TRUTH - Robert Redford & Cate Blanchett

TRUTH - Robert Redford & Cate Blanchett

Oscar outlook: With about four months of tough Oscar campaigning still ahead, a dozen or so films are emerging as likely contenders in prime categories.

At this point, none of them are looking to be elevated to front runner status since it's almost impossible to maintain such a lead for so many months of awards trench warfare.

Nonetheless, an Oscar buzz among Hollywood handicappers is building now as films that attracted initial attention at festivals earlier this fall startto enter the marketplace. Last weekend, for instance, saw the much anticipated arrival ofthree time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg's ("Saving Private Ryan") PG-13 rated dramatic thriller "Bridge of Spies."

Its winning combination of highly favorable  reviewsand $15.4 million in opening weekend ticket sales puts "Bridge"solidly on track for Oscar nominations in key races like best picture, directing, original screenplay, lead actor and supporting actor.

          Presented by DreamWorks Pictures, Fox 2000 Pictures and Reliance Entertainment in association with Participant Media, "Bridge,"which world premiered at the New York Film Festival, is being released through Disney's Touchstone Pictures. Written by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, it stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan and Alan Alda.

          Disney said "Bridge's" opening weekend audience loved the movie, giving it an "A" CinemaScore grade in exit polling. Those on hand were 53 percent male with adults making up 92 percent of the audience. The film's principal age groups were 35-49 (29 percent)and over-50 (43 percent). That adult appeal should translate into a long theatrical run for "Bridge," which will keep it in front of Academy voters in the coming months. Those also are great demographics to have in the Oscar race since Academy members are mostly male and are mostly over-50.

          "Bridge's" Oscar pedigree is about as good as one can possibly be. Spielberg won the best directing Oscar in 1999 for directing "Saving Private Ryan," and won best picture and best directing in 1994 for "Schindler's List."

          Hanks, one of Hollywood's best liked actors, won back-to-back best actor Oscars in 1994 for "Philadelphia" and in 1995 for "Forrest Gump."

          Rylance's performance as "Bridge's"captured Russian spy, Rudolf Abel, is generating an early supporting actor buzz. Rylance is best known for playing Thomas Cromwell in the hit miniseries "Wolf Hall," a role that brought him a Primetime Emmy lead actor nomination in 2015.

          Joel & Ethan Coen won screenwriting Oscars in 2007 for adapting "No Country For Old Men" and in 1997 for their original screenplay "Fargo."

          Last weekend also saw another big Oscar buzz contender playing to boxoffice and critical success in limited release -- Universal, Legendary Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions' R rated "Steve Jobs,"starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen.

          "Jobs," which began with exclusive engagements Oct. 9, goes opens wide Oct. 23 at about 2,400 theatres. In limited release last weekend at just 60 theatres, it grossed a hefty $1.5 million. That's an enviable $25,831 per theatre. Its cume after playing for two weeks in a handful of theatres is $2.3 million.

"Jobs" world premiered in early September at the 42nd Telluride Film Festival. It then screened as the prestigious Centerpiece selection at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's 53rd New York Film Festival, recalling how "The Social Network"had spring boarded off of being NYFF's opening night selection five years earlier.

"Social's" adapted screenplay was by Aaron Sorkin, who also adapted "Jobs." "Social" received eight Oscar noms and won in three categories, including adapted screenplay.

"Jobs" also has a top tier awards pedigree that should bring it serious consideration in prime Oscar categories. Director Danny Boyle won the best directing Oscar in 2009 for "Slumdog Millionaire." He also won the best directing Golden Globe, BAFTA, Critics Choice Award and DGA Award for "Slumdog."

          "Jobs'" stars have been applauded over the years by Academy members. Fassbender was a supporting actor Oscar nominee in 2014 for "12 Years a Slave," losing to Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club."

          Winslet was a best actress Oscar winner in 2009 for "The Reader." She also has five other Oscar noms to her credit – for best actress in 1998 for "Titanic," in 2005 for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and in 2007 for "Little Children" and for supporting actress in 1996 for "Sense and Sensibility" and in 2002 for "Iris."

          "Jobs'"screenplay by Aaron Sorkin is adapted from the book by Walter Isaacson. Besides winning the best adapted screenplay Oscar in 2011 for "The Social Network,"Sorkin took home the Golden Globe, BAFTA, Critics Choice Award and Writers Guild of America adapted screenplay award for "Social."

          Producer Scott Rudin won the best picture Oscar in 2008 for "No Country For Old Men." Rudin's long list of best picture Oscar noms also includes: "The Hours" in 2003, "True Grit" in 2011, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" in 2012, "Captain Phillips" in 2014 and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" in 2015. 

