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David Poland

By David Poland

23 Weeks To Oscar: The Less Things Change


An amazing thing happened at the festivals this last couple weeks…


Okay, perhaps nothing is an exaggeration.

But mostly, nothing.

Movies being seen changes things. Nature of the beast. But the only thing within a country mile of a revelation coming out of the Venice/Telluride/Toronto running of the bulls was Room. And in the long run, it is hard to be sure whether it is really an awards players aside from the central adult performance by Brie Larson.

Going through the Gurus Top Ten of (then upcoming) festival movies…

The Danish Girl delivered pretty much exactly what was promised. There is some critical pushback, which will become irrelevant as soon as the film is seen by Oscar voters. Some writers have reacted to a solid Alicia Vikander performance as though they thought that she wasn’t much of an actress before or that they didn’t understand the emotional depth of the Ex Machina performance. She is, as I have been saying for 2 years now, a sensational emotional actress (who cannot do “silly” well at all… perhaps she will grow into that).

Steve Jobs, which only showed at Telluride, is my top title of the moment… but I am not 1000 Oscar voters. We’ll know a lot more after more screenings and NY, but critics – as always – will not decide the awards fate of this film. Real people with votes to offer, sitting in movie theaters, will.

If there is an Argo this season, it’s Spotlight… though I personally like this film better than Argo. It is solid, hard-not-to-like classical movie making. Spotlight is the movie that will be there, never wavering, through the entire season, waiting for voters to tire of the trendy movie of the various moments of the season. Not the likely Best Picture winner… but sure to be in the Top 5 conversation until the very end. And if it wins, I will not be shocked.

Black Mass has some critic love… but mostly, “it’s okay” kinds of responses. Depp may be nominated (Globe nod is a mortal lock), but cannot win for this performance.

I managed not to see Trumbo in Toronto… just timing issues. But did you hear the giant explosion when it screened, changing the award season instantly? No? Neither did I. A nomination nominee.

Suffragette was something everyone wanted to happen at Telluride. Meryl Streep was in great form. It’s lead, Carey Mulligan, is about to drop her first. Year of the Woman and all that. But then we saw the movie. And Carey Mulligan still has a shot at a nomination. Maybe a couple below-the-line nods.

The Martian is terrific. Could be nominated. Under some circumstances, it could end up winning. But probably not. Ridley Scott is so good and does such complex work here which doesn’t demand that you praise his magicianship, this film could easily be written off as “just a good commercial movie.” It’s more than that. It’s better than many expected. But like Spotlight – a lot less commercial a movie – it could end up in the mix at the end by simply lingering and being well liked. It’s really up to Ridley and Matt and the great supporting cast. If they show up and let people compliment them and enjoy the love, it could work out surprisingly well.

The new Michael Moore, Where To Invade Next, is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Beasts of No Nation is a beautiful, very tough movie that would have had a hard time getting top tier distribution as a festival film. Maybe Weinstein… but it would be a tough call. It will get a lot of attention because of Netflix. More people will see it. That is a win. Screen count will make the film seem like a Netflix movie… and that will keep it at bay. Could be an interesting Indie Spirit player.

The Walk hasn’t opened New York Film Festival yet. We’ll see.

Reactions were muted positive (or negative) for Our Brand Is Crisis, I Saw The Light, The Program, Legend, Truth, and Demolition. None of them turned into serious Best Picture candidates at the festivals.

Paramount bought the Charlie Kaufman/Duke Johnson film, Anomalisa… which has some juices flowing. But it’s a puppet movie… and it’s the Academy, Jake.

That was a lot of detail leading to… not much has changed in the last two weeks.

That said, here are the 13 titles already released or premiered at festivals that I think still have a shot (huge or tiny) at a Best Picture nomination.

A24: Room

Disney: Inside Out

Focus: The Danish Girl

Fox: The Martian

Fox Searchlight: Brooklyn, Youth

Open Road: Spotlight

Sony: The Walk

Sony Classics: Son of Saul

Sundance Selects: 45 Years

Universal: Steve Jobs

Warner Bros: Max Max: Fury Road

Weinstein Co: Carol

And here is the thing…

By my count, there are more than 10 films that have not been widely seen or premiered that have a legit shot at joining and/or superseding this list. The only titles already out here that would be really shocking if left out of the Best Picture nominations list are Spotlight and Steve Jobs. I am not saying they will be the only ones… but they could be the only ones. So the door is pretty wide open.

Of course, one of those two films could end up winning and then The Media could continue to push its festival narrative, even if this year’s festival would be incidental to either film having won.

But unlike any year in recent memory, after Venice and Telluride and Toronto, it really feels like the season has barely shown itself.


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One Response to “23 Weeks To Oscar: The Less Things Change”

  1. Doug R says:

    I know watching the Steve Jobs trailer it looks like it could be quite the emotional grinder. Of course casting Fassbender vs Kutcher helps. And I love having Seth Rogan as Wozniak.

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