MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar – The Ides Of November


It’s still early.

And it’s so f-ing late!

There are a few titles floating out there, waiting for their moment in the spotlight. But it’s getting awfully late to make a first impression.

Why do Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, and The Theory of Everything seem to be in a leading position in the award season? That is, aside from their sparkling movie and performances? Well, in the inimitable words of Madagascar 7: It Must Be Award Season Cause Look At That Zebra’s Balls, they like to move it move it.

These two and Team Theory have been working their asses off for over a month. And do you know what happens when you do that… and you have something people like? You get rewarded with “locked in” status. Well done, Focus.

Boyhood seems to feel like its done its set-up work and will cruise into nominations before they get serious about chasing down the win.

The Imitation Game blitz is heavily Benedict-centric, though he has been away working for most of the season so far. So it pops into the radar view and then, out again. But in a season where nothing seems definitive, this film feels like one of the most likely suspects.

Birdman blasted onto the scene. The phrase that pays on this one is, “I love the film… but Academy… I don’t know.” I’m not sure whether you can kill a Birdman with this weird passive-aggressive ambivalence, but the job for Searchlight is to get people to shut up after the “I love it” part.

Of course, most Best Picture runs are driven by the pursuit of multiple branches of The Academy, building a base for Best Picture, for which everyone votes. So in the case of Birdman, you have Edward Norton and Emma Stone, and the one true lock of this season right now, Michael Keaton. Good with actors.

But wait… let’s look at this…

Best Supporting Actress always seems like a soft area, open to incursion. But after Patricia Arquette, it’s a pretty rough room. Knightley in a BP fave, Stone, Laura Dern who is not only great in Wild but is beloved in town, Jessica Chastain with TWO movies in supporting, the stunning two-scene turn by Vanessa Redgrave in Foxcatcher, Tilda Swinton rocking it in both The Grand Budapest Hotel and Snowpiercer. That’s 6 serious candidates before you get to amazing turns by Carrie Coons, Rene Russo, Greta Gerwig or anyone in the cast of Into The Woods, which could be Meryl Streep (though she doesn’t really do supporting) or “it young woman” Anna Kendrick.

Not an easy category.

Supporting Actor is much easier this year. J.K. Simmons doesn’t need to buy insurance against a nomination. Norton should be undeniable. Ethan Hawke, assuming the support for Boyhood remains strong. Then… blurry. Love Ruffalo and Tatum in Foxcatcher, but have they locked into the thinking of awards voters like Steve Carell has? Both had transformative roles, but they aren’t quite the news that Carell is. Brolin is great fun in Inherent Vice, but do any actors aside from Mr. Phoenix in that film really get credit? John Goodman is, as he often is, magic in The Gambler… but will that movie get enough traction to get him moving towards a deserved nomination? Logan Lerman (And Jon Bernthal, for that matter) should absolutely be in the running for Fury, but that movie, a bigger hit than Moneyball, doesn’t seem to have any traction in its own studio, but less The Academy. If there is a great supporting performance in Into The Woods and/or Unbroken, they could shove right past actors who might otherwise be on the top of this list.

But back to the hard categories… Best Actor.

Keaton, Redmayne, Cumberbatch, Carell. Is that the blockade here? Tim Spall should walk into a nomination… but may not. Jack O’Connell is capable of true greatness… but we will see Unbroken when we see it. (Are the reviews from Australia up yet? I hope not.) Gyllenhaal, Phoenix, Fiennes, Isaac, and Cooper are all viable… all need to somehow crack the code.

And Best Actress, which is really harder to figure than Actor, but doesn’t feel quite a violent.

Assume Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon, and Felicity Jones are in… though really, none of them are really locks… they are just really likely at this juncture. Excellent performances all, but none quite feels like the guaranteed winner, whereas in Actor, there are real arguments for any one of those top 4 not just to be nominated, but to win. And then you get to more complex situations. Weinstein Co seems to hate Big Eyes, but Amy Adams is always great and a presumptive nominee. Rosamund Pike, who should have a baby by now, was a solid starter, but the movie seems to be fading from memory, even though it’s doing big box office. Shailene Woodley is a rising star, is great in The Fault In Our Stars, but somehow has people looking like the RCA dog when you talk about her Oscar prospects. Marion Cotillard should be a mortal lock for Two Days, One Night and being discussed for the win… but the same was true of Rust & Bone and she got bupkiss. Jennifer Aniston is still out there in a raw, intimate performance in Cake. Jenny Slate and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are getting a lot of love off the award circuit and will be around for many years to come. There is still Into The Woods. And Hilary Swank.

