MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Great Settling 2013

Yes, it’s that time again. Time for all good voters to spend a week with their screeners (and hopefully, screenings), deciding for themselves who really does deserve their votes.

But this may be the least predictable season I have ever witnessed. There is… and will be… only one legitimate blockbuster in play. Gravity. $652 million worldwide. $254 million domestic. No other awards movie will come close. Maybe one or two of them have an outside shot of doing half the domestic business and a third of the worldwide.

Last year, there was no outright blockbuster, but Life of Pi did end up with $609 million worldwide, which is a blockbuster number even if it didn’t feel like that in the US. And there were three films that did over $400 million worldwide (add: Django and Les Mis).

It’s not going to look like that this year.

Want to guess what the #2 domestic grosser amongst legit Best Picture contenders (at this point) is? Lee Daniels’ The Butler, with $116m domestic. Captain Phillips, currently at $104m, is going to try to change that with a re-release, but… we’ll see.

After those three, 12 Years A Slave with $37 million domestic.

American Hustle will be passing 12 Years in the next week or so and could join the $100 million domestic club. Wolf of Wall Street opens on Christmas Day and we’ll see how the hard-R plays. Who knows… it could become a big draw for the Jackass crowd. And seriously, not insulting the film here. But the energy and relentlessness should play well to that crowd.

As for the rest, no one is getting close to $100 million domestic or $200 million worldwide. All fine movies… but not those kinds of movies.

So what I see from here is that virtually every voter will see (or at least see the first 30 minutes of) Gravity, The Butler, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street, and 12 Years A Slave because of their box office success and accompanying profile.

Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr. Banks, and All is Lost have done a superior job of planting themselves in the middle of things, compelling people to at least watch the DVDs.

Her is hip like Spike Jonze is hip. People under 60 will watch the film… one hopes on a big screen, as the lingering nature of the film and the isolation of the lead character makes you want to be with others, watching the film.

Meryl Streep and the strong supporting cast assures that August: Osage County will get a DVD view, at least. (Pity the person who throws it in for the family on Christmas Day, not aware of the language to come.)

Dallas Buyers Club has the actors excited and needs to get everyone else to throw the film in the machine.

Philomena is the word-of-mouth drama for the older Academy membership.

And there you are. There is the entire Best Picture field. Voters will, pretty much, watch all of these movies.

And then… it will become about the movies.

Ah, the movies. Such a naive and pleasurable thought. And yet, completely legitimate this season.

And the answer is, as it so often is, that no one really knows. I agree with pretty much everyone that we can expect 12 Years A Slave and Gravity to be nominated for Best Picture. After that… (shrug).

Yeah, I expect American Hustle to be there. And most likely, Captain Phillips, though I don’t hear a lot of love so much as earnest like about the film.

The Wolf of Wall Street makes brain sense… but this is not The Departed, which was considered too tough a movie by many when it was released to get nominated, much less win. This is Jack Nicholson’s dildo from that movie in a starring role. On the other hand, it makes people FEEL something… something intense… love or hate… not soft mediocrity.

Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Her all come out of a similar kind of pod. Intimate tales centered on one guy with an interesting world around him told by master filmmakers. Do all three get in? Two of the three? One of the three?

I feel much the same way about Redford and Dern. Strong players… but both in against Ejiofor and Phoenix and McConaughy and Whitaker and Hanks and Bale and DiCaprio and Elba and Isaacs? I don’t know. Some are 100% sure that both are in. And others are 100% sure that Dern is in and no Redford… or 100% sure that it’s Redford and not Dern. Me? I can’t imagine a world in which Ejiofor and McConaughey are not mortal locks. Hanks gave the greatest emotional performance of his career for 5 minutes. Enough? Elba is brilliant. So is Whitaker. But Phoenix is quite spectacular in his own right. And if you love Llewyn, you must love Oscar Isaacs. If you are going for the Wolf ride, Leo DiCaprio owns you for three hours. And Bale puts on a fireworks show of grace and subtlety, even with a combover and 40 extra pounds of gut.

If i had a vote in the actors branch, I honestly could not choose 5. It would be brutal. Such a variety of performances. No real stunts. Just hard core great acting. Really, I would say that besides the competition of it all, it is one of the great years for male performances ever.

And no, I don’t think it’s the greatest year for movies ever. The year was very, very weak through most of the summer. And since then, a lot of really good movies. But will any of these films be remembered on the very highest tier of film history… top 100 all-time kinda thing? Probably not. 12 Years has the best shot, but like pretty much all the films this season, the film will be remembered for something, not for everything.

People will pick their favorites. And that’s what this is really all about, right?

And people will LOVE their favorites. And I am not knocking that or diminishing that in any way. 12 Years A Slave, for instance, is perfectly what it is. That is its power and its limitation. We’ve never seen something quite like Gravity before, but at its heart, it is freshly imagined genre material. American Hustle is about desperate people who don’t seek redemption… but it’s not a perfect machine like The Sting or hungry for your audience love like The Artist or The King’s Speech… nor should it be.

I can go through pretty much the entire list of contending movies doing this. The only director of any of these films who could begin to be tagged with being “conventional” is John Lee Hancock (which is probably why Banks is not a critics/prognosticators favorite). And yet, this is the guy who wrote A Perfect World.

Embrace the unknown. It’s not like anything can really happen. There can be variations within a fairly small palate. But even that, in the universe of Oscar seasons, is a blessing.

