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David Poland

By David Poland

22 Weeks To Oscar: How It’s Looking… OR And Then There Were Five


It’s a couple of weeks before I normally start 20 Weeks To Oscar. But I was getting a little itchy.

After all, it’s been a month since the Toronto International Film Festival started and not a whole lot has happened in those weeks.

Captain Philips has opened the New York Film Festival… though most of the media saw it in early September. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will be shown at NYFF on Saturday. Foxcatcher, which was not all the way in for the season fell out of the season. And Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street finally got shown to top execs at Paramount at a length that needs a lot more thinning, which has rumors of the film moving to Christmas, early 2014, or Cannes flying all around the town.

So still in he “still mostly unseen, but we know they are coming” category are Saving Mr. Banks, Soul Survivor, Monuments Men, American Hustle, Her, The Book Thief, and Anchorman: The Legend Continues … though word is that Will Ferrell is refusing to do the work to get his Best Actor nomination.

Perhaps the biggest change between now and mid-August is that Gravity went from “A Space Adventure in 3D” (as it was tagged by The Cuarons on the screenplay itself) to, potentially, the movie house & cultural phenomenon of the year. People were looking forward to the movie, especially in the cult of Cuaron, but the movie turned out to be both emotionally connected and, in many ways, visually unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Click off nomination slots for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and probably a half-dozen more.

!2 Years A Slave was less of a surprise, though Steve McQueen has been left at the starting gate before, a victim of being unflinching in his portrayals in a situation where Academy members are easily turned off, even if they admire the work. Click off a Best Picture and Best Actor, with highly likely nods for Director, Screenplay, and another half-dozen slots.

Are there any more Best Picture nomination locks? I don’t think so. The list of already-seen contenders for what will probably be 7 – 9 slots isn’t very long (in alphabetical order): All Is Lost, August Osage County, Blue Jasmine, Lee Daniels The Butler, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, The Fifth Estate, Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Nebraska, Philomena, Prisoners, and (less than 48 hours way) The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Considering the 6 “unseen” movies and the 14 “seen” movies, I would expect that we’ll end up with 2 or 3 from the “unseens” and 3 or 4 from the “seens.” This is not a shocking assessment. But what it does mean is that while most people seem to think 1 or 2 of the “seens” list are likely nominees, you kinda have to get your head around a more likely 4-pack. i can argue for or against almost any group of 4 from this list.

“August has a massive ensemble that is catnip for The Actors.” “When movies by The Coens are seen as above average, they get in, even when most prognosticators don’t see it coming.” “Dallas Buyers Club has two mammoth performances and an important story about overcoming the limitations of government, which will ring loud right now.” (I won’t offer the arguments against… but there are arguments against all 14 movies.)

There do seem to be some acting locks from this group of titles. Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Forrest Whitaker. Best Actress: Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett

Equally striking, there are candidates in the Supporting categories from these films… but not really locks. Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Chris Cooper, Jake Gyllenhaal. Supporting Actress: Oprah, Margo Martindale, June Squibb

And don’t misunderstand. It’s not for lack of quality performances. It’s just a year where a lot of these movies don’t have natural supporting slots that scream “Awards!” Not in the lock movies either. Gravity really has no supporting performances to parse. And 12 Years A Slave is loaded with great performances in supporting roles, but no real guide to which supporting performance should be The One. Fassbender, Pitt, Paulson, Giamatti, Dano, Woodard, Nyong’o are all worthy, but all part of a true ensemble. The other movies like that is Butler, with Oyelowo, Gooding, Williams III, Redgrave, Alafia… and that’s before all the presidential stunting. Who do voters focus on? The usual answer in this situation is, they don’t.

And in the acting categories, the “unseen” movies are loaded, perhaps even if they are not all Best Picture movies. Tom Hanks (sppt) and Emma Thompson (lead) in Mr. Banks. Pick some guys from Monuments Men and/or Soul Survivor. Joaquin Phoenix in Her with another Amy Adams sure-to-be-consideration-worthy performance. Is there anyone on the cast of Hustle that hasn’t won or been nominated? So looseness could get very tight very quickly. And Wolf of Wall St may still end up in the group.

On October 4, we really don’t know anything for sure. A few weeks ago, 12 Years A Slave was the runaway winner and now, Gravity is the movie to beat. What will be in be in a couple of weeks? I can’t say that I know.

There are pieces to the puzzle we have pieces that have yet to appear, and mostly, pieces that we have in our hands, but whose fit it is really impossible to know at this time. What will Gravity and Captain Phillips gross? Will The Fifth Estate stir debate or will everyone be too distracted by the government shutdown? Will Ridley Scott’s The Counselor present as an awards movie to everyone’s shock?

