By David Poland

12 Weeks To Oscar: The Battle Of Black Swan

The Oscar season is well into its early wave. All the real candidates are in play. (Sony has pretty much declared its Jim Brooks movie as not in the race by way of its screening choices… or lack thereof.) And screeners are getting watched in earnest.

Realistically, we’re looking at 15 movies or less that are real candidates for those 10 Best Picture slots. And within that, there are a bunch that simply cannot win. They just aren’t walking that walk.

I’m interested in discussing 4 kinds of films that are in the race and the films that are representing them.

THE MUST LIKE – That’s The King’s Speech. Obviously, someone will hate every film and, no doubt, there will be some critical backlash. But LOVE it or just like it (I am in the latter camp), there is no film in the race this year that is so clearly untarnished by anyone walking out of a theater without feeling good about the film.

And the rumors about the actual history of this character… stupid… and already overhyped by media.

If the answer this year is, “The Film That Was Most Widely Liked,” The King’s Speech will win the Oscar.

THE MOST HYPEDThe Social Network leads this category going away. God, did the media want this to be a $200 million domestic game changer.

It’s not universally loved, but all but a handful have a clear appreciation for the quality of the work in the film, in every category. Aaron Sorkin really is the front-runner to win his category. But people talk a lot about Fincher and the actors and every perfectly crafted moment.

But is the film as sticky as the hype? (And note… it’s not mostly studio hype. Media bit in longer and deeper than Sony could probably have predicted. It’s not hype to say the movie is very well liked and respected. The question is whether it really carried any cultural weight, as positioned in October.)

THE LOVED/DESPISED – This one is the Battle of the title of this column. Black Swan. More than any film in the race, aside from Inception in its moment, Swannie is The buzz film. “I can’t believe they did that!” “But was she the one or was the other girl?” “Oh my GOD!” “I can’t wait to see it again!” “Worst film of the year!” (That last one is a direct quote from an Academy voter.)

Darren Aronofsky & Co have delivered a film that is both extreme genre and high art. Obviously, it doesn’t work for everyone. But the film is already looking like it will outperform expectations at the box office. But even more so at the buzz office.

Question is, is it Over-60s who will be the ones who hate it and make it impossible for it to win? Or will the buzz and some surprising box office make them stop and think about it again?

Black Swan is clearly an extreme underdog. But Midnight Cowboy won. Hell, just look at the last our years. The Hurt Locker was a bit more traditional, but Slumdog? No Country? The Departed, complete with Jack Nicholson waving the wang in the porn theater?

Crash, A Beautiful Mind, and Gladiator are all recent winners that are pretty much as expected… easier choices than others. Maybe the change in The Academy started when The Pianist almost upset Chicago.

Swan is no obvious winner. But it’s got its pedal to the floor in a way that most of the other likely nominees do not. It’s not there to make you comfortable. But it’s not some wacky art film that only critics and “downtown” types love either.

– The Coen Bros don’t make it easy on themselves. I remember the LA premiere of No Country, more than a month after Toronto, and the majority of the people there were happy to be getting free food, but seemed to think that the film, dark, unsettling, and unsettled, had no chance of being nominated, much less winning.

Obviously, they were wrong.

Will critics groups and HFPA embrace True Grit? We’ll see. And we’ll see how tight the grip. We’ll see how the box office does. We’ll see how many voters Paramount can get into theaters and how soon they have to ship the DVD screener. And we’ll see whether the heart of the film will be figured out sooner… or later. Because that’s how the Coens roll. It takes some time for people to catch up.

I just had a chat this morning with a voter who loves A Serious Man. Problem is, I remember when he first saw A Serious Man… and was enraged about how it made Jews look bad.

Let’s get ready to rumble!!!

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7 Responses to “12 Weeks To Oscar: The Battle Of Black Swan”

  1. How does one write a serious Oscar column these days without once mentioning The Fighter?

  2. If I may (and I haven’t seen The King’s Speech yet), the most ‘well-liked’ film of the theoretical ten nominees may be Toy Story 3…? Not everyone loved it as much as I did, but are there really a decent number of would-be voters who out-and-out don’t like it? I guess that makes this a statement/question. As for The Fighter, it’s a strong picture, but I’m guessing its main reward will be ‘the film that finally won Christian Bale an Oscar’. Granted, I’m personally still rooting for John Hawkes (yeah, I know he has no chance in hell of winning), but I won’t be sad if Bale gets his first nom/first win for a rather terrific piece of acting. Random thoughts for the morning…

  3. Sarina says:

    “The Fighter”, “The Social Network”, “The King’s Speech”…etc. How ironic that a year where roles for women have been great, the best picture candidates are all-male extravaganzas. Sure, there’s “Black Swan”, but that film doesn’t stand a chance of winning Best Picture.

  4. cadavra says:

    Haven’t seen SWAN yet, but the divisive reaction, not unlike that toward BROKEBACK, probably dooms its chance for BP. Call me crazy, but my spidey sense tells me that TRUE GRIT could sneak through FTW by being most voters’ second choice. (Remember, its a weirdly-weighted voting system.)

  5. David Poland says:

    Really easily, InSneider.

  6. chris says:

    If they stick Rush in supporting, which it sounds like they will (absurdly), he may have something to say about Bale’s Oscar.

  7. Candice says:

    Sarina – I would argue that THE FIGHTER has very strong female roles in it. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams play very strong women – they are hardly also-rans to their male co-stars. There’s still hope for us girls yet!

    David – I am unsure how “easily” one can write a column about the state of the race and not include “The Fighter.” It seems like a pretty serious contender.

    Regarding Black Swan – with that weird “weighted ballot” thing the Academy does, if the film has passionate supporters, it can get in. I saw it this weekend, and hope it will.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon