MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20W2O: 29 Weeks To Go

Yes, it is that time again.

Like it or not, Oscar season has begun.  We’re just 5 weeks from the Toronto International Film Festival, where a whole slew of contenders and pretenders will show themselves to a hungry media throng… and real human beings too!

I have 30 legitimate Best Picture contenders on my list right now.  And by the time TIFF ’12 ends on September 16, we who see these movies and give our opinions about their chances, will have seen more than half the field.

Did You Know?: Six of the last seven Best Picture winners had their North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival?  And the one that didn’t (The Departed) had its US junket over the last weekend of TIFF that year?

Of course, two of the Best Picture winners that North America-premiered at TIFF didn’t get released until the next year after TIFF (Crash and The Hurt Locker).  And, of course, six of the seven BP winners before that had nothing to do with TIFF.  Things change.  So don’t get overly locked into one idea of how these seasons go.

But let’s start with the Toronto list this year.

To my eye, as-likely-as-not Oscar Top 10 pictures premiering there are:

The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest – and the first 70mm release in 16 years – will hit TIFF shortly after it world-premieres at Venice.  (Telluride is out of the mix simply because of logistics.)  The film will play in the built-to-order TIFF venue, The Princess of Wales Theater, used for the first time last year when Jon Demme wanted a higher quality sound system for his premiere of Neil Young: Journeys. Dolby obliged and made the venue–which will shut down “War Horse” for a week to accommodate TIFF–into a world class 7.1 space.  Now, it will add 70mm to the mix.  The anticipation on this one is through the roof and plans are afoot for it to play on every quality 70mm-playing screen in the country… and a few that are having 70mm installed as we speak. It has all the pieces of the puzzle to fit the role of being The Movie… and now, we have to see the movie.

Anna Karenina – There is a pedigree for Joe Wright period movies with Keira Knightley.  Add Tom Stoppard’s genius to the fire here.  It surely will not be an unequivocal smash with critics, as it will be emotional… but a real BO contender, like it or not.

Silver Linings Playbook – This is the Weinstein Company’s secret weapon this season.  David O. Russell is obviously brilliant, obviously talented… and not always the Oscar voters’ cup of tea.  But with The Fighter, Russell stumbled into a tone (I say ‘stumbled” since I don’t believe he was working with one eye on awards) that touched that group the way they want to be touched.  And this film looks, on paper, to be closer to that line of attack than the ironist’s angle.  Jennifer Lawrence is, simply, on top of the world. People are waiting for a big moment for Bradley Cooper, beyond his smile. And if DeNiro can deliver a real performance – all too rare from him these days – it could quickly become a top contender.

After that, there are a lot of interesting titles that could find their way into being awards movies or just big hits that aren’t Academy friendly or… misses.  That list includes (in alphabetical order):

Argo – Ben Affleck is back behind the camera with the real-life version of a Jack Ryan movie.  Expect all the slick to be replaced by smart edge.  But is it ”An Academy Movie?”  Time will tell, but beware the lesson of Syriana, a movie so smart and complex that it wasn’t as easy to love as it was to appreciate.

Cloud Atlas – The 5-minute trailer is brilliant.  The Lana-Andy/Tom show is brilliant (more so if they show up and sell their wares at TIFF).  But it could be a stunner… or a stunner.  I have no way to judge, having not seen the film.   But it feels more commercial than award-y at this point.

End of Watch – David Ayer is a really interesting, really arch director who hasn’t hit the sweet spot yet.  Is this the one?  Open Road is very into the film, which looks like it could be a first cousin to last year’s Rampart or Ayer’s first feature, Harsh Times. These films usually overwhelm Academy types, but we’ll see.

Hyde Park on The Hudson – Is this 2012’s The King’s Speech without a Brit accent or is it a lovely little film that some people will treasure, but can’t get enough steam to become something more awards friendly?  No way of knowing until we all see it, really… and in this case, “we all” includes an audience of middle-aged and senior white people in Toronto (and likely Telluride before). Everyone roots for Bill Murray and will be happy to support the great cast overall.

Killing Them Softly – Andrew Dominik’s third feature was one of my personal favorites at Cannes and I can’t wait to see it again.  There is lots of talk about potential nominations for performances, including James Gandolfini, but I like the movie even better than that.  However, I don’t seem to be in the majority and the film, like Argo and End of Watch, would have to thread the needle to be a smart, violent, uncomfortable film that finds its way into the passionate hearts of Academy voters.

