MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

9 Weeks To Oscar: Let The Narratives Begin!

Here we are… ballots are out… Phase One will be over in a couple of weeks… and the battle for The Big Win has begun. The primary weapon is in the process of changing from the movies themselves (central to The Great Settling™… c/o Mr Condon) to The Narratives.

The Narratives are the big perspective ideas, almost always instigated by someone with an ax to grind or a bonus to earn. Narratives should not be confused with Dirty Pool, which is when some personal or oddball issue comes to the forefront for no other reason than to tear this film or that film down. The media, of course, can come up with stupid ideas on its own as well… like the notion that Natalie Portman’s pregnancy is somehow a strategic event in support of her potential Oscar nomination and win.

The Narrative for The King’s Speech goes something like… “It’s a movie about humanity and humility… one of the most powerful men in the world is really just a broken child and with the help of a commoner, he can be healed… it’s about a woman who is so strong and wise that she can change her husband’s life and never lose her dignity… it’s about a commoner whose principles are strong enough to withstand the pressures of the monarchy, back when the monarchy meant something… so do you really want to vote for a movie about a rich jerk or some crazy mixed up girl or a violent western that the filmmakers admit they dumbed down to make more money… or do you want to vote for an epic story of courage and overcoming obstacles?”

The Social Network… “Mark Zuckerberg changed the world. You’ve seen him on the cover of Time Magazine. You’ve read about Facebook’s stock price. David Fincher, the genius who made Brad Pitt into an old man, bring his genius to the movie. Aaron Sorkin, the genius who wrote A Few Good Men and The American President, took his genius and changed the real story just enough to make it a metaphor for who we are and who we will be. Greed, power, broken relationships… he has billions of dollars and he wears a hooded sweatshirt. We need to understand guys like this… they will control our future. This is important stuff. Yeah, King’s Speech really gets you… we understand… and you like the John Wayne remake too, yeah… but King’s Speech is really about those great performances and that girl in True Grit is really special… but this is the important film. This one will be remembered when the others are forgotten.”

True Grit… “It’s the kind of movie they don’t make anymore. Have you ever seen a more beautiful Western? The Coens are two of our greatest filmmakers. They get it. The film has themes of courage and the relentless pursuit of what’s right, not just what’s convenient. And how about that little Hailee as The Girl? Amazing, right? They found her after looking at 17,000 girls. And this girl comes in, with that punim… you know, she’s Hailee SteinFELD, right?… and she gets it. Can you imagine a 13 year old learning all that dialogue and having to work with an all-male case of Academy Award talent like Jeff, Matt, and Josh? And speaking of Jeff… too bad he won last year because if not, he’d be a lock to win this year. And Damon… most underrated actor in the business… and what a good guy! You know, it’s one thing to shoot a movie in rooms on a college campus or on a palace set with a couple of great actors going at it… but our film is a true epic… the kind of movie that studios are afraid to make and may stop making if they don’t get enough support. Beautiful, right? And audiences love it… just look at the box office!”

The Fighter… “It’s Rocky meets Raging Bull meets On The Waterfront but with a modern edge they couldn’t show you in a movie back then… powerful, intimate stuff… could Christian Bale be any more like Dickey? Look at this footage of the real Dickey and tell me that you could tell these two guys apart. You can’t. And Amy Adams is sexy. You always thought she was sexy, but here, she’s really sexy. And Melissa Leo… no since Shelley Winters has such a mother been on the screen! This is raw stuff. Powerful emotion. The other movies are terrific… but they all keep you are arm’s length. In The Fighter, you can practically see every pimple… you can smell the crack pipe… you know who these people are. That’s what lasts… not dead Kings and obnoxious rich kids from the good part of Massachusetts and Mr. Eye Patch.”

Black Swan… ‘Have you seen the movie? And what did you… uh, hello? Hello? Are you there? I can’t believe he hung up on me!”


Black Swan is… yes… yes… yes… uh-huh… yes… thank you, but we’re just publicizing the film, we didn’t make it… yes… thanks so much… uh-huh… yes… mostly Natalie herself… uh-huh… Darren really doesn’t want us answering that question… okay… thank you… uh-huh… well, thank you so much, I really learned a lot about the film talking to you… okay… thank you… uh-huh…

The short versions? Feel it, think it, make it traditional, or make it raw and real.

Obviously, other elements work differently for each film. Box office works for TSN and Grit. The Weinstein System is to have King’s Speech crest at the box office the week after nominations, so they can start pushing the box office as a part of the pitch. The Fighter will likely play on its role as an underdog and talk about The Hurt Locker’s box office a lot.

Age is a treacherous issue this year. All four of these films skew older… but how old? Pushing for awards requires an appeal to the vanity of the age of the voter, which includes making them feel like they are part of a bigger discussion than with just their direct contemporaries.

