By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
20W2O: 15 Weeks To Go – Who Really Wants It?
This weekend, Anna Karenina and Silver Linings Playbook arrive in theaters and Lincoln expands. Next week, Life of Pi, Hitchcock and Rust & Bone. And then, in the last two weeks of the year, spread around the holiday, are Amour, This is 40, The Impossible, Not Fade Away, Zero Dark Forty, On The Road, Django Unchained, and Les Miserables.
But who wants it?
Really wants it.
I’m not so sure this year.
This is one moody, stand-off-ish bunch. To be fair, amongst the directors, Ben Affleck, Bob Zemeckis, and Joe Wright have made themselves pretty available. But Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hooper, Ang Lee, Christopher Nolan… not so much. And how available Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow will be is still an unknown. The indie-est contenders have also been around, in the form of Michael Haneke and Behn Zeitlin.
Actors? Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Denzel, Leo, DeNiro. Tough room. Then we have Beasts’ duo of newcomers, who are available, but basically unknown. More unknowns in Life of Pi. There are the elderly stars of Amour, who have not crossed the ocean to visit yet. Les Miserables has stars, but they apparently aren’t available to sell the movie. Jennifer Lawrence has pried herself away from production for a few days recently to do some work for Silver Linings Playbook, leaving to to the most excellent Bradley Cooper (who is also working, I believe) to carry the weight of the awards publicity. And the ensemble of Zero Dark Thirty, led by Ms. Chastain, will surely make themselves available… but when?
So you have a few game actors showing up – like Amy Adams, Sally Field, Naomi Watts, John Goodman (twice), Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and the full bunch from both of Searchlight’s underdogs – to carry the load… perhaps more likely to get nominations down the road as a result.
I am not saying that those who are not playing the game won’t be nominated. Truth be told, if that was the case this year, they would have a hard time filling all of the nomination slots.
And I am not blaming those who are, honestly, too busy to participate. Jennifer Lawrence really is mid-movie. Ewan McGregor has also been working. And Jude Law, who I think is very worthy as a nominee for a breathtaking turn in Anna Karenina too. Hitchcock, pushed into the race late in the game, is junketing in NY because so much of the talent is working there right now. Les Miserables is currently scheduled to skip press completely, doing only a single day of guild screenings with the talent and doing press with the high end outlets more interested in celebrity than movies only. Why? They say it’s because they can’t get the talent together for more than that one day. And so this odd season goes.
You don’t have to beg for awards nominations. Sometimes, you don’t even have to ask. But in the vast majority of cases, you have to ask.
If you are a major star, vetted by The Academy, you can get nominated without asking. But you almost always have to ask if you want to win. Just look at Meryl Streep. She gave a great performance as The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. But was it the best of the last 29 years, since she won for Sophie’s Choice? I don’t think so. So why did she finally win another one after a dozen nominations in a row without winning? She asked. Not too much. 60 Minutes. A few red carpets. A few awards accepted. She showed that she wanted it. And she got it.
Of course, Christian Bale, who won Actor the year before and Sean Penn, who won Actor 2 years before that, are aggressive non-askers. So it happens. But both also were in heavily promoted films from studios or Dependants that seemed to make them front-runners from the first time people started seeing those films. Both were also biographical portraits of men who had a lot of video of their real-life selves around.
Circumstances conspire to win non-askers Oscars. The Coen Bros have taken Best Picture and Best Director. They have been competing with The Wachowskis for years for Least Available Directing Siblings. But… if you look at the last 10 Best Picture winners, No Country For Old Men is the sole example of a film winning without letting everyone know early and often that they wanted it, they really, really wanted it. (And as low key as The Brothers Coen are, they still had Cynthia Swartz whipping that horse home and Scott Rudin whipping her.)
People throw a lot of nasty attacks in Harvey Weinstein’s direction this time of year. But you know why he keeps winning stuff? His team is smart and works hard… and he wants it more than anyone else. And he makes the talent involved work like they want it more than anyone else. This doesn’t mean he can make Shinola from shit. But if 5 people have “A Movie” and no one has “The Movie,” it’s the outfit that fights hardest – and I am not talking about cheating – that turns “a” to “the.”
So I ask again… who really wants it this year?
Right now, it looks like Argo. Very good movie. All hands on deck. That’s the kind of situation where a film starts garnering nominations that no one expected because everyone just feels good about the film and the filmmakers (including the actors).
But this is just Phase One. Lots of contenders will disappear when nominations are announced on January 10. And some movie shoots will be completed. (Others will start.) But that’s when the real framing of this season will happen. And we will know, pretty quickly, who really wants it then. And unless one of the remaining surprise films flexes a lot of muscle, “wanting it” may be the biggest key in the game this season.