To the Wonder – Malick is back, just 16 months after The Tree of Life.  This one is a romance.  I am sure that those of us who love Malick will love this. But without a distributor on board and the reality of Malick requiring a slow burn in distribution/marketing, the odds are against this one being a contender this year, even if more than we Malickers are on board.

The rest of the field breaks down into three categories.  The Movies We’ve Seen, The Movies That Are Coming Later, and The Longshots.

I’ll start with the Laters…

Lincoln – One of the big-time presumptive front-runners. Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and a veritable stable of award-friendly actors working for Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner. But you don’t know until you know.

Untitled Bigelow Bin Laden Movie (until I see it on an ad, I won’t believe that a title as bad as Zero Dark Thirty is the actual title) – Last time in the director’s chair Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar.  So did writer/producer Mark Boal.  And so did the movie. Add last year’s phenom, Jessica Chastain and Osama bin Laden and the sky’s the limit.  Fingers crossed.  This one may end up being the last major film to be shown this season.

Django Unchained – When we think Quentin Tarantino has gone too genre to make a Best Picture run, we have repeatedly gotten a surprise.  Is this period blaxploitation buddy action comedy Oscar-bait or just a great night at the movies?

Life of Pi – Ang Lee takes us on a journey of spiritual enlightenment… scary.  It might be the magic film of the year.  It might be a bust.  It may well be the family film of the season.  But it will have to be a lot more than beautiful to get Oscar voters to fall in love.

Flight – One of the mystery movies of the season, Bob Zemeckis returns to live-action and brings Denzel with him. Is this Fearless combined with Contact with Zemeckis’ visual skills in the mix?  If so, I will love this film like a newborn baby… and audiences will too… and then Paramount has a big Oscar movie. And if not, not.

Les Miserables – Dramatic musicals have become a non-starter with The Academy in recent years.  Chicago was the last nominee/winner… and it was, really, a comedy.  You can hedge with Amadeus (’84) or All That Jazz (’79), but really you have to go back to Cabaret in 1972 to find a dramatic musical that last got nominated.  Is 40 years the charm? Great cast. Oscar-winner Tom “The King’s Speech” Hooper at the helm. Bring it on.

The Great Gatsby – There is all kinds of negativity surrounding the latest from Baz Luhrmann.  But lots of people have lost out by underestimating Luhrmann’s odd vision.  Then again, Australia.  The proof is in the pudding. But the great cast keeps the film worth talking about, even from a distance.

And the ones we’ve seen…

Amour – A great movie. Won Cannes, which is not in its favor. But this is one foreign language film that’s so good, so emotional, so much about Academy-aged people, and so emotionally powerful that it could be one of the rare foreign language films to get a BP nomination.

The Sessions – God, I hate this title.  This is a good, smart movie with three likely acting nominations to come out of it.  Is that enough for Best Picture? I don’t know. There is a lot of indie that feels indie on the charts this year… very competitive.

The Intouchables – The Weinsteins have a lot going on this year.  But they shouldn’t lose sight of this one.  Of all the “indie” films that have been in release this year, there is none that gets the unanimity and depth of love that this one has. I know that the endgame is an English-language remake, but this could grab one of what will likely be at least three “indie/foreign” spots.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – A solid hit for Searchlight that’s well-liked. Did it peak too early?  Maybe… mostly because there is so much good product for the over-50 set this season.

Moonrise Kingdom – A solid hit for Focus that’s well-liked.  But will it be weighty enough to hold off other “intimate” films?

Beasts of the Southern Wild – A success for Searchlight… but is this Best Picture material?  It will get a lot of critics awards and be high on a lot of Top Ten lists.  But this is The Academy and my guess is that it won’t be able to hold off the competition in this niche.

The longshots are on the chart.

Right now, it looks like one of those seasons with a whole lot of indie-minded films in the mix.  WB has six big, powerful movies coming… but it’s not clear that any of them are serious Oscar bait in the end.  And yet, four of them could be right there in the mix if they deliver in ways that fit.  The Hobbit will challenge WB to get another set of Hobbits in the game, even though the first set was so well loved.  Is Gatsby a winner or an oddity?  Is Argo too rough?  And what will Cloud Atlas really be?

