MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

29 Weeks To Oscar: Pre-Toronto


It’s that time again. The horses are being walked to the gate. The jockeys, trainers, and reporters are talking strategy. In a few weeks, the race will start… and just 6 short months later, someone will win.


Disney will be involved in the non-animated race in a serious way for the first time in a while, with DreamWorks now in-house and Spielberg’s War Horse and long-shot August release, The Help.

Universal’s not really playing, except via Focus.

Focus is really a one film situation this year… at least, going into Toronto. They could really pick up one of the hot titles without distribution and push it out there in a hurry. They’ve been down the road successfully with Meirelles and Weisz… though that suggests the possibility that they haven’t already bought 360 for a reason. The Terrence Davies movie, also with Weisz, is the other seeming fit. The rest feel a bit too violent or topical for the usual tastes of the company… but who knows. Getting back to their one title, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy opens in the UK on September 16, a couple of weeks after its Venice fest premiere, and right in the midst of TIFF, where it will not be. Will this strategy work? If the movie is truly great, there are few rules that matter. If it is just good, it’s a decent indie hit with a potential nomination for Gary Oldman, whose been blackballed in Hollywood for most of the last decade.

Fox has their usual one title… which they will probably wait to decide on in December and spend nothing but regular old theatrical release dollars until they get excited – if there is heavy awards buzz before opening – in December.

Fox Searchlight, which released Reitman’s first two movies to great success, offers the clearest block to the O-tweener vote, the current elder statesman of Oscar Dramedy, Alexander Payne. He returns with The Descendants, which has it’s own odd blockade to overcome, The Dueling Clooneys. Both Clooney films will be at Toronto and one of them will come out as the top dog of the two. But they are tonally different, so maybe it’s a two Clooney season. Searchlight also has Malick’s The Tree of Life, which they have built into a $12m summer grosser, this summer’s Winter’s Bone to Midnight in Paris‘ 2011 version of The KIds Are All Right. (This summer’s indie hits will have each grossed double or more than last year’s counterparts.) Also, though they have not announced it yet, I expect John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, loaded with brilliant aging Brits, to join the race with a year-end exclusive 2-coast release and a January expansion. (Harvey Style!!!!)

Paramount has a boatload of work in front of them in November and December, just releasing four commercial movies. No doubt, they will campaign all four. Only Mission:Impossible 4 is a complete non-starter (except for effects) in awards season. Is Hugo an Oscar movie or just a beautiful, commercial family film? Will Tintin be another billion dollar worldwide hit and force its way into an Oscar nomination? And Jason “Mr. Dramedy Oscar” Reitman’s latest, Young Adult, driven by tour de force performances by Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt, become the Oscar tweener (35-50) favorite? It’s not hard to imagine Paramount with two Best Picture nominations… or none… even if all four movies are terrific. The mood of the room will be a lot.

WB has both an early frontrunner in Clint Eastwood’s Edgar J. and a late entry in the Stephen Daldry (all he makes are Oscar films!) film, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which threatens to remind us how big a star Tom Hanks still is when he makes a movie people really want to see. (Sandra Bullock is a bit of a draw as well. Ha!) The studio also has a couple industrial strength commercial movies coming in the holiday season… but neither will distract from the clear awards focus for these two films. In other words, there is no Inception to leave them beating their head against an imaginary wall.

Sony is the most loaded company of them all. Three serious contenders from the big studio. At least four serious players from the Sony Classics division. The two operate separately, but wow… that’s a wide load. Theories that SPC will push Whit Stillman’s latest into the season persist, but they have the problem of too much of a good thing… on top of what shouild be a very commercial Almodovar movie and their usual load of foreign language contenders and with doc qualifying going later this year, a chance to add even more contenders to their usual selection.

Big Sony is letting Moneyball and The Ides of War go at, releasing them within 2 weeks of each other and sending both to Toronto. As with George and George competing, there is the possibility that Brad and George can both go to the dance. But the tone out there right now is Ides over Ball. The third horse is a film that I think is one of the most underrated contenders of the season, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Working against it is that it was out just last year in a homegrown incarnation and that it’s quite violent. On the other hand, it is right in Fincher’s wheelhouse and the older audiences of The Academy have read and loved the books, so they know what’s coming.

Sony Classics will get Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris over $50m domestic. A near lock for a nomination if they don’t fall asleep at the wheel as the season goes on. They need to find a couple of supporting actors to push hard and even if they don’t get nominations, they will keep the BP push moving forward. The biggest challenge they have is Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter. Nichols is an emerging major filmmaker with a great cast. But it feels indie and it’s easy for those films to get lost (and win a bunch at Indie Spirits). Their other two big titles, A Dangerous Method and Carnage, are really films that make their own gravy… or don’t. Both have enough star power, director power, critical interest, and commercial potential that they will either muscle their way into the game or fade quickly. Of course, if they are in the thick of the game, SPC will have to prioritize and figure out which pieces to move in which direction.