And each movie has some kind of Achilles tendon. We are notorious Anglophiles, though those films tend not to win… unless they are Harvey’s. Watch for more irrelevant smears about Bertie. Obnoxious college kids are the focus of TSN and there is plenty of sex and drugs, especially for geeks. Grit still carries the mark of John Wayne and it’s very violent for a PG-13 film. And drugs and violence are at the heart of Fighter.

One of these stories will start to get more and more traction over the next few weeks. Perhaps new variables will crop up. But the stories will be told. And Academy members will start to believe.

Maybe things will remain split up between one or two stories. In the end, voters seem to choose the story that best suits their taste. And then, in early February, the media starts explaining what happened and giving very detailed reasons… when in the end, the truth is, The They ends up preferring a movie in this smaller field and the rationalizations follow close behind.

So jump up on Uncle Harvey’s lap and let him tell you a story… once upon a time…

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19 Responses to “9 Weeks To Oscar: Let The Narratives Begin!”

  1. “you know, she’s Hailee SteinFELD, right?”


  2. Proman says:

    I don’t know how best to put it, but more than almost anyone else, your columns leave a bad aftertaste each time I come across. Snarky but really not that smart rationalizing that sucks all of the joy from the process.

  3. yancyskancy says:

    Even though I know what “punim” means, it just sounds so dirty. I bet if the average (non-Jewish) person heard me say, “That Hailee Steinfeld has such a pretty punim,” they’d be horrified.

  4. Greg says:

    What happened to the charts?

  5. movieman says:

    …and now for something completely different:

    “How Do You Know,” Best Picture; James L. Brooks, Best Director/Best
    Screenplay (“How Do….”); Christina Aguillera, Best Actress (“Burlesque”); Johnny Depp, Best Actor (“The Tourist”); Chris Rock, Best Supporting
    Actor (“Grown-Ups”); Janet Jackson, Best Supporting Actress (“For Colored Girls”); “Alpha and Omega,” Best Animated Film; Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner (Special Oscar for “Outstanding Achievement in Tween-Dom” for “Twilight: Eclipse”).
    Hey, at least it’s different.

  6. Geoff says:

    You know, the Weinsteins get all of this hype and they certainly get the nominations, every year…..The Reader, Inglorious Basterds, wow….these guys know how to use WWII to get nods.

    But, how long has it been since they actually won the big prize??? You would know better than me, Dave, but do you think the Academy folks might be wise to the Weinsteins’ annual parade and maybe pre-disposed to NOT vote for their film for the big prize? I know, I know – the Academy is not monolithic, but they ALL know the Weinsteins, right?

    Maybe, it’s just wishful thinking, but I have a feeling that Inception still has a shot. All this stuff about the loudness – Gladiator was a REALLY loud movie, from what I remember and so was LOTR:ROTR.

    It’s a really well-liked movie, hugely successful, and the big backlash is months over at this point – the film reeks of respectability with that cast, Nolan, and it’s very easy to not look at it as sci fi or action. This is NOT The Dark Knight or even Avatar in that vein – it’s not based on a comic, doesn’t feature blue aliens, and is purely original. And HUGE point – it is not particularly violent and no sexual content.

    Nolan is pretty well-liked and respected – probably moreso than Fincher or Boyle was, just a couple of years back.

    Heck, you can even talk about the summer release date, but The Hurt Locker came out about the same time, last year.

    And you could say was the movie too successful? Well, it was big, but not ABSURDLY successful like The Dark Knight or Avatar.

    Really, I can see very few caveats for this movie – not based on true events, so it’s completely impervious to any of the “is it really true” stuff that is sure to come out against The Kings Speech and The Social Network when things get heated, next year.

    I think the big battle is Warners getting that nomination – with 10 pictures, they are looking good. But I thought they would get one for The Dark Knight a couple of years back.

    Not saying it’s going to win, but I don’t see many true stumbling blocks. Yes, True Grit is doing really well, is well liked, and playing well to the older crowd – a couple of years ago, you could have said the same about Gran Turino and that got ZERO nominations.

    Do not underestimate Inception – it’s daring and a safe choice at the same time!

  7. established 1962 says:

    Inception will NOT win— may even struggle to get nominated.

    REALLY… we can stop talking about it in this context already.

    (and if it steals a nom from Winter’s Bone… well then, I’m sorry, it was visually interesting… but I’m gonna have to say f*** Inception after that)

  8. movieman says:

    Maybe it’s because 2010 was such a subpar year for movies overall, but I just can’t get excited over most of the choices people are slinging around.
    Of the films with a legit shot at Best Picture, I guess “Social Net” is my favorite, with “Kids Are All Right,” “Inception,” “Black Swan” and “True Grit” trailing at a respectable difference.
    Liked but didn’t love (roughly in this order): “Winter’s Bone,” “The Fighter,” “King’s Speech,” “The Town” and “TS3.”
    Not feeling a whole lot of passion or heat in any category really.
    Wake me when awards season is over.

