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The State of the Race: Landslide

It happened so fast. Some of us saw it coming, or thought we did. We had no way of knowing for sure. Many said they assumed the critics would rally behind one film but that, in the end, AMPAS would not. What makes large groups of people like one thing over another has everything to do with perception, timing and the quality of the film itself; most of us know a good movie when we see one. But oh, for the hemming and hawing in between.

The Oscar race has become a show in itself. Or maybe it always was. It is a dramatic storyline. It has a beginning, a middle and a definite end. We, having cut our teeth on movies, want to see our happy ending. We need conflict. We need an underdog overcoming adversity. We need a love story.
The love story is between audience and filmmaker, usually. The conflict, though, is between rival studios, film critics, and perhaps the bloggers — we shout the loudest, don’t we? We think we know everything. We care more than most people, which has its upside, and its definite downside. There is so little at stake, after all.

We bring the drama, though, every year. Without it, there is very little excitement to watching people collect awards for the work. But it is a mistake to seek that drama at the expense of everything else, namely, the quality of the work involved. When you find yourself wanting variety for variety’s sake you know you have your priorities askew.

And so it was that the last few days The Social Network won the Boston Film Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics, the New York Film Critics, the Southeastern Film Critics – topped the list for the Telegraph, wracked up nominations by both the Broadcast Film Critics and the Hollywood Foreign Press. And it did this, mind you, with very little publicity. Oh, sure, the three boys were doing the rounds – Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake. We saw Aaron Sorkin a few times, but we haven’t seen much of David Fincher, who is shooting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at the moment.

To say The Social Network is now the frontrunner is to say that the sun is hot. There is no point in stating the obvious. When a film wins that big it suddenly becomes too big to ignore. If any film overtakes it at this point it will do so for two reasons. The first is that it will be some voting fluke – like there are too many other movies drawing votes from the film. The second reason would be that the boredom of the same winner phenom sets in and people start wanting to choose differently. And of course, now the really bad smear campaigns are going to emerge. There are several narratives set to take hold. One is that Academy members don’t like it, or won’t like it, because the characters are unlikable (“I’m devastated by that”). Right, that is how All About Eve didn’t win those six Oscars.

The other reason will be that the Academy are a bunch of old farts who simply don’t get nor connect to the film because it is about Facebook. I would agree with them if the film were, in fact, about Facebook, which it is not. What makes it good has less to do with its subject matter and much more to do with its writing, directing and acting.

And still yet another reason: it doesn’t fairly portray Mark Zuckerberg, who really had a girlfriend and blah blah blah, who cares. Is anyone really prepared to feel sorry for the youngest billionaire in the world? If so, go for it. I personally think Mr. Zuck is doing just fine. Moreover, The Social Network has turned him into a rock star. The great thing about this story is that we have a parallel story of Zuckerberg himself, out there on 60 Minutes telling his story. The Winklevi are out there too. It’s a great story in all ways – the dramatized version and the real version. Everything is out there for anyone who seeks to find out the “truth.”

The Social Network has the best reviews of the year, it made close to $100 million at the box office, and it’s the film everyone is talking about. Wicked writing, directing that is tight as a drum, and inspired acting. It is winning because it deserves to win (“I didn’t know that. Tell me more.”)

But let’s take a look at what other films and contenders have gotten a boost from this recent avalanche of critics awards.

Way Up

The Kids Are All Right just got a huge bump from the most influential critics group, the New York Film Critics Circle. Their push to get the film recognized did put it back in the race where it felt like it wasn’t going anywhere prior to that. Moreover, the Annette Bening win puts her back on top. Even if Natalie has won more, the elites in NYC just turned their nose up at Ms. Portman — stating emphatically that they think Bening is due.

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine. Who put them there? The Golden Globes, mainly, because they will give them both a chance to appear before a very public audience.

The Fighter — put there by the Broadcast Film Critics and the Golden Globes. The Fighter got as many nominations as The Social Network at the Globes. What matters more with the HFPA isn’t what they left off, but what they included because once a nomination happens, the rest is just high profile advertising.

Melissa Leo, Amy Adams, Jacki Weaver and Mila Kunis. Kunis seems to have taken Barbara Hershey’s rightful spot. Let’s see what Oscar does.¬† Jacki Weaver is winning awards right and left. Where it once looked like she would barely get nominated, she is now becoming a strong contender. But as of now, the prize very much belongs to Melissa Leo for The Fighter, who might win her first Oscar with the role.

Jesse Eisenberg – winning the National Board of Review and then earning one nomination after another has ensured Eisenberg’s firm spot in the race; well deserved, I might add.

Black Swan – put there by the Broadcast Film Critics that nominated it for every category it was eligible for, and even some it wasn’t. The Globes also gave Darren Aronofsky a nomination, which puts him in good stead for a DGA and then an Oscar nomination.

Holding Steady, Very Much in the Race

Toy Story 3 – it is not budging. It is staying atop all of the top ten lists and Best Picture nominees so far here in the critics’ phase.¬† It did not leap over, as in Lee Unkrich getting a nod, which I thought might happen, but it is holding steady nonetheless.

The King’s Speech – it isn’t falling at all, just proving to be slightly less liked than the Fincher/Sorkin film. But it is coming in as a runner-up, winning screenplay awards, doing well for Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

The Town – holding very steady, one of the ten most notable films of the year. The Town is also popular enough to keep getting ensemble nods. Jeremy Renner is popping up again and again in the supporting actor category. Sure, it would have been better for the film to have gotten a Globe nod for drama, or Ben Affleck for Director. But it seems destined for an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

Winter’s Bone – while it was trounced by The Kids Are All Right at the NYFCC, it still seems to be holding its place as one of the strongest ten Best Pic nominees. It seems assured an adapted screenplay nomination, just as Kids does.

127 Hours, Inception holding steady, with Christopher Nolan still riding high as one of the strongest contenders for Best Director. Danny Boyle is also possible. These are formidable, well-liked films so far. True, we’re still talking about the critics, and we don’t know what the Academy will do. But if this is any indication, these two seem to be in.

Films that will need a little extra something something

The problem with the NYFCC endowments, there aren’t enough of them go around. All of the following films need hard core advocacy to stay prominent in the race:

True Grit – the Coens western remake was completely snubbed by the HFPA. While it doesn’t matter so much that they made the mistake of overlooking what makes this film so great (they aren’t, clearly, so good at sussing out what dark humor is all about). And it wouldn’t matter so much if the press then didn’t make a big deal about it. Their making a deal about it alters perception ever so slightly. Strong box office will shut them up, though.

Another Year – how is it Mike Leigh’s best film, or certainly one of his best, was out and out ignored by the HFPA? It boggles the mind how their minds work, but we must assume it wasn’t pushed hard enough, or talked about enough. It is a wonderful film, however. And it needs some NYFCC-like advocating.

Made in Dagenham, Get Low, Conviction just seem to be barely surviving at all. I am surprised there has been no love for Sissy Spacek or Bill Murray for Get Low (just not “sexy” enough, I guess). Conviction is picking up a bit here and there – like Juliette Lewis and Sam Rockwell. Made in Dagenham seem to be completely ignored.

Thursday, the SAG awards become the first guild awards to announce their nominations. After that, the rest of the guilds will start showing their love for a handful of contenders, which will then go into the race packing heat.