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David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Late Game


If you read the award season coverage, you might think the season ended 2 months ago. But you’d be wrong.

It’s been a very odd season already. Toronto was loaded to the degree that when the media got as consumed as we were with 12 Years A Slave and Gravity, some strong films got overlooked and underestimated. And now, as AFI rolls out 3 or 4 more contenders – and renewing interest in some of the earlier festivals’ films – things are bubbling up.

The two potential 80-pound gorillas of the season – American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street – are each suffering and benefiting from having a hard time getting out of the box. David O. Russell has had his last two films nominated for Best Picture, led the way to at least 3 acting nominations in each, and saw his actors take home 3 Oscars. So I don’t care about any of the negative buzz I have been hearing – and it’s out there – until I see the movie. Anyone is capable of making a movie that doesn’t really work. But he has another murderer’s row of actors in this one, 5 of whom have been nominated in those last 2 O. Russell films, and… like I said… I will believe what my eyes and ears and heart experiences.

Scorsese? Four of his last five films have been nominated, the one exception being a February release. Don’t bet against him. (Of course, some people are, trying to write this off as “one of his comedies.”)

But let’s get back to what is happening right now. Saving Mr. Banks. The first real LA push for MandelaAugust: Osage CountyThe PastOut of The FurnaceInside Llewyn Davis. And the full launch of Lone Survivor.

Sudden hysteria.

And what will that do to the status quo?

No one really knows.

But while Mandela cannot overshadow the artful mastery of 12 Years A Slave, it has the potential to be a serious f-ing contender. It’s the more traditional historic epic, with stunning performances by both Idris Elba and Naomie Harris.

I have not been shy about saying aloud that The Academy is not color-friendly… not racist, but not aggressively friendly either. So the idea of 3 Black actors taking 5 of the Best Actor nominations seemed virtually impossible to me. And it still seems like a long shot. Yet, Chewetel Ejiofor, Forrest Whitaker, and now, Idris Elba, all seem “undeniable.” But then again, so do McConaughey, Hanks, and to many, Robert Redford. That’s already one too many before we even get to Bruce Dern and Joaquin Phoenix, much less Michael B. Jordan or Oscar Issac. And we still haven’t seen Leonardo DiCaprio or Christian Bale.

I have the impulse to think that Whitaker becomes the odd man out, amongst the frontrunners (black and white), but what a great, great performance, full of range. Multiple lead actors are going to get “screwed” this season. Will they be the newbies? The veteran nominees? Or some combination?

Moving on to Naomie Harris, who should be absolutely undeniable as a nominee for her turn as Winnie Mandela. She owns the screen every time she turns up. She actually changes the soul of the film. But in Gurus this week, she didn’t even score a mention from a single voter (including me… hours before I saw the film for the first time, having missed it at TIFF). Putting aside Octavia Spencer (#4 on the Gurus Supporting Actress chart), who is wonderful, but is in the movie The Weinstein Company is least likely to push super hard at this point, Harris getting nominated would still make 3 women of color in the Oscar Best Supporting Actress list, with what seem to be inevitable nominations for Lupita Nyong’o and Oprah Winfrey (#1 & #2 on Gurus this week).

Of course, race is not really the big issue. It’s those performances. And race-related or not, the number of beautifully made films. I anticipate endless articles about Oscar and Race this year… most of which will overlook a simple reality. There are more films about race and history this year that are of a standard that clearly deserve inclusion in the conversation. One happens to be made by a white guy, Justin Chadwick, whose last film was also set in Africa (Kenya). The other big three films are made by Black men. (I originally wrote “men of color,” but I hate euphemisms. They aren’t “of color,” they are of the color black, from very diverse backgrounds. I would love to live in a world that could just say “Black” when appropriate and not give it a second thought as one of many descriptors of three ambitious and talented artists.)

And then there was Saving Mr. Banks. Besides being shown more widely now, it’s not what you expect. It’s not a film about Mary Poppins or a Brit who gets laughs by being too uptight for laid-back Disney. (THAT’s changed!) It’s about parents and children. It’s about what Mary Poppins is about. Yes, you laugh. But it’s also a tear-jerker in a big way. It takes a while for the audience to catch up with what the movie is really doing. but emotional land mines planted through the first act and they pay off in a big way, both in painful emotion and great pleasure. We all want for Emma Thompson’s P.L. Travers what she yearns for in her life. We all, dare I say, want that in our own lives. Strong stuff, in spite of the familiar, comfortable package.