          An indication of "Jobs'" likely strength in the best picture race is that the media are already starting to run articles about the biographical drama's blending of truth and fiction. A recent L.A. Times page one article about the movie was headlined: "A genre of biopic that isn't all true."

          In past Oscar campaigns,when questions were raised about bending the truth in biopics they worked against those films, but in the case of "Jobs" this seems less likely to be the result. For one thing, Sorkin is already taking the bull firmly by the horns, emphasizing that he set out to create his own fact-fiction blend.

          In the same L.A. Times article, Sorkin explains, "'Steve Jobs' doesn't fall into the same (biopic) genre. It's not meant to be a dramatic recreation of actual events."

          The article goes on to observe: "The movie is part of a new cinematic breed that has emerged in recent years, one that might be called the impressionistic biopic."

          Last weekend also saw two other likely Oscar contenders begin limited release theatrical runs. Sony Pictures Classics and RatPac Entertainment's R rated biographical drama "Truth,"which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and was the Opening Night selection Oct. 8 at the 23rd Hamptons International Film Festival, opened with exclusive engagements in New York and Los Angeles. It generated mostly favorable reviews and took in $76,646 at 6 theatres ($12,774 per location). 

          Written and directed by first time feature director James Vanderbilt, whose writing and producing credits include "Zodiac," "White House Down" and "The Amazing Spider-Man," it stars Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss and Dennis Quaid.

          It's based on the book "Truth and Duty: The Press, The President and the Privilege of Power" by Mary Mapes (Blanchett), an award winning CBS News journalist who was the producer for news anchor Dan Rather (Redford). Its story revolves around Mapes and Rather's final days at CBS News after airing their controversial "60 Minutes" report claiming President George W. Bush received preferential treatment during the Vietnam War that let him serve in the National Guard rather than on the battlefield.

          When their story turned out to be untrue, Mapes and Rather's careers at CBS evaporated quickly, while nearly destroying CBS News.

          CBS, which is unhappy with how the film depicts those events,  refused to run ads for "Truth" on "60 Minutes," "The Late Show" and "The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley." Rather has been very supportive of the film and was on handfor its Toronto festival showing and other media event screenings.

          Blanchett and Redford are being talked about as likely Oscar contenders. Blanchett won the best actress Oscar in 2014 for "Blue Jasmine" and won best supporting actress in 2005 for "The Aviator." Redford won the best directing Oscar in 1981 for "Ordinary People," but has never won for acting.

          Blanchett is also a potential best actress contender this year for The Weinstein Company's R rated romantic drama "Carol,"which got a great reception at last May's Cannes Film Festival. It opens domestically in limited release Nov. 20.

          Directed by Todd Haynes ("Far From Heaven"), "Carol" stars Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Sara Paulson. It's based on the 1952 lesbian romance "The Price of Salt" by Patricia Highsmith.

          Netflix, Bleecker Street Media and Participant Media's war drama "Beasts of No Nation" is last weekend's other Oscar hopeful that Hollywood awards handicappers are buzzing about. It was well received as a special presentation in Toronto after having been applauded  at Venice and Telluride.

          "Beasts" arrived last weekend to favorable reviews and $50,699in ticket sales at 31 Landmark Theatres($1,635 per theatre) in 27 top  markets, including New York and L.A. It's also streaming day-and-date on Netflix, which is a radical departure from the usual release pattern that movies followwith 90 days separating theirtheatrical and video-on-demand release. That resulted in the four largest domestic theatre circuits deciding to not play "Beasts."

          Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga ("Jane Eyre"), "Beasts" is Netflix's first feature film production. Starring are: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah and Ama K. Abebrese.

          Elba plays an African guerilla warlord who turns a 14-year-old boy (Attah) into a child soldier/killer fighting in a brutal civil war in an unnamed African country. Attah's performance was honored at Venice with the festival's Marcello Mastroianni Award for the Best New Young Actor or Actress.

          Bottom line:Most weeks from now through late December will bring new Oscar contenders to theatres, each hoping to generate enough media buzz to get seen by Academy members before they start nominations voting Dec. 29.

          The most important part of Oscar marketing is just getting the voters to watch your movie since people typically don't vote for films they haven't seen.Needless to say, that's not a problemfor mega-profile pictures like Spielberg's "Bridge"or Boyle's "Jobs."Academy members aren't going to miss seeing them.

          But for most Oscar hopefuls, the name of the game is just getting seen. In a studio screening room or a big theatre is always preferable. But if that's not possible, being seen at home with a DVD screener is still way better than not being seen at all.