[Editor’s note: for the second time running, and entirely due to my own fault, this article went live without properly crediting the author, Conrado Falco. Piping in now to make sure everybody sees who wrote it, and apologies to Conrado! -TB]
“Fall is the best season for movies” is a common notion informed by the belief that movie studios are saving their best movies for what we have come to know as “awards season.” Having a movie out in the weeks leading up to the Oscar nominations can help boost box office; with the condition, of course, that the movie in question gets nominated in the first place. We all know the truth about the Fall. Some of the best movies get released in the last few months of the year, but not every movie that gets released during these months is good. For every cinematic masterpiece, there is a bland piece of middle-brow entertainment that was created with the intention of winning some Oscars, but will most likely be forgotten before the season is over.
The fact that this kind of movie so nakedly search for validation in the form of awards makes the inevitable outcome all the more appealing. Movies that were once considered sure things but fail to get any nomination (like those classics Reservation Road, J. Edgar, and Charlie Wilson’s War) feed the schadenfreude bug like no other kind of cinematic failure. That is why I’ve always found reading the tea leaves for what will fail to be as entertaining as predicting what will succeed. With all this in mind, I have some predictions for the movies that are most likely to end up the big failures of this upcoming awards season.
Welcome to Marwen (December 21)
Let’s begin with the big guns. In the past few years, Robert Zemeckis seems to have emerged from the uncanny valley of mo-cap and moved on to re-making documentaries as visual effect extravaganzas. How does the story of a man who, after a violent attack, finds refuge in a miniature world of his own making? Well, the trailer suggests a lot of fantasy sequences involving the miniatures. Welcome to Marwen feels old-fashioned and sentimental in a way that reminds me most of Ben Stiller’s failed adaptation of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I just can’t picture a kind of audience that would be interested in this movie, though sentimentally can play well around the holidays. So perhaps the movie makes money, but forget about good reviews (or awards).
Mary Queen of Scots (December 7)
Despite starring two of last year’s Best Actress nominees (Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie), this costume drama about the rivalry between Scottish Mary and Queen Elizabeth I seems poised to be the big disappointment of the season. Speculation about the movie’s (low) quality peaked after the movie didn’t play at any of the major Fall festivals, but I only needed the trailer -releases a couple months ago- to make me dubious. There’s something particularly desperate about a costume drama whose trailer wants to make it seem as edgy as possible. The most egregious example of this is the trailer for the disastrous Tulip Fever, which tried to build suspense out of a movie about the tulip trade in 1600s Amsterdam. With many shots of Mary putting on armor and riding into battle, the trailer for Mary Queen of Scots seems like it’s trying to make a dull period piece look exciting.
On the Basis of Sex (December 25)
This biopic of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early legal battles for women’s equality seems like the kind of late-year biography that seems designed to earn a Best Actress nomination, but I expect it to fail in the home stretch. The documentary RBG performed really well this summer, suggesting audiences might be starved for more Ruth Bader Ginsburg content, but this one looks like a very by-the-numbers biopic. Not only does the movie not look very exciting, but there’s something that feels a little off about this whole project. Maybe it’s the casting of Felicity Jones in the lead role. In a cultural moment obsessed with honest representation, something doesn’t seem right about having one of the most iconic Jewish American women be portrayed by a non-Jewish actress.
Bohemian Rhapsody (November 2)
Is there a more tired genre than the musical biopic? This one, about Queen’s frontman Freddie Mercury, has already been mired in a couple controversies. First, director Bryan Singer disappeared after sexual abuse allegations were made against him (Singer has retained sole director credit on the project). Later, the movie drew a lot of criticism from the queer community online after its trailer failed to show even a hint of Mercury’s homosexuality. Rami Malek’s transformation in the lead role could generate some accolades (a Golden Globe nomination for Lead Actor Musical or Comedy seems like a possibility), but the spectre of Singer and the tiredness of the genre don’t predict a bright future.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (October 19)
Director Marielle Heller’s first movie, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, was a surprisingly honest and insightful coming of age story. However, it’s going to be hard to get people excited for her follow-up project, at least based on the premise. The movie is based on a memoir, and stars Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, a struggling author who finds a new trade by forging letters by renowned authors. This could be a good movie, but I’m having a hard time picturing people getting excited for a complicated character study about a sad lady writing letters, despite the warm reviews coming out of Telluride and Toronto.