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15 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: The Great Settling 2013”

  1. Bob Burns says:

    nothing here that begs to be liked, like we have had the last three years with Argo, Artist and Kings Speech…. the performers in Hustle do, though, and my guess is that it will appeal to the vanity of the industry voters.

  2. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Nice column. Couple of thoughts: STAR WARS (which I refuse to call STAR WARS: EPISODE IV–A NEW HOPE), was, simply, “freshly imagined genre material” (much more so than GRAVITY) and yet it’s considered a classic by most today. I’d say AMERICAN HUSTLE will go down as being as much a classic as any Preston Sturges film from the 1940s–PALM BEACH STORY, MIRACLE AT MORGAN’S CREEK or a Billy Wilder film from the post-WW II era. And do you really know anybody who thinks Redford’s a lock but not Dern? Is it someone who thinks this is the early 70s?

  3. Sam E. says:

    Django and Les Mis may have been hits but they also never seemed especially likely to win best picture. The BO won’t be as high for the best picture noms as it was last year Though, the BO will probably also be well above the total for the 2011 nominees. Of the four films with a shot to win three are BO hits and one is a blockbuster which seems like a solid batting average.

  4. movielocke says:

    I am confident in saying that 12 years a slave will be on top 100 lists like afi. I think it would crack the top twenty. Like schindlers list its not a film you watch over and over but its not a film that will lose stature, only gain it.

  5. movielocke says:

    I would love to see a poll of academy members one year later. Would they still vote for argo or has lincoln or life of pi grown in stature? Same for the year before or before that. Would make a fun gurus end of year poll see what theyd vote for from the past years bp nominees.

  6. Tuck Pendleton says:

    Yeah, I’d love to host a CRASH retrospective screening and count how many times people slap their foreheads. Haven’t seen them all, but for my money, the worst best picture ever.

    I’m not an academy member, but i understand the idea of looking back and wishing to change former opinions.

  7. movielocke says:

    Crash is not a good bp winner, bottom fifteen of the 85 winners, but it doesnt even rate in the bottom 25% of nominees. I say that having seen all the bp nominees except the two at ucla

    Relative to brokeback winning crash is outrageous (actually the other four nominees were exceptional that year but crash was just a stanley kramer esque outlier, an overly earnest and didactic message movie that ocasionnally rose above an 8 but was overall only about a 7.5 at best).

  8. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Crash won by default. All the other BP nominees, except Brokeback Mtn., had been declared un-winnable in the press. Crash was the only choice for the anti-Brokeback crowd. All their votes were votes against “that gay western”, not FOR Crash. It’s kind of disgusting.

  9. theschu says:

    I’m still quite stunned how much the buzz for Prisoners stalled. The movie was hailed as a masterpiece when it came out and then… not much else happened. Odd.

  10. YancySkancy says:

    I’m still trying to figure out what made CRASH seem “winnable.” I guess the L.A. setting, heart-in-the-right-place platitudes, and participation of half of SAG did the trick. But I’m still a bit surprised it was even nominated over such awards-friendly efforts as PRIDE & PREJUDICE and WALK THE LINE. For the win, I’d have gone with MUNICH, but BROKEBACK or GOOD NIGHT would’ve been good choices, too.

  11. Daniella Isaacs says:

    CRASH was seen as winnable because the studio continued a VERY well-financed campaign for it after the studios behind MUNICH and CAPOTE started cutting back, realizing Best Picture wasn’t going to happen for them and they might as well not throw good money after bad. Then you also had anti-BROKEBACK people like, er, David Poland saying (I paraphrase) “CRASH is still a real threat to BROKEBACK” over and over. Finally you had the most respected critic in the country, Roger Ebert, pushing CRASH really hard right up to the end with, I think, an editorial in the LA TIMES or somewhere like that–He explained the absurd coincidences in the film as part of its (gawd) “Dickensian” approach. I’m convinced that had Ebert stayed out of it–What business was it of his to try to sway the Academy?–then BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN would have won.

  12. theschu says:

    Well he and Siskel did have a special episode every year called “Memo To The Academy”.

  13. poet67 says:

    I doubt Crash would have won in a field of ten nominees. It was easy for them to campaign against movies like Capote and Brokeback. If Walk the Line or Geisha had been in play, they might have drawn more votes away from Crash’s more conservative Academy supporters.

  14. The Pope says:

    Daniella Isaacs,
    While I do recall David Poland reporting that “CRASH is still a real threat”, I don’t recall him being anti-BROKEBACK. I contend that you’re confusing the messenger with the message. BROKEBACK was the best film that year. And this coming from someone who thinks MUNICH is a flat-out classic.

  15. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Pope, no offense, but David was seriously… let’s say “unimpressed with” BROKEBACK and said so repeatedly. I remember one column where he said something very close to this: “I’ve seen BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN three times now and I still can’t fathom why people think it’s so good.” He was pushing MUNICH as hard as he could until it became clear it wasn’t going to win. Then he shifted over to… not so much “CRASH should win,” since I don’t think he particularly liked CRASH much either, but “CRASH very well could win.” (I admit I’m putting paraphrased comments in quotation marks for clarity’s sake. I do think they’re fair paraphrases, though.) Was he Poland just right, or was it a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy? We’ll never know. I’m still a bit pissed at the late great Roger Ebert, though. It’s one thing to send a “memo to the academy” to ask them to consider films that might have fallen between the cracks, films that can’t afford big Oscar campaigns. It’s another to relentlessly beat a drum for one specific film that’s already nominated, which is what Ebert did for CRASH. It gave cover to any homophobe out there who wanted to vote against BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. CRASH became the one viable option.

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