MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

8 Weeks To Oscar: It’s Getting Serious

Oscary History Shock,
The Contenders Chase The Clock.
Eight Days, They’re Done,
Phase II Begun!
Oscary History Shock

We’re getting down to the real nitty gritty now. That is, before we get to the next Phase and its very short rise and fall.

Everyone knows that nothing is settled. Columbia is re-releasing The Social Network on 700 screens in coordination with their DVD release of the film… which is likely a direct response to True Grit’s box office success and the press that has come of it (starting here). Ironically, Scott Rudin can’t lose, having produced both films, unless The King’s Speech wins. So expect a balls out effort for both Grit and Social from here until the end.

Weinstein: “I call that bold talk for a four-eyed formerly-fat man!”

Rudin: “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!”

It’s a funny thing about Oscar season. Everyone whines that the prognosticators and the precusors don’t affect the season… yet every year, the season is narrowed and jostled around by both… not definitively, but undeniably. I agree 100% that there is a level of entitlement and presumption that is unseemly, as each cog in the machine is small and doesn’t change the game in and of itself… whether that’s the cover of Entertainment Weekly or a blogger who gets attention for some oddball insight.

And yet… Scott & Harvey are always somewhere to be heard from as we head into Phase II. They don’t always win. But they are always a presence.

It leads you to wonder whether if others were as committed to distribution and awards in the same thought, they could be as successful chasing the gold. Obviously, these are two men who are very smart about movies. But when you see this kind of consistency, one wonders whether it’s as much about commitment to an idea as it is a kind of genius.

As for everyone else… it’s a bit of a scramble out there. Black Swan, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, and Inception are consensus “in the 10.” Can any of them win Best Picture? Unlikely.

So what do these five contenders do? Stop? Of course not. None of the three leading contenders are infallible. And split votes do happen, it seems, now and again. That’s been my argument for the very controversial Black Swan and has been Disney’s thinking on Toy Story 3.

On the other hand, securing what they actually think they can win is probably Jon One. Portman vs Bening for Best Actress is the non-BP showdown of the season. Will Christian Bale cost himself an Oscar by being completely unwilling to bow his head to Oscar? Can Searchlight score noms for Mila Kunis and/or Barbara Hershey and/or Vincent Cassel? And is Aronofsky a lock for a Best Director nod? (should be) Will Inception be this year’s 4 Oscar-winning effects movie?

After those 8, it’s very blurry out there, even in a narrowed field. Winter’s Bone, The Town, Another Year, 127 Hours… and darker horses Blue Valentine and Biutiful. Anything can happen. A lot of people are high on The Town because it is so well-liked and did excellent box office. On the other hand, Winter’s Bone was an indie sensation this summer and Another Year seems to hit older voters right where they live… and Mike Leigh has a history of being “in” when everyone thought his films were “out.” And what of 127 Hours, which gets a lot of love from people who see it and a lot of “ewww” from people who haven’t? And those dark, dark, dark horses. Is there 15% of The Academy that is in love with those films, even if – with apologies to both filmmakers, whose films don’t deserve this, even though it is the truth of the situation – the two films make the other 85% of Academy voters want to slit their wrists?

It really is time for some to “just be honored to be nominated.” And it’s no small thing. As we try to objectify the Oscars and the season, it is all too easy to forget that each of the people “in play” is a human being… even with Best Picture nominees, which represent hundreds of real, breathing humans who have a real emotional stake in the praise, even if they will not be known as “Academy Award Nominee (Your Name Here)” for the rest of their public lives.

For others, the war is just beginning, more intense and potentially violent (or just disappointing) than ever. For them, it’s the Rubik’s Cube of Irony™. They desperately try to figure out how to move the pieces into the right place, all the time knowing that they don’t actually have the power to force a win, but all the time fearing that the one thing they didn’t do will be the thing that somehow keeps their film from taking home the big prize.

That’s the schizophrenic passion that causes Pete Hammond (and others) to so often wonder aloud why the consultants and studios take something like Gurus o’ Gold so very seriously. And being caught up in the same seasonal schism, Pete wonders this while he earns hundreds of dollars every time he moderates a panel – sometimes 3 a night, probably over 150 a season – while also functioning as a journalist online and being paid for that… all of which happens only because everyone with a stake in the game takes it all so seriously.