Do I think the Top 3 are getting nominated. Yeah… pretty likely. In this sleepy award season, it might be time for all the brilliant (not sarcasm in the least) consultants out there to start thinking outside the box that the four-trade, endless covers and Q&A habit has become.

Everyone has become (figuratively) fat and lazy. Too many media outlets are offering up too many shiny objects that, in the end, don’t deliver the goods. Just ask Oprah after last year.

Oscar advertising and hype has become clutter. Glossy magazines full of ads for awards have become the proverbial paper at the bottom of the bird cage. And this is not an insult to those outlets shoving out endless printed ads. This is about being buried in them. I often quote The Incredibles… “When everyone’s super… no one will be.” When everyone is doing the same circuit, over and over, nothing is special anymore. Nothing stands out.

And that is when you get the entire publicity community holding its nose and participating in the stink bomb of The Hollywood Awards. I mean, every publicist I have seen since Friday has brought it up, mocked the show, then acknowledged that it will keep going and get stronger. No one will say “no.”

I am a beneficiary of habit in this business. I am thankful for that. My child is thankful for that. But going back to the smart play of Focus and The Theory of Everything… the only thing that really stands out in this atmosphere is quantity. This is what Harvey Weinstein has known and practiced for years. He works his talent to the (rich people’s) bone and they get rewarded and those movies have, mostly, been rewarded.

But there has got to be a better way.

It’s going to get quiet after this week. And then, when we get back from Thanksgiving, it is going to be insane, as there is a very real opportunity for a lot of people and films to break through when normally everything is pretty locked down by this time of year. Madhouse. And then, nominations and awards will start being announced. And there will be a little more clarity… but still an uncertain march to Oscar nominations.

Break the clutter… win the race. Or just keep playing the imitation game… even though you know it ends with chemical castration.

10 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar – The Ides Of November”

  1. Matt says:

    No mention of SELMA here?

  2. eldrick says:

    damn, same reaction as matt. seems everyone loves it.

  3. Jerry says:

    The author was one of the Gurus that moved Selma down after the screening. In his previous BP vote Sema was 10th and now it is 12th.

  4. Noushin says:

    All the best Jennifer Aniston.

  5. Lorie says:

    The Imitation Game was just excellent. Truly a great movie and it should get nominations for best movie, director, screenplay, actor and supporting actress. It’s that good and the performances are that good.

  6. PJ says:

    I think I understand why pundits are moving Selma down despite reviews. It is going to have trouble in precursors since it is screening so late and it is full of never been nominated people. It’s most heralded tech aspect-Cinematography is by never nominated Young, and the branch is notoriously insular. Maybe it does end up hitting the guilds hard but there are clear arguments against that happening.

  7. PSB says:

    I do home that if Mr. Carell gets a nomination, people will start spelling his name correctly.

  8. David Poland says:

    I don’t make fun of typos… but a typo in a correction is always amusing, PSB.

  9. Stephen Holt says:

    I think you’re right about “Theory of Everything.”

  10. Christophe says:

    Is that true TWC hates Big Eyes? I guess it is since there’s been so little noise around it, but why is that? Does the movie suck? Do they hold a grudge against T. Burton?

    Also, they could still go for Amy Adams like they campaigned for Meryl Streep in the much maligned Iron Lady. After all, The Imitation Game has no one in the Lead Actress category.

Quote Unquotesee all »

“The important thing is: what makes the audience interested in it? Of course, I don’t take on any roles that don’t interest me, or where I can’t find anything for myself in it. But I don’t like talking about that. If you go into a restaurant and you have been served an exquisite meal, you don’t need to know how the chef felt, or when he chose the vegetables on the market. I always feel a little like I would pull the rug out from under myself if I were to I speak about the background of my work. My explanations would come into conflict with the reason a movie is made in the first place — for the experience of the audience — and that, I would not want.
~  Christoph Waltz

This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.