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David Poland

By David Poland

8 Weeks To Oscar: Pretending We Know

Voting has begun (that is, electronically… paper ballots went out weeks ago). And there really isn’t anything that anyone can do, though there will be a final flurry of cocktails and dinners and lunches and screenings (oh my!) starting over the weekend.

So what do we know?

Pretty much what we knew a month ago… which is to say, about half of what we usually think we know at this time of year.

The big change-up may be The Big Short, which finally seemed to get serious traction in the past couple of weeks as Academy members saw screenings or put the screener on the DVD. Initial reads had Steve Carell as the nomination candidate, but while voters like him, too, the focus seems to have shifted to Christian Bale, who really gets to create a full, dynamic character who shows a ton of layers even though his scenes are mostly solo.

Among the trio of late-to-the-party films, The Revenant still seems the only one likely to get a Best Picture nomination. It has no chance of winning Best Picture because it has more voters who dislike it than love it… but the hardcore group that loves it should be enough to get it a Best Picture nomination.

The wildest category of the year may be Best Actor, which always seems like the fullest boat imaginable, but has become a blurry mess that makes a lifetime achievement award for Leonardo DiCaprio likely. My personal take is that the salesmen pushing the Leo performance have overdone the “it was so hard to make” story, making him vulnerable to losing the award to someone whose story plays a bit warmer in a movie the voters like more. Doesn’t mean Leo won’t win… but after coming to believe that he had the strongest road to win a few weeks ago, I feel like the difficulty of production has become something many now mock.

But Leo’s getting nominated. Eddie Redmayne’s getting nominated. After that, it gets pretty dicey.

Matt Damon seems likely… and a candidate to take Leo’s award in the end… though Fox will have to actually run a campaign for Matt that is at least 3/4 as aggressive as the one for Leo, which may not happen because Fox’s will just isn’t strong enough to match New Regency’s.

Michael Fassbender is certainly worthy and has been nominated before without campaigning. Still, the film and all associated remain in danger of being forgotten.

Is Will Smith a real candidate? Well, he did his first podcast, so… who knows? The film probably won’t hit $25 million by the end of the holiday. The performance is worthy, but will Academy members watch the oft-sent DVD?

DVD viewing is also a major issue for Creed, which should have Michael B. Jordan at the top of every list, threatening to win Best Actor… but could well not be nominated at all. Sylvester Stallone could be nominated in Supporting by voters who haven’t even watched the film, but are feeling nostalgia. But the Lifetime Achievement push hasn’t been pushed hard. This should be an 8-nomination movie with Maryse Alberti pushing out a big-name veteran for cinematography, but I just don’t see it happening. Somehow, watching the film devolved into a chore for many voters and even if they enjoy it then, a joyous, smart, commercial experience is hard to engage fully when your feel are dragging.

Can Tom Hanks be nominated for being Tom Hanks? That is the question across the board (except for Mark Rylance in Supporting) for Bridge of Spies.

Can Johnny Depp be nominated for a make-up performance in a movie that voters don’t much like?

And much as I love Youth – and I do – many Academy members seem to loathe it, which would not only pushMichael Caine out of contention, but could sink Jane Fonda as well.

That leaves the ever-likable Bryan Cranston and the hard-working, left-it-all-out-on-the-field Ian McKellen. Right now, the general thinking is that Cranston may well be in and that McKellen is O.U.T. out. I don’t know.

But it’s not a terribly strong group, as candidates (some of the performances are magnificent)… which is really surprising. Part of this is the ensemble nature of Spotlight and The Hateful Eight, the latter of which has some putting Samuel L. Jackson in lead, which is arguable, but not organically obvious.

Also, the women are stronger than the men this year.

Brie Larson is, in my opinion, the only lock to win in the acting ranks this years. It could change… but I don’t think it will. Not only is Saoirse great in Brooklyn, but I adore the human being as well… and still, it’s Brie Larson’s year. Then add Cate Blanchett, who is – if this is possible – underrated in Carol. Jennifer Lawrence is pretty undeniable in Joy, even if the movie threw people for a loop.

Then there is the legendary Charlotte Rampling, who is in a teensy tiny movie about, in part, getting old… which fits the demographic pretty damned well. I don’t understand how Lily Tomlin fell out of this conversation to this degree, but I consider that tragic. She is not only great in Grandma, but it is truly a lifetime part.

If anything has failed utterly this season, it is campaigning for lifetime achievement. On nomination morning, there may be a few names called that fit… but no one has done a great job of selling the idea of a lifetime of work being rewarded.

