH"

Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin, Kevin Hart, Jon Bernthal

Director: Peter Segal
Writers: Tim Kelleher, Doug Ellin, Rodney Rothman

It’s been 33 years since Robert De Niro punched us with his Oscar-winning portrayal of obsessive, loose-cannon boxing champ Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece “Raging Bull.” And it was 37 years ago that a minor actor with the preposterous  moniker of Sylvester Stallone startled us with a knockout performance as Rocky Balboa, a pugilist who stepped into the ring as a loser and stepped out as “Rocky,” an overnight legend. Nominated as Best Actor of 1976, he was kayoed by Peter Finch, who became a legend himself in “Network.”

The boxing match in this macho, shot-in-New Orleans comedy is given birth when a pushy fight promoter (Kevin Hart) succeeds in selling the former ring rivals played by De Niro and Stallone on a final glove-to-glove confrontation. They may have to do a little brushing up, since neither boxer has publicly engaged in sparring for at least 50 years.

May the best old codger win! 

 

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN
(Nominated this year for “The Master”)

"THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE"

Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, Jena Malone, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer

Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt

Returning to familiar, hyper-violent territory, Jennifer Lawrence once again engages in the kind of lethal gymnastics she performed so proficiently in the grabber that established her as a surefire bankable player. Fine, but if she wants to play the sequel game, we hope she’ll tackle “Silver Linings Playbook Two.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman? He may or may not be a smooth fit for this action-crammed scenario. Whatever the case, he’s surely drawing a handsome enough salary to make it possible for him to write, direct and act in the sort of off-center movies he does so brilliantly.

"A MOST WANTED MAN"

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Bruhl, Robin Wright, Willlem Dafoe

Director: Anton Corbijn
Writer:  Andrew Bovell

A half-Chechen, half-Russian who’s been tortured half-to-death escapes his captors and pops up in Hamburg's Islamic district determined to get his hands on his deceased father’s fortune.  The young man ( Daniel Bruhl) is assisted by a sympathetic activist (Rachel McAdams) and stalked by a relentless German spy (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Should this stranger in town be pampered or punished?

Based on John le Carre’s popular 2008 novel, this thriller is directed by Anton Corbijn, who was probably not all that thrilled with the reviews of his debut film, “The American,” starring George Clooney.


TOMMY LEE JONES
(Nominated this year for “Lincoln”)

"THE HOMESMAN"

Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, Hilary Swank, Miranda Otto, Tim Blake Nelson

Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Writer:  Tommy Lee Jones

Tommy Lee Jones, the forceful writer-director of this dark thriller, acts the part of an enigmatic claim jumper who is recruited by a hyperactive 19th-century frontier gal on a mission to haul three flamboyantly demented, possibly lethal ladies from backwoods Nebraska to the comparatively serene state of Iowa.

Early bulletins on  “The Homesman” reported that  Hilary Swank had been cast as the female half of the do-gooder team, leading me to wonder where Meryl Streep fits in. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if she played all three mad women, with a different foreign accent for each member of the trio? And you just know Meryl could pull it off.

But that is not to be the case. According to Garth Franklin in a recent Dark Horizons article, as well as Nellie Andreeva in Deadline, the always game Streep will play Jones’ partner in philanthropy. Which probably means Swank gets to wind up as one of the three loons, as will Miranda Otto, who is now cast as a woman who literally leaves her newborn baby out in the cold. As for the third psychologically troubled traveler, it’s doubtful that cast member Tim Blake Nelson has landed that plum. But don’t bet on it.


"MALAVITA"

Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron, Dominic Chianese, Ricardo Cordero

Director: Luc Besson
Writers: Luc Besson and  Michael Caleo

In what may be a sentimental journey back to the good old days, Michelle Pfeiffer, who shot to major stardom in “Married to the Mob,” Jonathan Demme’s 1988 laugh-loaded thriller, will once again get cozy with major criminals. That’s  because she and her husband, played by Robert De Niro, are members of an exceptionally successful mafia clan. All that changes, however, when it becomes clear that they and their children have been targeted for assassination. So naturally they shout yes when the folks at the FBI offer them a top-secret relocation in Normandy.

