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David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: Late October And Still No True Frontrunner

So here’s what’s happened since Toronto…

Gravity opened to massive business and great reviews now seems to be locked into a Best Picture nomination.

Captain Phillips opened to strong business (for a drama) and mostly positive reviews and now seems to be locked into a Best Picture nomination.

12 Years A Slave has opened in a 17-screen run, did rather well, has glowing reviews, and now seems to be locked into a Best Picture nomination.

After that… no one really knows.

A movie that had no more than the tip of their tippy toe in the race moved to 2014 (Foxcatcher). A movie that boasts one of The Academy’s recent beloveds decided to push into 2014 (The Monuments Men). Scorsese is cutting his movie so Paramount can be happy releasing it at Christmas and showing it to press in the days after Thanksgiving.

Saving Mr. Banks opened in London to nice, but unconvincing reviews. American Hustle launched a new trailer, which has fans and detractors abuzz.

And then there’s everyone else.

In our Gurus o’ Gold chart, we split the films into The Seen and The Unseen. Amongst The Seen, there are a possible 150 points for a Best Picture candidate. The top three candidates are all at 119 or better. The #4 candidate is at 73 votes. What does that tell you? Everyone is still in the game for nominations. There are 15 movies with at least 2 Gurus voting the title into the Top 9 (which was how many nominees there were last year).

Amongst The Unseen, 90 points was the cap. There are 3 films over 60 points (Hustle, Banks, and Wolf) and the two now left (goodbye to Mr. Clooney & Co) are at 30 & 23 points. Using the same standard for consensus as I just did for The Seens, that suggests that The Gurus think the top 2 movies are pretty much in the “locked in” category, sight unseen, and the third high scorer (Wolf) would still be #6 overall.

So pick all 6 as “in” or pick 5… the question still remains… which are The Other 3? You could go familiar with Alexander Payne, the Coens, and Lee Daniels. You could go all movie star with Streep, Redford, and Blanchett. You could push the edge with Spike Jonze, Denis Villeneuve, and Jean-Marc Vallée. Or you could mix them all up, along with some other candidates, and make a great salad.

And what about the true potential shockers… gentle ones like like Philomena or The Book Thief or Enough Said... or more mainstream directors pushing the envelope like Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor (leaning male), Jason Reitman’s Labor Day (leaning female) or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (leaning earnest).

Every movie has a different story. Labor Day, for instance, kinda got lost in the hyperventilating over !2 Years A Slave and Gravity at Telluride and then Toronto. Is it another Little Children? Yeah…a bit. But maybe it will have better luck with real audiences and find itself racing. Walter Mitty kinda got smacked by not being arty enough for the critics at NYFF… but again, real people are not critics. They might make a more intimate attachment.

You want my bet? I think we know the Top 6 now and that Philomena is a mighty strong dark horse to be #7. I don’t see it winning Best Picture, but it could well be a lot of people’s favorite, warmest film of the season. It also could be the strongest of the Weinstein pictures. Then I would say, pick 2 between Butler, Osage, The Coens, and Alexander Payne.

Also… I have a blind spot every year… a movie that I just don’t see making it, but that has very strong support from the gut from a lot of people. That movie could be All is Lost this year.

The truth is, there are 25 films still on the Gurus chart, 5 of which have not been widely seen, and only 2 would really shock me if nominated. And 1 of those 2 is a movie I kinda love, but which stiffed at the box office (Rush).

I don’t know that I have ever seen a season where the many people lining up for revenue from Oscar ads are quite this hyperactive trying to claim there is significant news going on almost daily. There isn’t. There haven’t been huge trend shifts. Nothing is trying to break up the 12 Years of Gravity party that is all too easy to assume since you already know what those films are.

In the beginning, there is Us… the prognosticators and scene setters. But the new trend in entertainment journalism is to have many voices… so many that you really can’t trust most outlets’ headlines, as you don’t know who is writing the story you’ll be opening. Then there are the con artists who just want to keep pretending to know when they are really just guessing.

Truth is, We have usually set the field pretty effectively by mid-November. 80%-plus of nominees are pretty well guessed at by then. So then it gets even weirder, as We fight over the last 20% and attempt to “win” by guessing the winners before anyone else. Every minor shift gets overemphasized because it – how dare it! – surprises Us. What started as somewhat rational prognostication turns personal… and sometimes ugly. And the people who have jobs trying to convince Us of this or that get sharper edged, which is often misconstrued as “dirty tricks,” but outside of the bubble is just called “publicity.”

But in the end… and this is the pleasure of it all… it is about those 5800 potential voters. They decided. They engage their personal tastes, whether We all agree with them or not. They will tell Us what They think… and then we will spend a lot of column inches (certainly in this column) trying to explain why and why it wasn’t all that obvious a week earlier.

But yeah… when those nominations are announced in January, they will be over 80% “I told you so.” And maybe there will be a true frontrunner by then. This year, who knows? (And that’s not just a ploy to get more Phase 2 ads… at least not here… at least not now. That’s about all you can ask from award season.)

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5 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: Late October And Still No True Frontrunner”

  1. KMS says:

    Lessons of the Season:

    If you opened before summer and didn’t have massive box office you might as well give up.

    Not even your fans will try to keep you in the mix.

    It’s more fun to talk about films nobody’s seen than to promote underdog films you’ve seen and loved.

  2. pj says:

    I thought Philomena was a dark horse too until it Weinstein moved Streep and August to GG Comedy taking away Dench’s surefire win and probable nods in picture and Coogan.

    Also surprised by lack of passion for Fruitvale. If it’s box office is indeed why it’s getting dropped then All is Lost better watch out.

  3. theschu says:

    I’m really surprised that after all the acclaim for Prisoners when it came out it’s barely showing up anywhere now for Oscar talk.

  4. Liz says:

    Yeah, box office killed Amour and Winter’s Bone.

    Fruitvale just isn’t a film that inspires passion; All Is Lost is. And with the new voting rules, a small and passionate segment of the Academy can catapult a film.

  5. movielocke says:

    I’d say Amour killed itself. The academy loved it until they saw 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