Of course, a Best Picture list of big directors—Spielberg, Anderson, Bigelow, Lee, Jackson, Zemeckis, and Tarantino—wouldn’t be all that shocking.

That’s what makes this time of year fun… we’ve only just begin.

Current Frontrunners

Sept The Master TWC PT Anderson Hoffman, Phoenix, Adams
May The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Fx Srch Madden Smith, Dench
Dec Untitled Bin Laden Sony Bigelow
Nov Lincoln DW/Dis Spielberg
Dec Amour SPC Haneke Trintignant, Riva
Dec Anna Karenina Focus Joe Wright
Tom Stoppard
Knightley, Aaron Johnson
May The Intouchables TWC Nakache
Cluzet, Sy
Nov Silver Linings Playbook TWC Russell DeNiro, Lawrence, Cooper
Dec Life of Pi FxSrch Lee

Other Contenders (by distributor)

Dec The Great Gatsby WB Luhrman DiCaprio, Mulligan, Maguire
Dec The Hobbit WB Jackson
Oct Argo WB Affleck Affleck, Arkin, Cranston
Trouble with the Curve WB Eastwood, Adams
July The Dark Knight Rises WB Nolan
Oct Cloud Atlas WB Wachowski
Hanks, Berry
Dec Django Unchained TWC Tarantino Foxx, DiCaprio
Oct Killing Them Softly TWC Dominik Pitt, Gandolfini
? Only God Forgives TWCRad Refn Gosling
Dec This Is 40 U Apatow Mann, Rudd, Brooks
Dec Les Miserables U Hooper Crowe, Jackman, Hathaway
June Ted U McFarlane
June Moonrise Kingdom Focus Anderson
Dec Hyde Park on Hudson Focus Michell Murray, Linney, Colman, Williams
Oct The Sessions FxSrch Lewin Hawkes, Hunt, Macy
June Beasts of the Southern Wild FxSrch Zeitlin Quvenzhané Wallis
Sept Won’t Back Down Fox/Wal Barnz Davis, Gyllenhaal
Nov Flight Par Zemeckis Washington
Oct Untitled David Chase Par David Chase
Sept End of Watch OpRd Ayer Gyllenhaal
Aug Hope Springs Sony Frankel Streep, Jones
Dec Rust & Bone  SPC Audiard Cotillard

Films That Could Contend, But Are Still Without Distribution

To the Wonder Malick Affleck, McAdams
Mud Nichols
Imogene Berman
Wiig, Bening, Lyonne
Inside Llewellyn Davis Coens
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24 Responses to “20W2O: 29 Weeks To Go”

  1. Unemployed Bum says:

    I’ve been unemployed for about 3 months now so I have been going to a bunch of test screenings. I’ve see a lot of the oscar contenders above. I’ll give a few thoughts, but don’t want to comment too much on unfinished films.

    Flight – A I loved this movie. Def Oscar contender. This is Denzel’s Leaving Las Vegas. It’s a much darker film then the trailer suggests. Can see this being a box office hit and awards contender for film, actor, director, screenplay

    Killing them Softly – A- Solid solid flick. Agree with much of what’s been said. Can’t wait to see it again

    End of Watch – B Entertaining cop film. Don’t see awards in its future. Had issues with it, especially the bad guys and the end. But it worked.

    Cloud Atlas B- Need to see this one again when it comes out. Really loved the two Jim Broadbent stories. Those would get an A. I was pretty mixed on the others. Hated the post apocalypitc story with Hanks and Berry. A lot went over my head, I knew nothing of the story going in. I think I will like it a lot more after another viewing.

    Silver Lining Playbook – C . I love David O Russell, but this was a disappointment. Flirting with Disaster is my favorite Ben Stiller movie and I am a big fan of Huckabees and The Fighter and the Jeremy Davies film where he sleeps with his mom, which i can’t remember the name of now. The cut I saw was def rough, so I can see it improving. Just didn’t connect with the characters at all. There are some great scenes and the performances are solid, I just never cared about the story or got emotionally involved with the characters.

  2. Keil Shults says:

    Glad to see you giving The Master the early recognition you withheld from TWBB back in 2007, even though I feel its style and subject matter could keep it just beyond the grasp of the average Oscar voter. Nevertheless, it’s been my most anticipated film for the past 2 years or so, and I’m glad it’s presently atop your predictions list.