The movie is well defined by Paul Giamatti’s presence. It seems like a waste of a great actor. And then, as we get into the late 2nd act, his character becomes a lynchpin of the film, in just a few key moments. And no one could do it any better than Giamatti. A great, brief performance in a category (Supporting Actor) that is, aside from the two seeming locks – Jared Leto and Michael Fassbender – is unsettled, to say the least.

And don’t forget… still haven’t seen recent first-time nominees Bradley Cooper in Hustle or Jonah Hill in Wolf… still waiting to see if Universal can get traction for Daniel Bruhl in a great co-lead performance in Rush or veteran deities Chris Cooper in Osage and John Goodman in Llewyn.

I haven’t written about Best Actress, another category of shocking competition this season. The Assumed are Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock. Waiting behind them are no less than Oscar winners Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep, and Judi Dench. (Maybe the pitch for Philomena can be, “It’s time for Dame Judi to get her 2nd Oscar.”) But wait… Kate Winslet gives yet another spellbinding performance in Labor Day. Amy Adams seems to be letting it all out in American Hustle (and she still hasn’t taken home gold after 4 nominations in 8 years). Let’s forgive The Academy for not being willing to give Adèle Exarchopoulos the Oscar she would have won if the film she was in was in English. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Julie Delpy being in dramedies make it hard to reach, though they will both get a ton of support. Don’t even get me started on Berenice Bejo, who kills it in The Past.

And we haven’t even talked about Prisoners… or Rush… or Blue Jasmine. Oy.

There is still a lot of room for people finding room. Not a lot of time… but a lot of room in a very small space.

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11 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: The Late Game”

  1. Yancy says:

    So you’re the one guy who doesn’t like ALL IS LOST? Or Redford’s work in said? (I am picking up on your implications…)

  2. chris says:

    Yeah, I think Redford is in for sure. And “Rush” is not going to be nominated for anything.

  3. pj says:

    Glad it’s now okay to talk about other films again.

  4. KMS says:

    Before Midnight

  5. Stephen Holt says:

    “The Book Thief” could sneak in, too. Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor(Geoffrey Rush), Best Supporting Actress(Emily Watson)Best Score (John Williams)It could happen.

  6. K. Bowen says:

    On a side note … when did we start using middle initials for second reference on a person’s name? It should be “Russell,” no? Unless he became Irish.

  7. Chris says:

    Maybe Williams because he’s Williams but have you seen “Book Thief,” Stephen? Dreadful. Even with the subject matter, it’s going nowhere in any other Oscar category.

  8. The Pope says:

    Stephen Holt,
    The trailer for The Book Thief looked like it was ripping every page from a dictionary of clichés. So even though I haven’t seen the movie, my gut tells me it is unworthy.

    K. Bowen,
    I agree. Has anyone ever spoken of that legendary producer, O. Selznick?

  9. Daniella Isaacs says:

    “I have the impulse to think that Whitaker becomes the odd man out.”

    I, personally, have the suspicion that TWC is going to consider it a personal challenge to make THEIR “race film” seem as competitive as 12 YEARS A SLAVE and will do whatever it takes to get Whitaker in there along with everybody else for that film. It might not be enough to get THE BUTLER many Oscars, except for Winfrey. The question is, will it be enough to keep 12 YEARS A SLAVE from a lot of wins in the end? (I hope I’m wrong.)

  10. movielocke says:

    American hustle will get three acting nominations at least. Im not sure if christian bales young deniro performance will get in this year but most years he would be a lock and threat to win. Amy adams is stuning esp her first changeover but her star fades when jen lawrence demolishes the last third of the film. And jeremy renners lived in remarkable performance makes you love him even if hes not so great a character you like him in spite of slime and you see why hes a successful politician. Someone should cast him as bil clinton he can project the same charisma.

    Bradley cooper should be a hit with the acad with mostest most acting, big and broad and tremendously funny and entertaining.

    Rush should get sound sound editing editing cinematography score and suporting actor. Its a shitton better than a bunch of other awards contenders tis year.

  11. cinemasteve says:

    Totally agree with Daniel Bruhl for a Best Supporting Actor nom all the way. While Rush might not get into the Best Picture category, Daniel’s performance as Niki Lauda was truly amazing and needs to be rewarded.

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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