MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: A Week To Go

I’m writing this with about 25 hours left in the final voting.

Everything seems pretty locked in, except for categories that most people don’t think about, but also the category that everyone will be talking about next Monday.

Every one of the five films that are considered to have a chance of winning Best Picture has a position of strength as well as a soft underbelly.

Do you want to go through them all again? (I don’t, either.)

When did you see Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, Get Out or Dunkirk? Long enough ago that if you saw any of them again today, you would be surprised by things you forgot?

We are in the Era of Immediacy. Between the time Oscar voters nomination voting ended on January 12 and when final voting started officially last Tuesday, there were 39 days. That’s 39 days of Trump: indictments by Mueller, nuclear brinksmanship with North Korea, a major school shooting, multiplehigh level White House employees pushed out over sexual abuses, a (brief) government shu down, no DACA deal, Omarosa on Big Brother, and so much more.

Also, The Super Bowl. Last Minute Release of a Paramount-Produced Film on Netflix on Super Bowl Night. The Winter Olympics. Black Panther. And more.

There have been minor skirmishes, like the weird claim of plagiarism against The Shape of Water, the “if you touch on racism, racism has to be a central theme of your film” claim against Three Billboards, the effort to marginalize Lady Bird as too minor, and the abandonment of Call Me By Your Name for Get Out as the PC special of the season. But have any of them really sunk in with voters, as opposed to the chattering class?

It’s been a quiet season, loaded with high quality films. It is appropriate that the biggest surprise of the nominations was the number for Phantom Thread, which is also so clearly the finest film in the field that it has absolutely no chance of winning.

It’s a season of filmmakers, most of whom will make many more wonderful films without ever being weighed down with the ambition of being “big” commercial filmmakers. I mean, someone like Greta Gerwig could back into a $100 million production, though it would never be one that wasn’t a glove to her hand. Luca Guadagnino will always have enough money to make films if he likes and will never click with the occasional moviegoer, much less infrequent viewers. Same with PTA, but with a Valley accent. Martin McDonagh couldn’t give a shit. Sean Baker will find deep and abiding lovers of his work every time out, inspiring film lovers and filmmakers… and probably never gross more than $25 million. And Guillermo works in genre, but can’t help but add layers of passion that will, weirdly, make him less commercial.

Steven Spielberg is, obviously, Steven Spielberg. Nolan is one of the great freaks of film history, making quirky, complex films that audiences are drawn to like moths to a flame, not even quite sure why they need to be there. Jordan Peele works in comedy and so he may well ring the money bell every third or fourth film. And Joe Wright really wants to be a money man… but he is an art guy… whether he is in fashion or not.

And then there are the actors. There are a few who have not graced me with time. But the rest? Almost without exception, I love them and their passions. After a while, it gets to be like “six degrees,” but of your own experiences.

If there was an expanded field in 2003, Lisa Cholodenko’s magnificent Laurel Canyon surely would have been nominated for Best Picture. Francis McDormand would surely have had her now-6th acting nomination for a role that should have won Best Actress if there was a fair awards universe. And Christian Bale. And Kate Beckinsale. And Alessandro Nivola. But it was an also-ran. And I have been chasing Fran ever since. We did get a round table with her in San Diego for Almost Famous, but that was 18 years and a failed studio ago.

It’s weird to watch Saoirse grow up over the years. She’ll be a legend. And before I even met her Lady Bird co-star, just hearing the way everyone working on the movie talked about Beanie Feldstein made it clear that she would be the unmitigated pleasure that she is. And she helped Lucas Hedges relax in our interview, so even better.

Sam Rockwell has always been an interview I look forward to and always wondered whether he was happy being there by the end. Not this year. He seemed more at peace… or at least let me feel more at peace talking to him. And he is connected to so many of the others out there this season.

Gary Oldman is a handful… but I was there when he burnt his career down in 2000. And I felt sympathy for him them. And I am thrilled for him now. It took 18 years to get back to where he was in 2000… and now, he is most likely going to get the embrace from his peers he so wanted back then… that he wanted so much that he lashed out at people trying to get him there too. He’s been quiet this season… because he is wiser now. He always was a genius actor.

Jessica Chastain, even though she didn’t get into the finals, came into the season so strongly, not as an actress, but as a social activist in the name of women and actresses in particular. I’m not sure I clear the bar of her absolutism these days, but I love her and her intensity and her fearlessness, even if I am the jerk who is not 100% on board.

And of course, Rose McGowan and Asia Argento, who are strong flavors, perhaps even too strong for the movements that they are really responsible for starting. There are so many colors of survivor. But they are always there, smart and angry and, amazingly, still hopeful about the world. They should be presenting together at The Oscars, but no one has the guts to do that. I am happy that Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino were finally heard (and I bet they will present to a standing ovation)… but they were never as close to the fire.