Fine, except for one little thing. The new family in town refuses to follow each and every rule of proper French society. They still tend to perform a few tasks in the swift, practical mafia way. So it’s imperative that FBI “handler” Tommy Lee Jones steps in and shapes them up. Will Tommy Lee succeed, or will the tightly knit family perform a mafia makeover on him?

 

CHRISTOPH WALTZ
(Nominated this year for “Django Unchained”)

"THE ZERO THEOREM"

Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis, Melanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges

Director: Terry Gilliam
Writer: Pat Rushin

Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis, Ben Whishaw, Melanie Thierry
Quick: What do these films have in common? “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Brazil,” “The Fisher King,” “The Twelve Monkeys,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and  “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.” You win the prize if you answered that all of these wacky, frequently brilliant, occasionally annoying cinematic experiments were directed by Terry Gilliam, a former U.S. citizen who now prefers to call England his home. And some of the most imaginative and uproarious of them, most notably “Monty Python” and “Brazil,” were also written by Gilliam.

He’s sticking with directing this time out, working from what sounds like an extremely far-out script by Pat Rushin, and as usual his cast is peopled by actors known for their willingness to go all the way, topped by Christoph Waltz, the Austrian star who has demonstrated superior comic and dramatic gifts in “Carnage,” “Inglourious Basterds,”  for which he won an Oscar, and, of course, “Django Unchained,” for which he has been Oscar-nominated once again.

In “The Zero Theorem,” set in a grim futuristic society, Waltz plays Qohen Leth, a computer zealot ceaselessly searching for the meaning of human existence. But his goal is sadistically blocked by an authoritarian named Management. And I’m happy to say that role has been entrusted to the constantly surprising Matt Dillon. Also prominent in the cast are three more shameless risk-takers: Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw and David Thewlis.

As for future Christoph Waltz projects, how about  this leap back to the distant past? He’s set to play Mikhail Gorbachev opposite Michael Douglas’ Ronald Reagan in Mike Newell’s  “Reykjavik.”

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

AMY ADAMS
(Nominated this year for “The Master”)

"UNTITLED ABSCAM PROJECT"

Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K.

Director: David O. Russell
Writer: Eric Singer

Remember Abscam? Okay, so maybe you weren’t around during the seventies and eighties when this FBI sting operation that sent more than one U.S. Congressman to the slammer was front page news. If that’s the case, here’s some of what you’ll learn when you see this movie. For starters, the key witness in the sensational Abscam trials was a man named Mel Weinberg (played by Bradley Cooper). What Weinberg, a flamboyant con artist, managed to do was boldly and shamelessly trick seven members of Congress into taking bribes. That’s right, we said SEVEN!


This true-life shocker will be brought to leathery life by director David O. Russell, who’s hotter than hot these days, thanks to the roaring success of “Silver Linings Playbook,” which earned him a Best Director Oscar nomination, as well as a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. And, of course, “Silver Linings Playbook” also landed Oscar nominations for Bradley Cooper (Best Actor), Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress), Robert De Niro (Best Supporting Actor) and Jacki Weaver (Best Supporting Actress). And it should be noted that Amy Adams, who won a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her brassy performance in “The Fighter,” David O. Russell’s 2010 hit, plays Mel Weinberg’s partner in chicanery and fun-in-bed playmate in this spicy Abscam caper.

 

"MAN OF STEEL"

Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: David S. Goyer

As we well know, Amy Adams makes a terrific woman of steel, one capable of hard-hearted manipulation when the situation calls for it, as she so potently demonstrated in “The Master” and  “The Fighter.” And no doubt she will again flaunt her flair for villainy as Bradley Cooper’s unscrupulous mistress in David O. Russell’s Untitled Abscam Project.

But let us not forget how saintly sweet our Amy can be, as illustrated by her standout performances in “Enchanted”  and “Doubt.” You’ll have a chance to reacquaint yourself with the loving, loyal Amy when you catch her as Lois Lane, Superman/Clark Kent’s favorite journalist, in “Man of Steel.” The comic-book hero from another planet whom she gently magnetizes is acted by Henry Cavill, and his solid, thoroughly Kansan adoptive parents are played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. Sounds like a popcorn flick for the entire family, doesn’t it?

