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Movie Planner: Academy Awards season and 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' finally arrives


It's the most wonderful time of the year for Hollywood. Not Christmas; not Hanukkah. But the start of Academy Awards season. Last week's announcements of Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild award nominations were like Black Friday for studios shopping for shiny prizes.

Between now and Feb. 28, when the Academy Awards are presented, studios with contenders will build every scrap of praise and red carpet exposure into a case for Oscar posterity. The Globes and SAG awards are key elements in this celebrity shopping spree. We'll discuss the starry part later.

First, our annual reminder that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association voting on Golden Globes is a confederacy of nearly 100 journalists chiefly reporting on show biz for overseas outlets you'll never read. The HFPA does throw a heckuva party, though, always at the same time Oscar voters are making up their minds.

It's good campaigning to be invited, since the choices on a few dozen Globes ballots may become a short list for some of the academy's nearly 6,000 voters.

More than a quarter of those voters are actors, so although the vast majority of SAG members aren't academy members, that segment of Oscar voters pays attention to peer consensus. Eleven of the past 12 Oscar winners for acting were SAG winners first.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. The finish line is more than two months away, when Academy Awards are presented. Momentum is critical, and why so few contenders were released before November.

Globes and SAG results can be tailwinds for contenders, thanks to awards season scheduling.

The Golden Globes will be handed out on Jan. 10, four days before Academy Award nominations are announced. If Cate Blanchett or Michael Fassbender wins a Globe then shows up on Oscar's short list, he or she is bestowed with the favorite tag.

Two weeks after the academy's nominees are announced, the Screen Actors Guild presents its prizes — three weeks before Oscar balloting closes. If Blanchett or Fassbender wins a SAG statuette, he or she is practically a lock on Oscar night. At least in perception, but that's important for momentum.

There are other, less glamorous signposts along the awards trail — i.e. director, writer and producer guilds — making Oscar office pool guesses smarter. We'll keep you posted on those, too.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Do you hear it? A disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in relief and were suddenly dazed.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (PG-13) is finally here. Three decades since the last piece of the Skywalker saga that mattered, the Jedi have returned.

Picking up the action after 1983's Return of the Jedi, director J.J. Abrams is mixing classic Star Wars icons — Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill — with a new generation of Jedi, led by immediate stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.

Advance screenings at select theaters begin at 7 p.m. today. If you don't have a ticket secured yet, you probably shouldn't bother. More than $50 million in Star Wars tickets were sold in advance online, and fans are likely queued up for next available. Click here for a review of the movie.


If you do get shut out at the box office tonight, try Sisters (R), the new comedy starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Its screenings also begin at 7, and like The Force Awakens the movie opens everywhere Friday.

Sisters stars Fey and Poehler as polar opposite siblings whose parents (James Brolin, Dianne Wiest) are selling their childhood home. Like the Deltas in Animal House, they figure one last raging party is called for, togas optional.

Looks funny in trailers, and I do hope Fey wore her Princess Leia costume from 30 Rock jury duty to the Sisters premiere.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

As a last resort, seats are likely available for Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (PG), the fourth of its child-friendly species. This time the chipmunks' pet human Dave (Jason Lee) heads to Miami to propose to his girlfriend, so the little guys follow behind.

May the Force and better movie taste be with you.

Reviews for The Force Awakens and Sisters are available at The chipmunks? You're on your own.

in theaters: our Top 5

Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:

1 Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Skywalker saga returns full Force.

2 Room: A unique experience, with terrific performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.

3 Spotlight: The finest movie about newspaper reporters doing their jobs since All the President's Men.

4 Creed: Worthy successor to Rocky Balboa's underdog boxing title, and maybe an Oscar nod for Sylvester Stallone.

5 Chi-Raq: Spike Lee's antigang, antigun satire is his strongest fiction in years.


(dates subject to change)

Dec. 23: The Big Short

Dec. 25: Joy; Carol; The Hateful Eight; The Danish Girl; Concussion; Daddy's Home; Point Break

Jan. 8: The Revenant

Jan. 15: Ride Along 2; 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi; Where to Invade Next

Jan. 22: Dirty Grandpa; The 5th Wave

Jan. 29: Kung Fu Panda 3

Movie Planner: Academy Awards season and 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' finally arrives 12/16/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 16, 2015 11:46am]
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