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Just hearing Fassbender talking in this trailer makes me want to see this movie again. In fact, the writing is so good it’s the kind of movie one commits to memory.  Trailer #2!

They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
I of course replied
Something here inside cannot be denied
They said “someday you’ll find all who love are blind”
When your heart’s on fire,
You must realize, smoke gets in your eyes
So I chaffed them and I gaily laughed
To think they could doubt my love
Yet today my love has flown away,
I am without my love (without my love)
Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes
Smoke gets in your eyes

Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years is one of those films that tells the truth about the human experience. It does it in such a pointed yet subtle way, you might find yourself unprepared for how moving it ultimately is. 45 Years is like perfume that clings to a scarf locked away in a drawer, and when pulled out the again the scent is so familiar, so uncomfortably captivating you can do nothing but surrender to all that it recalls. What we keep from our past tells us who we are as we age. What meant enough to us for us to record, photograph, store in boxes is all we have, really, when the door begins to close on our lives.

The role of Kate Mercer seems to have been written for the film’s star, Charlotte Rampling, whose emotional journey as she discovers more about her husband Geoff (an excellent Tom Courtenay) than she really ever needed to know. It’s written on her face — a legendary face now worn with age and time.  This is not a woman who lived out loud. This is a woman who came to her marriage with very limited experience. She was young, she was beautiful and she loved only one man who took her from her father’s house and spent the next 45 years as her husband.


As the couple head for their 45th anniversary party, a long buried secret is revealed. The body of the husband’s former girlfriend, or perhaps wife, “Katya” has been found. She’d fallen into an icy crevasse while the couple was hiking and died there. Whatever dreams Geoff once had with her died there too. He went on with his life as best he could; then met and married Kate. That we’re dealing with a “Katya” and a “Kate” probably tells you more than you should know walking into this fine, fine film.  It was based on a short story by David Constantine which laid down the framework for what would become a much bigger — yet still somehow quite “small” — story.

The suspense in the movie is wrapped up in the expressions on the couple’s faces as they work through their daily routine — the quiet of their childless lives, with only dogs and each other for comfort. He goes to work. She takes walks. They see friends. They eat dinner together. They brush their teeth and make a good attempt at making love. It is a perfectly fine life.  Most of us don’t sign up for perfectly fine lives, though, do we? We are aching for true love, if it exists.

Watching Rampling go through the business of living, all the while pondering what might be going on with her husband once the news of “Katya” emerges. After the news, he seems almost like a different person. She suddenly notices that there aren’t any photographs of them around, and none of her. She talks of wishing they’d captured more memories. He talks about rhow beautiful she once was. But with no photographs to remember those times, they are stuck with the present and all that it brings in the too quiet late, late nights in the countryside.

Rampling is exquisite in the part of Kate. Funnily enough, it might be the performance of the year for any actress. Is it showy enough? Is it too subtle? Those will be the questions people ask when it comes to the Oscar race.  None of that means anything, of course. Not in the real world of how art can move us so powerfully we leave the film changed. As beautiful as the past images Rampling conjures in our mind’s eye, this somehow seems the exact right moment when she is at her most beautiful. Her kindness and generosity towards her husband, her sudden realization of how he sees her — are astonishing.

That is what is most heartbreaking  about 45 Years. We all throw ourselves into love to be seen. We aren’t really the sum total of our memories, or photographs of who we once were. Kate is a knockout still, 45 years after her husband said she was one. How can we ever know we are really being seen? We hope that when the time comes to pay tribute — when they ask us how we knew our true love was true? We will get the answer.



Two years ago, Kyle Buchanan saw 12 Years a Slave and declared it the Oscar frontrunner. From that point on, the film mostly had a target on its back but more from the critics than anyone else. Most who saw Spotlight in Telluride agreed that it was the one movie no one had anything negative to say about (The Artist, Argo, The King’s Speech) and really seemed to have the solid stuff a nominee needs to get into the major categories. But I’d say Buchanan is the first to declare it the actual “frontrunner,” a label I’m sure the film would rather not have if they actually want to win. The second it gets proclaimed as such, the rumblings begin. Is it really that good? It’s not that good. Really? That’s going to win Best Picture? The thing about 12 Years is that it almost didn’t win. It wouldn’t have been Buchanan’s fault then, nor would it be his fault now, for proclaiming it in the position many already thought it was anyway. It’s just the nature of the Oscar race. Buchanan is too smart to declare a movie no one has seen the “frontrunner.” It can’t be, not logically. You’ll see people predicting movies like that to win – last year and this year but truly there is no THERE there until people have seen the movie. That’s why Buchanan’s declaration holds water.

Says Buchanan:

Well, today we got a Best Picture front-runner, but it’s the furthest thing from noisy — in fact, this modest drama is probably the quietest film to lead the Oscar pack since The Artist. The stealth pacesetter I’m talking about is Spotlight (starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams), which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival today after acclaimed bows at Venice and Telluride. There are still a handful of movies left to screen this season that could make a convincing case for Best Picture, but they’ll now have to steal the spotlight from … well, you know.

I think he’s referring to The Revenant here.  He goes on to say:

More prizes will surely be bestowed once Spotlight comes out in November. Boy, is this movie good. It’s not a showy, bombastic picture — it has that in common with the journalists it portrays, who are mostly concerned with ducking their heads down and doing the work — but it’s so assured, so deft, and so satisfying that I think it’s destined to go far with Oscar voters of just about every demographic. The Academy has made daring picks for Best Picture over the past two years, anointing the tough, arty 12 Years a Slave and the wordy Birdman, but I think voters are yearning to return to something conventional, and Spotlight’s got a down-the-middle, perfectly executed pitch they’ll find hard to resist. It also has the sort of social significance that Oscar voters like from their Best Picture winner: You can pat your back for putting it on your ballot.

