MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

19 Weeks To Oscar: Season of Less

There were a lot of questions about the role of the festivals when Venice, Telluride, and Toronto didn’t offer the award explosion that media has been hyping into a frenzy for the last few years. In the lull between the end of the New York Film Festival and the Jolie-Pitt-driven opening night of AFI, it’s clear that there is more writing about awards, earlier in the season than ever… but a lot less to write about.

Literally half the films anticipated at the top of the “Festival Run” chart by Gurus o’ Gold are, for all intents and purposes, out of the game. The other half doesn’t seem to have a strong frontrunner argument in any writer’s view. Everyone likes and respects Spotlight. Everyone likes The Martian. Big fights over Steve Jobs (which for me, personally, is still the frontrunner, as what makes people argue is what makes it great). And a lot of expressed reservations about everything but the performances in The Danish Girl and Suffragette. Add in Bridge of Spies, which ended up playing the New York Film Festival, to the positive-with-reservations list.

The one surprise out of the fall festivals was Room, an A24 picture with a dead lock for a Best Actress nomination at this point, and a legit shot at four to seven nods. A lot of the power the film has—above and beyond its quality—is that it is a surprise and is a rising underdog. A lot of the other movies started as such overdogs that they are being unfairly undercut, as though they aren’t good enough. Many of them are… but perception is reality.

Even the winner of the last two Oscars for Best Picture, Fox Searchlight, has got two films that were from pre-fall festivals (Brooklyn from Sundance and Youth from Cannes), and are – for me – wonderful films that are going to require a lot of pushing the ball uphill to actually score the big nominations.

Two more waves are coming. The By The SeaConcussionCreedBig Short wave and then the JoyRevenantHateful Eight wave. Anomalisa is a movie that many of us would love to believe will be in the Oscar race… but… well…

In that first wave, no one seems to believe in anything but Concussion, though everyone is intrigued by The Big Short. And even Concussion is soft on perception. Screenings of both movies can change that in an instant… long before Academy voters really start seeing the films in numbers. And a film like Creed, which is rumored to be “not very good,” could well be a commercial success and hit a note that becomes very viable for Oscar. Meanwhile, all the presumption of genius for last year’s Angelina Jolie movie is being held against this year’s Angelina Jolie movie, which looks to be much more in the vein of Mike Nichols (any film should be so lucky to be put in that company… RIP to a legend).

The second wave is where a lot of focus is being put, Oscars already being put on the shelf for The Revenant, nominations seemingly assured for The Hateful Eight, and Jennifer Lawrence still an Undeniable for Joy. But chickens, counting, hatching, and all that.

One thing is apparent. It’s a lot of single-award-film studios this year… and Fox. How did Fox end up with three strong candidates for Best Picture nominations in one season? Fate is a funny thing. And Fox (big Fox) has not been the best about pushing awards in recent years… not their focus… they like to hit at the box office and leave awards to Searchlight. So that one studio is in the position of being doubted as to whether they can deliver nominations for 3 different movies. But never forget… sometimes the movies are bigger than the campaigns.

There will, no doubt, be enough hoopla to choke a massive horse. But when measured more finely, there will be less. The expansion of L.A. from a town that barely needed one trade magazine to a inside baseball town of four trades pushed budgets and diffused the value of everything. This could well be a season in which we start to see a serious contraction of that paradigm. No one is getting out. But almost no one is in quite as deep as they once were.

Meanwhile… enjoy the quiet. Enjoy Bond’s opening weekend. And then get ready for the noise to begin. It will be deafening for about a month. And then something serious will happen. Oscar ballots will go out. And awards types will have one of the most nail-biting-est Christmases ever. Ho ho ho. (“Not another lump of coal!”)

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13 Responses to “19 Weeks To Oscar: Season of Less”

  1. jack says:

    What do you think about “In the Heart of the Sea”?

    I am surprised that it isn’t in the AFI Fest line-up. Why Warner Bros don’t show the film in film festival? Especially “In the Heart of the Sea” has a terrible release date (one week before “Star Wars”), and definitely need more buzz…

  2. Daniella Isaacs says:

    So nobody is holding out any hope for STAR WARS? What if it’s really f–ing great? Nostalgia factor ought to help.

  3. Kevin says:

    I’m thinking STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS could be nominated if it’s great.

    If you add THE MARTIAN and (fingers crossed) MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, this could be the most sci-fi Best Picture lineup ever.

  4. Bob Burns says:

    I’m interested whether Universal will regain its Oscar punch. Universal was a serious rival to the Miramax/Harvey machine…. and then they weren’t.That’s one of the reasons I agree with you about Steve Jobs. Hunger. A desire for glory to cap off the best year the studio has had in a long time.

  5. movielocke says:

    I feel like the narrative of the 2015 awards season is going to be the year of the big movie. 2014 was extremely deep up indy films own asshole and the pendulum swing to a year of populist and major studio films may be surprisingly s3levere and unexpected for the pundits that push the same status quo small films every year.

  6. Chris L. says:

    Yeah, damn straight. Those small indie filmmakers need to be taught a lesson and their run of cultural and economic dominance brought to an end. If an overlooked gem like Star Wars can’t find a seat at the Oscar table, all of its billion$ might as well have been for nothing. The sooner these awards stop being a meager incentive for funding “status quo”-minded hacks like Todd Haynes and Charlie Kaufman, the richer all of our lives will be. Preach!

  7. Daniella Isaacs says:

    “If an overlooked gem like Star Wars can’t find a seat at the Oscar table, all of its billion$ might as well have been for nothing.”

    WHAT? Where do I begin?

    1) We haven’t seen it. It might NOT be a gem.
    2) Who really thinks “billion$” don’t count as success if a film doesn’t get Oscars? Seriously??? With that logic, the academy should just hand out awards to the top grossing film every year and save people the trouble of seeing the films and voting. Jeezus.

  8. Chris L. says:

    Sarcasm font obviously should have been utilized. My bad. The logic was borrowed from the comment above mine. Jeezus.

  9. Daniella Isaacs says:

    I was going to say your parody is too close to the real thing, buddy, but in retrospect, I feel like an idiot. :/

  10. benutty says:

    where exactly are the SEVEN nominations for Room supposed to come from? beyond LOL

  11. Rhett Gamlin says:


    4 nods: Picture,Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay

    9 nods: Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Production Design, Film Editing, Cinematography

    9 is the absolute ceiling, but very, very unlikely (Cinematography and Production Design are least likely, but not impossible). 3-5 is the more likely scenario.

  12. benutty says:

    @Rhett, I agree with you that 3-5 is a possible scenario, though I digress in that I don’t think it’s likely. I think we’re looking at one for Room–Larson. Production Design and Cinematography are LITERALLY impossible projections. Those branches go for much more lavish productions–something as contemporary and simple as Room is not even worth considering as a dark horse. Editing and Supporting Actress are fringe bets at best and will only happen if Room reaches Whiplash levels, which it won’t. Supporting Actor is also pretty unlikely, all things considered.

  13. Rhett Gamlin says:

    I think you’re underestimating how well it’s playing. Trying to state definitively which nominations are impossible (remember the Sound Mixing nomination for The King’s Speech?) or trying to say what level it will get to at this point in the race is absurd. Maybe don’t be so dismissive.

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