MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

19 Weeks To Oscar: Looking For A Rush

Tyler Perry was on Oprah this week. After all, it’s a little more than two weeks until his award aspirant, For Colored Girls, goes into theaters. But he didn’t say more than a couple of sentences about the film. Hmmm… But he’s going to be on again on his film’s opening day, November 5. And that episode was described by Oprah as being like no Oprah episode before. Interesting. So the movie… oh… no… the show will have 200 grown men who were molested as children, including Perry himself.

And that is how this Oscar season feels so far.

Not like molestation. It’s a great thing that Tyler Perry and Oprah are doing, trying to bring light to a shame that men are loathe to ever admit and therefore find it harder to heal.

What it is like is waiting for something exciting, something expected, something that shocks and surprises and makes it all fun. And not getting quite what we expected. What we get isn’t bad. It may even be incredibly valuable and worthwhile. But it’s just not exciting.

Toy Story 3 and Inception are both likely nominees, both are big commercial hits, and neither is likely to get much further than their nominations. TS3 can’t even hope to win Best Comedy at the Golden Globes, since the HFPAers like to segregate the animation. Even being nominated for Best Picture with 10 nominees feels like it’s The Pixar Slot after just one year getting nominated.

The Social Network is a hit and a likely nominee. But is it really the experience to stir (older) men’s souls? The King’s Speech, which isn’t open yet but is being given frontrunner status by some, is wonderful… but can anyone really say they have never been on that journey before?

The are a number of tiny indies that are terrific, from Never Let Me Go to Winter’s Bone to The Kids Are All Right to Get Low to Biutiful to Another Year to Rabbit Hole. I don’t know that we have seen any of these films before, really. They all play on ideas we have of older films, but each is really fresh in its own way, loaded with some great performances.

But is any one of them capable of becoming The One, even if they fight their way to nominations?

It now seems that the excitement of the season comes down the to small handful of films that are not yet in play. They may or may not be better than the films already out there, but there is something pulsing beneath the surface.

The glorious madness of Black Swan feels like it could blow audiences away, especially the actors, who will identify with the pain and paranoia of being a performer. Aronofsky has made an incredibly sophisticated horror film, which is going to make it a shooting star or somewhat earthbound by resistance of an older Academy.

The deceptive simplicity of 127 Hours and the audience’s pleasure in spending all that time with James Franco is a singular event this year. Of course, some people are already whining about one event in the last 15 minutes making the movie hard to take. But I would argue that the skill with which Boyle and his compatriots get through that one event, in a film of enormous tension that commands the compassion of the audience is a far greater achievement than any discomfort that is created.

Paramount, which is marketing and distributing The Fighter, has started to convince the talkers around town that they have a game changer. A new 2 minute ad – not a trailer – is turning heads and looking like Raging Rocky On The Waterfront. And it doesn’t help that Mark Wahlberg has become a working class hero in Hollywood, matched only by Matt Damon in his generation.

And then there is the film that is the last to start revving its engine – it started this week – The Coen Bros version of True Grit. John Wayne won the Oscar in the role played by last year’s winner, Jeff Bridges. Can he pull a Hanks? The original was not nominated for Best Picture. Nor were Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, or Jeff Corey, who played the roles now handled by Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin. Yet…

It was 27 years between How The West Was Won being Best Picture nominated and two westerns in three years winning, Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven. That was 17 years ago, with no Westerns being nominated in the interim.

So even though there was plenty of Southwestern dust in No Country For Old Men, True Grit may offer the excitement of a true throwback. Or not.

And what of The Way Back, which has replaced Tree of Life, now officially relegated to 2011 (along with Miral), as the Popular, But Unsure, New Distributor Wildcard Choice?

Where else can we look for excitement? Well, James Franco is a newcomer to the awards circuit, as is Jesse Eisenberg. And will voters find the idea of nominating the dual role played by Armie Hammer fun? Personally I think it is a bit ugly that Tobey Maguire hasn’t been Oscar nominated yet… but will voters be amused by the idea of sending the new Spider-Man to his spandex suit with an Oscar nomination in tow?

And how about “second time’s the charm?” Colin Firth. Natalie Portman. Josh Brolin. Mark Wahlberg. Ryan Gosling. Anne Hathaway. Carey Mulligan.

There are veterans we love and don’t see enough of in front of that camera these days, from Robert Duvall to Sissy Spacek to Barbara Hershey to Miranda Richardson to Annette Bening, and even Jack Nicholson, who has gone three years without a movie since The Bucket List.

Then there’s this year’s rocket girl, Jennifer Lawrence.

Okay… now I am getting interested… a bit excited even. I want to hear Academy members debate the subtexts of Black Swan and discuss whether they remember the real events of The King’s Speech and try to remember the first True Grit and to consider the actors and filmmakers who are going to take us into the future, from Fincher to Nolan to Aronofsky to Hooper to Granik to Romanek to Russell and embracing the veterans they’ve honored over the years like Jim Brooks and Scorsese and Boyle and Eastwood and The Coens.

