MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

15 Weeks To Oscar: Don’t You Forget About Me

(new charts to land on Thursday afternoon)

As we get to the real fight… DVDs flying, Thanksgiving choices about which film your family wants to watch, absent contenders showing their faces… we are seeing some last minute entries in the race, like Halle Berry, who could shake up the Best Actress race with her schizophrenic, multi-racial performance in Frankie & Alice.

As Disney is out there misstepping by openly declaring their intent to push Toy Story 3 to the winner’s circle – not to mention using the trendy Nouveau-Trade least likely to ask a real question of anyone who gives them information or access to push the agenda… advertorial is fun! – we should probably remember Seabis… uh… Secretariat, which the studio has pretty much abandoned now. (Disney would be well served by no longer declaring their intent about anything. If any weakness in the new regime has been exposed more profoundly in this last year, it’s their failure to lower expectations. In the Media Mayhem of Now™, there is no more valuable strategic skill.)

That’s how it goes. Yesterday’s Important Contender is today’s “Yeah, we’re sending out the DVD and we’ll buy some ads.” But there are some very special films that are suffering this hard reality.

A classic scenario is Focus Features’ awards look this year. They will only release six films this year, every one of them potentially on the awards track. Greenberg was first out and didn’t go anywhere, so that was that. Babies is pushing for Documentary awards. And It’s Kind of a Funny Story also came up short.

That leaves The Kids Are All Right, The American, and Somewhere, the one title still unreleased. Kids did an indie-strong $21 million domestic and has a cast full of Oscar bait actors. The American did $36 million and is still being rolled out overseas, likely to match the domestic number or pass it by a small amount… but its Oscar-winning star has become notoriously press shy and the media, called off of the film as Oscar-bait early, has never taken up the cudgel for it. And Somewhere is a very personal film from Sofia Coppola, with excellent performances, but low-wattage stardom, and its likely to be the lowest grosser of the trio by a significant margin. Oh… and it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, which Focus has taken in 3 of the last 6 years. Brokeback Mountain got a Best Picture nomination. Lust, Caution did not. (Nor did The Wrestler, with no distribution at the time, a couple of years ago. In fact, Brokeback is the only Venice winner to be Best Picture nominated since 1980’s Atlantic City.)

Focus will push the other films… but they clearly have chosen Kids as their stalking horse… and every indication is that they have received enough traction to get between three and six Oscar nominations. Would the Dependent be well-served – especially in a year in which parent Universal is not in the Oscar race – to be pushing their other two films in a 10-film race? It depends on the goal. Either of the other two films might catch fire if pushed along… but studios tend to measure the financial upside of making those choices unless they are completely carried away with the film and there is no evidence of that in either case here, unfortunately.

So here is my Don’t You Forget About Me list for 2010.

Never Let Me Go – This is the film we’ll be looking back at in 20 years, laughing about how The Academy managed to fail to even nominate it, even in a field of ten. There are some tremendous films this year. And it’s a pretty tough nut to crack when Fox Searchlight has three very special films, each from an auteur, each challenging to audiences.

But seriously… I don’t really care if this is your kind of movie… this film is rigorous, profound, and you overlook it at you own peril. Carey Mulligan gives a performance of restraint and elegance in a role that by its very nature asks more of the actor than all but a couple of other roles out there this year. Andrew Garfield’s best performance of the year is in this film, even though he is excellent in The Social Network as well.

But it’s writers Kazuo Ishiguro and Alex Garland and director Mark Romanek who paint the picture. And the effort makes a forever film. This is one of those rare cases where I truly think that dismissing this film – and not enjoying it is a different issue – is to show your own limitations, not the film’s. Perhaps this is the film that defines what is so sad about human communication at this moment… now, now, now, impulse, impulse, impulse. Is the theme of man’s lurking inhumanity only palatable to some when it is served up in sci-fi or as a dramatized version of history we are so familiar with that we have lost an emotional connection to it?

When the DVD lands – better to see it in a theater if you can – plan to take a few hours, turn off the phone, turn down the lights, and try to let the experience come to you. Open your heart. Let it break. Let yourself consider youth and age and how aware we choose to be.

Biutiful – The filmmaker doesn’t really want to hear about how hard this film is on an audience. And I agree with him that it is, ultimately, about hope, not despair. But truthfully, it’s a tough road.

Buck up, pal. You got into The Academy, you can handle a deeply serious film with, perhaps, the most powerful performance you have seen this decade.

I am cynical about The Academy Awards in many ways. I don’t think it’s a competition of The Best Film, but of the Best Film For Those 6000 People. They have certain tastes. And though I really liked The Blind Side a lot, I thikn it’s fair to say that “they” certainly prefer their hard lessons to include the kind of glamour and humor that Sandra Bullock brings to the table. In a year in which Hereafter offers a much gentler, less impactful look at many of the same subjects that are woven into Biutiful, maybe “they” will take the easier road… or no road… to these subjects.

