So, the lions are hungry. We just got our first cut of fresh meat, thrown down with pomp and circumstance as the first Big Oscar Movie out of the gate, Damien Chazelle’s First Man, stuck its landing. Almost everyone was holding their breath, waiting to see what would happen. Now, we’ve all breathed a sigh of relief and it’s on with the hurried season. For the next week there will be many different reactions coming out of Venice and Telluride. It will be tempting to draw conclusions based on these reactions, but you must resist the urge to a certain extent. Or not. Certainly no one will flog you if you’re wrong about things: there are so many people covering the Oscars now, no one hardly notices what anyone else is doing.
But the thing is, you can’t count TOO too much on what happens at festivals – either the hype or the criticisms. I’ve seen both things happen: a movie is overhyped and never has the legs to run the award gauntlet, or the movie is trashed but then goes on to dominate the season. I’ve also seen movies mostly go unnoticed at the festivals but suddenly are rediscovered as we head closer to voting.
There will be subtweets.
Festival group think can be a scary and unpredictable thing, especially with Twitter involved. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter what one person thinks. It might not even matter what a few people think.
The thing to remember is that the Oscar race is fluid. It is an ever-changing thing, with buzz that rises and falls, controversies that bubble up then dissipate. It’s so hard to predict how the hive mind will react. It just takes one outraged tweet by someone with a lot of followers and that is that — even if the outrage only lasts for one week, it might be the most important week of the year.
Here are two examples. Last year, after seeing Darkest Hour, I heard a lot of Oscar people — high profile ones — dissing the movie as “bad” and criticizing future Oscar winner (who won it in a walk, I might add) Gary Oldman’s performance as “hammy.” I even heard that Oldman wouldn’t win because John Lithgow was so much better on The Crown. But again, didn’t matter. None of it. Because it isn’t just the movie. It isn’t just the actor. It’s how it all feels, how it all fits later, after the festivals.
I remember being one of just a handful of people at Telluride who championed Darkest Hour. It definitely wasn’t “cool” to be a fan of the movie. It was for people who most definitely were not “cool.” But I stuck with it because I knew it was good and good in a way movies rarely are. It was SATISFYING, it was a reminder of Churchill, and, above all, a bravura male performance like that on its way to win Best Actor? Ya, that’s a pretty good bet it will get in.
One thing you get covering this race and attending festivals is that there are definitely cliques of people who cover the awards. You wouldn’t think it’s like that, but it’s like that. Because that’s how people are. And to be accepted into these cliques, you often have to shape your own opinion to suit theirs — otherwise, yikes, you’ll be frozen out. I’m exaggerating somewhat, but the idea is that what happens at festivals doesn’t necessarily carry over to define the rest of the race. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.
The other movie that wasn’t “cool” to like last year was Battle of the Sexes. I think there were literally like two of us who did. Everyone else was extremely critical of it. They did not like it, they saw it as hokey and that it smoothed over what should have been a more honest depiction of a gay love story. Emma Stone seemed good enough to get a nomination, I thought. But having won so recently, her chances dimmed. In the end, she didn’t get one after all, and neither did the movie, sadly.
The Best Picture race is usually driven by a few key factors, the first being is it actor-driven? And does that mean Best Actor (most likely to get in), Ensemble (also fairly high probability), or Best Actress (can be a driving force to a lesser degree)?
By far, Best Actor is really the key. So if you thought Gary Oldman MIGHT have a chance to win, well, it was wise to also predict the movie for a Best Picture nomination, as in:
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour*
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea*
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant*
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything*
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club*
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln*
Jean DuJardin, The Artist+
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech+
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Sean Penn, Milk
Ten years and only one Best Actor WINNER was not in a Best Picture nominee. So you figure, if Oldman is winning? Darkest Hour is getting in.
Is Ryan Gosling an immediate Best Actor contender? Probably yes.Check.
Best Actress can sometimes drive the nominee, though, as in:
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards*
Emma Stone, La La Land*
Brie Larson, Room*
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook*
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Natalie Portman, Black Swan*
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side*
Kate Winslet, The Reader*
What movies that we’ve seen so far have Best Actress heat? Well, The Wife. Can it get a Best Picture nomination? 8th Grade, can Elsie Fisher’s performance drive it? Maybe. If the ones coming up — like Mary Queen of Scots or The Favourite or Backseat or Ben is Back or Widows — how many of these, just on the power of the leading female performance, can drag along a Best Picture nomination?
The other thing to watch, of course, is it director-driven? Does the industry of many admire the director enough to give the film the benefit of the doubt, even if it’s bad. But if it’s good, then it’s probably going to be a strong contender.
Damien Chazelle, check.
Alfonso Cuaron, check.
Jason Reitman, check.
Steve McQueen, check.
Spike Lee, check.
Adam McKay, check.
Luca Guadagnino, check.
Paul Schrader, check.
Claire Denis, check.
Barry Jenkins, check.
And finally, the zeitgeist: does it simmer with the fire of the zeitgeist?
First Man, check.
The Front Runner, check.
First Reformed, check.
Putting together those key pieces can be a better determiner of how a Best Picture contender might go, and how the hype or criticism can add or detract from that. In other words, you have to start with the the frame to build the house.
First Man looks great for DGA, PGA, and SAG ensemble out of the gate. THAT, my friends, is how you build your house.
Fasten your seatbelts… tomorrow it’s Roma and The Favourite out of Venice.