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Judi Dench (#110 of 13)

Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, Starring Johnny Depp and Daisy Ridley, Gets First Trailer

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Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, Starring Johnny Depp and Daisy Ridley, Gets First Trailer

20th Century Fox

Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, Starring Johnny Depp and Daisy Ridley, Gets First Trailer

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is among the English writer’s most acclaimed novels. Published in 1934, it sees master detective Hercule Poirot traveling to London, after a pit stop in Istanbul (by way of Aleppo no less), on the Simplon-Orient Express, where he meets Mr. Samuel Ratchett, a malevolent American who fears for his life. A day later and the train is caught in the snow, and when one of the passengers is discovered murdered, it’s up to Poirot to solve the crime.

Stephen Frears’s Victoria & Abdul, with Judi Dench, Gets U.S. Trailer and Poster

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Stephen Frears’s Victoria & Abdul, with Judi Dench, Gets U.S. Trailer and Poster

Focus Features

Stephen Frears’s Victoria & Abdul, with Judi Dench, Gets U.S. Trailer and Poster

In Stephen Frears’s latest, Victoria & Abdul, Academy Award winner Judi Dench stars as Queen Victoria. The film traces the relationship that develops between the royal and a young clerk, Abdul Karin (Ali Fazal), in India during the Golden Jubilee, which was celebrated on June 20, 1887, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the queen’s accession to the throne. During the celebration, a grand banquet to which 50 European kings and princes were invited, the queen questions the constrictions of her position, and as her relationship with Abdul deepens, she begins to see the world anew.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Actress

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Actress

If there’s anything with even the slightest ability to nudge Cate Blanchett’s path to Oscar victory off course, it’s the seemingly endless Farrowgate scandal, which has Woody Allen’s allegedly molested daughter calling out his muses by name, and guilting them in an attempt to harm the director by extension. As Mark Harris brilliantly observed in his Grantland essay “Oscar Season Turns Ugly,” this kind of linkage of Oscar results to actual sociopolitical issues is at once necessary and ludicrous—a tricky conundrum that can’t be assessed “without acknowledging that something horrible is being inappropriately trivialized and something trivial is being inappropriately transformed into a crisis of situational ethics.” I don’t think anyone ever felt that Blanchett, an unerringly shrewd celebrity, would have indulged the open invitation to address this scandal in her subsequent acceptance speeches. But few likely foresaw that, amid a pop-cultural atmosphere in which the topic simply cannot be ignored, the Aussie frontrunner would find a way to dodge it while taking an unimpeachable high road, dedicating her Best Actress BAFTA win Sunday night to the “late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.” In raising her Stoli martini with a twist of lemon to one of the Academy’s departed elite, odds are Blanchett closed whatever case Dylan Farrow had in terms of exacting revenge by setting a trip wire for Blue Jasmine’s leading lady.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Adapted Screenplay

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

Tomorrow, the Writers Guild of America will announce its 2014 award winners, and whichever scribe(s) waltz off with the Original Screenplay prize may do the same on Oscar night, as all five nominees in the category were replicated by the Academy’s writers branch. The result of the WGA’s Adapted Screenplay race, however, won’t prove as keen a barometer of what might go down at the Dolby on March 2. Only three of the guild’s Adapted Screenplay contenders—Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, and The Wolf of Wall Street—made it onto Oscar’s shortlist, and even if one of them triumphs, breezing past Tracy Letts’s opus about familial dysfunction, August: Osage County, and Peter Berg’s bizarrely recognized soldiers-as-mincemeat shit show Lone Survivor, there’s still the seemingly impassable hurdle of John Ridley’s script for 12 Years a Slave, which, though ineligible for WGA honors (you can get those exclusion deets here), looks like Oscar’s indisputable frontrunner. Steve McQueen’s chilly directorial shortcomings may underscore what’s weak in Ridley’s take on Solomon Northup’s memoir (namely an undernourished depiction of the precious family from which our hero is stripped), but it feels nuts to bet against the one script in this field tied to a plausible Best Picture winner.

Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Actress

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Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Actress

Saving Mr. Banks telegraphs Emma Thompson’s date with Oscar. When her character, Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, first meets Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), the mogul of magic walks past a wall of Oscar statuettes—golden idols nearly within Thompson’s grasp. And when Travers finally hits the premiere of the film she reluctantly greenlit, she’s decked out, as seen above, like she’s bound for the Academy’s red carpet (though, admittedly, it’s good this film takes place in the days before “Who are you wearing?” as it seems the answer could be “Bed Bath & Beyond”). In short, this is my way of saying that Thompson, a woman who’s flawlessly navigated the campaign circuit, is in. Could Meryl Streep’s Thompson tribute at the National Board of Review Awards, which some saw as underhandedly self-serving, have affected the Brit’s chances? I don’t think so. If anything, the last few days have galvanized my suspicion that August: Osage County’s Streep, the vulnerable hopeful alongside the category’s other predicted locks (Thompson, Gravity’s Sandra Bullock, Philomena’s Judi Dench, and Blue Jasmine’s Cate Blanchett), is out.