As a riveting procedural story, I’ve seen Spotlight compared to films like Zodiac and All the President’s Men, but the more instructive example for Oscar voters will be Argo, another well-engineered, fact-based drama that eventually became the Academy’s consensus pick for Best Picture. Plenty of Oscar voters will give Spotlight their No. 1 spot, but this audience-pleaser is sure to collect just about everybody else’s No. 2 votes, and that may be crucial in a year where several of the biggest movies yet to screen, like Joy and The Revenant, come from some of our most polarizing auteurs.

A couple of things worth noting. 1) procedurals don’t win Best Picture, hardly ever. Even the best of them, All the President’s Men lost to Rocky. Zodiac was snubbed completely. 2) Argo didn’t win because of the Iran stuff. It won because of the combination of Ben Affleck’s star on the rise and the funny Hollywood stuff. Let’s face it, the Iran stuff was awkward and clumsy.  Spotlight is not funny. It is not insider Hollywood and it doesn’t have Ben Affleck at the helm. It is similar to Argo in that it is understated and the film “everyone liked” at Telluride. Argo, though, is uplifting and positive at the end. Spotlight is more subtle, more contemplative and certainly not formidable, I don’t think, enough to withstand Oscar season hype if it goes in as the frontrunner.

The reason is simple. People saw Spotlight at Telluride and Toronto with a limited amount of buzz. It was the underdog going in, not the top heavy frontrunner. Once it takes that position, people almost immediately start looking for flaws and alternatives. Just look at Hillary Clinton.

12 Years a Slave became almost the enemy of film critics and didn’t win a single award from them. The film’s director, Steve McQueen, was routinely losing to Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity. They tied for the Producers Guild. Cuaron won the Directors Guild and American Hustle won the SAG. 12 Years became the rare film to take Best Picture by only winning 1/2 of the PGA heading into the race. Has that ever happened? No. The last time a film won Best Picture without taking the DGA or the SAG?  Braveheart did it after onlly winning the Eddie and the WGA. Crash had only won the SAG. That made 12 Years winning a long shot. Some of the best predictors in the Oscar business were predicting Gravity by the end.

Michael Rezendes, Ben Bradlee Jr., Sacha Pfeiffer, Walter Robinson, Martin Baron and Matt Carroll seen at Open Road Films 'Spotlight' Premiere at 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, September 14, 2015, in Toronto, CAN. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Open Road Films/AP Images)
Michael Rezendes, Ben Bradlee Jr., Sacha Pfeiffer, Walter Robinson, Martin Baron and Matt Carroll seen at Open Road Films ‘Spotlight’ Premiere at 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, September 14, 2015, in Toronto, CAN. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Open Road Films/AP Images)

No one can say for sure whether naming 12 Years the frontrunner in September made it take such a hard fall with resentful critics. After all, despite it coming in as the best reviewed film of the year there was the whole “white guilt” factor involved. Such is not the case with Spotlight. Still, that’s a lot of pressure. The film could be like The Artist and just slide on in home, winning critics awards and the major guilds and Oscar. It could have no competition, like The Artist. But remember, there is a big difference between those two movies. The Artist was that quirky charmer that could melt anyone’s heart. Spotlight is a very very good film along the lines of Michael Mann’s The Insider but it’s not the kind of film that makes someone turn on their heart light like The Artist. And there is no little dog running around doing tricks either.

It’s hard to disagree with Buchanan right now, though. There was no better received film at Telluride or Toronto as Spotlight, which emerged as almost everyone’s favorite. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Still, the old timer in me puckers a little when I hear that word so early. It always makes me worry. There are many movies still to come. History tells us that they won’t have enough time to develop that kind of consensus. The consensus for Spotlight is already building. It started at Telluride and continued at Toronto and is building as we speak. Even if people are thinking The Revenant might steal the prize at the last minute, a consensus vote accumulates over months and months of word of mouth, discussions at parties, and that unnamable magic that happens between people when one idea starts to spread.

Pictures from the premiere of Spotlight.


And it’s a good one. Can Netflix break into the Oscar game?



Becoming a Best Picture frontrunner means fighting off continual attacks that will either sink it (Boyhood) or fail to sink it (12 Years a Slave). The season is currently enjoying the exceptional brief moment of talking about how good the movies are as opposed to whether or not they can or will win an Oscar. Those outside the normative circle include Son of Saul, a Hungarian film; Anomalisa, a puppet sex movie; Beasts of No Nation; distributed by Netflix. Just because they don’t fit the Oscar norm isn’t stopping people talking about them and that’s pretty great.

Coming out of Cannes, there was no frontrunner. Coming out of Venice, still no frontrunner. Coming out of Telluride it looks like maybe two to beat launched there: Spotlight and Steve Jobs. But calling either of them frontrunners is premature. Spotlight has the advantage of being the film nobody hated and everyone liked. Steve Jobs was the one people reacted to more ecstatically. Beasts of No Nation hit big among those of us who love it, but not in the consensus building “everybody loved it” kind of way. Truth is the new highlight launched out of Toronto. If it wins, it will be the first time since The Hurt Locker that a Toronto Fest film won Best Picture. Most are saying, though, that the frontrunner, if there is one, has not yet been seen.

