MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: Surveying The Board


Interstellar lands this week.

That leaves Unbroken, The Gambler, Selma, American Sniper, A Most Violent Year, Into The Woods, Big Eyes, and Exodus: Gods & Men

That’s a lot of movies, given an already pretty narrow field. More movies to come than movies that are seen a pretty sure Oscar nominees in Best Picture at this time. And any one of these new films could be a gamechanger. There are those “we” see as potential gamechangers and those “we” do not, but unseen movies often surprise, for better or for worse.

Of course, the primary focus right now is on Interstellar. Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay… and those 6 are just what what people are seriously considering as options from the “Top 8” categories.

Let’s make an example of this film because… why not?

Questions –

1. Is It A Best Picture Movie?

Well, that’s really two questions. First, can it get into the group of 9 (or so) Best Picture nominees? Second, can it win?

As noted in my previous 20 Weeks column Bring On The Narratives, a story that fits is part of answering Question 1a. The first question, at this point, everyone seems to be taking for granted. Nolan, 9 slots, probably in. It’s more Inception than Batman, right?

But on Part 2, how about “Interstellar vs Boyhood?” That would work. The massive movie about saving the entire world vs. the minimalist, intimate piece with the unique shooting schedule. “Interstellar vs Unbroken?” Not buying that so much. No real inherent conflict… just which one did you prefer?

2. How will Matthew McConaughey fit into the Best Actor picture?

Well. that’s a good question. He is serious longshot to win, having won last year. But being nominated again, not so long a shot.

Whom would he displace? Well, I don’t buy into the idea—at all—that there are 4 locked places in Best Actor. That does not mean that I think that 4 of the current 5 frontrunners won’t end up making it. That could well happen. But the only actor I consider cemented into a nomination is Michael Keaton. Great performance, great story, super-strong movie. In. After that, there is a lot of assumption and not a lot of solid evidence of lockdom. And I am a fan, personally, of the performances of Cumberbatch, Redmayne, Carrell, and Spall. But we really don’t know how these movies will settle in with Academy voters. They feel like good fits… as do the movies they are in. But we have a long way to go, even if we have a short time to get there.

3. What about the actresses?

Both Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway are vetted Oscar types. And the presumption is always that the female acting categories are easier to mount. Let’s work through it.

Which is lead? Which is supporting? Are both supporting?

Will Jessica commit to an awards push for Interstellar after committing so heavily to The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby? And then there is A Most Violent Year right around the corner (already being shown to some). And while the “She’ll go lead in one, supporting in the other” argument can be made, split attention had often lost actors both shots.

Will the backlash from the Oscar hosting gig still cling to Ms. Hathaway, perhaps unfairly, but in reality?

What actresses would they displace? Again, the assumption that we are done is a bit premature. These two performances, plus unseen work by Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and the women of The Gambler, Into The Woods, and Selma are pending.

And what about the movie itself? Does it end up being seen as more commercial, more artistic, or something in the middle? How does it compare to, say, The Fault In Our Stars and Shailene Woodley, with voters?

And how does the category line up? Looks like a number of previous nominees and a few newcomers. Does this affect the vote or will there be enough pure love of Interstellar to power it past the issue?

4. Assuming this is a big worldwide box office hit, how does that fact affect the race?

Aside from this, Gone Girl and, potentially, Unbroken, there doesn’t look to be any other $100m domestic grossers in the field this year. There hasn’t been a year in the last five in which there was not at least one $145m+ domestic grosser. Gone Girl will probably get there. Unbroken seems less likely. But Interstellar seems a lock for that and a lot more.

In most years, there are multiple $100m grossers. On the other hand, if you go back 6 to 10 years, you will find multiple years with just one or even no $100m+ domestic grossers. Has the trend changed or has it been circumstantial?

The thing that Oscar keeps reminding us of is that it is not easily limited to a set of rules that guarantee anything. We are all forever balancing the way The Academy leans and the fact that we just don’t and just can’t know what is coming. Certainly not on October 22.

When I look at a movie like Exodus, I see a massive worldwide hit. It’s The Ten Commandments with 2014 technology. (Well, the commandments will be in the sequel, “Exodus: 40 Years Of Sand,” but you get the idea.) The Passion of The Christ did $611 million. Unless the 20 minutes or so I have seen—and which the studio is showing to faith groups and others all over the world right now—are very misleading, I see this as an $800 million worldwide smash with huge ancillary value.

Great actors in this film. Ridley Scott is a great director. And a massive worldwide hit that could eclipse Interstellar. Sometimes that changes the Oscar board. Sometimes it does not. In some ways, if the faith community likes the film too much, it will hurt awards chances. But who knows? Scoff all you like—and I know that some of you will—but way odder things have happened.

