MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20W2O: 14 Weeks to Oscar

No matter how many times we go around this track, it gets weird at some point.

It’s not like there is a bag of tricks and all you need to do for your film to get where you want is to repeat the same tricks… which is not to say that the same tricks don’t get endlessly repeated. But the subtle difference between a strategic choice that works and one that doesn’t is almost agonizing.

And then, when you pull off a coup… a couple days later, someone walks into your light and what seemed very hot for the moment gets chilly and disconnected by nothing but circumstance.

This last week, we saw disruption from the first wide screenings of Creed and The Revenant, though interestingly, with a group like Gurus o’ Gold, the bar moved a lot less than you might expect. Lots of early talk about Stallone wining Best Supporting Actor, but not much movement from The Gurus yet. Only 4 of the 12 voting this week picked him to be nominated. And only 2 Gurus have Michael B. Jordan in their Top 6 for Best Actor. Maybe that is a sign of a slow moving group. Maybe a $50 million 5-day opening gross will change things. Maybe not.

Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio took a small step from #2 to #1 amongst Best Actor contenders after the The Revenant screening, but not so much because his number jumped (it went up 4 voting points, basically representing single slot changes by some Gurus), but because Michael Fassbender lost a lot of momentum, no longer any Guru’s #1 in Best Actor and out of the Top 6 for a number of voters. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp lost votes, but rose into the Top 5 this week.

Michael Caine finally came to town, did as much of the circuit as he could physically… and dropped precipitously on points, if only to the #5 slot to the #6 slot. So is that a vote of “no confidence?” Is it a reflection of Ian McKellen working it hard and getting momentum in the same older segment of The Academy (and pundits)? Or is it just eyes being more open to other candidates? Or is it the movie (of which, personally, am a big fan)? Or is it just this week?

The only films that have as much as half the Guruship’s support, with a vote of the Top 12 Best Picture candidates, are the films of the Top 10. After that, only very fractured support. And that 10 hasn’t changed in the four weeks we have done Gurus this season. Again… are The Gurus just slow? Or are things really this stable, no matter what opens and how it does? The Revenant has been in the 4 or 5 slot since we started and didn’t move this week… up or down. Creed “arrived” in the chart this week… but only with 5 Gurus and only with votes in the 11 and 12 slots.

Everyone was waiting for AFI and the debuts of By The Sea, Concussion, and The Big Short as well as the L.A. unveiling of Anomalisa. And virtually no movement on any of those titles, except some unnecessarily petty, nasty attacks on Angelina Jolie. I’m not saying that the Gurus or awards writers in general rule school. But a dog needs to get a bone and all.

We are still a month, most likely, from The Great Settling(™ Bill Condon), but it feels like we have settled in for the winter already. More and more explosives are being used to break things up, but it’s like a crack addiction… the objects of the efforts have gotten too used to the high of free meals and screenings and talent availability and while it’s a lovely evening out, it just doesn’t much matter anymore.

That is, unless you have the right tools. Ian McKellen has been a whirlwind this season. He is using all his skill sets and that makes an impact. Kissing babies and bumping fists still works, beyond anything else. Brie Larson has been on this track too, to great success. She’s won Round One… now we’ll see how she does in Round Two, after the nominations. But I wouldn’t bet against her.

Last weekend, Team Danish Girl landed in L.A. and worked tirelessly. Will it matter? Carol was working it just a few days before. And Youth in between. How many movies can establish an intimate relationship with voters and get in and how many will be lost in the process?

We all assume Spotlight is locked in… but when is the last time you heard from any of those actors, who many assume to own two Supporting Actor slots?

Is Universal going to make a second push of some kind for Steve Jobs? Because if they don’t, it could disappear from all but Screenplay and Supporting Actress.

Where the hell has Lily Tomlin, who should be nominated for Grandma, disappeared to… and why aren’t there stories about the remarkable year of her and her pal, likely Best Supporting Actress nominee Jane Fonda?