The 2016 Oscars already seem more competitive and livelier than last year’s, with films coming from wide and far, encompassing diverse subjects, from a woman saving mankind from extinction during the apocalypse, gay rights in the 1950s, the Catholic Church covering up sex abuse in the 1990s, a man who changed the way Americans used computers and phones, a child soldier somewhere in Africa trying to cling to what remains of his humanity, a young girl entering adulthood in Brooklyn, women risking everything to fight for the right to vote, a madman in the Irish mob in Boston who evades the authorities for decades, and the way our very own government silenced our press, and our freedom of speech.

All of this before we even get to the Big Oscar Movies in a matter of weeks. A major one is about to drop when the New York Film Festival rolls out its selections on September 25th. After that, we’ll await the characters and subjects we have coming — which include a man fighting for survival in the deep snow-choked woods, a woman inventing the Miracle Mop, a crew of lost souls with guns fighting it out in a cabin in a blizzard, an unlikely hero caught up in machinations to free an American pilot during the Cold War, a couple who may or may not have lost their love for each other.

When looking at Best Director, this year is driven by some well-known names and some who aren’t well known. The best directors this year are visionaries, no doubt about it. Some have the good fortune to be able to make the kind of films they want every year. Some are just breaking through. A well-known director can often be the difference between which film eventually becomes the frontrunner. It isn’t just a matter of whether they “like” the movie or not. They have to admire, like and in some cases, remain in awe of the director.

Let’s take a look at this year’s slate of directors and their films and/or Oscar backgrounds. These names may very well be among those strongly considered for Best Director. (A word on women and other minorities — of course, breaking through is near impossible. In the case of a film like Suffragette, the name of the director isn’t going to mean as much, at least not yet.) Other directors will share the same problem. Room’s Lenny Abrahamson, Black Mass’ Scott Cooper, Truth’s James Vanderbilt, Spotlight’s Tom McCarthy, Brooklyn’s John Crowley. They are building a name for themselves and, with the help of the best publicists in the business, will be quite well known by the end of the season. Women are going to have it much harder, always. That goes without saying.

Still, here are the directors we think have the most heat heading into the season.


Alejandro G. Inarritu for The Revenant. No pressure, just the most highly-anticipated film of the year. Inarritu had The Revenant in mind before making Birdman and just happened to win Best Picture in the interim, much to his complete surprise. Whatever is behind his drive to make this film translates to an artist whose Oscar win certainly didn’t quell his desire to reach higher and farther. Inarritu won three Oscars last year for Birdman — for writing, producing and directing. He was previously nominated for Picture and Director for Babel. He set the world on fire with his debut, Amores Perros. He’s not a director who seems to care about commercial success. He’s an artist, all the way. He’s been given a lot of money to make The Revenant. The pressure is unbelievably high this time around. The expectations are off the charts. The buzz is already palpable. The only question that remains is whether the film can manage to live up to those heightened expectations. It’s coming in under the wire and will have to be that good to catch up to whatever the winning film already is heading into the Producers Guild awards. If it hits, it hits big.


Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies. You can’t ignore a man who has been nominated seven times for Best Director, and Best Picture eight times. Both of his last two films were nominated for Best Picture using the current system for balloting in that category. Spielberg is an American treasure who shows no signs of slowing down. His enthusiasm for film has a wide reach. He makes art films, general audience films, children’s films, war films — he loves making movies and his love is contagious. Spielberg has less to prove now in the autumn of his career and is enjoying himself more. His films always make money and he always brings them in under budget. If he wins one more Oscar for directing, he will join the very elite group of film directors to win more than two — John Ford, William Wyler and Frank Capra. The pressure on Spielberg is less than others on this list because he has such a strong fan base even if the film isn’t a typical “Oscar movie” we know it’s going to be a fine film anyway because he just flat out knows how to direct. He’s been doing it long enough and well enough that he is just a master at the top of his game.


Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation. If an auteur has emerged this season it has to be Fukanaga who has surprised everyone with his fearsome war epic. Seen by some as a tough sit, passed over by every studio until Netflix picked it up, Beasts is the kind of exceptional cinema that comes along once in a decade maybe. Whether Hollywood is going to put him on top of the A List or not is still a question mark. There should be little doubt of what he can do after True Detective and now, Beasts of No Nation. They should be throwing money and contracts at the guy. Either way, from where I sit, Beasts towers over every other film I’ve seen this year, though I haven’t seen many and certainly not the films coming up. The degree of Beasts popularity will rest entirely on Fukunaga’s growing cred. He’s good. Really good.


Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs. Boyle has only won a single Oscar for directing Slumdog Millionaire, and it took him a while to get there. He’s always been known for dazzling and bizarrely dark films like Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. He does not limit himself to a genre, however, and is a nimble director who took on 127 Hours, Millions, Sunshine and even Trance. It’s always interesting to see what he’s chosen to do with each new project he takes on. With Steve Jobs, it’s high theater of the Sorkin kind. Primarily taking place in surreal backstage setups, Boyle pins Fassbender down for every flicker of the eyebrow. He seems more willing in this film to give his actors free reign over the territory in service of that off-the-charts mind-blowing Aaron Sorkin screenplay. The challenge for Steve Jobs will be getting Boyle’s style to stand out amid all of that dialogue. It’s hard to watch the film and not think: Sorkin. But if you look close enough you’ll see the Boyle flourishes throughout.