Oscar seasons are like raising children. Everytime you think you know how and what and why, things change. It’s neither shocking nor some evil plot by X, Y or Z. It’s the nature of the beast. And this season, The Beast is taking its sweet time taking shape.

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12 Responses to “22 Weeks To Oscar: How It’s Looking… OR And Then There Were Five”

  1. YancySkancy says:

    I find it hard to believe that anyone is touting anyone from THE BUTLER other than Whitaker and Winfrey. Not because they’re not good, but Williams III and Redgrave are basically cameos and Oyelowo has a somewhat thankless role. Gooding and Alafia are great, but probably lack that one killer scene to put them over. All IMO, of course.

  2. Chris says:

    I bet the Academy would love to nominated Woodard again but the role in “12 Years a Slave” isn’t going to get it done (also lacks that one killer scene referred to above). Oh, and you’ve mentioned “Soul Survivor” a couple times but you mean “Lone Survivor,” right?

  3. pj says:

    Wasn’t expecting 12 Years to lose frontrunner status so early. The hyperbole is outrageous. Ever movie is the best ever and every actor gives best performance of all time!

  4. Jerry Maguire says:

    Wow. This article looks like it was written by someone who really hasn’t followed the awards race at all. First of all, “Soul Survivor” should be “Lone Survivor”. Simple research to find that out. “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” hasn’t been talked about at all for Best Picture. While the performances of Elba and Harris have been mentioned, there hasn’t been much positive reaction to the film itself.
    I have to agree with YancySkancy about “The Butler” too. Haven’t heard about any of the performances outside of Winfrey and Whitaker. Oh, and how is Whitaker a lock? McConaughey, Hanks, Redford, Dern, Ejiofor are all very possible to gain nominations, and there’s still two Christian Bale lead performances and one Joaquin Phoenix lead performance to be seen. Whitaker is in no way a lock.
    Captain Phillips is been all over the place, and there was hardly any mention of it. Right now, it looks to be a major player.
    In regards to the “12 Years a Slave” supporting cast, it’s been all about Fassbender and Nyong’o. They’re CLEARLY front and center with Sarah Paulson a longshot possibility.
    Oh, and “The Fifth Estate”? No way. Can’t even believe that got mentioned.

  5. Etguild2 says:

    How the hell do you mention “The Fifth Estate,” and not mention “Out of the Furnace?” Yikes. The trailer for the latter looks fan-fucking-tastic.

    And yeah, even Elba has as much chance of a nom as Andre 3000 does playing Jimi Hendrix. That is, to say, not much.

  6. movieman says:

    Since the majority of Academy voters will see “Gravity” on a TV (or whatever viewing device they choose to watch their screeners on), I don’t see it winning Best Picture.
    This is the (increasingly rare) type of film that demands to be seen on a (really) big screen and will undoubtedly lose much of its impact shrunk to TV dimensions.
    I do, however, think it should have no trouble sweeping tech categories.
    And Bullock is a definite contender for what could be the performance of her career (so far anyway).

  7. Keil S. says:

    Sad that Before Midnight has been completely forgotten and removed from (almost) all discussion. Makes me wonder if it could gain some traction if pundits would continue to at least mention it once in a while. That – plus likely indie noms – could put it back in the race, even if only for Screenplay or Actress (though we know it’s one of the best pictures of the year).

  8. cadavra says:

    I truly believe that in a less competitive year, BUTLER would be way up in the mix. But it’s increasingly looking like an also-ran in most categories, as is the somewhat similar 42. I guess some years you eats the bear, and some years the bear eats you.

  9. Tuck Pendelton says:

    I saw Gravity last night, and I think it plays on so many levels. I can’t wait to see it again. I think that some are finding a hard time writing about it because it’s absolutely a “commercial” film, but its beauty and originality are undeniable.

    I have a soft spot for Hanks. I can’t wait to see either of his films.

  10. John Oliver says:

    Tuck, you going to love Hanks in Captain Phillips. It’s his best performance ever.

  11. Owen Bergatelli says:

    How long before this website hires a proofreader? Words are missing, punctuation is missing, titles are wrong, sentences collide or dangle with incomprehension. One would think that professional journalists would care about how they are perceived and about their readers.

    That written, any nomination for Oprah Winfrey is a joke. It’s a manufactured (and false) character played by a media personality the director allowed to overact.

    “August: Osage County” bored most who saw it in Toronto.

    There are three sure things: Jared Leto, Cate Blanchett, and “12 Years A Slave.” Anything else is like reading tea leaves. Few do it, and nobody really cares.

  12. Daniella Isaacs says:

    If the distributor really wanted to give it a push, and it wins a couple critics awards (a real possibility), THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES could factor in as a true dark horse. Admittedly, those are two big ifs.

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