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David Poland

By David Poland

18 Weeks To Oscar: Stepping Back

We are now officially in the heat of Oscar season. In the next month, every voter in every major group will have had the chance to see every movie that is serious about any nomination (aside from the titles in committeed categories).

In the next week, J. Edgar, Hugo, and Tintin will all roll out for the media.

I expect The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to be the last film screened for voters, though there is already hum about “long lead” screenings on the way. There have already been “long lead” screenings for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. And consultants and studio execs outside of Fox are assuming that We Bought A Zoo is being seen quietly. (What “long lead” means in these cases, as we’ve passed the lead times for December magazines, is Old Media that wants to take its time, to gather pretty pictures, and to flex their muscles while they still have them. And there’s always room for a quote whore or two.)

A minor tempest erupted this week, as Disney and DreamWorks started doing buzz screenings of War Horse around the country, almost a month before they have their first “everyone” screening of the film scheduled. Oddly, a series of similar screenings have been happening in the last couple of weeks for Young Adult. Both programs have the same intent… and it’s not about Oscar. It’s about getting the movies into the virtual watercooler conversations of the public.

Not everything is about awards.

I know. Shocking.

It’s strange being in the tumble cycle of all of this. It’s like standing in front of a giant buffet of some truly exceptional ingredients and flavors, but feeling forced to consume everything we want in a couple of hours. Do you take a single bite of everything or choose a protein or focus on one course over the others?

People complain about Oscar obsession amongst media. But besides the business reasons I mentioned in the first 20W2O column, there is this functionality of getting through the season. It’s not that we’re (all) obsessed… it’s that there is so much to consume. It’s an impossible goal as well as being sadly reductive.

At the LA “pop-up” screening of Young Adult, one couldn’t help but to be thrilled by the work of Patton Oswalt. But in a couple of small scenes, Collette Wolfe takes hold of the frame and owns it. And has no chance of an award attention other than as part of a long-shot ensemble nomination from SAG.

Ezra Miller steals scenes from the mighty Tilda in We Have To Talk About Kevin. But almost no one is talking about him.

Oscar nominees Amy Ryan and Paul Giamatti were great in Win Win. (They are the pairing that would make a revived The Thin Man series fly.) But newcomer Alex Shaffer is a spectacular surprise as the kid who becomes a part of their family.

Saoirse Ronan kills, literally anf figuratively, in Hanna.

Mia Wasikowska has had a remarkable triptych of work this year, with Jane Eyre, Restless, and Albert Nobbs. (And rumors that John Hillcoat’s bootlegger drama The Wettest County In the World may jump into the season are unlikely, given that most of the cast is already pushing for nominations for other movies this year.)

And God knows that mentioning Mel Gibson or Anton Yelchin or Jodie Foster’s work on The Beaver is just not allowed.

Almost no one seems concerned about the supporting casts of War Horse or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and can’t make their minds up about which great performance in support of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy can make it or even picking one of Jessica Chastain’s performances to get behind.

The biggest stretches we’re seeing amongst the know-it-alls are for two performances we’ve never seen; Max von Sydow and Jim Broadbent. Both are glorious actors and I’m happy to see them as part of the conversation. But when Actor X has “no chance” because one of them is “in” sight unseen… oy.

Stepping back for a moment, I have to remind myself of the privilege of seeing an Eastwood, a Scorsese, and a Spielberg all in one week… all with clean prints in optimal viewing situations. This is kid-in-candy-store stuff. “What does it mean?” can wait for a frickin’ second, no?

Starting yesterday, I am now scheduled to DP/30 eight singularly talented people in a week… half of them strong, successful women. In the heat of award season, it’s not just a guy’s world. How fortunate am I?

Will all of these people get Oscar nominations? No. Does it really matter? No. Of course, every one of them would enjoy the love of the industry as represented by the awards. But these are all working actors whose careers are only getting stronger after their work this year. Not being nominated is not “not being noticed.”

And I am sure I am missing a bunch of people.

Am I anxious to see Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Absolutely. And I will make awards arguments at that time. But that is not why I am really excited about seeing the film. I want to see a master filmmaker’s work with some really interesting material.

35 movies, to date, have grossed over $70 million this year. The only ones with any awards buzz are Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, The Help, and Rango for Best Animated Feature. Yes, some of the movies being buzzed right now will emerged and gross over $70m. But I think you get my point.

“Too many good movies” is a great problem to have. Being forced to talk to dozens of incredibly talented people who are passionate about the work they’ve done this year… a GREAT problem to have.

The hard part of Oscar season, for me, is in about 6 weeks, when everyone but Oscar has announced nominees, when we’ve seen all the movies, when the talent goes away to Maui or Paris, and 70% of the hopefuls are no longer so hopeful.

It is another joy to go through the 2 months of campaigning with the nominees. I look forward to the Jean Dujardin version of The King’s Speech, as he learns English so well that he ends up sounding like Colin Firth by the Academy luncheon. I will be giddy if The Academy steps up to some of the more challenging movies in the mix and everyone else should be as well. Months of being snubbed by Clooney aside from a few knowing smirks at some cocktail function is always fun. I expect a really interesting mix of the veterans and rising stars to move forward this year.

But oh for the early season, when everyone still has a chance, and the movies are still fresh and multiplying like genius bunnies. All crankiness and cynicism aside, I still love it.

19 Weeks To Oscar (20W2O) Charts: October 23, 2011
19 Weeks To Oscar: The Mean Season?
20 Weeks To Oscar (20W2O) Charts: October 23, 2011
20 Weeks To Oscar: Line Dance
1 Week To 20 Weeks To Oscar: Counting Best Picture Ballots

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One Response to “18 Weeks To Oscar: Stepping Back”

  1. movielocke says:

    “A minor tempest erupted this week, as Disney and DreamWorks started doing buzz screenings of War Horse around the country, almost a month before they have their first “everyone” screening of the film scheduled. Oddly, a series of similar screenings have been happening in the last couple of weeks for Young Adult. Both programs have the same intent… and it’s not about Oscar. It’s about getting the movies into the virtual watercooler conversations of the public.

    Not everything is about awards.

    I know. Shocking.”

    Sasha’s article today had a few cranky lines that these sorts of screenings are irritating because no film can win /build buzz without the bloggers and I thought, “really?” Glad to see a bit more perspective and awareness from you. 🙂

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