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David Poland

By David Poland

19 Weeks To Oscar: The Mean Season?

Maybe my mind has gotten cloudy, but it feels like the movies that seem to be rising to the top of the Oscar season are tougher this year than I remember them being in quite a while.

The Descendants is about a family dealing with anticipatory grief… J Edgar is about one nasty piece of work… The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo bounces between violence, rape, incest, and murder… Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close survives 9/11… The Iron Lady is about one nasty piece of British work… The Help tackles racism… Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is about a mole endangering other secret agents in a dark, more-realistic-than-Bond world… Shame follows a sex addict… Young Adult is about a deluded, pathetic, self-destructive beauty… Moneyball is about a guy with a brilliant idea but who still can’t win… The Ides of March is a dark tale of losing political faith… A Dangerous Method centers on an insane woman… Albert Nobbs has all the joy of Remains of the DayTake Shelter hinges on a man’s sanity… The Lady is about a political prisoner… Anonymous is about a man who can’t acknowledge his own life’s work… Carnage is about four hateful people… Drive is loaded with blood-soaked early-80s fun… and Rampart is about a man spiraling out of control.

Phew! Fun season!

So you wonder why The Artist has so much heat? Do you get why Midnight in Paris gets a lot of love for being a pleasure? Have we seriously considered how a good old-fashioned weepie directed by a master filmmaker – War Horse – could change the game? Can we appreciate that people really, really want to fall in love with We Bought A Zoo?

Who knows how things will really shake out? Despite NYFCC’s notion that the year ends in the next few weeks, we have months before Academy members start considering what they will put in their #1 – #3 slots, so key to a nomination this year.

Don’t get me wrong. My personal Top 5 will probably be a lot more from the dark list than the light. (Maybe all from the dark with some non-BP contenders thrown in.) But there is something inherently compelling about that movie that will take Academy voters hand and cup it gently and tell them that the world can be a good place and everything will be ok.

The Academy Awards is, and always has been, about what those 5800 people like… what they really like! Sometimes, liking also means making a statement. But if any of you see a Schindler’s List on the board this season, give me a ring.

What I see is Rocky vs Taxi Driver, All The President’s Men, Network, and Bound for Glory. What I see is Gladiator vs Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, and Traffic (and a fluff ball called Chocolat).

But here’s what I am hopeful about.

I think this could be a season in which The Academy acts like a large group of adults and not like a squeamish group of prudes. After all, we are only a few years away from The Academy awarding The Departed and then No Country For Old Men, back-to-back. And Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker following is not too lightweight.

But I’m not worrying about the win so much. I still think it’s The Artist that will steal the heart of The 4%. But what about the nominations?

People are scared to believe in David “2 BOP Nods In 2 Years” Fincher’s adaptation of the epic hit novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

People are anxious about getting behind the very tough, remarkably artful Shame.

After critics fretted aggressively about the softness of The Help, that soft edge is now making it a hot title in conversations about which film could win Best Picture…. not amongst critics… just voters… you know, the ones who actually decide.

Does Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close have a happy ending? Maybe, but if it doesn’t reverse time, how happy can it really be?

There is a lot of humor and pathos in The Descendants. And surprisingly, Clooney’s performance is a lot closer to the silent work of Jean Dujardin’s than not. Much of his character is expressed in mopey, worried eyes. Is that the balance that will stick?

No one can know for anything close to sure at this point. The scale is leaning so heavily to the dark that voters could desperately seek the light… or try to embrace the best of the dark… or seek the perfect shade in between.

The award season is like a first date, each and every time. You’ve been told a lot about her… she’s been told a lot about you… and then, you actually sit there together and find out whether there’s any chemistry or if you’re just two attractive people who don’t really want to spend another minute together. Maybe you’re just friends. Maybe you’re torrid lovers who burn out the romance a heated week.

Consultants, who study likes and dislikes closely, are there to tell her to pick at a salad or eat a steak, him to make sure his nose hair is clipped or to wear Birkenstocks because this chick digs Birkenstocks even though he wears wingtips every day of his life.

Critics groups are like family members who are there to remind everyone why this relationship must work… or can never work… from a distance and always more opinionated than the daters really care to hear.

But eventually, it’s just the two of you. Naked or clothed. Lights on or off. And you want to be there more than you want to be anywhere else or you don’t. You heard all the opinions. But it’s your vote.

And all we can do, here on the outside looking in, is to hope that this year, Academy members will take a deep breath and allow themselves the chance to get comfortable with being a little more uncomfortable than they usually are. From this, often the greatest romances bloom.

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4 Responses to “19 Weeks To Oscar: The Mean Season?”

  1. AJ says:

    Why do all you “Oscar Bloggers” continue to ignore Jolie’s IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY ??? The trailer was fantastic. You’re gonna be surprised when it starts getting rave reviews.

  2. GAK says:

    How are Anonymous and The Help on this list when one of the most ambitious, well-recieved, and awarded films of the year, The Tree of Life, is completely ignored?

  3. K. Bowen says:

    Agreed. Tree of Life?

  4. David Poland says:

    Uh… this is not a season chart… Tree of Life is on the list.

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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