SALLY FIELD
(Nominated this year for “Lincoln”)

"THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2"
 
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Shailene Woodley, Dane DeHaan

Director: Marc Webb
Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are apt to pick up where they left off in the first chapter of this frisky franchise based on the Marvel Comic, as will Sally Field and Martin Sheen as zany Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Making his bow in the series will be Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon, an electric company lineman who is struck by a bolt of lightning while on the job. Instead of dying, the mad, mad Max gains preternatural electrical powers that transform him into a killer machine that nobody can shut down. Unless, of course, Spider-Man taps in to his own supply of supernatural tricks and comes up with something truly special.

 

ANNE HATHAWAY
(Nominated this year for “Les Miserables”)


"RIO 2"

It doesn’t seem possible, but the all-singing, all-dancing, all-acting Anne Hathaway, who seems to be everywhere doing everything these days, has just one movie in the works—a musical called “Rio 2,” which will be directed by Carlos Saldanha and will dish up songs by Sergio Mendes. And, believe it or not, we will not actually see Hathaway in this animated feature, but don't expect to be denied the pleasure of her powerhouse chirp.


HELEN HUNT
(Nominated this year for “The Sessions”)


"DECODING ANNIE PARKER"

Helen Hunt, Samantha Morton, Aaron Paul, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, Maggie Grace, Bob Gunton, Alice Eve

Director: Steven Bernstein
Writers: Steven Bernstein, Adam Bernstein and Michael Moss

Who is Annie Parker? You may have read about her in a newspaper or magazine, since she is a remarkable woman who fought and survived breast cancer, the disease that had taken the lives of her mother and her sister. Parker is played here by Samantha Morton, and Mary Claire King, the geneticist who discovered the crucial link between the BRCA1 gene and breast cancer (a scientific breakthrough that earned her a Time magazine cover story), is played by Helen Hunt.

 

"RELATIVE INSANITY"
 
Helen Hunt, David Duchovny, Maggie Grace, Joan Chen, John  Robinson, Chad Faust

Director: Larry Moss
Writers:  Michael Din, Juri Henley-Cohn

If Anton Chekhov had spent a little time in swinging Manhattan and The Hamptons, he might not have set “The Seagull” in dreary old Russia. But thanks to the magic of movies and the can-do confidence of American visionaries like acting-teacher-turned-director Larry Moss, Chekhov’s brooding, frustrated, love-sick Seagullers are now privileged to romp in genuine 21st century high-tech surroundings. And who knows? They may even be treated to a happy ending.


JACKI WEAVER
(Nominated this year for “Silver Linings Playbook”)

"WILD OATS"
 
Shirley MacLaine, Jack Black, Jacki Weaver, Alan Arkin, Maria Bello, Jon Voight

Director: Howard Deutch
Writers: Gary Kanew and Claudia Myers

It’s infuriating to hear hot-air politicians bellyache about the money the so-called Big Government of The United States wastes on Social Security payments to the elderly. That’s total nonsense; the seniors earned those benefits and they should never be denied what they paid for. Nor should the amount they receive each month be trimmed. If anything, it should  be increased.

If you believe what I believe, you may end up rooting for the savvy senior played by Shirley MacLaine in this indie comedy.  When she opens the envelope containing her monthly Social Security check, she sees something to gasp about. Instead of the usual figure of $900, the sum on the check is $900,000.  What a difference 3 zeros can make! It’s a pity she must return the check to the authorities. Or must she?

The answer is that she’s off in an instant to the suddenly affordable  sweet life in Las Vegas, accompanied by her best pal and partner in crime, played by Jacki Weaver.  Overnight, everyone in the country knows plenty about these front-page fun-loving runaways. Among the mob eager to track the progress of the duo are numerous Social Security agents and a couple of sticky-fingered con artists presumably played by Alan Arkin and Jack Black.

This could be the start of a whole new life for incarnation disciple MacLaine.