A closet full of skeletons … Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in August: Osage County, Photograph: Toronto film festival
This year’s …
The Descendants in terms of its character-based comedy and themes of family tension.
- August: Osage County
- Production year: 2013
- Directors: John Wells
- Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Meryl Steep
Also, confusingly, this year’s Argo in that it is co-produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov (who scooped the crowning best picture Oscar for Ben Affleck’s Iranian siege caper last February).
What’s it all about?
Interior: a roomy Oklahoma house, the closets full of skeletons. At the head of the table sits Violet (Meryl Streep), a dying matriarch, addicted to prescription meds. Orbiting her come Julie Roberts (as Violet’s brittle oldest daughter), Juliette Lewis (wayward youngest daughter) and Benedict Cumberbatch (deadbeat illegitimate son). Misty Upton lends support as the Cheyenne housekeeper who bears witness to the domestic squalls.
How did it happen?
Tracy Letts’s original stage-play has won rave reviews, the 2008 Pulitizer prize for drama and (happy bonus) a powerhouse champion in producer Harvey Weinstein. The combination of the play’s pedigree and Weinstein’s backing ensured a smooth transition to the screen, although scheduling niggles meant that Andrea Riseborough (originally cast as the younger daughter) had to drop out in favour of Lewis. The film began shooting in the town of Bartlesville, Oklahoma in September last year, with a relatively modest budget of $25m and John Wells (a veteran of ER and The West Wing) in the director’s chair.
Nominations it wants
Handsome, well-upholstered family sagas like this tend to dominate the acting and screenplay categories, though August: Osage County also looks a shoo-in for the best picture shortlist. If so, don’t rule out TV specialist Wells as an outside bet to join the hunt for the directing Oscar too.
What it might win
August: Osage County stars three-time winner Meryl Streep playing a provincial American Lear. She’s an overbearing matriarch raging against the dying of the light. She has cancer and is addicted to drugs. All of which makes her the putative favourite for a fourth acting Oscar. Julia Roberts (an Oscar-winner for 2000’s Erin Brockovich) and Tracy Letts (who adapted his own stage-play) will also fancy their chances.
Reasons to fall for it
It provides a banquet of rich dramatic meat, a keen sense of familial strife and a series of attention-grabbing roles for its big-name players. Possibly it even has a sense of the wider picture, too. As with Death of a Salesman, Letts installs his dysfunctional American family as a sly metaphor for a dysfunctional America.
Reasons it might fail
Might this domestic firestorm turn out too stagey, too relentlessly talky? Does director John Wells have enough big-screen exuberance to bring it to life? August: Osage County has got the revered source material, the family dramatics, and Meryl Streep in the leading role. Might it even be a little too precision-tooled for its own good? Oscar voters may just baulk at being catered to so slavishly.
When can we see it
The release schedule positively reeks of Oscar ambitions. August: Osage County premieres at the Toronto film festival in September and is released in the US on Christmas Day. The UK roll-out duly follows just 24-hours later.
In four words
March’s Story: Oscar Glory