Todd Haynes, Carol – Haynes is the best director working in Hollywood who has so far gone completely unrecognized by the Academy. They did not acknowledge him for I’m Not There — his impressionist’s take on Bob Dylan; nor for Far From Heaven, the story of a woman married to a gay man who finds true love with a black man; nor for Safe, starring Julianne Moore as a woman physically and emotionally overwhelmed by modern life. With Carol, he has probably made his most Academy friendly film to date, one that will reach beyond “queer cinema” to general audiences. Carol involves two women falling in love at a time when they were forbidden from living openly as lesbians. It is more than that, though. It is a coming-of-age film for both characters for different reasons. Haynes is at his best working with strong, complicated, broken heroines. His work with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara gracefully illustrates that.


Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight – Tarantino has invented his own film language by drawing upon his own love and immersion in genre films throughout his life and his ever-growing talent behind the camera. Tarantino’s writing is one thing. It is the dead giveaway to whose film you’re watching. But where he really soars is as a director. Therefore, a reading of the script for The Hateful Eight simply won’t do. Why we return to Tarantino again and again are those beautiful shots, the building of suspense, the unpredictable twists and turns of the characters involved. There is a reason why Tarantino’s films get nominated for Best Picture. He’s been to the big show only twice as a director but three times as a writer, and winning two out of three of those. Tarantino and Kurt Russell though? What a match made in heaven. Whatever people think they’re going to see with The Hateful Eight, history tells us two thing. 1) it’s more likely to get nominated than not, and 2) it’s going to be better than anyone expects it to be.


David O. Russell, Joy – here is probably the director most overdue for a win of the bunch. David O. Russell has been nominated for directing three times and writing twice from 2011 to 2014. He has yet to win a single Oscar. He has found his good luck charm in Jennifer Lawrence, who starred in two of those films. Now, she’s finally earned enough clout to have the whole movie be about her. With a long and expansive career behind him, Russell has keyed in to the thing he does best with Lawrence as his muse: working with actresses like her who can be funny and tragic all at once. He’s due for a win and Joy could be the movie that at last that puts him over.


Tom McCarthy, Spotlight – McCarthy is one of those hard working indie directors who emerge without much fanfare. His films, like The Visitor and Win Win, have been appreciated but not widely seen nor Oscar nominated. Spotlight should put him on the map.


George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature with Happy Feet. He was also nominated for writing and producing Babe. Before that, he was nominated for writing Lorenzo’s Oil. That tells us the Academy likes Miller best when he’s softer, not as hard core as he is with Mad Max. On the other hand, everyone loves a comeback and no one expected this film to become one of the best films of the year. Miller’s name lends the cred to get both him and the film nominated. It will just depend on what’s coming next.


Tom Hooper, The Danish Girl. Hooper has only made a handful of features but his last two have been Best Picture nominated and one of them beat The Social Network. Clearly, this is a guy the Academy and the industry really like. The reviews for the Danish Girl have been mixed out of Venice and Toronto, with the film inspiring a love it/hate it reaction. But Hooper’ stature is enough to get the film seen and could be enough to get it in for Best Picture, no matter what the critics think of it. Time will tell how the film plays with industry voters, but one thing we know for sure — they aren’t critics.

Other directors to watch out for include Laszlo Nemes
Son of Saul, Lenny Abramson for Room, Angelina Jolie for Beyond the Sea, Paolo Sorrentino for Youth, Sarah Gavron for Suffragette, Robert Zemeckis for The Walk, Ridley Scott for The Martian, Scott Cooper for Black Mass.

We know that, all things considered, Best Picture is still director driven, whether that leads to a win or not. Because there are more than five Best Picture nominees, films that aren’t director-driven can make it into the race because of the actors branch, for instance, or the producers or whomever it was that rammed Selma through last year with less apparent support from the major core branches. Still, when we talk about Best Picture we are still talking about Best Director, Ben Affleck not withstanding.


It’s hard to suss out what is real and what isn’t if you’re sitting at home reading the tweets and reviews coming out of the Toronto film festival. The Oscar word is getting thrown around a lot. That happens every year. Whether or not any of it will hold water won’t be known until those titles start showing up in other places, like other awards shows. Given that, what films and performances are doing well in Toronto that didn’t play Cannes, Venice or Telluride?

  1. Truth – somehow this movie headed for TIFF with muted buzz, or no buzz. Actually, that’s the best way to go to any festival. You really don’t want the opposite. There is genuine buzz for Truth, whether it’s “Oscar buzz” or not matters less (who can really say for sure what is and isn’t) than just plain old fashioned buzz: is it a good movie? YES. Cate Blanchett’s performance is noteworthy – on par with her work in Carol. Robert Redford eyes a potential Supporting Actor win (his first ever acting Oscar).  All of this is very good news for Truth, even if it will be competing with another film about journalism that has done even better, Spotlight.
  2. The Martian – Like Truth, it isn’t “Oscar bait” but it is well liked and people are kind of raving about it. I listen less when people say “it’s not an Oscar movie” than I do when they say how much they liked the film. That is always the thing to listen to. Believe it or not most people aren’t really Oscar experts. Even the best Oscar experts can be wrong. One thing that is never wrong, though, is a lot of people liking a movie. That gets you love from all of the branches. It’s hard to say whether Matt Damon himself could be in contention but if enough people like the movie that’s all it takes, really.
  3. Bryan Cranston in Trumbo has hit its target and puts Cranston squarely in the Best Actor race. Even if people were kind of negative on the film overall – some saying they were “underwhelmed” — my least favorite film criticism 2.0 term next to “overrated” — Cranston gives the right performance needed to be in the conversation, as they say. His spot was being held already and this just confirms it.
  4. Michael Moore enters the race big time with Where to Invade Next. There isn’t another documentarian like Moore. He is almost a performance artist in the way he rolls out a movie, how he inserts himself into the narrative and how the movie ultimately plays. He is one of a kind in this respect. He’s also quite popular in the doc branch at the Academy. All in all, he took Toronto by storm.
  5. Sandra Bullock in Our Brand is Crisis – again, kind of a mixed reaction to negative on the film itself but high marks all around for Bullock, who enters the Best Actress race. It was probably met with the curse of high  expectations — which might have been the problem but nevertheless, Bullock can carry a movie and her movies make money. With George Clooney by her side in the producer’s chair and the gender switch, Bullock is one of the performances out of TIFF that has popped.


  1. Emily Blunt better than expected in Sicario –  Sicario played Cannes, but it’s worth noting that her performance seems to have popped up in Toronto where it didn’t as much in Cannes, for whatever reason.  Blunt’s biggest problem is that hers is not a big enough part because it’s kind of overshadowed by Benicio Del Toro. Were that not the case, she would be among the strongest contenders for Best Actress right now. Still, I think her TIFF buzz has caught fire.
  2. Anomalisa – the reason being it won in Venice and is now wowing in TIFF. It did well at Telluride, no doubt about it but it wasn’t seen by enough people. Now it is getting lots of attention up in Toronto. Still has no distributor as of yet but someone should snatch it up immediately.  It will do really well, based on the graphic puppet sex alone.
  3. Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl – while more intel is needed on the film overall, one thing seems certain: everyone is wowed by Ex Machina star Alicia Vikander aka the most perfect woman god ever created.  It’s hard to say where the film will land. Not cool enough for the cool kids, already burdened with the term “Oscar bait” but it’s like Anne Thompson always says. How do you build Best Picture? Branch by branch. Looks to me like the Danish Girl has the branches sewn up from the top down.

More Intel Needed

Tom Hiddleston in the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light seemed to draw a kind of tepid response. In a different year his performance might be one to reckon with — in a competitive year like this it seems like he has no shot.

Holding Steady

TIFF confirms that the Telluride or Venice hits like Beasts of No Nation, The Danish Girl, Youth, Black Mass, are also playing well, at least so far, to the more populist crowds Toronto. Will report back on that once the fest comes to a close.



Boy Soldier

What a smile! One large lamp for a face,
smaller lanterns where skin stretches over
bones waiting for muscle, body all angles.
His Kalashnikov fires at each moving
thing before he knows what he drags
down. He halts movement of every
kind and fails to weigh whom he stops
dead or maims, his bullets
like jabs thrown before the thought
to throw them, involuntary shudders
when someone, somewhere, steps over
his shallow, unmarked, mass grave.
But his smile remains undimmed,
inviting, not knowing what hit him,
what snuffs out the wicks in his eyes.
Except that he moves and a face just like
his figures like him to stop all action
with a flick of finger on the trigger. —Fred D’Aguiar

The violence in Cary Fukunaga’s exquisite Beasts of No Nation is graphic. But so is its purity of heart. In America, young white boys are told that the world owes them something just by virtue of their being born. Once they become teenagers it starts to dawn on them that this plan isn’t going to work out. Their lives haven’t lived up to the promise of the American dream, of all of the animated and live action films aimed at them that reinforce the idea that they are special, that they matter. Most of them just go on to live their unadorned lives anyway. Some of them pick up a weapon and shoot people before taking their own lives. Contrast that bizarre, aberrant phenomena with child soldiers in Africa and other places where boys are given no other choice but to pick up a weapon and start shooting people. That’s if they’re lucky. That’s if they aren’t killed first.

Written, directed and filmed by wunderkind Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation lasts 133 minutes and throughout its duration it depicts one horror after another, with fleeting moments of humanity. Appearing like unintentional daisies in a landfill, our young soldier clings to those moments as they are taken away one at a time, his own existence proof of the absence of God.  This is the childhood of an ordinary boy soldier raised to further some war lord’s cause. Poverty and corruption go hand in hand in places most Americans pretend not to know exist.  This brilliantly made, wholly original war epic belongs on the same shelf as Apocalypse Now and yet was rejected by every studio until Netflix came to the rescue.

Now the film can have a chance to play in a small number of theaters for those lucky enough to live in major cities; now it can be seen at the same time online by serious film lovers who search in vain for great cinema at multiplexes in thousands of small towns; and it will eventually become a film that continues to stun anyone who scrolls past bland options on a Saturday night, anyone who comes across it deliberately or chance discovery, a great movie made widely available for anyone who has the curiosity to find it and the guts to stick with it.

Anyone who watched the first season of True Detective knows what this director can do. That alone should have motivated the studios to have faith in him.  But fear set in and no one wanted touch it because they thought no one would watch it. Studio execs think we’re too busy wasting time on Facebook or watching The Biggest Loser to care. It’s all about money and where is the money in this?

There might not be money, but there is beauty.  Beauty in watching a seriously talented artist deliver an uncompromising work of art. This film, in fact, is a moving poem.  One scene to the next immerses us more deeply into the jungle, as we get to know the faces and the unwritten rules of this kind of warfare.  Are we asked to care? Does it even matter? We have angry young white men in America who walk into churches and theaters to shoot innocent people in Bible study and on date night, and yet it’s these guys 5000 miles away that we cal barbarians? The truth about Americans is that they don’t care to look at the truth most of the time.

Idris Elba is the big name attached. He plays the commandant who “adopts” young Agu (the incredibly talented Abraham Atta). Fukunaga never lets you forget you are watching a child whose life was ripped apart when his family fled his village as rebels rode into town. The book the film is based on, and the press packet synopsis, calls the rebel army “unnamed,” meaning, there are so many of them cropping up out of poverty and desperation that naming them is almost pointless. Their crimes follow a familiar pattern. Young boys are forced to join armies, women and girls are routinely raped, all in the name of grabbing power in places crippled by progress, where many first-world corporate giants have robbed all the natural resources, leaving destitute people to fend for themselves, chasing scraps and getting what they can, while they can.

What is so remarkable about this film is how Fukunaga holds it all together so that, even at its two-hour plus running time, the film never drags. Each moment in young Agu’s life matters because he is evolving from an ordinary child into a monster.  Because Atta is the right actor chosen to play the part, we feel a connection to young Agu.  We never forget he’s a child because his eyes remain vulnerable, even as he’s aiming his weapon, even as he’s shooting bullets through a woman’s head, even as he’s made to bring the machete down on an innocent man’s skull. He’s made to do these things because that is what you do or else you’re one of the dead. He makes a friend and the two of them comfort each other after sexual assaults by the commandant (hinted at but never graphically shown). That relationship, though, like all good things in Agu’s life, is just another casualty.

So much of the film drifts by like a surreal dream — even though the narration is that of a child, we would not need to hear that narration to know we are witnessing the unthinkable from a child’s point of view.  As director and cinematographer, Fukunaga does not need to translate or have his ideas interpreted through another collaborator. He films what he sees in his head. That somehow makes Beasts of No Nation feel wholly original, unlike anything that will play in a movie theater this year or the next ten years. It might not be right to call it entertainment, but it is art.

There was a time back in the 1980s and 1990s when Americans cared about child soldiers in Africa. The occasional celebrity cracks our distracted bubble and mentions it as some distant event where photos are taken and put on fan sites. Art can do more than that. It can rip away protective covers and embed itself in ways you can’t shake off. There is no website at the end of this film to tell us where to donate to help. There is no petition we can sign so that we can click a button and go on with our day. There is no invitation for us to care about anything beyond whether or not we can sync our iPhones with our new computers.  It asks nothing from you except to look and see.

A great filmmaker builds worlds with their own language.  They are so skillful you never doubt where they’re taking you even if it is so painful to watch it turns your stomach and makes you flinch. This film does not draw from anyone else’s playbook.  It is a wholly original masterpiece that no person who claims to love film should pass up. Don’t not watch it because you think there is no way you can help young boys who are violated in so many different ways. We here in the first world have the luxury of getting depressed about it.

When the film at last comes to its closing moments, after we’ve seen what life is like from a child soldier’s point of view, Fukunaga hits us with the film’s true meaning. Agu asks himself whether he’ll ever be able to return to the world of children. Of playtime and ice cream cones, of teasing each other with flashlights, of finding love and friendship in places where something as basic as good drinking water is hard to get. Can he ever regain that purity of heart, that goodness each child inherits at birth? The truth is that he doesn’t yet know if he can after what he’s seen, after what he’s done, after all of the death that has become his everyday reality. What does he know? He once had a mother, a father, sisters and brothers. They loved him. All he knows is that he was once something closer to a real human being, kissed and carried, and maybe never forgotten.

Photo by Jeffrey Wells

I used to think that the reason there weren’t films like Bonnie and Clyde or Midnight Cowboy or A Clockwork Orange or Taxi Driver or Apocalypse Now in the Oscar race was because the Oscar voters were too old to go there anymore. They’re facing the twilight of their years. They eat prozac and hip replacement meds for breakfast. I used to think it was their fault. Now I know that’s only partly true. There is a concerted effort made, and it starts right here, to exclude those kinds of movies because “they” won’t like them or vote for them. It starts here and then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that feeds into all of the early awards and eventually the bigger voting blocks like the PGA, the DGA and finally the Oscars.

Sure, we’ve all had our years where we stood firmly behind daring works like Inside Llewyn Davis, All is Lost and Gone Girl and had them come up totally and shockingly empty at the Oscars.  There is a reality to dumbing the whole thing down to a palatable level. It isn’t made up by Oscar pundits. It is perpetuated by them, way too early on, just so that they (we) can be “right” at the end of the year. Everyone who works in this business knows that’s true.

When Cary Fukunaga’s extraordinary Beasts of No Nation hit Telluride that is exactly what the conversation swirled around: whether it was “too much” for Academy voters. Could they sit through it, would it bother them too much – would it make them reach for something light and easy, something inoffensive, something entirely forgettable? We know the answer to that one. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and sometimes the movies that play here deserve every bit of the praise that swells to greater heights once it’s clear “they” will like it.

This is a film that could not get an independent studio to stand behind it because it was too “rough” or “problematic.” They couldn’t sell it because it was thought no one would watch it. Netflix — a newly formed “studio” that is rewriting the rules that are holding Hollywood back — said not only will we buy it but we’ll finance a major theatrical release before making it available on Netflix. Here at Telluride, the 9pm crowd sat through this difficult two-hour uncompromising epic and did not wildly applaud at the end, not even when Cary Fukunaga and his lead actor, Abraham Atta, came back to the mic afterwards. There were a few people shouting “Bravo” but it was pretty clear from that reception how this movie might “play” with “them.”

How an audience responds to a film like this does tell you how it will do with consensus voters and overall white upper-middle-class audience members. The reason Telluride is so good at predicting Oscar movies is that the attendees are mostly well-to-do liberals heading towards retirement. They don’t look away from social justice but they do seem ill-equipped to handle a film like this. Thus, if there were no Oscar blogs and if there were no precursors and if there were no fixed game, an influential critic like Pauline Kael would take this movie and write the kind of review that would launch it into the stratosphere. Why, because sometimes people have to be told what is great and what isn’t. That was certainly the case with Bonnie and Clyde. Kael’s advocacy turned perception for that film completely around. Roger Ebert did the same thing with Martin Scorsese early on his career.

When the same people who write those reviews start playing the Oscar game, however? What they’re looking for is what “they” will like, rather than looking for greatness and then trying to convince “them” to like it. We know we can’t convince them. We know what our job is. We know mostly what will sell. And we know that all of the breathless advocacy in the world can’t make “them” like it or vote for it.

Still, knowing all this, and given the many years I’ve been Oscar watching — almost 17 now — I was still disappointed and surprised by the way many of my fellow colleagues were talking about this film. They will be “right” because they will have helped perpetuate a “muted” response to a film that can really only be described as a masterpiece. It won’t have a chance, not anywhere, because “they” won’t like it.

This narrative is increasingly dangerous. That downside is exiling films that are worthy of attention simply because they don’t fit that awards narrative. That is bad for movies, and bad for the Oscars. If you watch a film as good as Beasts and conclude the movie is not good enough — fine. That’s fair. But if you watch this film and reject it because “they” won’t go for it? You’re really not qualified to be writing about film at all.

History will eventually declare this film one of the best of all time. It might take twenty years. It might take thirty years but sooner or later that conclusion will be reached. Does that mean it has any chance of getting nominated?  No. You know it and I know it. Unless Pauline Kael comes back from the dead.

This kind of audacity ought to be applauded and supported. Cary Fukanaga directed the first season of HBO’s True Detective, one of the best things ever seen on television. Cary Fukanaga wrote, directed and shot Beasts of No Nation. A talent like this ought to be given better treatment than to find no studio picking up this film. Sorry, but shame on them. I know it’s a money issue. I know it’s a selling issue. But wow, really?

Hollywood’s version of supporting a brilliant talent like Fukanaga is to say “here’s a superhero movie – lock yourself into our system and make us lots of money.”  I don’t know if that’s Fukunaga’s fate yet. But I do know someone let him walk away from Stephen King’s It, and it looks like he’ll be doing what the best of them are — heading to television. When it’s this difficult to make movies like this, movies like this will not get made.

So what you likely want to know is what are this film’s Oscar chances? I’ll give you two answers to that one. The first one, it’s too “rough” for many of “them.” Many of them won’t be able to sit through it and many of them will either not put the screener in or they’ll stop it halfway through during the film’s more graphic moments. They will want to see something else, something that will remind them that they are still valuable in the world and that horrors like this do not exist. They might give Fukunaga a well deserved screenplay nomination. The directors branch might get their shit together to nominate Fukunaga (I’m not holding my breath on that one).

The second answer I would give you is this: imagine there were no names of studios that had influence, and that having your film distributed by Netflix didn’t make you were an outsider. Imagine if the Best Picture race was really about picking the truly best films of the year. Imagine a world where people still believed that was true. In that imagined world, Beasts of No Nation is getting nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Abraham Atta, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography.

You can go read the rest of the Telluride reports to find out what kind of world we actually live in. Either way, make it your objective to see this movie – and many of the other great films that have come out of here (or played elsewhere), especially Spotlight, Steve Jobs, Room, Carol, 45 Years, Son of Saul, Black Mass, Suffragette. Some of them aren’t perfect. Some of them are greatly flawed even. But all of them involve people who are committed to perpetuating the idea that film is still in the realm of art. We in the Oscar game often undermine their efforts, becoming part of the system that often rejects audacity.

Quentin Tarantino recently asked why there aren’t great movies like The Godfather anymore. I just saw one last night. You can figure out the rest of the story from here.


“I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all” – Joni Mitchell

With Steve Jobs, Aaron Sorkin adds another chapter to his hopefully ongoing saga of American tech. First, Mark Zuckerberg went from quirky Harvard nerd to friendless billionaire, changing the way people connected for better and worse. Now, Steve Jobs goes from Apple inventor, to Apple reject, to Apple savior. We all know the story of Apple, those of us who grip our iPhones, type on our MacBooks, listen to our iTunes, tap on our iPads. We know these beautiful items are credited as the milestones Jobs introduced to reinvigorate Apple when he was brought back to save it from bankruptcy. We also know the withered cancer victim who fought back death until it finally carried him under. This film isn’t about those stories. It isn’t about how nature casually discards even the most valued among us. As Bob Marley was quoted as having said, “all the money in the world can’t buy you a minute more of life.”

Sorkin’s Steve Jobs is about how we measure success and failure. Jobs could not really achieve greatness without recognizing the most important thing in his life: his biological daughter Lisa Brennan. His success could not be measured by the pretty toys alone. His success had to come from his willingness to connect with his own flesh and blood. Much is made in the film of Jobs’ adoption as one of the main reasons he’s having so much trouble with his own daughter. This damaged relationship is played out alongside Jobs’ career highs and lows. None of his successes will matter in the end if he can’t do the right thing, which means more than just writing a check. That is probably the most surprising thing of all — how Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin launched an excavation to find Steve Jobs’ heart.

Danny Boyle’s version of Steve Jobs looks very different from what David Fincher’s would have looked like. It’s impossible to say whether one is better than the other would have been. Boyle gives the film over to the writing and to the film’s lead performance, a stunning knockout by Michael Fassbender as Jobs. Boyle gives us breathtaking shots of Jobs in various stages of his professional life. He filmed nearly the whole thing in three different theaters in San Francisco and much of the action is confined to those spaces.