Oscar Prospects Saving Mr. Banks, the Winning Heavyweight That Probably Won’t Win Anything

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Oscar Prospects: Saving Mr. Banks, the Winning Heavyweight That Probably Won’t Win Anything

Walt Disney Pictures

Oscar Prospects: Saving Mr. Banks, the Winning Heavyweight That Probably Won’t Win Anything

If I had to bet which 2013 Oscar contender would score the most nominations without a single win, I’d go for Saving Mr. Banks, a movie so gosh-darn disarming you might just strain your cheeks from watching it, but one that doesn’t quite fit into the apparent fabric of this year’s awards race. Watching this film, which recounts the rocky relationship between Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and smiley juggernaut Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who’d adapt Travers’s work for the screen, you feel, aptly enough, as if you’re on a theme park ride, soaking up the glee while knowing your joy is highly controlled by precise mechanics. You also feel that this baldly manipulative, yet nevertheless adorable, origin flick has all the trappings of a Best Picture frontrunner—one from some stage in history, at least.

Oscar Prospects: My Week with Marilyn

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Oscar Prospects: My Week with Marilyn
Oscar Prospects: My Week with Marilyn

My Week with Marilyn doesn’t begin well. In what looks like a Rob Marshall outtake, Michelle Williams awkwardly ambles across a stage singing a cruise-ship rendition of “Heat Wave,” her Jessica Rabbit evening gown reflecting the tacky pink and orange lights. Williams appears reluctant, maybe a little scared, and certainly not at home when leaning against a pianist and doing jazz hands on her breasts. She’s soon swept up and cradled by two strapping men, blowing a kiss to the camera before the scene cuts to the title, an inelegant bit of text barely befitting WE tv. The intro is an accurate preface of what’s to follow, from the palpable apprehension to the Monroe falseness to the near-complete small-screen vibe, the latter an egregious indication of director Simon Curtis’s television origins. Perhaps it was somewhat inevitable for a film about Marilyn Monroe to recall the biopics and true Hollywood stories we’ve all seen in the comfort of our own homes, but Curtis’s redundant, derivative fluff piece, adapted by fellow TV vet Adrian Hodges from Prince and the Showgirl PA Colin Clark’s diaries, has such meager artistic ambitions that the tales we caught at home prove superior simply for coming first. You’ve seen My Week with Marilyn countless times, most likely with better editing and more tonal consistency. For all its buoyancy, this movie is naggingly small-time, and talk of it being Best Picture material is flat-out insane.

Oscar Prospects: Anonymous

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Oscar Prospects: Anonymous
Oscar Prospects: Anonymous

Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous is an interesting case in that it may very well be its director’s best film; however, a better director is the one thing it surely needed. Worlds away from 2012, this conspiracy-driven drama is juicy, supremely watchable stuff, but even without the leveled buildings and mass deaths, you can still sense Emmerich’s usual artless frenzy, from the compositions to the triple-stacked flashbacks to the boorish handling of a huge cast of Elizabethan bed-hoppers. Suffice it to say, Emmerich won’t be getting much attention from the director’s branch this year, nor will Anonymous have even an outside shot at any major voting body’s big awards. The film lands in the Oscar discussion because it’s one of 2011’s showiest exhibitors of lavish period garb, and because it features busy Hollywood royal Vanessa Redgrave in full, baity regalia as Queen Elizabeth I.

Through the years, few roles have garnered more awards attention for more actresses than Elizabeth, so it’s only natural to assume that someone of Redgrave’s esteem would continue the trend. Though often buried under a great deal of makeup, jewels and fabric, the actress looks drastically old in the film, a reminder that the window of opportunity for late-career honors is getting smaller by the day. The performance itself is appropriately fun, a balance of power and levity in which both she and the character seem acutely aware of the necessity and burden of all that pomp and circumstance surrounding the queen’s life (a better scene sees her meet with an advisor and plop down on the floor, her legs spread out as she blithely dirties a fabulous skirt that nearly engulfs her). But Redgrave’s work isn’t on a par with that of Judi Dench, who famously netted a Supporting Actress trophy for playing Elizabeth for all of eight minutes in Shakespeare in Love. And seeing as Redgrave splits the role with daughter Joely Richardson, who plays Elizabeth at a younger age, it’s conceivable that voters may view the character as not being owned and defined by a single actress. A more probable Redgrave nomination would be for her supporting turn as Volumnia in Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus, another Shakespearean film that’s earning her raves.