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David Poland

By David Poland

23 Weeks To Oscar: The Less Things Change


An amazing thing happened at the festivals this last couple weeks…


Okay, perhaps nothing is an exaggeration.

But mostly, nothing.

Movies being seen changes things. Nature of the beast. But the only thing within a country mile of a revelation coming out of the Venice/Telluride/Toronto running of the bulls was Room. And in the long run, it is hard to be sure whether it is really an awards players aside from the central adult performance by Brie Larson.

Going through the Gurus Top Ten of (then upcoming) festival movies…

The Danish Girl delivered pretty much exactly what was promised. There is critical pushback, which will become irrelevant as soon as the film is seen by Oscar voters. Some writers have reacted to a solid Alicia Vikander performance as though they thought that she wasn’t much of an actress before or that they didn’t understand the emotional depth of her Ex Machina performance. She is, as I have been saying for two years now, a sensational emotional actress (who cannot do “silly” well at all… perhaps she will grow into that).

Steve Jobs, which showed only at Telluride, is my top title of the moment… but I am not 1,000 Oscar voters. We’ll know a lot more after more screenings and NY, but critics–as always–will not decide the awards fate of this film. Real people with votes to offer, sitting in movie theaters, will.

If there is an Argo this season, it’s Spotlight… although I personally like this film better than Argo. It is solid, hard-not-to-like classical movie making. Spotlight is the movie that will be there, never wavering, throughout the entire season, waiting for voters to tire of the trendy movie of various moments. Not the likely Best Picture winner… but sure to be in the Top 5 conversation until the very end. And if it wins, I will not be shocked.

Black Mass has some critic love… but mostly, “it’s okay” kinds of responses. Depp may be nominated (Globe nod is a mortal lock), but cannot win for this performance.

I managed not to see Trumbo in Toronto… just timing. But did you hear the giant explosion when it screened, changing the award season instantly? No? Neither did I. A nomination nominee.

Suffragette was something everyone wanted to happen at Telluride. Meryl Streep was in great form. Its lead, Carey Mulligan, is about to drop her first Year of the Woman and all that. But then we saw the movie. And Carey Mulligan still has a shot at a nomination. Maybe a couple below-the-line nods.

The Martian is terrific. Could be nominated. Under some circumstances, it could end up winning. But probably not. Ridley Scott is so good and does such complex work here which doesn’t demand that you praise his magicianship, this film could easily be written off as “just a good commercial movie.” It’s more than that. It’s better than many expected. But like Spotlight – a lot less commercial a movie – it could end up in the mix at the end by simply lingering and being well liked. It’s really up to Ridley and Matt and the great supporting cast. If they show up and let people compliment them and enjoy the love, it could work out surprisingly well.

The new Michael Moore, Where To Invade Next, is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Beasts of No Nation is a beautiful, very tough movie that would have had a hard time getting top-tier distribution as a festival film. Maybe Weinstein… but it would be a tough call. It will get a lot of attention because of Netflix. More people will see it. That is a win. Screen count will make the film seem like a Netflix movie… and that will keep it at bay. Could be an interesting Indie Spirit player.

The Walk hasn’t opened the New York Film Festival yet. We’ll see.

Reactions were muted positive (or negative) for Our Brand Is Crisis, I Saw The Light, The Program, Legend, Truth, and Demolition. None of them became serious Best Picture candidates at the festivals.

Paramount bought the Charlie Kaufman/Duke Johnson film, Anomalisa… which has some juices flowing. But it’s a puppet movie… and it’s the Academy, Jake.

That was a lot of detail leading toward… but not much has changed in the last two weeks.

That said, here are the 13 titles already released or premiered at festivals that I think still have a shot (huge or tiny) at a Best Picture nomination.

A24: Room

Disney: Inside Out

Focus: The Danish Girl

Fox: The Martian

Fox Searchlight: Brooklyn, Youth

Open Road: Spotlight

Sony: The Walk

Sony Classics: Son of Saul

Sundance Selects: 45 Years

Universal: Steve Jobs

Warner Bros: Max Max: Fury Road

WeinsteinCo: Carol

And here is the thing…

By my count, there are more than 10 films that have not been widely seen or premiered that have a legit shot at joining and/or superseding this list. The only titles already out here that would be really shocking if left out of the Best Picture nominations list are Spotlight and Steve Jobs. I am not saying they will be the only ones… but they could be the only ones. So the door is pretty wide open.