And as strong as that top 6 group of actresses is… the list below that is almost all comically far from being seriously considered much less nominated. Some of the performances are completely deserving… perhaps more than some that will be nominated. But no… not even close.

Back to Best Picture…

Spotlight, Room, The Big Short, The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road… in.

The Revenant, Carol… likely in.

After that, all bets are off. It could just be those seven. Or it could be other stuff after five. But I am pretty sure of that top 5.

Other contenders to get in are Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, Trumbo, and The Danish Girl.

Interestingly, all of the Tier 2/3 candidates – as I see them – are seriously period movies… nothing within 40 years or so. And the Tier 1 group? With the exception of Mad Max’s dystopian future – though it is the Future, not the past – they are all set in pretty current conditions.

No, I don’t think Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a chance in hell with The Academy. Could be wrong. Probably not. If they had waited another week to open, making the explosion at the box office and the date of voting simultaneous, maybe… because excitement is infectious… but with a week to clear their minds, voters are not likely to go down that path.

Straight Outta Compton? I wish. Terrific movie. No. Never was an actual contender.

Inside Out has a Best… in Animation. There needs to be a certain trajectory for this to happen against the odds… and not feeling it for the great and glorious Inside Out.

Steve Jobs? My personal favorite amongst this group (with Mad Max: Fury Road bearing down hard and The Martian and Spotlight right nearby)? I think it died in labor. Sorry. Truly wish I could say otherwise. The Social Network did $96 million before getting nominated. That kept it “important.” Steve Jobs had everything going for it that TSN did… except for commercial success… and worse, it has the “failure” tag. Smoke and mirrors.

We – all of us who do this – can take a pretty good swing at about half the field in pretty much every category. In some categories, a lack of serious candidates raises the odds to get the other half (or the last 2 of 5) correct.

Within the realm of possibility, someone guessing at these groups could have everything right today. Absolutely. It is feeling more settled now than it did a couple weeks ago (when everyone was having their heads turned by various voting groups). But there are so many ghosts in the machine this year that any of us could have a lot wrong… continuing my amused theme of this season, wherein some outlets are desperately trying to grab control of the game in the year least suited to do so in years.

Expect surprises on nomination morning… even if the biggest surprise ends up being that there are no surprises at all.

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26 Responses to “8 Weeks To Oscar: Pretending We Know”

  1. movieman says:

    Do you have any concerns that the commercial failure of “Room” could not only cancel out a BP nomination, but adversely effect Brie Larson’s chances of a win as well?

    “Commercial failure” seems like a misnomer for a movie that never hit more than a couple hundred screens, but that perception has to be out there. Not as damningly as for “Steve Jobs” (a modestly-budgeted indie rather than a more costly studio production), but still.

  2. MarkVH says:

    The Creed story is such a shame. An absolute joy of a movie, a better crowd-pleaser than Argo, The Artist and The King’s Speech combined, made with greater artistry than any of them. Deserves to be so much more than a footnote.

  3. filmboymichael says:

    Of the actors in contention, I really hope that Redmayne gets snubbed. It’s an overwrought performance, that in a more stellar year by actors, wouldn’t even be in the conversation. The Danish Girl was a huge disappointment, despite looking and sounding gorgeous. It just fell flat.

    I agree with your summation of Larson. I thought for a while that it was going to be a fight to the finish between her and Ronan, but I think day by day Larson is inching ahead and will take home the statuette for a beautiful and much more challenging role (not taking anything away from Ronan’s achievement!)

  4. Movielocke says:

    Star wars has had full screenings for like all 20 Los Angeles screenings since it opened.

    Star wars is in for picture director and all the techs except makeup. Supporting actor, actress and script are the only dicey categories for it.

  5. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Last year, when the “Oscar So White” campaign hit, and Oscar was accused of racism, I was sympathetic but unconvinced. SELMA came too late to make much of an impact (s subtle film needs time to sink in), and there wasn’t much else (and it DID get a BP nod, if not much else). Was the Academy really supposed to go for TOP FIVE? This year, though, if CREED, Will Smith, and BEASTS all get zip, it’s not going to look good. CREED especially is deserving by almost any reasonable measure.

  6. Rhett Gamlin says:


    Star Wars is a good popcorn flick. Academy doesn’t care about those. It’s not in for anything above-the-line.

    I feel like the same people who say Star Wars is in were some of the same people saying the last Harry Potter was in, or Skyfall was in. They weren’t. It’s not.