My personal take is that The Revenant will not resonate much with Academy voters. Others disagree. But presuming I may be right, will it matter to Leo DiCaprio’s Best Actor chances? It was, as has already been written about endlessly, a tough shoot. Did any of the other candidates have to fight a bear? Even if The Martian wins, did Matt Damon seem to suffer enough to win an Oscar? Fassbender’s stunning turn transforming Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue into music? Eddie Redmayne again? Depp’s make-up? Third Oscar for Michael Caine for being Michael Caine? Do we all love Ian McKellen enough to overcome small budgets for a low profile movie? And what of Michael B. Jordan? Will The Academy take him seriously? Without an explosive alternative, Leonardo DiCaprio can win the way Best Actress winners have so often won in the past… for a movie they don’t love, but man, that performance looked hard to do. (Or maybe they will love The Revenant… don’t let me discourage you.)

I still have not experienced a kick in the teeth moment in this season since Steve Jobs screened at Telluride. A lot of love. A lot of like a lot. But I want to get smashed… blinded by love.

I mean, it’s been a wonderful season for me personally. I have had some wonderful experiences. I am utterly smitten with Jane Fonda, which I did not expect. Lots of young actresses who are breaking through a few years after I saw them at the very beginning of their rise. Thrilling, even if it makes me an old man. Others who seem to have come to a place of grace with the business and their work in a lovely way. Harvey Keitel! I got to sit, finally, with Ben Mendelsohn and it was even more of a joy than I expected. A bunch of directors who I genuinely adore. Surprising new friends, like Phyllis Nagy.

It’s complicated, as I have such profound contempt for so much of entertainment journalism right now. Still, I am actually kind of giddy. Lucky. Full.

But Oscar season is not about that… not for those who work in the process. The idea is to give that experience to the voters and push them so subtly in a direction that they never feel the cold fingers of publicity manipulating them. What feels good doesn’t always work. What feels wrong is sometimes right. And no one really ever knows what will work. But they are going to work the hell out of it until the bitter end… and sometimes that works too.

Oscar season is like opening movies. Complicated. And trying to place credit or blame is a bit of a fool’s errand. In the end, all you have is the numbers… but more so and much more importantly, you have the movies and the many talented people who make them.

It’s not a horse race. But they shoot horses, don’t they? Yeah. And they give them Oscars too.

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12 Responses to “20W2O: 14 Weeks to Oscar”

  1. Peter says:

    I’m going to predict “Steve Jobs” is almost entirely cancelled out of the nominations except for screenplay. I loved the film, but it just didn’t play with audiences and has the stink of a loser on it, and I don’t see anyone in the industry especially passionate about it, not with so many other choices. I really wanted FURY ROAD to make some kind of token impact on Picture and Director, but that seems less and less likely now. Even on a technical level, with FORCE AWAKENS still to roll out, and REVENANT and HATEFUL EIGHT apparently lights out in those departments, it may get only a few nominations.

  2. Franco Castiglione says:

    The Martian and Matt Damon are EXTREMELY OVER-RATED!!! Not Anywhere near as good in quality or performance as “Gravity.” And although good and very likable, Damon is not even in the same league as the other actor’s here.
    It was like a good TV movie, and Matt’s Thin Body double almost ruined it for me. It was so Obvious, that Matt went from buffed to thin to buffed again in Literally the same scenes. Very Poorly Edited.

    As for Under-Rated, have you people not seen the OUTSTANDING Performance of Bryan Cranston in Trumbo???? My Lord, that man ACTS circles around Matt Damon. How on EARTH can you call yourself Critics, and not include his performance in your top 5, That is just UNBELIEVABLE!!! Fassbender and Redmayne are FANTASTIC again also. These 3 men should be an ABSOLUTE LOCK on a nomination for anyone who knows what the hell they are talking about.

  3. Bob Burns says:

    McKellen campaigning is the surprise. I would have bet he wouldn’t bother.

