By David Poland email@example.com
20W2O: 29 Weeks To Go
Yes, it is that time again.
Like it or not, Oscar season has begun. We’re just 5 weeks from the Toronto International Film Festival, where a whole slew of contenders and pretenders will show themselves to a hungry media throng… and real human beings too!
I have 30 legitimate Best Picture contenders on my list right now. And by the time TIFF ’12 ends on September 16, we who see these movies and give our opinions about their chances, will have seen more than half the field.
Did You Know?: Six of the last seven Best Picture winners had their North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival? And the one that didn’t (The Departed) had its US junket over the last weekend of TIFF that year?
Of course, two of the Best Picture winners that North America-premiered at TIFF didn’t get released until the next year after TIFF (Crash and The Hurt Locker). And, of course, six of the seven BP winners before that had nothing to do with TIFF. Things change. So don’t get overly locked into one idea of how these seasons go.
But let’s start with the Toronto list this year.
To my eye, as-likely-as-not Oscar Top 10 pictures premiering there are:
The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest – and the first 70mm release in 16 years – will hit TIFF shortly after it world-premieres at Venice. (Telluride is out of the mix simply because of logistics.) The film will play in the built-to-order TIFF venue, The Princess of Wales Theater, used for the first time last year when Jon Demme wanted a higher quality sound system for his premiere of Neil Young: Journeys. Dolby obliged and made the venue–which will shut down “War Horse” for a week to accommodate TIFF–into a world class 7.1 space. Now, it will add 70mm to the mix. The anticipation on this one is through the roof and plans are afoot for it to play on every quality 70mm-playing screen in the country… and a few that are having 70mm installed as we speak. It has all the pieces of the puzzle to fit the role of being The Movie… and now, we have to see the movie.
Anna Karenina – There is a pedigree for Joe Wright period movies with Keira Knightley. Add Tom Stoppard’s genius to the fire here. It surely will not be an unequivocal smash with critics, as it will be emotional… but a real BO contender, like it or not.
Silver Linings Playbook – This is the Weinstein Company’s secret weapon this season. David O. Russell is obviously brilliant, obviously talented… and not always the Oscar voters’ cup of tea. But with The Fighter, Russell stumbled into a tone (I say ‘stumbled” since I don’t believe he was working with one eye on awards) that touched that group the way they want to be touched. And this film looks, on paper, to be closer to that line of attack than the ironist’s angle. Jennifer Lawrence is, simply, on top of the world. People are waiting for a big moment for Bradley Cooper, beyond his smile. And if DeNiro can deliver a real performance – all too rare from him these days – it could quickly become a top contender.
After that, there are a lot of interesting titles that could find their way into being awards movies or just big hits that aren’t Academy friendly or… misses. That list includes (in alphabetical order):
Argo – Ben Affleck is back behind the camera with the real-life version of a Jack Ryan movie. Expect all the slick to be replaced by smart edge. But is it ”An Academy Movie?” Time will tell, but beware the lesson of Syriana, a movie so smart and complex that it wasn’t as easy to love as it was to appreciate.
Cloud Atlas – The 5-minute trailer is brilliant. The Lana-Andy/Tom show is brilliant (more so if they show up and sell their wares at TIFF). But it could be a stunner… or a stunner. I have no way to judge, having not seen the film. But it feels more commercial than award-y at this point.
End of Watch – David Ayer is a really interesting, really arch director who hasn’t hit the sweet spot yet. Is this the one? Open Road is very into the film, which looks like it could be a first cousin to last year’s Rampart or Ayer’s first feature, Harsh Times. These films usually overwhelm Academy types, but we’ll see.
Hyde Park on The Hudson – Is this 2012’s The King’s Speech without a Brit accent or is it a lovely little film that some people will treasure, but can’t get enough steam to become something more awards friendly? No way of knowing until we all see it, really… and in this case, “we all” includes an audience of middle-aged and senior white people in Toronto (and likely Telluride before). Everyone roots for Bill Murray and will be happy to support the great cast overall.
Killing Them Softly – Andrew Dominik’s third feature was one of my personal favorites at Cannes and I can’t wait to see it again. There is lots of talk about potential nominations for performances, including James Gandolfini, but I like the movie even better than that. However, I don’t seem to be in the majority and the film, like Argo and End of Watch, would have to thread the needle to be a smart, violent, uncomfortable film that finds its way into the passionate hearts of Academy voters.
To the Wonder – Malick is back, just 16 months after The Tree of Life. This one is a romance. I am sure that those of us who love Malick will love this. But without a distributor on board and the reality of Malick requiring a slow burn in distribution/marketing, the odds are against this one being a contender this year, even if more than we Malickers are on board.
The rest of the field breaks down into three categories. The Movies We’ve Seen, The Movies That Are Coming Later, and The Longshots.
I’ll start with the Laters…
Lincoln – One of the big-time presumptive front-runners. Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and a veritable stable of award-friendly actors working for Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner. But you don’t know until you know.
Untitled Bigelow Bin Laden Movie (until I see it on an ad, I won’t believe that a title as bad as Zero Dark Thirty is the actual title) – Last time in the director’s chair Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar. So did writer/producer Mark Boal. And so did the movie. Add last year’s phenom, Jessica Chastain and Osama bin Laden and the sky’s the limit. Fingers crossed. This one may end up being the last major film to be shown this season.