Of course, one of those two films could end up winning and then The Media could continue to push its festival narrative, even if this year’s festival would be incidental to either film having won.

But unlike any year in recent memory, after Venice and Telluride and Toronto, it really feels like the season has barely shown itself.


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10 Responses to “23 Weeks To Oscar: The Less Things Change”

  1. Bryan says:

    Thanks for the breakdown DP. Steve Jobs and Spotlight definitely seem like the most secure BP noms right now, although I guess you could also argue Carol since Harvey is backing it and it should rack up critics awards. But I’ll hedge on AMPAS totally embracing a Todd Haynes film until it actually happens. Also think Inside Out feels pretty safe at the moment unless all the late-breakers hit. (Revenant, Joy, Hateful Eight specifically)

    The one film I think you’ve been underestimating all year is Beasts of No Nation. It’s the only film that’s played Venice/Telluride/TIFF other than Spotlight and received a strong, visceral response at every stop, is going to end up mid 80s on Metacritic and will be seen by everyone thanks to Netflix. Fukunaga also has a lot of goodwill right now and Elba has critics+televised sweeper potential should he go supporting. At minimum this reads like Whiplash 2.0 with the potential to go higher in the BP race if you believe Netflix will go all-out for their inaugural film awards player, which given their campaign history seems very likely. I’d bet on BP + Director + Sup. Actor + Adapted + several techs at the moment.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    It’s overstating things to say critics have no, or little impact. I would agree if you said that the academy isn’t very influenced by the critics awards, but the race generally comes down to a contest among very well reviewed films. Even The Kings Speech was very well reviewed, just a bit less so than The Social Network. Same with Boyhood and Birdman.

    The fact is that the Academy does operate within an environment where critics voices are heard. Imagine what would be nominated and awarded if the critics and the online herd didn’t exist. Maybe it would not be any different. We don’t know. You don’t know.

    All we do know is that the Academy doesn’t always go along with the critics’ darlings. That does not mean that the critics are irrelevant.

  3. PJ says:

    The Walk is actually good!?

  4. Ray Pride says:

    THE WALK is under embargo.

  5. movielocke says:

    Hmm, so you’re sayino the festival circuit is under performing relative to the median year.

    That means for the first time in a long time the door is open to a mainstream heavy best picture slate.

    After the disaster year of innaritus remake of “the dresser” sweeping awards, the prospect of mainstream awards is probably great for the health of the oscars.

  6. chris says:

    …but I think we can say this: that “The Walk” embargo is an especially frustrating one.

  7. Ray Pride says:

    I’d love to even post my hed/subhed on my review of THE WALK… but nope.

  8. movielocke says:

    I’m puzzled that inside out is considered likely to earn a best picture nomination, it is certainly one of pixars greatest, but where is it going to get enough number one votes to avoid being eliminated in the first round? WallE and toy story 3 didn’t face this barrier, they benefitted from instant runoff rules basically allocating all animation branch ballots to themselves and since the animation branch is bigger than 1/11 it was a sure thing instant runoff would yield an animated nominee every year given the segregation / insular community that is animation. With the new rules, Disney Pixar employees can’t get over the hump on their votes alone, the other animation votes go to their companies films rather than inflating inside outs tally which means inside out needs to secure a lot of at large number one votes or number ones from other branchs, both seem pretty unlikely.

  9. movielocke says:

    Particularly as Disney Pixar votes are splitting this year with the dinosaur movie. Even larger deficit of number one votes to make up. Tons of non animators voting inside out two or three doesn’t matter because none of those votes will accumulate if it is eliminated in the first round.

  10. chris says:

    And the whole thing with them suppressing “The Walk” raves is that they want NYFF viewers to be able to preserve the illusion that they’re seeing it first, I guess?

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon