They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

New York Film Festival, Part 1

By J. Don Birnam

September 30, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, the one-time star of Bachelor Party.

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The dust is still settling from Room’s victory at TIFF, but the fall festival season waits for nobody, as all eyes have shifted to the Big Apple to see if any new movie is going to upset, well, the apple cart in the still shifting Best Picture race. We will now cover the New York Film Festival over the next two weeks. As usual, keep your eye on this space and follow my live updates on Twitter and Instagram for the latest developments in Phase One of the 2015/2016 Oscar race. Update: Our Awards Power Rankings are now live, where we will be tracking the players' chances of nominations and Oscar gold from now until the envelopes are opened at the Dolby.

No Best Picture Shift from New York

The Best Picture race this year feels uncertain. Last year, everyone was raving and excited about Boyhood. Although it eventually lost, there was a purported favorite at this point in time. Two years ago, it was clear that 12 Years a Slave was going to be a formidable force, even though it hit a speed bump named Gravity along the way.

This year, by contrast, I do not sense that heightened sense of inevitability. Sure, Spotlight is considered a frontrunner, and Room got a TIFF boost. But there seems to be space for a new quantity to alter the race.


Enter New York. In the past few years, world premieres like Lincoln, Hugo, Life of Pi, The Social Network, and Captain Phillips have all made splashes at the Alice Tully Hall. None of these movies won it all, but some came close. This year, the three notable movies opening in New York are Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk, Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, and Don Cheadle’s Miles Away.

Only the first of these three has opened so far, and it is not, in my view, a serious Best Picture candidate. The film is a beautiful epopee to the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and to the city of New York itself. To those familiar with the documentary Man on Wire, it tells the story of real-life trapeze artist Phillip Petit, who accomplished the daredevil feat of walking across the empty void of the two buildings in the days before their completion. Fans of the documentary will rejoice in the revisit of the story in the artful way that Robert Zemeckis reliably did, and those who were not enamored by the self-involved lead in the doc will nonetheless find solace in the much more lighthearted portrayal by an effective Joseph Gordon Levitt.

Good on the selection committee for NYFF to pick this movie, which they surely knew would not make an awards splash like some of their past picks, to open their festival. The movie takes the viewer back to a better time when the towers stood and the world felt more innocent. It had to open in New York. And it is a pretty darn good movie - the effects are wowing and have a decent shot of giving Mad Max a run for its money, and the last third of the film is simply gripping and entrancing. I was clutching my seat and gasping repeatedly, as you’d expect. Overall, it’s a beautiful film with some below the line chances, but not much else.

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