Django Unchained – When we think Quentin Tarantino has gone too genre to make a Best Picture run, we have repeatedly gotten a surprise. Is this period blaxploitation buddy action comedy Oscar-bait or just a great night at the movies?
Life of Pi – Ang Lee takes us on a journey of spiritual enlightenment… scary. It might be the magic film of the year. It might be a bust. It may well be the family film of the season. But it will have to be a lot more than beautiful to get Oscar voters to fall in love.
Flight – One of the mystery movies of the season, Bob Zemeckis returns to live-action and brings Denzel with him. Is this Fearless combined with Contact with Zemeckis’ visual skills in the mix? If so, I will love this film like a newborn baby… and audiences will too… and then Paramount has a big Oscar movie. And if not, not.
Les Miserables – Dramatic musicals have become a non-starter with The Academy in recent years. Chicago was the last nominee/winner… and it was, really, a comedy. You can hedge with Amadeus (’84) or All That Jazz (’79), but really you have to go back to Cabaret in 1972 to find a dramatic musical that last got nominated. Is 40 years the charm? Great cast. Oscar-winner Tom “The King’s Speech” Hooper at the helm. Bring it on.
The Great Gatsby – There is all kinds of negativity surrounding the latest from Baz Luhrmann. But lots of people have lost out by underestimating Luhrmann’s odd vision. Then again, Australia. The proof is in the pudding. But the great cast keeps the film worth talking about, even from a distance.
And the ones we’ve seen…
Amour – A great movie. Won Cannes, which is not in its favor. But this is one foreign language film that’s so good, so emotional, so much about Academy-aged people, and so emotionally powerful that it could be one of the rare foreign language films to get a BP nomination.
The Sessions – God, I hate this title. This is a good, smart movie with three likely acting nominations to come out of it. Is that enough for Best Picture? I don’t know. There is a lot of indie that feels indie on the charts this year… very competitive.
The Intouchables – The Weinsteins have a lot going on this year. But they shouldn’t lose sight of this one. Of all the “indie” films that have been in release this year, there is none that gets the unanimity and depth of love that this one has. I know that the endgame is an English-language remake, but this could grab one of what will likely be at least three “indie/foreign” spots.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – A solid hit for Searchlight that’s well-liked. Did it peak too early? Maybe… mostly because there is so much good product for the over-50 set this season.
Moonrise Kingdom – A solid hit for Focus that’s well-liked. But will it be weighty enough to hold off other “intimate” films?
Beasts of the Southern Wild – A success for Searchlight… but is this Best Picture material? It will get a lot of critics awards and be high on a lot of Top Ten lists. But this is The Academy and my guess is that it won’t be able to hold off the competition in this niche.
The longshots are on the chart.
Right now, it looks like one of those seasons with a whole lot of indie-minded films in the mix. WB has six big, powerful movies coming… but it’s not clear that any of them are serious Oscar bait in the end. And yet, four of them could be right there in the mix if they deliver in ways that fit. The Hobbit will challenge WB to get another set of Hobbits in the game, even though the first set was so well loved. Is Gatsby a winner or an oddity? Is Argo too rough? And what will Cloud Atlas really be?
Of course, a Best Picture list of big directors—Spielberg, Anderson, Bigelow, Lee, Jackson, Zemeckis, and Tarantino—wouldn’t be all that shocking.
That’s what makes this time of year fun… we’ve only just begin.
|Sept||The Master||TWC||PT Anderson||Hoffman, Phoenix, Adams|
|May||The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel||Fx Srch||Madden||Smith, Dench|
|Dec||Untitled Bin Laden||Sony||Bigelow
|Dec||Anna Karenina||Focus||Joe Wright
|Knightley, Aaron Johnson|
|Nov||Silver Linings Playbook||TWC||Russell||DeNiro, Lawrence, Cooper|
|Dec||Life of Pi||FxSrch||Lee|
|Dec||The Great Gatsby||WB||Luhrman||DiCaprio, Mulligan, Maguire|
|Oct||Argo||WB||Affleck||Affleck, Arkin, Cranston|
|Trouble with the Curve||WB||Eastwood, Adams|
|July||The Dark Knight Rises||WB||Nolan|
|Dec||Django Unchained||TWC||Tarantino||Foxx, DiCaprio|
|Oct||Killing Them Softly||TWC||Dominik||Pitt, Gandolfini|
|?||Only God Forgives||TWCRad||Refn||Gosling|
|Dec||This Is 40||U||Apatow||Mann, Rudd, Brooks|
|Dec||Les Miserables||U||Hooper||Crowe, Jackman, Hathaway|
|Dec||Hyde Park on Hudson||Focus||Michell||Murray, Linney, Colman, Williams|
|Oct||The Sessions||FxSrch||Lewin||Hawkes, Hunt, Macy|
|June||Beasts of the Southern Wild||FxSrch||Zeitlin||Quvenzhané Wallis|
|Sept||Won’t Back Down||Fox/Wal||Barnz||Davis, Gyllenhaal|
|Oct||Untitled David Chase||Par||David Chase|
|Sept||End of Watch||OpRd||Ayer||Gyllenhaal|
|Aug||Hope Springs||Sony||Frankel||Streep, Jones|
|Dec||Rust & Bone||SPC||Audiard||Cotillard|
Films That Could Contend, But Are Still Without Distribution
|To the Wonder||Malick||Affleck, McAdams|
|Wiig, Bening, Lyonne|
|Inside Llewellyn Davis||Coens|