If, somehow, Javier Bardem is not nominated, it will be one of the great all-time embarrassments for The Academy. Again, there are many worthy performances. But Bardem goes to a place that must have been like watching Brando in Streetcar the first time, when almost no one else was working that way. Bardem is the greatest empathic actor of this era… and this is his most amazing work so far.

Shutter Island – Scorsese, like Spielberg, suffers from being a true master.

I love a good thriller. This is an INSANE thriller. Scorsese and his team continue to push the envelope in ways in virtually every film that you can see Darren Aronofsky – whose film I love and seems to be safely on its way – pressing to reach. Darren may be the next Scorsese. Time will tell. But Marty, at 68 (happy birthday… it was yesterday), is still growing.

They sent the DVD of Shutter a few days ago… I won’t even consider looking at it. To watch Shutter Island in anything less than Blu-ray, if you have it, is like drinking cheap scotch when you have the good stuff in the cabinet.

A few genre films are right in the middle of the Best Picture race. But Shutter hasn’t been taken as seriously as it deserves to be. It’s a complex, interesting, masterful piece of filmmaking. Go Blu and take another long look.

Get Low – Simply sublime.

Duvall leads the way with a performance that culminates in a one-take speech that blows the doors off. He deserves a nomination and the only actor who could claim to be ripped off by him winning would be Bardem, who I fear won’t even be nominated. Duvall is not only one of our all-time greats, he is truly great in this film… and without the big strokes that are a part of what has made him so iconic.

The supporting performances are perfect. And the story is, again, one that makes you feel and think. How do we choose to live? How do we choose to die? How can it all be the best it can be?

Again, it’s not a film you can “get” while answering phone calls and catching every third line of dialogue while watching a DVD. It’s an immersive experience. Respect that and it will reward you… and you, as a voter, may well reward it.

Winter’s Bone – Of this group, this is, right now, the film most likely to get to a BP nod.

But it’s not a cakewalk.

The movie speaks for itself. It became a summer favorite for movie lovers in LA and NY, which is when it really may have secured a spot. The DVD also got out on the early side (a couple of weeks ago).

Of the five, it might be the representative. It is an absolute piece of auteurism by Debra Granik, who dives deep into the work. She gets great performances from her cast, including many non-pros. Every moment feels authentic.

But me, I could easily find five of the top contenders to push out to make way for all five of these excellent films. And one thing I have learned over these many years watching The Academy… for every surprise of shocking stupidity, there is at least one of surprising insight and subtlety. Here’s hoping.

15 Responses to “15 Weeks To Oscar: Don’t You Forget About Me”

  1. Rodd Hibbard says:

    I found Shutter Island to be one of the most boring and predictable films made in years. Suspenceful?? Who did not see the denouement coming. I will admit that I am not a Scorsese fan – each new release, off I go to watch the “master” only to be totally underwhelmed. It’s almost like US cinema doesn’t have a master filmmaker anymore, and hasn’t for a long time, and so the critics have decided Scorsese is the one – despite the fact the films are really not that good or popular. I know you’ll all call me a philistine but that’s my honest opinion, and that of several others I know.

  2. David Poland says:

    Not liking a movie doesn’t make anyone a philistine.

  3. Foamy Squirrel says:

    Living in Philadelphia does.

  4. AC says:

    Totally agree with you David on your assessment of NLMG. It’s a shame that so many people can’t overlook the ‘why didn’t they run’ element to appreciate the subtleties and intricacies of this beautiful movie. Carey’s restrained performance manages to leave a lingering impact despite the absence of any Oscar-friendly crying, preachy or tantrum-throwing scenes. It’s great that reviewers like you can champion this underappreciated gem!

  5. cadavra says:

    David, what is your opinion of the Gold Derby article which speculates that the real Golden Globes sleeper could be RED, which is really scoring huge points with the HFPA? Is a similar scenario possible among the older Academy members, whose ranks are still legion?

  6. Keil Shults says:

    I was anxious to see NLMG, but thought it might be good to read the novel first. By the time I got around to buying the novel the film was no longer playing locally. Do you think I should read the book first or wait until the film hits Blu-ray, watch it, and then read the book? Bear in mind that I’m a bigger film person than a book person.

    Also, a friend of mine whose taste in film I certainly respect, just sent me his Top 20 films of the year thus far. NMLG was his #1 pick, further cementing my need and desire to see it. I would imagine it will be on Blu-ray by February, if not sooner.

  7. David Poland says:

    Cad – What the Globes loves about RED is that they can bring in stars… often their motivation ahead of quality.

    I assume it will be in Comedy, which makes a nomination unembarrassing. And remember, split categories for lead acting slots too, so Helen Mirren would hardly be shocking. Though the movie’s flaws are less than its charms, for me, year ending seems a little much.

    And no… .01% likely to be a Best Picture candidate with The Academy, though if Mirren was willing to support a Supporting Actress campaign, they could go after that in a year with good performances, but only one or two real locks in that category. Unlikely she will. Unlikely to happen.