  7. Chris L. says:

    The Danish Girl getting in for BP would make Extremely Smug and Incredibly Pompous seem like a brilliant choice in retrospect. I fear it might even bring the wrath of progressive activists upon the Academy to a greater degree than leaving out Creed or Compton would, since a strong majority of the community whose history it “honors” seems to find it insulting, to put it very mildly.

    If there’s one contender that I think is being slighted, it’s Bridge of Spies. Don’t know if voters have simply moved on from Spielberg and/or Hanks, but the latter has really refined his wry underplaying to enjoyable effect; bits of “business” such as his constant handkerchief-handling were funnier than they had a right to be. And the film as a whole was very confidently and patiently made, with sneaky resonance. (Hell, I admire its flavor of flag-waving more than that of Saving Private Ryan. I’d make a terrible Oscar voter!)

  8. eldrick says:

    of the films you listed, the top 8 are very solid choices. no one can truly be mad at them. only trumbo and the dansih girl look like films that shouldnt be getting automatic spots. i havent seen these films, but their description says its the usual prestige actorly fare. would be nice for creed or compton to get in. creed is the safer choice which doesnt mean its the less deserving, i really thing ryan coogler is the next great one, while fgary gray has been an underrated comerical fare director for a long time.

  9. Bob Burns says:

    Oscar is so white. Much of this column (and nearly all Oscar commentary) reads like gossip from an affluent white suburban high school.

    The Star Wars success helps Mad Max, IMO. SW is fanboy (personally found it tedious) and Mad Max, this one, is industry, show biz, hachacha.

    Agree about Steve Jobs.

  10. Eric M. Van says:

    Folks comparing Star Wars to the last Harry Potter (or worse yet, to Skyfall) are on powerful drugs. Star Wars is appearing on nearly twice as many top 10 lists as Harry Potter, and it has matched its worldwide box office in its first two weeks.

    If Star Wars doesn’t get a nomination, it will be (given the expanded field) an even bigger embarrassment than The Reader getting nominated over The Dark Knight. And it will be disastrous for the telecast.

    (I haven’t seen the film yet — I have the best seats in the best IMAX theater in New England for Sunday — but my opinion of the film isn’t going to change the above. Why should it?)

    I’d be surprised if Brooklyn isn’t in, since it has very passionate support. It’s hard to imagine Bridge of Spies missing, too. So that would be 10. If anything’s going to sneak in, I’d hope it would be Creed or Compton (neither of which I’ve seen yet) rather than Trumbo, or, especially, The Danish Girl. I’m not sure how that’s still regarded as a contender when in it’s not in the top 50 in Top 10 mentions, and more importantly (and unlike Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which is the one previous nominee that missed) hasn’t satisfied its target audience.

  11. PJ says:

    Sorry but a remake of A New Hope isn’t coming anywhere near Best Picture. At least The Dark Knight had an Academy Award winning performance therein, all Star Wars has is empty box office.

  12. David Poland says:

    Hollywood IS an affluent white high school.

  13. theschu says:

    Or maybe Star Wars will get a Best Picture nomination. Given that Titanic and Avatar, the two other highest grossing movies of all time that The Force Awakens is likely to pass, were also released towards the end of December (Dec 19, 1997 and Dec 18, 2009 actually) to extremely positive reviews and big box office, I’d say it has more of a shot. A New Hope was nominated for Best Picture, why not this one? I think it would be foolish of the Academy not to nominate it actually, given that its mere presence in the list of Best Picture nominees could result in huge ratings for the broadcast. If they care about that sort of thing.

  14. Kevin says:

    “If Star Wars doesn’t get a nomination, it will be (given the expanded field) an even bigger embarrassment than The Reader getting nominated over The Dark Knight. And it will be disastrous for the telecast.”

    Exactly. If, say, THE DANISH GIRL gets in instead of THE FORCE AWAKENS, most people will openly mock the Oscars for being oh so out of touch.

  15. Dapper Dan says:

    Trumbo is “in” for Picture. “Revenant” is dicier now that the reviews are out. Star Wars, yes. Jennifer Lawrence could lose out if the Academy wants two older ladies, Lily and Charlotte. (Because Larsen and Ronan and Blanchett are locks).

    I think Steve Jobs will disappear – maybe, maybe Fassbender, but it wasn’t a good film.

  16. Movielocke says:

    Worse, I’d expect to see large online factions of people advocating boycotts of the oscars if force awakens misses best picture.

    It’s hardly a remake of a new hope, it’s a conglomerate inversion of the original trilogy. The original trilogy builds to a climax wherein the son refuses to kill the father–and wins by losing. This trilogy begins with the son eagerly killing the father–and loses by winning–and the rest of the story will be the overarching path of dealing with that. Do you see the inversion?

    Go watch the original 39 Flash Gordon and stop bellowing your ignorance about remakes, that serial had like six Death Stars in ten episodes its inherent to the structure of the form Star Wars is based on to use repeating cycles and escalations.

    structurally the film has more points of comparison to Jedi than any other original film, but people are too blinded by The opening similarity to see that. After jakku, the film is a blend of empire (respite at a friends planet to regroup) and Jedi (on planet sabotage cut against a Death Star aerial battle). Star Wars is a very clean tatooine, Death Star capture and escape, Death Star aerial attack. Force awkens has all the messy complications and intercutting climaxes of empire and Jedi.

    Back to oscars, I’d predict for best picture at this point, in order:

    Bridge of spies
    Force awakens
    Big short
    Straight outta Compton (block voting is a big help and creed won’t canniblize it’s support)
    Revenant (or possibly hateful eight surprising)

    Bubble : mad max, Star Wars hurts it the most, and all the prep work critics did for seven months of exhaustive campaigning on its behalf to convince people to vote for a silly popcorn sequel like mad max is going to make it okay to vote for Star Wars.

    I find it hilarious people say mad max is in but that the academy would never put in Star Wars. The two films are the exact same thing, well executed popcorn franchise sequels. Star Wars will get the director and picture nominations, not mad max.

  17. Daniella Isaacs says:

    “I’d expect to see large online factions of people advocating boycotts of the oscars if force awakens misses best picture.”

    So the nerd patrol will have a snit fit. Who cares? Those would be the same people who said if the movie about the snakes on the plane was released under the title “Snakes on a Plane” it would be a huge hit, and that nobody would go see a James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig. (Is the CraigNotBond website still up, or has it been replaced by a ElbaNotBond site? I wonder…)

    That said, I’d predict a SW VII Best Pic nod is a bit under a 50/50 proposition right now. It’s the latest “movie that’s saved Hollywood.” These savior films, STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE, TITANIC, AVATAR, usually do get nominated.

  18. PJ says:

    Did it really save Hollywood when Jurassic World grossed 652M earlier this year?

    I mean it’s borderline delusional to think Star Wars has any effect on Mad Max. Mad Max is winning best picture and best director at critics, Mad Max has Golden Globe drama pic and Director nods, and soon PGA and DGA nods. Where is Star Wars? Being added after the fact to the BFCAs? Like seriously who cares? There is no there there, just empty box office.

  19. DW says:

    Trumbo is an uneven picture, but Bryan Cranston is superb in it. I haven’t yet seen The Revenant, so I can’t speak to Leo’s performance. But for my money, as of now, Cranston should win.

    At the very least, Creed deserves nominations for picture, supporting actor, and cinematography. If Stallone can’t wrangle a sentimental nomination out of this performance, he should sue the Academy for wrongful nomination. (See what I did there?)

    Finally, I like Bridge of Spies’ chances for a Best Picture nomination, but as good as Hanks is, the actor field is simply too crowded this year.

  20. YancySkancy says:

    A Best Pic nod for TFA wouldn’t shock me in the least. A lot of fans of the original trilogy seem thrilled with it, and surely the Academy is full of folks who were kids and teens when Ep. 4 came out. Also, it sometimes seems like about every third person in the film biz was inspired to make it their career by Ep. 4.

    I haven’t seen TFA, so I’m not basing this theory on quality. Just a hunch.

  21. MarkVH says:

    Star Wars getting a Best Picture nomination would be a bigger embarrassment than Crash winning it. To put it in the same conversation with Titanic and Avatar is absurd – its box office take is superior, but from a filmmaking standpoint it isn’t even a pimple on the ass of either film.

  22. Daniella Isaacs says:

    You know MarkVH, your vehemence cannot disguise the fact that your opinion is just that, an opinion… by a nonvoter… and a lot of people clearly disagree with you. So there’s that.

  23. MarkVH says:

    So what you’re saying is…

    Doesn’t matter either way. Won’t get nominated.

  24. Daniella Isaacs says:

    We’ll see. I wouldn’t vote against it.

  25. Movielocke says:

    Star wars at ACE this morning, PGA and ADG tomorrow, start of a great guild run for the film.

  26. Movielocke says:

    Looks like I was wrong about the PGA

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