  4. Miscanthus says:

    Lol at Mr Castiglione. Seems to have some concerns about The Martian and Mr Damon. As a huge fan of The Martian, this makes me quite happy, since it’s only movies and actors that seem to be front runners who get attacked. It would be great to see Damon get his first acting Oscar for a project that’s so beloved. But I’d be glad to see Fassbender get it as well.Anybody but Leo with his phony PR “narratives”. Barf.

  5. Daniella Isaacs says:

    “McKellen campaigning is the surprise. I would have bet he wouldn’t bother.”

    Please, Bob. McKellen, who I quite like, wants an Oscar SOOO bad. He’s one in that handful of performers who looked like he’s been punched in the gut (for all to see on live TV) when he lost the last two times he was nominated. I, for one, would be happy to see him get it.

  6. Stephen Holt says:

    Much as I adore Sir Ian, he MAY get nominated for this quiet, charming, little whodunit, but he won’t win. But his drawing attention to the film may get Laura Linney also nominated in Supporting, if Kate Winslet is left out- with the rest of “Steve Jobs”.

    Linney plays the dowdy, devoted, motherly housekeeper to Mr. Holmes.

    And AMPAS just doesn’t want to have ANYthing to do with the Internet, people. A lot don’t even HAVE it. So if they had a choice of watching or not watching a film about the life of a man who changed their lives, and business, in a way they’re still fighting, they won’t watch it. The stink of failure…and that makes Winslet stinky, too.

    Who could replace her? AND Vikander AND Mara if they end up in lead?

  7. Rhett Gamlin says:

    @Stephen Holt:

    “And AMPAS just doesn’t want to have ANYthing to do with the Internet, people. A lot don’t even HAVE it. So if they had a choice of watching or not watching a film about the life of a man who changed their lives, and business, in a way they’re still fighting, they won’t watch it.”

    Was THE SOCIAL NETWORK really so long ago that you’ve completely forgotten about it? And it’s 3 Oscars? and it’s 5 other nominations?

  8. Ben K says:

    It’s scary that this has become what actor will kiss the most babies and tushes. Sad that it isn’t about what movie/performance affected the most people.

  9. Franco says:

    Besides the fact that it’s made a lot of money, What about “The Martian” makes it so Oscar worthy? What did Matt Damon do that was so Extraordinary for an actor, that he should be given an Oscar? We want Oscar’s to be given to Oscar Caliber work, performances that absolutely Wow us, Could Matt Damon play Macbeth or Steve Jobs as Marvelously as Michael Fasbender? NOPE, could He play Trumbo or Breaking Bad as well as Cranston? Could he play the Notorious Twins in Legend as well as Tom Hardy? Could he play Michael Caine’s role as well in Youth? LOL the answer is quite definitely NO he just doesn’t have that kind of range or ability. now Could Fassbender, Hardy, Cranston, or Caine, play Matt’s role in The Martian? Absolutely and they would all be BETTER than Damon was in it, it might not make as much money, but the quality of the film would be raised by their performances in it. Matt’s great at what he does, but he’s Matt Damon wink and a smile in almost everything he’s done, including the Martian, If he had actually lost all that weight for the role and not gotten a body double, he would be more deserving of a nomination.

  10. Bob Burns says:

    McKellen fan here.Loved the film. Especially loved the understated theme, Holme’s dismissive attitude toward women. All for a Linney nom and, if I voted, I’d vote for Milo Parker, as well.

    My only thought was that I would have guessed McKellen had better things to do than suck up to Oscar voters. It seems he must enjoy the monkey dance. Good for him. But I can’t imagine Mr. Holmes winning anything… not enough hachacha.

  11. Kevin says:

    Sasha Stone is predicting CREED getting nominated for Best Picture and Ryan Coogler for Best Director.

    Do you think they have a shot? (I think it’d be great!)

  12. Daniella Isaacs says:

    I’m beginning to think TRUMBO is being underrated in these predictions. Hollywood loves movies about itself, and the film plays very well while seeming incredibly timely in some ways. I think Cranston should be in, maybe Mirren.

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