Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Not only has Phoenix risen from the ashes of his career-torching hoax documentary I’m Still Here, but he’s quite possibly Oscar-bound with his comeback role as Freddie Quell, a soul-warped Second World War Navy vet who comes under the spell of Hoffman’s charismatic self-help guru Lancaster Dodd. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Phoenix may be thinking. He channels a whole lotta hurt in his portrayal of the feral, drink-sozzled Freddie. The film, another bold, awesomely executed vision from Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood) with a mesmeric score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, will get acres of press coverage for being a fictionalised account of the early days of Scientology (with Dodd a cipher for L Ron Hubbard). In our eyes, though, The Master unravels principally as an unrequited love story between two men who hold each other in absolute thrall but can’t express the depth of their feelings.
Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston
It sometimes smacks of ego when stars cast themselves in their own films, but we’ll forgive Affleck simply because he gives himself such an unflattering ’70s fringe to play the CIA spook who plans to rescue six Americans during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis by disguising them as the crew of a Canadian B-movie. Affleck expertly mines both tension and laughs in this bizarre true story.
Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy
Downtrodden underdogs shaking off their shackles with the aid of up-tempo music and groovy dance steps? That’s a genre no one does better than the Aussies. The storytelling’s rough around the edges but this yarn about an Aboriginal girl group whisked off to entertain the troops in Vietnam comes steeped in charm and O’Dowd steals the show as the Irishman managing their feel-good odyssey to stardom.
Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau
Oddball child lost in suburbia, geeky, ghoulish storyline and Winona Ryder in the house… Yep, Tim Burton’s back with this black-and-white, stop-motion gothfest about a lonely boy who sparks his beloved pooch back to life with the aid of lightning storms and neck bolts. Lovably weird, surprisingly sweet.