  8. David Poland says:

    PS – Not a Gold Derby reader. I bailed from reading much reader-generated content on awards a while back. It’s not that I know everything, but everything I know really needs to be from inside the beltway… otherwise you go mad with all the theories that are based on people wanting to come up with theories.

  9. Tim says:

    I disagree about GET LOW aka GET SLOW. Yes, I do think Duvall, Spacek and Bill Cobbs give absolutely wonderful performances but Bill Murray seemed to have wandered in from another movie. I also felt Lucas Black was either miscast or misdirected, his character was inconsistent in his reactions to the turn of events. I’d be fine with Duvall getting a Best Actor nom and Spacek and Cobbs getting Best Supporting noms but that’s aboutit.

  10. Tim says:

    But I couldn’t agree more with you about NLMG. The critical reaction to this fantastic film here has been dismaying, to say the least. If THE KING’S SPEECH didn’t already seem poised to take every British Oscar in sight then it would seem NLMG would have taken quite a few. I’m fairly certain when it lands in the UK and the rest of Europe early next year the reaction to it will be quite different.

  11. LexG says:

    Never Let Me Go is devastating and excellent, and I liked Mulligan (HOT) even more there than in An Education. Easily in my top five for the year. Heartbreaking statement on passively drifting through life.

    Speaking of the big Searchlight Three: What’s going on with 127 Hours? Is that expanding too slowly? I loved the movie, but gotta concede it hasn’t quite entirely stuck with me in that HOLY SHIT way that NLMG, Let Me In, Inception, Black Swan have… Last night I saw a TV spot for it and honestly couldn’t tell if it had already gone national and was flailing, or if it was still supposed to be some “Only in two cities OMG you HAVE to see this” EVENT! Because two/three weeks on, I don’t hear a lot of people talking it up.

  12. johnbritt says:

    I really wish Let Me In would be nominated. It is really a very well done film and it haunted me much more than the original did. I feel that it is a rare gem that actually surpasses the original because of some of the changes. I hope it is not overlooked because of the box office. It would be a shame.

  13. Brian says:

    I just realized I’ve been reading Mr. P’s Oscar thoughts for ten years now, since I was sixteen (or since it was thehotbutton, I should say). It’s never gotten old. I don’t know if anyone will read this, even Mr. P, but I feel blessed, and I hope Oscar speculation continues for years to come. What’s better than movies?

    -Brian

  14. cadavra says:

    David, sorry to be so tardy in replying, but I’m still on the road with limited computer access.

    Anyway, re RED: Everything you say is true, but that still doesn’t rule it out, especially in a year with ten BP noms. Remember that last year, A SERIOUS MAN squeaked into the final ten, despite a no-star cast and a quick el foldo at the B.O., as well as garnering only one other nomination (Orig. Screenplay). So a crowd-pleaser like RED has at least as good a chance, IMHO. Need I remind you that back in 2005, when there were only five slots, you declared that GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK was dead and buried, I kept saying not to rule it out, and it ended up landing six noms, including BP.

    Again: Not saying it’s GONNA happen, just saying it isn’t all that unlikely.

  15. David Poland says:

    The thing about Good Night, Cad, is that the media just kept pushing the film. It was the obsession that year. I don’t get any of that for RED. This year, the media film, so far, is Social Network. The Fighter may become the next one.

Quote Unquotesee all »

“We don’t have any idea what the universe is. Wise people have always told us that this is proof you shouldn’t think, because thinking leads you nowhere. You just build over this huge construction of misunderstanding, which is culture. The history of culture is the history of the misunderstandings of great thinkers. So we always have to go back to zero and begin differently. And maybe in that way you have a chance not to understand but at least not to have further misunderstandings. Because this is the other side of this question—Am I really so brave to cancel all human culture? To stop admiring the beauty in human production? It’s very difficult to say no.”
~ László Krasznahorkai

“I have a license to carry in New York. Can you believe that? Nobody knows that, [Applause] somebody attacks, somebody attacks me, oh, they’re gonna be shot. Can you imagine? Somebody says, oh, it is Trump, he’s easy pickings what do you say? Right? Oh, boy. What was the famous movie? No. Remember, no remember where he went around and he sort of after his wife was hurt so badly and kill. What?  I — Honestly, Yeah, right, it’s true, but you have many of them. Famous movie. Somebody. You have many of them. Charles Bronson right the late great Charles Bronson name of the movie come on.  , remember that? Ah, we’re gonna cut you up, sir, we’re gonna cut you up, uh-huh.

Bing!

One of the great movies. Charles Bronson, great, Charles Bronson. Great movies. Today you can’t make that movie because it’s not politically correct, right? It’s not politically correct. But could you imagine with Trump? Somebody says, oh, all these big monsters aren’t around he’s easy pickings and then shoot.”
~ Donald Trump