MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: 20 Weeks To Go

The Oblique & The Obvious

This seems like the beginning of the season.  But in reality, we’re already pretty far down the road.

By next week at this time, the only legitimately contending movies not widely seen by NY/LA media will be Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty, and Hitchcock.  So there may be a performance or two that changes the acting categories. Bigelow-Boal certainly cannot be discounted as Best Picture contenders.  And there is a lot of hum around Les Mis. But most of the meat is in the pot.

If you want a “The Year Of…” tag, here it is.  This is the Year Of The Close Fight.

We’re back to 2007 again… the year The Departed won over Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen, Babel, and Letters From Iwo Jima (soon to be re-released as “Get Off Of My BEACH!”).  Many felt, down to the night of the statues, that Sunshine was the most loved film or that Babel would shock the world. But the big studio movie that did the most business and had the big all-star cast took the gold. My thought? Academy members just enjoyed it the most. It felt like a movie of style and substance and what started as a “Marty only” movie for many became The Movie.

I expect this year’s race to see a wide spread of winners across precursor awards and critics groups.  Precluding a home run from one of The Unseen, I can imagine some agenda-pushing for, say, Beasts of the Southern Wild or Amour or Moonrise Kingdom.

But the real battle will be, I think, in Phase II (post-nominations) this year.  I can definitely imagine strong constituencies, in particular, for Life of Pi and Les Miserables and Argo and Silver Linings Playbook.  But do the lovers of these films cross over? Do any of the films have deep crossover appeal? Ah, there’s the rub!

This is a season in which the critical response to films is kind of a non-issue, unless it is relentlessly negative.  If Lincoln reviews are “just okay,” that doesn’t mean that when the voters and public get a look, there won’t be an increasing tide based on the accessibility of the film. Silver Linings Playbook is about as close to a sure hit as we’re looking at this season. Pretty much guaranteed to grab two, if not three, acting nominations.  But will that popularity make the film seem slight in the eyes of some voters? After all, it’s a romantic comedy that has a background of mental illness, not a mental illness movie with a background of romance.

Speaking of acting nominations… also wildly in flux.  And these are even more likely to be changed up by The Unseen. Is Hugh Jackman’s lead role in Les Mis the David Copperfield-Making-The-Statue-Of-Liberty-Vanish to Joaquin Phoenix’s near-perfect close-up sleight-of-hand in The Master? Does Russell Crowe blow everything up by being the actor he has shown himself to be, but this time singing his heart out in the villain’s role? If the two aging stars of Amour are too ill to ever travel to the U.S., will they be nominated anyway? Are the Hitchcock performances undeniable or stunty? Can The Academy look away from the remarkable six characters Tom Hanks brings to life in Cloud Atlas?  And who the hell is playing what the hell in Zero Dark Thirty? Who is lead? Who is supporting? And will Jason Clarke arrive as a movie star in this one?

It’s not that we don’t anything. But anyone telling you that they know who the five (or up to ten) in any category is fooling themselves and trying to fool you.

Complicating things is the two-week shortened period before nomination voting closes. January 3 is The End.   That’s 12 weeks from now. In an awards world that has seen a lot of masterfully-turned ships mid-season, there is now no mid-season. Shoot straight because if you miss the target the first time, you may not get another chance… unless you survive into the overly long period between close of nominations and the close of final voting.

It strikes me that the people currently running The Academy don’t understand power, much of it though they wield. You don’t flex your muscles by becoming more exclusionary. People understand that you are strong when there is room for the wonderfully unexpected. And that’s the irony. It’s a season in which you can’t just expect anything to happen… but the way the season is laid out, one wonders whether any thing will be surprising in a way that will be unexpected.

Be Sociable, Share!

9 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: 20 Weeks To Go”

  1. samizdat says:

    Based on the new Zero Dark Thirty trailer, the star of the film is Jessica Chastain. She’s on the intelligence side of the hunt and is then present in the field when the Special Ops forces depart.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    The Oscar season is being shortened to get out of the way for popcorn movies. Haven’t looked at the numbers, but it seems that March has become a good month for big releases since the Academy shortened the awards season.

    I’ve long thought it was way too long and still do. But pushing the start back into September and October makes sense. The kids are at football games.

  3. matt says:

    watch out for J. A. Bayona´s “The impossible” as this year underdog. The only powerful drama in a crowded field + stunning visual and sound effects + 2/3 great performances + excellent early critics reviews (89 at metacritic). Add it is a true story and the emotional factor…Seems to be a real contender, isn´t it?

  4. Stephen Holt says:

    Having just seen and LOVED “Argo” I now find the trailer of “Zero Dark Thirty” to be, er, almost the same thing all over again…

    So if they BOTH get nominated, they will split that action/thriller vote, and something completely other will slip in like “Les Miserables” or even “Anna Karenina” Long shot, I know…but it COULD make the top ten. And swoon-worthy Keira…

  5. Daniella Isaacs says:

    I agree with David that the short time period simply disallows any surprises at the end–i.e., the unexpected Laura Linney or Richard Jenkins nod. That will actually ADD to the sense of the Oscars as being an afterthought: the fifth awards show in a row offering the same nominations.

  6. chris says:

    “The Impossible” is a dog, not an underdog.

  7. Jerry says:

    Just saw Argo and what was a verry good flim at one point but was ruined by the laughably bad Hollywood suspense added to a true story. At lesst three members of a very small audiences laughed at multiple points in the silly escape.

  8. chris says:

    I’m with you, Jerry. It’s so good up to that point that the airport nonsense — which reminded me of the Jodie Foster airport movie nonsense — isn’t needed.

  9. Roy Atkinson says:

    I appreciate the fact that “Argo” director Ben Affleck invited former Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor to record a DVD commentary on what happened in real life beyond the amped-up script theatrics.

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