by Nathaniel R
Presented to assuage Nathaniel's guilt from not having properly reviewed them -- all five are now playing in theaters.
Moana (Clements, Hall, Musker & Williams)
Story: A chieftain's daughter sails the ocean to right an ancient wrong and save her people
Review: The episodic plot is ungainly and repetitive but the rest, from animal sidekick, to magical animation, to the heroine's self awakening and theme song ("How Far I'll Go") sure is dazzling. Disney's most resonant and hypnotic climax in forever and ever. "This is not who you are..."
Oscar Chances: A nomination seems certain but Zootopia will be a tough film to dismount from this year's throne. It's worth noting that composer Lin-Manuel Miranda will complete his EGOT if he wins the Oscar.
Miss Sloane (John Madden)
Story: An amoral lobbyist (Jessica Chastain) takes on the gun lobby in a surprise move. They won't rest until they've buried her career.
Review: The plot twists, broad characters, and Miss Sloane's rather omniscient powers of foresight consistently push this one over the top but sometimes deliciously so. The epilogue unfortunately squanders some of the movie's mean potency.
Oscar Chances: In a less competitive actress year both Jessica Chastain and Gugu Mbatha-Raw might have factored into the nomination conversation with their lacerating duet.
Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened (Lonny Price)
Story: A documentary about the original production of Stephen Sondheim's 1981 flop "Merrily We Roll Along" and the cast who thought it would make their young careers
Review: A beautiful marriage of theme and form, given "Merrily's" backwards topic of adult disillusionment and young dreams and the documentary's two acts forward through dreams to reality. It breaks no new ground (it's a talking head doc essentially) but it's an absolute must for musical theater fans.
Oscar Chances: It's eligible but Oscar's doc branch is sometimes allergic to showbiz documentaries outside of those about famous singers.
Rules Don't Apply (Warren Beatty)
Story: A young actress (Lily Collins) on Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) payroll falls for her chauffeur (Alden Ehrenreich), also on the payroll. But that's just the first plot.
Review: (Sigh). An absolute mess albeit with a few bright spots (Hughes young lookalike decoys... ♥︎ ). Two or possibly three movies struggle to decide which one gets to rule the roost; none win. Dull young leads a significant problem but Beatty delivers as eccentric vain Howard Hughes. Too bad the movie didn't focus on him throughout.
Oscar Chances: Dream projects from legendary stars sometimes win favor even if no one particularly likes them. An original song nomination and a tech nod or two are possible though not perhaps probable.
Bleed For This (Ben Younger)
Story: The true story of a champion boxer (Miles Teller) who fights his way back from a horrific car accident to box again.
Review: The cast tries (especially Aaron Eckhart as a heavy drinking coach) but the movie remains a generic boxing drama / triumph-over-adversity tale. A dubious achievement: You've seen literally every beat before in better films -- many times directly from The Fighter.
Oscar Chances: No.