Things are just a little slow out of the blocks this year. But we’re almost there. And it could be fun. It may not be as fresh or unexpected as some years… but away we go, dudes, party on.

by David Poland

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17 Responses to “19 Weeks To Oscar: Looking For A Rush”

  1. I agree with you that The Social Network simply doesn’t have what it takes to reach the hearts of older Academy voters: not rousing enough for the men and too misogynistic for the women. While The King’s Speech certainly has enormous emotional power and tremendous performances, as you say, it’s kind of old hat. I am truly hoping that True Grit can combine the technical skill and intelligence of TSN with the emotional power and acting chops of The King’s Speech to deliver us all a thrilling frontrunner. After the wonderful teaser and trailer, my fingers are crossed.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    Good column!

    I have a personal theory that Inception will over perform as the awards parade begins. It will be Warner’s horse. look for it to rise near the top of the MCN top ten list compilation list, which is a highly reliable precursor.

    no ax to grind, just a prediction.

  3. The Pope says:

    Simply because it is far too early to call it, I’m going to do just that (and just for the sheer fun of it).

    PICTURE: The King’s Speech
    DIRECTOR: David Fincher
    ACTOR: Colin Firth
    ACTRESS: Anna Hathaway
    S. ACTRESS: Melisa Leo
    SCREENPLAYS: Aaron Sorkin / David Seidler
    CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins (well, that’s as sure as death and taxes, right?)

    And proving the fun of it all, I have see neither The King’s Speech, True Grit, The Fighter nor Love and Other Drugs.

  4. Keil Shults says:


  5. Keil Shults says:

    okay, i’m trying to post something, but either it’s too long or i’ve been banned

  6. hcat says:

    I will be annoyed if Bridges deserves it this year and Firth wins, when last year the inverse happened.

  7. chris says:

    “127 Hours” simplicity? That’s the last word I’d used. “Over-directed” might be the first.

  8. Keil Shults says:

    So are we in agreement that the new James L. Brooks film is unlikely to become an 11th hour contender?

  9. David Poland says:

    Keil, I can’t find any unpublished comments of yours.

  10. sanj says:

    Edgar Wright can’t get a best director nomination for Scott Pilgrim ?

  11. Nicol D says:

    Somebody start lobbying for Chloe Moretz for a nomination. Two of the best performances of the year…easily. She blows Portman out of the water as a performer.

    Get Low…another great film that will most likely be overlooked.

    Finally saw a preview for Black Swan before Let Me In. Ok. So we can conclude Aronofsky hates traditional things like lighting and making things look nice. Had no idea this was another “Wrestler” style verite job. That’s what the preview looked like. Find it hard to believe it will find the mainstream audience the critics say it will.

    Don’t get me wrong…with bitchy performers, paranoia and someone’s ass grinding into a bed it looked like great fun. But fun in the campy Showgirls lesbian sex kinda way. Not in the give it an Oscar kinda way.

    Portman has been one note for years and the only thing her name above the marquee usually guarantees is nudity post Star Wars. Not a bad thing, but I bet this film is nowhere near as accessible as crix want it to be. But if opening weekend has nothing to do with the movie and only the perception of the movie, I will be shocked if this does what crix are saying it will.

  12. Tim says:

    But, The Pope, it might be as sure as death and taxes that Roger Deakins will be nominated yet again but he’s never actually won an Oscar. He’s got stiff competition from the DP of INCEPTION.

  13. Krillian says:

    May this year be less predictable than last year.

    Seriously, why is everyone ditching The Town? It’s still the fourth best movie I’ve seen this year.

    I’m hoping this is the year Christian Bale finally gets a nomination, for The Fighter.

  14. Leone says:

    Totally agree on THE TOWN. It was a really solid movie.
    Also agree that Christian Bale has delivered so many great performances that I hope THE FIGHTER is his year. The movie looks great and very Oscar baity. Have to agree on 127 Hours being over-directed, but James Franco’s performance was stellar. And Black Swan is at the top of my list to see… it looks wholly original. Dave didn’t talk much about the movies released early in the year – still predicting that Scorsese’s deliciously decadent goth horror/psychological thriller will make the ten, as will Leonardo DiCaprio’s top notch performance. And I know it’s unpopular to say but enough with the Toy Story 3 crap. The first Toy Story blew 3 out of the water. Sorry Oscar missed the boat on that one, but for god’s sake, enough with the “make it up to them” awards.

  15. Leone says:

    Oh, and The Social Network? Brrrrrrrrrr, talk about a cold movie. Too smart. Too hip. It’s in for the nomination but I just can’t see the Academy mustering up enough love for that film to give it the gold.

  16. Michael says:

    I think it will be an interesting race. I think by the end, it won’t be The Social Network, but either True Grit or (more likely) The Fighter that will be the greatest challenge to The King’s Speech.

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“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
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