  9. edkargir says:

    The best picture of 2010 is the social network and by a large margin. Last years win by the hurt locker was the first time since schindler’s list won that i agreed with the academy on best picture. if any other movie other than the social network wins it will prove what I have been saying for years THE AMPAS is the worst judge of their own industry.

  10. movielocke says:

    speaking of loudness, I saw Godfather in the theater last night for the sixth or seventh time (I’ve lost track, God I love being in los angeles where it is run so often these days (or at least since the cinematheque has started programming more classics more often in the last two years), and I was struck once again just how stunningly loud the sound gets during the sacred & profane climax of baptism and death orgy. Walter Murch really pushed the sound levels up to almost painfully intense levels. Every time I see the movie in the theatre I’m surprised at just how loud that sequence is, it is borderline irritating, but also part of what makes the sequence so impactful–I forget how easy it is to turn the volume down at that point when watching the dvd/bluray.

    Just thought it was worth pointing out that loudness isn’t some new invention of the scifi fantasy films.

    Also, Godfather is just about the only movie I can think of with two distinct and equally great endings. The baptism/death orgy is one, and the door being shut on Kay is the other. The film sort of has a denouement but it breaks so many rules of screenwriting that one or the other or both would be written out of the script these days.

  11. cadavra says:

    Oh, I can’t believe anyone seriously thinks INCEPTION won’t win a BP nom as well as Orig. Screenplay and a bunch of tech noms. Winning any of them is a different story, though, as this is one of those years where it seems like the wealth will be spread around instead of a bandwagon dump on a front-runner. In fact, I imagine this could be a year where no movie wins more than four or five.

  12. Stephen Holt says:

    Well, since David, our fearless leader brought it up, yes, Hailee Steinfeld, just seems INCREDIBLY Jewish for a bible-quoting Christian in the Old West. A little Jewish girl with Judy Garland pigtails talking like Samuel Goldwyn? I just DIDN’T buy it. On any level, except admiring that she got the lines out coherently at all. An Oscar nomination for this pishna? I predict she’s an abberation. It’s the beginning AND the end of her career.

  13. Sasha Stone says:

    There is only one movie. There has really only been one movie, despite all of the mishegoss to the contrary.

  14. Direwolf says:

    Did I miss the part where DP explains why True Grit has muscled its way to the lead in the Best Picture category? I am being serious, not snarky. If I missed it, can someone point me to the reference DP made about more to come on that subject? Thanks. Happy New Year.

  15. LexG says:

    Elle Fanning for Best Supporting Actress please.

    As good as Steinfeld. Both are awesome though.

  16. Direwolf says:

    Sorry. I found the True Grit Best Pic analysis form DP in the earlier thread. My bad. Happy New Year.

  17. moviegoer11 says:

    I found “True Grit” a long winded bore and “Inception” to be so over rated but I can understand why critics like these movies. They rather give kudos to talk and slow pacing movies than to fast paced action flicks hoping that Hollywood will make and give us more boredom than excitement. OK, just my thoughts. This said, MY personal FIVE favorite films of this year are “The Fighter”, a marvelous film, “The Social Network”, “The King’s Speech”, “Hereafter”, and “Secretariat”.

  18. Greg says:

    Honestly, The King’s Speech was the best movie of the year for me. Social Network, I guess, is second, but it comes in a distant second. Just saw Black Swan and don’t get the love for Natalie Portman in that. Mila Kunis, absolutely – wish the movie had been about her.

    I also would put Fair Game, The Ghost Writer, Waking Sleeping Beauty and Nowhere Boy in my top.

    Biggest disappointments: 127 Hours, Conviction, The Kids are All Right

    A really BAAADDDD year for American movies.

  19. samguy says:

    “The King’s Speech” is an incredibly inspiring story. It should motivate anyone. You think you got problems? Look at this guy – forced into being King of fucking England – on the cusp of WWII. As stated, it’s not a family but “a firm.” It doesn’t hurt to know the backstory going in, the abdication for “the woman I love,” and Edward’s Nazi sympathies as well as some tidbits about Bertie from “The Queen.” Oops. To me, “The Queen” is an example of solid filmmaking. Was it great when I first saw it? Did I think it deserved to win Best Picture that year? No on both counts BUT try to find one flaw in that movie, including its pacing. (OK, maybe HRH seeing the buck might have been a tad pretentious but I’ll let it slide.)

    BUT my big ass problem with “Speech” is that the first third or so moved real slooow. Granted, slow isn’t bad (Alan J. Pakula anyone?) but for a relatively simple story, it took a while to get moving. The acting of course is solid, but my favorite ensemble so far has been “The Fighter” sparked by Bale and Leo, both of whom disappeared into their roles.

    On a side note, the SAG nomination for Hilary Swank scares me. I hope that she doesn’t somehow end up winning over Benning yet again – or worse, she ends up with a THIRD Oscar before Meryl!

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