Last, but certainly not least, is The Weinstein Company. Right now, it’s The Iron Lady and The Artist, both of which are complicated sells, but could be turned into award season magic tricks. Others will disagree, but I don’t see My Week With Marilyn, Coriolanus, or W.E. as realistic Best Picture contenders. The company that brought us Colin Firth’s first Oscar nomination a few months after picking up A Single Man at TIFF is, perhaps, in the best position to load up at the festival this year. Eye of the Storm, The Lady, and Shame all feel like movies that Harvey would know how to exploit better than anyone, pushing performance first.

Right now, I don’t see smaller indies like Roadside or Oscilloscope with Best Picture horses to run. And I have no idea whether they want to go down that road again this year. (Roadside’s Albert Nobbs smells of a Glenn Close nomination and no more.) There’s also Lionsgate waiting in the weeds. Rampart and Killer Joe each seem like good fits for them. And FilmDistrict, which seems to be hiding The Rum Diary, would also seem to be smart fits for those films, each of which has Oscar pedigree, so even if there’s no Best Picture likelihood, FD could score their first Oscar nods in their first year of business. Street cred.

I think that covers the field at this point. One never knows when a NatGeo or Magnolia will get the urge to go for it. But I have a list of 23 realistic Best Picture contenders… and of course, many of them won’t be realistic for too much longer. It’s time to see most of the movies.

We’ll catch up after TIFF and before you know it, we’ll be 20 weeks away and you’ll be stuck with me every week.

Here’s the first chart of the season…

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8 Responses to “29 Weeks To Oscar: Pre-Toronto”

  1. Michael. says:

    I agree about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, most people seem too quick to dismiss it. Maybe they are Fincher-nuts and don’t want to get their hopes up only to fall at the last hurdle again. If its good and a box office hit (odds are it will be both – and no one seems to be arguing against that) then it will definitely be a strong contender, no matter its violence, nudity or genre leanings. That’s my two cents.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    TGWTDT will be topical after the Norway shootings and growing fear of well-funded right-wing extremism.

  3. Danny says:

    WB has two obvious BP hopefuls in Edgar J. and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. But what do you make of the talk that they will also push for a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 BP nom as a franchise capper, and taking advantage of the Billion plus box office and overwhelmingly positive reviews (you hint at such a scenario for TinTin)? Will there be a serious push, or just one for appearances sake (as a thank you to the series)? Do Rickman or Fiennes have any chances in the Supporting Actor category? Or will there only be craft nominations to be expected? Academy nom love has been spotty at bets for the HP movies, but with this year the final film being so particularly successful with critics and box office, might we see more Academy attention?

  4. David Poland says:

    Danny… I don’t think much of it.

    The only analogous situation was Rings, and all three of them were nominated before a win.

    Traditionally, mega-business keeps films out of the race. And as good as everyone as in Potter, it’s still a summer movie and a kids movie and remember, The Academy is about those 5800 people over 35, not “the best” or most popular.

  5. cadavra says:

    But that assumes it’s “just a kids movie.” A lot of us old dudes love the Potters because they’re old-fashioned epic filmmaking, with a solid story well-told and a cast full of UK acting royalty. I’m not saying it’s a front-runner, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out-of-hand, especially on the charge that it skews “young.”

  6. Danny says:

    David, if you give TinTin and outside chance (should it reach one billion), you can’t dismiss HPDH2 just because it’s a summer film. It will after all overtake LOTR:ROTK for the #3 spot in worldwide box office in a few weeks. And as cadavra notes, it is very popular in the “over 35” crowd, and much better known in that crowd than TinTin, a comic book mostly for kids, which I love because I grew up with it in Europe, but which has nothing like the built in fanbase or pre-knowledge factor here in the States.

    The LOTR analogy could be read thus: LOTR:ROTK won a historic 11 oscars after two previous BP noms and 6 wins. An amazing track record.

    HP’s previous 9 noms for 7 films in 5 categories (score, art dir, cinematography, costume, visual effects) indicates a less forceful but still broad swath of industry support, which could lead to many more nominations for the final most successful film of the series, including a BP nod (I’m counting on the British members of AMPAS to help push it over the 5% hurdle). I don’t see it winning BP though.

    I think it would be shortsighted to leave HPDH2 completely out of the conversation at this stage.

  7. Bob Burns says:

    Potter takes off if Rowling campaigns. Who knows if she cares that much about it though? Her brand is bigger than Oscar.

    Richer than the Queen and more beloved with 400 million copies sold. HP, as a whole, is the highest grossing film of all time. Plus, Rowling’s about to sell her books to the same people all over again as enhanced e-books. What does she need with the Academy? No idea.

    No Rowling, tough sell. She’s the one with the big dick. If she does not come and ask for their support (without actually asking, of course) they won’t give it.

    As far as I’m concerned, they should award HP. The industry lives off these films. When one comes along that’s awards worthy they should jump at the chance to embrace it. But what they should do and will do, well……

  8. Michael. says:

    Potter’s only chance is for a lack of strong British contenders. It needs at least one or two of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Iron Lady and Albert Nobbs to fall flat. If this happens then I think it would be slightly foolish to not consider it a viable contender for a nomination. After all, HP is the most important thing to happen to the British film industry in, like, ever.

    Then again, maybe all it needs is for all the Academy members who worked on the films to put it at #1.

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