No one can be blamed. Pete, for instance, masterfully plays the hand he has been dealt. Outsiders like to scream about how meaningless it all is, but for a lot of people, it’s their livelihood, and no less meaningless in their lives than the films are to the filmmakers. Obviously, these are all smart people who know what is frivolous and what should be embraced more seriously.

And… like Rudin & Weinstein, isn’t it funny how the same people who are perceived as being “good at this” continue to be there on Oscar night, getting those bonuses for wins big and small?

Like film itself, every frame has its own meaning, and all those frames together, projects at 24 per second, mean something else all together.

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17 Responses to “8 Weeks To Oscar: It’s Getting Serious”

  1. David. I love you. But the press on True Grit’s box office “starting here?” Oy.

    Now…I’ll continue reading the column.

  2. established 1962 says:

    “And what of 127 Hours, which gets a lot of love from people who see it and a lot of “ewww” from people who haven’t?”

    wrong. just wrong. so many people have come out of that picture feeling that they just saw some snuff film.

  3. NickF says:

    That’s a scary image to be honest. Winter’s Bone should be in the top 10, regardless of Lionsgate not putting together a big campaign for it. Now that there ware 10 slots, this is one of the movies that works should get added recognition with a nomination.

  4. Loyal says:

    In terms of box office, last year was really rare.

    [these numbers are all pre-Oscar night win]

    12 of the Best Picture winners since 1989 were the 2nd highest grossing film amongst nominees. 6 Best Picture winners were the highest grossing film amongst nominees.

    Only 3 films since 1989 have won Best Picture without being the highest grossing or 2nd highest film amongst nominees come Oscar night: 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” grossed $64,851,738 compared to “Ray’s” $75,079,595. And 1999’s “American Beauty” grossed $108,468,063 compared to “The Green Mile’s” $135,051,414.

    And of course there’s The Hurt Locker.

    If conventional wisdom dictates that an animated film cannot win Best Picture and that The Town, if nominated, is just happy to be there, that leaves:

    Inception – $292,574,501
    True Grit – $93,398,060
    The Social Network – $93,377,96
    Black Swan – $51,852,181
    The Fighter – $49,841,948
    The King’s Speech – $25,613,865

    It’s a pretty interesting scenario. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Sony/Columbia are attempting to push Social Network to 100m just as True Grit passes it and Black Swan continues to surge.

  5. Logan says:

    Um, it’s AFFECT, not EFFECT, David. (Whispered friend to friend, as I know you’d want to know so you won’t misuse it again.)

  6. chris says:

    (and “its”)

  7. cadavra says:

    Y’know, with all the Oscar talk for WINTER’S BONE (which I missed), not to mention that full-page color ad in today’s Times, you’d think at least one damn theatre in L.A. would bring it back. But no-o-o-o-o-o…

  8. yancyskancy says:

    chris: “it’s” is correct in Logan’s sentence, if that’s what you’re referring to.

    Now I guess someone can slam me for ending that sentence in a preposition.

  9. moviegoer11 says:

    I agree that “The Kids are All Right” and “Black Swan” might not be close to getting a best picture trophy but I disagree with you on the film “The Fighter” and “Inception”. I think either could very well sneak up on the favorites and take it all.

  10. musealien says:

    I believe Chris is referring to the incorrect use of “it’s” in the second sentence of the piece, where of course it should read “its”.

    Here’s the rule: it’s always “its” unless it means it is. Then it’s “it’s”. No exceptions.

  11. The Pope says:

    Yes, I used to rebuke people for ending sentences with prepositions… until they ended their replies with a fist to the face.

  12. Krillian says:


    Puncuate that. (What movie?)

  13. berg says:

    Winter’s Bone is Roadside Attractions, not LG

  14. Good Dr. Not Bordwell says:

    That that is, is. That that is not, is not. Is that it? It is.

    I wish I knew the movie.

  15. jason says:

    david – what happened to your top 10 lists of the contenders? i always looked forward to that

  16. Oh my goodness! an incredible article dude. Thank you However I am experiencing situation with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting similar rss problem? Anyone who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx

  17. cadavra says:

    Berg: Roadside Attractions is a division of Lionsgate.

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