The Reel: Fall brings the Oscar bait

Ben Conniff

To contrast the bloated bombast of the summer season, fall is the time when movie studios bring their “Oscar bait” into theaters. Here are seven of my top picks that shouldn’t be missed this year.


From director Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men”) comes this highly-anticipated adventure, featuring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts struggling for survival after an accident leaves them adrift in outer space. Buzz from last week’s screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival have “Gravity” slated as an early Oscar favorite, and one that critics are touting as a landmark in 3-D visual effects technology. “Titanic” director James Cameron recently told Variety that it’s “the best space film ever done.”

ever done.” In theaters Oct. 4.

“12 Years a Slave”

“Hunger” director Steve McQueen brings to life the incredible true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man who is abducted and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War era. Ejiofor is already being lauded as this year’s Oscar favorite for Best Actor. He leads a fine ensemble cast consisting of Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Alfre Woodard and Paul Giamatti. In theaters Oct.18.

“The Counselor”

Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) directs an original screenplay from Cormac McCarthy, author of “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men.” It tells the story of a corrupt lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking. McCarthy’s screenplay should be a heavy contender come Oscar time. “The Counselor” also stars Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz and Cameron Diaz. In theaters Oct. 25.

“The Wolf of Wall Street”

In the 1990s, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a stockbroker who hoodwinked his way to the top, only to come tumbling down toward the end of the decade. Director Martin Scorsese brings Belfort’s true story to the big screen this fall. DiCaprio plays a role reminiscent of his recent turn as Jay Gatsby in what looks to be a sure Oscar vehicle for him. Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie and “The Artist”’s Jean Dujardin round out the cast. In theaters Nov. 15.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”

The most highly-anticipated release of the fall picks up immediately after the first “Hunger Games,” in which Katniss Everdeen’s and Peeta Mellark’s victories spawn a rebellion against the fascist Capitol. The original cast, including recent Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, returns along with Best Actor winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, among other new faces. In theaters on Nov. 22.


The next big adventure from Disney sees a young girl teaming up with a friend in order to save her sister whose ice-cold powers have locked the kingdom in eternal winter. With the creative minds behind “Tangled” and “Wreck-it Ralph” at the helm, hilarity is bound to ensue in this sure contender for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff lend their voices. In theaters Nov. 27.

“Get a Horse!”

An all-new Mickey Mouse short titled “Get a Horse!” will play before “Frozen.” You won’t want to miss this because it’s the first feature to use a state-of-the-art animation technique. The creators were able to combine hand-drawn, two-dimensional imagery with slick, 3-D computer animation that’s made to look like one of Mickey’s original adventures, circa 1928’s “Steamboat Willie.” At the time, Walt Disney himself was the voice of Mickey, so with a little bit of Disney magic, the animators were able to render Walt’s voice for use in this new cartoon. In theaters Nov. 27.