In about 13 hours from when I am writing this, the Oscar nominations will be announced on an ABC show with ABC hosts and a bunch of ABC-produced viral videos meant to get more attention for ABC than to support any of the films or the purposes of The Academy and its members.
A few thoughts at this moment…
This has been, perhaps, the most boring Oscar season in modern history. I don’t know ancient history firsthand and won’t presume to know the truth, as I don’t tend to trust storytelling by anyone, winners or losers. But I have been at this, hands on, for about 20 years now and what was exciting about this Oscar season ended on September 15, 2016. That was the Wednesday in the middle of the Toronto International Film Festival. Here’s the picture that already been asserted by then at the August-September festivals.
La La Land
Hidden Figures (at their TIFF event)
and Jackie, which had its North American premiere and was bought in 24 hours.
And at earlier festivals…
Manchester by the Sea
And in theatrical release before September…
Florence Foster Jenkins
Hell or High Water
And Hacksaw Ridge, which screened for those who have opinions about such things in August.
You can claim all you like that Sully still felt like something and that we hadn’t seen Rules Don’t Apply or Silence or Fences or 20th Century Women… but Sully did excellent business but never really felt big, Rules Don’t Apply was the disappointment that everyone really wanted to be a final masterpiece for Warren Beatty, 20th Century Women will be remembered as the lost masterpiece of this season, and Fences/Silence were exactly what was expected, which is to say, of top-top quality, but without very much excitement for the mid-level tastes of The Academy.
Say what you will about The Revenant (and I did and I am still being shit on by some for it), but it was an entertainment first and a serious reflection on the meaning of life second.
And that was that. The jig was up all the way back then.
And I don’t just mean La La Land winning. I mean, the whole thing.
Pieces of it have come and pieces of it have gone. Obviously, there were films still to be seen… but not a lot. And none that really came out of left field, like The Big Short. The only significant contribution of The New York Film Festival this year was a disastrous special screening of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The highlight of AFI was the large-screen presentation of the already front-running La La Land and the real-life heroes who attended after Patriots Day.
Speaking of Sully…. Warner Bros pretty much got out of the awards business this year. They made a half-hearted push for Sully, but lost Hanks’ efforts to the third Dan Brown movie pretty early. They pushed Live by Night into award season, starting with a run at BFCA, but were pushed back. Collateral Beauty was a flea-ridden mutt. And War Dogs, which was fun, was pushed harder by the talent than by the studio. But Warner Bros has had a bad hand before and played it. They have long been the town’s biggest spender. But this year, they rolled up the Monopoly set and passed. And I have heard the groans all around L.A., from the trades to the newspapers to magazines to the blogs.
Speaking of 20th Century Women, I think the combination of the limited bandwidth of a company the size of A24 (which does amazing things regardless) and the unfortunately limited talent support on the film has doomed the film. Seriously, if Annette Bening is not nominated – as the Gurus currently predict – it will be one of the great awards tragedies of the last decade. It is as fine and earned a performance as you will see anywhere. I love all the rest of the performances in the category and there were really eight “must be nominated” performances in the circle of those in play this year, but man, this would be crushing.
A word on A24. Not The Weinsteins in any fucking way. More than a word, I guess. But that idiotic comparison, which may seem like a compliment, does not fly at all, unless there is a $35 million version of Moonlight floating out there that I don’t know about. A24 is its own thing. A creation of now, not the thing that was 25 years ago when Harvey and Bob (and Bob and Michael at New Line) were building their sizable seat at the table. There are other models that have worked well and lasted (Sony Classics, Searchlight, Lionsgate, going back to UA as a Dependent and even Screen Gems). But A24 is none of those. It is something else. And that something is quite beautiful, in action and intent.
For those counting consultant wins at home, the winners since the change to the expanded Best Picture field are about to be: Cynthia, Lisa, Lisa, Michelle, Searchlight+, Searchlight+++, Lisa, Lisa. This is not to say that there were not a lot of wins going around in getting nominations by all of the consultants. But my feeling that choices on the films are destiny for Oscar is seeming truer and truer. You can’t win without the right film(s).
Every category in which there are significant limitations put on the nomination and voting process for Oscar is a problem. Today I was discussing the limits on song entries for Best Song, two per movie. Absurd. Moana, which has two big ballads and two big comedy numbers was hamstrung and had to bet on where their best shots were. Silly. I still don’t remember why the score from Arrival was disqualified, but it was one of the most beautiful, daring scores of the year and should have been in play.
Of course, we have the idiocy of Isabelle Huppert being a legit possibility for a well-deserved Best Actress nomination for Elle and Elle not even making the Foreign Language short list. Don’t even get me started on The Handmaiden, one of the year’s best films, not even being nominated by South Korea. Are these The Academy Awards or The American Academy Awards? (rhetorical)
Moonlight has already won. I don’t want to hear the whining. Wonderful movie. Wonderful filmmaker. Wonderful cast. Extremely strong box office numbers for a film on these themes without movie stars that open movies. Take the win, people. There is nothing to be less than thrilled about here. The success of this film is an epic achievement. Already. And if it wins a few Oscars, all the more so.
It is breathtaking how thin the Best Actor category ended up being this year. Due respect to all five nominees… you were all great. But it wasn’t an eight-deep category this year. Not really. I love Viggo Mortensen and have supported that performance in Captain Fantastic, but if he’s nominated, it is only because there was no one else with more of a push behind him to take the slot. In part, there was a lack of “male lead” characters in Moonlight, Arrival, Lion, Hidden Figures, 20th Century Women, and Jackie. Two of those six didn’t have a traditional female lead either.
And Supporting Actor wasn’t that much better, with a number of films with multiple supporting males (Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water, Fences, Nocturnal Animals, Silence) that seemed to lead to either one nominee being pushed or no one getting a foothold.
Loving, which seems to be out of the race, is another moment of shame. Beautiful work all around. Just not enough muscle to navigate the waters of its own unique voice, the number of race-connected films, and a full boat of films at Focus. Speaking of which… if you haven’t seen A Monster Calls, you have screwed up your moviegoing life. A truly great and beautiful films that was nearly impossible to sell without Spike Jonze’s name on it… see it. You will be sad. You will cry. And your heart will grow 2.5x that day.
Truth is, this has been a great award season for movies. Everyone has their personal preferences, but man, what a high quality line-up of product for awards this year. High and low. It looks like at least 3 of the movies nominated for Best Picture will be over $100m domestic. That is above average, even though there are years – every third or fourth – where there are more and certainly with some bigger numbers. But this is not a poor box office group. There is not a single straight mainstream or generally mediocre director even in play to get nominated. Hidden Figures is really the only film on the list that is not aesthetically challenging in a significant way (though wildly entertaining). That’s not three or four auteurist movies… that is 7 or 8 or 9. Something to sing about, no matter which ones you think are overrated.
So tomorrow morning will have a few surprises. A few thrills. A few outrages. But except for The Oscars having its ass branded by ABC like a piece of IP instead of The Most Important Film Event of The Year, it should all be good. There won’t be a lot we didn’t see coming four months ago. But given how brave and exciting the vast majority of films are, for a change, I’ll get over it. Bet you will too.