Love Timothée Chalamet. He is such a 20something. So smart. So pretty. So young. He needs to spend some time hanging out with another guy I am always thrilled to see, Ethan Hawke, who recovered from coming of age to become a man of substance and deep ambition.

Greta. Such a great moment to be Greta. And so much more work to get done.

I felt cheated out of Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins and Joe Walker because Blade Runner 2049 didn’t instantly become what it will eventually become.

Margot Robbie was such a lovely surprised. I had no idea how that meeting would turn out. But she is no one’s Hollywood blonde. It’s almost like she got lessons from Charlize Theron on how to skip that unpleasant, self-defeating step and to move right into being a hardcore worker bee who also happens to be drop-dead gorgeous and funny and fearless.

Dafoe was an unexpected delight. Wide open and never defenseless.

What would a season be without Mike Shannon and Alexandre Desplat?

Weirdly, I was kept from the world of Get Out. Not a single interview or meeting. I asked. I was even asked about shooting a couple of people. But nope. None of it happened. And that is my loss.

Of course, you meet some of the most interesting people in the world in doc and foreign and below the line. In some way, they are the stars of a season, given the odd familiarity with so many of the others. To be honest, I stopped asking this season. Tired of fighting for position. With maybe one or two exceptions, I spent time with people this season because they wanted me to… and I was happy to accommodate. One can only beg Paul Thomas Anderson so many times.

I did yell and scream like a jerk when Idris Elba was pulled at the last minute. So we did a short one… and I am really looking forward to seeing his directorial debut. He is in a whirlwind of passionate joys, whether he becomes Bond or not.

I was struck this season by the intimacy of creation. How making something together, really working, is like joining a sorority/fraternity from which you can never be removed. It’s a beautiful thing. And it’s so transient.

I guess I love the people who let me have that kind of moment with them. It’s an act of generosity, though I would say that few of those people see it that way.

As we get to next weekend’s show, the awards themselves won’t be all that interesting. I will be watching the sides of the frame. Watching people I know a little, to see when they are themselves, when they are not, and when the world is changing right in front of them.

If the rest of the world could have my view, a lot more of them would watch the show. But I expect some of the lowest numbers in years for the Oscars for a season with, perhaps, the best line-up of films, pound for pound, that we have seen.

May we all be Beanie Feldman on Oscar night.

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8 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: A Week To Go”

  1. palmtree says:

    ““if you touch on racism, racism has to be a central theme of your film” claim against Three Billboards”

    That’s a straw man right there. Just because racism isn’t a central theme (though you could probably argue that it is) doesn’t mean you can’t say it was handled badly. It’d be far better if you didn’t distort someone else’s argument while you’re trying to claim someone is distorting a film’s argument.

    And while I admire 3BB in many ways, I also notice there are parts of it that are less admirable and that has the effect of making it on the whole less good…because the shallowness of its use of racism as a theme can then be extrapolated to its shallowness in other areas. But McDonagh is still a good writer in my view.

  2. David S says:

    I love your writing man but I was shocked to read that you think LAUREL CANYON is “magnificent” and that you think it would have been a contender for Best Picture. I think Lisa Cholodenko is great and love McDormand and Bale and Beckinsale and Nivola and really wanted the movie to be good but it’s so so bad. So obvious and poorly written. So so bad man.

  3. David Poland says:

    The Bale/Beckinsale relationship has problems. The McDormand stuff is all golden.

  4. Glamourboy says:

    Agree that Laurel Canyon would never have been an Oscar nominee…the movie was interesting, cool…but it didn’t add up to enough…I went in ready to love it…and just didn’t. At the end of the day…what is that movie even ‘about’? And watching it today…it seems so dated…like an episode from some HBO show.

  5. Bob Burns says:

    a sweet elegaic column for the year. Thanks. Sincerely. Shame the year ends so very late. The three-month length of the awards season is a ridiculous bore. The press and the blogs will never say so because they rely on all those awful FYC ads, everyone begging for honors.

    Hope Deakins wins so we can finally stop hearing about it. Bet he feels the same.

    I’m thankful Anderson ruined his film with mushrooms instead of frogs… only because poison frogs didn’t occur to him would be my guess.

  6. Miles Ridding says:

    I have just seen both Ladybird and I tonya and I will be so disappointed if the subtlety of Laurie Metcalfe is passed over in favour of the louder and less impressive Allison Janney. Metcalfe wins for me hands down. Ditto Saoirse Ronan who deserves best actress, far outclassing the grandstanding of McDormand.

  7. Spassky says:

    Lesley manville puts the rest flat on their backs

  8. JBritt says:

    I love Saoirse Ronan. I hope she will surprise on Sunday!

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