  3. Keil Shults says:

    Unemployed Bum is either a very bland gimmick or a very inane pundit. Either way, I hope he finds solid solid work in another field.

  4. Keil Shults says:

    preferably an onion field

  5. Keil Shults says:

    Whatever happened to David O. Russell’s Nailed? Where is its Twitter campaign? Also, would a 3-D theatrical release of The Room be eligible for Oscar consideration? I’m particularly thinking of the Best Song category.

  6. etguild2 says:

    Nice rundown.

    Though, if I may point out, documentary master Ron Fricke’s SAMSARA is 70mm and drops late next month (so pumped!). I’m guessing maybe you meant feature film.

  7. sanj says:

    pure horror films are missing and so is Pixar / Dreamworks films ..

  8. Keil Shults says:

    Say what you see, Gareth.

  9. Stephen Holt says:

    Great handy list, David! As as you keep reminding us, it’s the Academy voters. It’s all about the Academy voters. How many of them are over 100 now? It’s like 90 is the median age.

    But are they REALLY going to embrace a film about Scientology? Or something like it?

    They notoriously HATE scientologists, just as a rule.

  10. Krillian says:

    What’s Ted doing in that chart?

    Very excited for the last four months of the year.

  11. Keil Shults says:

    Yeah, wtf? Ted? It’s either a joke or a mistake. If not, might as well throw The Hunger Games in there.

  12. bulldog68 says:

    Hey, Ted could be this year’s Bridesmaids. Who knows?

  13. Keil Shults says:

    Ted Demme has a better chance of a nomination this year than Ted.

  14. Daniella Isaacs says:

    “Did You Know?: Six of the last seven Best Picture winners had their US premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival?” Uh, Toronto isn’t in the US, David.

  15. David Poland says:

    I believe Ted has a legitimate shot at a Best Screenplay nomination. As such, it got on the list.

    I think it’s fair to say that some acting nod candidates, effects, etc, aren’t included, so Ted probably shouldn’t be either, on that basis.

  16. David Poland says:

    Someone else pointed that out this morning, Daniella… fixed now… dumb error… site down for a while, so couldn’t get in to fix it until 12:30 or so.

  17. Keil Shults says:

    What about that Robot and Frank movie? Didn’t it get a lot of festival/audience buzz?

    Also, it’s sad that anyone would be predicting more Oscar potential for Ted than Bernie, but that film really got screwed. Maybe Jack Black can land a few indie acting noms later in the year to give the film an 11th hour boost. I’m not in any way saying that I believe it has a legitimate shot at any Oscar noms, but it’d be nice if it wasn’t completely forgotten. It actually did decent at the box office despite the complete lack of marketing, which is further proof that with a little push and a little love it could have been a real sleeper hit (especially in the South).

  18. Daniella Isaacs says:

    At this point, I would bet more on LES MISERABLES than BEST EXOTIC making the cut, since it seems like a hard-to-screw-up property (especially with Hooper directing)–though the film does feel like it was produced about fifteen years later than it should have been. Even with that concern the crowd at SNOW WHITE seemed blown away by the trailer.

  19. Keil Shults says:

    When do we get a trailer for Seven Psychopaths?

  20. anghus says:

    good column. Might be P.T.A.’s year. It would be great if Flight took off and Zemeckis returned as a solid filmmaker instead of a creepy 3D shill.

  21. Krillian says:

    I just remembered that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a movie that most people hated, was nominated. So you know, extra points if you have a pedigree and come out in December, regardless of quality. Congratulations, Zero Dark Thirty and Great Gatsby. You’re in.

    Am I in a small minority that happens to really like the title Zero Dark Thirty? I hope they don’t name it something simplistic like Kill Bin Laden.

  22. chris says:

    Good list (although, personally, I see no way “Exotic Marigold Hotel” gets anywhere near best picture and, at this point, “Moonrise Kingdom” looks far more likely).

  23. Daniella Isaacs says:

    I’d say the “pedigree” thing helps THE HOBBIT more than anything else. Every time Jackson goes to Middle Earth, he comes back with Oscar nominations.

  24. cadavra says:

    I wouldn’t write off MARIGOLD. It’s got the Searchlight machine behind it, a cast full of Oscar-friendly thesps, and a theme that’s catnip to older Academy voters. Plus everyone likes it.

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