Is A Most Violent Year the movie that is magic for J.C. Chandor? For all the endless talk about his work in indie circles, he has had one nomination… for the Margin Call screenplay. But will this one turn the trick? Will Oscar Isaac, who was touted and didn’t land last year make up for it this year? Will Albert Brooks get the love he deserves? After all, it’s still a crime movie… not an Academy favorite… unless Nicholson is the criminal.

Can Into The Woods break the recent curse of Broadway musical adaptations? Is Selma more memorable than The Butler? Which kind of Eastwood movie is American Sniper… good, bad or get off my lawn?

By the time you are reading this, Interstellar may well be buzzing under embargo. It is a big puzzle piece. But it is not the only puzzle piece.

The change that all these unseen films may bring is no change at all. Or 40% of the top categories could flip in the next month.

Ain’t it cool?

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12 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: Surveying The Board”

  1. Chris L. says:

    Has an Oscar-hosting backlash resurfaced against Hathaway since Les Mis? Didn’t seem to hurt her in that campaign, but maybe something about her acceptance speeches did. People are bizarrely punitive about these things when it comes to actresses (see last 48 hours).

  2. eldrick says:

    chris l, the hathaway hate is so silly. when she won a few years back for les mis, the amount of people, and i will say, a lot of women, who were slating her for not having the jennifer lawrence cool girl personality was really loud. i honestly didnt know that kind of thing existed.

    rachel getting married and the dark knight rises, hathaway proved herself forever. i preferred her catwoman to heath ledgers joker even if u can make that argument that the joker was a more memorable creation. she killed in a role that is damn near set up with booby traps.

    films i am most looking forward to this year, intersellar, inherent vice and a most violent year.

  3. Hallick says:

    Fair enough, eldrick, but I honestly can’t remember a single notable thing about her performance as Catwoman other than it was very “ANNE HATHAWAY AS CATWOMAN” for me. I thought having her character along with Marion Cotillard’s character in this story the way it played out took much away from the dramatic impact of both of them.

  4. Hallick says:

    “Will the backlash from the Oscar hosting gig still cling to Ms. Hathaway, perhaps unfairly, but in reality?”

    That event feels like something from another decade now. Umm…is it already another decade now?

    Les Mis and The Acceptance Speech That Irked The World is another matter (but who still cares so hard?). All she has to do is kill it in the right part and her awards prospects will probably be just fine. Not really getting those fumes off of Interstellar yet.

  5. spencer says:

    This will mark my (33rd consecutive year) at predicting/oddsmaking *Oscar!-(winning in Variety for 2002)>

    & at this still somewhat early date the top 3 or so seem to be > “Boyhood” “Birdman” “Unbroken” & “Gone Girl” Those may remember the *AMPAS is not all that fond of science-fiction though-(“Gravity” won 7 but not the biggie)

    Thank You

  6. spencer says:

    To chris, you should remember that the definitive “Catwoman” will always be >MICHELLE PFEIFFER & ON TV JULIE NEWMAR!!!

  7. spencer says:

    But given 2014 has been a rather mediocre yr for cinema the *Oscars are likely to follow? The very first yr I forecasted them-(l982) was strong:> “E.T.” “Tootsie” “The Verdict” “Sophie’s Choice” “Das Boot” Diner” “World According to Garp” & others,etc Although I did lousy predicting them!

  8. spencer says:

    Yeah, even Bill Maher made fun of *Hathaway-(plus co-host that year>J. Franco)
    Even calling them>”Bug-eye” & “Sleepy-eye’s”

  9. spencer says:

    & although the race for: Best Actor-(i.e. Michael Keaton)
    may seem pretty certain to date, Actress is not so clear, yet?

  10. spencer says:

    & for those fellow *Oscar pundits out there, the majority of the Annual Film Critic’s Awards generally go for small cinema & *Oscar adores big

  11. spencer says:

    I can tell you fellow *Oscar fans out there 1 thing that’s likely> “The Gambler” is not likely to be a big “Golden Contender” this year though?

    “Boyhood” “Birdman” “Gone Girl” “American Sniper” “Unbroken” & “Interstellar” may well lead the BP field come nomination day?

  12. Daniella Isaacs says:

    My sense is this year is totally open, in a way we haven’t seen for a long time. Maybe one of the unseen films will come along and change that–UNBROKEN, INTO THE WOODS, EXODUS. Otherwise, it could be BOYHOOD (though arguably too small), it could be BIRDMAN (though arguably too quirky), INTERSTELLAR (though too SciFi), it could be GONE GIRL (though too much a genre film in a non-Academy approved genre)…

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