Boyle is strong on humanity in his work, which helps explain why this telling of Jobs life is rooted so deeply in the women he’s surrounded himself with — chief among them, Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, a key figure in helping Jobs hold his business together. She is more here — work wife, mother figure, teacher. Winslet has one of the film’s best scenes where she can’t watch this man mistreat his daughter for one more minute. Either fix it, she says, or I’ll go work … “anywhere I want.”

Fassbender spits out Sorkin’s dialogue like an ice cube maker — each withering insult sticking its landing. Jobs suffered no fools. This is not a story that sugarcoats his past. He is, in many ways, a monster who feeds on ego and builds machines that do not cooperate with other machines but are closed systems unto themselves. Fassbender’s Jobs is focused on one thing: making his work a success. What friendships he has are mostly about his work. He isn’t freed from the theater to go live his life, not ever. What life? Jobs has nothing but Apple. That is, until he eventually figures out that there is one thing he helped bring into the world. He has to change to access that primal human relationship.

Steve Jobs has the look and feel of a three-act play with a stage, a backstage, an adoring crowd and lots and lots and lots and LOTS of dialogue. Sorkin and Boyle have found a way to tell this familiar story as a kind of talk opera. Dramatic speech and monologues take up so much room there isn’t much left for anything else. It’s a high wire act that might leave some feeling left behind. Somehow, though, Boyle pulls it off not by backing off the speechifying but by leaning into it and allowing it to sing.

Boyle brings out memorable turns from the supporting actors, Seth Rogan and Jeff Daniels among them. As is almost always the case with Sorkin’s work they are all speaking the same language drawn from the same rhythm and vocabulary. To some this is Sorkin overkill but the same could be said for the best of them — David Mamet, Edward Albee, Paddy Chayefsky and even William Shakespeare. Sorkin is not trying to do anything but write in his own style, thus the film’s exceptional dialogue leaves its mark as profoundly as Jobs himself left his.

With propulsive score by Daniel Pemberton, and cinematography by Alwin H. Küchler, Boyle is not working with his usual team on Steve Jobs. Boyle is trying something new here in making a film built almost entirely on dialogue. This is a film made up of what Danny Boyle called “gestures” to the real people involved. They aren’t trying to make a biopic here but rather depict a kind of symbolic, ongoing conflict between the icon and the man. There are playful moments in the film and emotional highs that catch you off guard. Boyle’s enthusiasm and zest for life combined with Sorkin’s energy and verbal swordplay make Steve Jobs breathtaking and relentless at the same time.

In America we want our heroes to shimmer. We want them to emerge as gods, not monsters. We want them to tell their story of success that celebrates the tenants of the American dream. We need that dream to come true. A film like this one is a reminder that you can’t pick and choose the builders of this country or that dream. They sometimes emerge as broken people, whose humanity is buried underneath layers of ambition. When the spark of genius does emerge, however, one can do nothing but stand back and applaud with admiration a man who could do that much with his imagination.


It is an astonishing thing, to know there was a time when women weren’t valued enough to be allowed governance of their own rights. It took us so long, and the struggle is never-ending, because to fight requires sacrifices that are near impossible to make. Fighting and protesting means being exiled, alienated, belittled, resented, hated. You see it today on the internet where misogyny reigns supreme. You see it coming from both men and women, always with the message: shut up and sit down. In the face of all that, it would have been easy for Suffragette to turn into an angry screed, but Gavron isn’t much interested in focusing on the anger. Women in the twilight of the 19th Century did not have the luxury of indulging in anger because they were in enough trouble as it was.

Mulligan plays a good wife and mother who works in a laundry, suffers sexual harassment, long hours and much less pay than her male counterparts. She is reluctant to join the movement until its cause becomes too urgent — and the injustices too egregious to ignore.  She joins a group of women who are fighting for the vote — and with it, the right to declare that they are worth “no more and no less” than men. This is a film about what Mulligan’s character endures on the treacherous path to equality.

Gavron holds Mulligan’s face in tight closeup through the film, rarely pulling back for long shots. No director has ever done that with this actress, so that avid quality that might once have projected vulnerability throughout her work is transformed here into tenacious inner strength, a keen resolve that the camera can only catch when it pulls in close. With her half smile, her heavy lidded sad eyes, Mulligan’s Maud Watts is her best performance to date.  Carey Mulligan is the number one reason to see this film and she’s the thing that will make this film impossible to ignore come awards time. She carries it the way actresses used to do back when more women were given this kind of opportunity.

The supporting cast are all top notch, including Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai, and Anne-Marie Duff. Each one of them more than capable of having better parts and better roles written for them. With so much talent packed into two hours, it is a reminder of how few films like this exist anywhere. Telluride is unleashing the full force of the feminine this season, with this film, He Named Me Malala, and Carol. These are films about the sort of empowerment that means more than finding oneself on a spiritual journey. These films confront some of the forces that have oppressed and continue to oppress women the world over, including Hollywood itself.

Meryl Streep — who was in attendance the premiere, received a standing ovation. She had maybe five minutes of screen time but Streep knows full well what a movie like this means. Produced, written, directed by and starring women, this isn’t one the Oscars can pass by and sleep easy at night. The direction is unpredictable, moody and never goes for the easy emotional cheat. That one big crescendo is absent here, and in its place what is meant to be read as an ongoing struggle for women’s rights. One need only look at the presidential election to see how women are both on the precipice of equality and at the same time judged by a different standard, still measured by what they look like and whether or not they smile.

The costume design by Jane Petrie recalls an authentic, grimy London lifestyle that goes well with the no-makeup look of the film’s stars and the gritty cinematography by Eduard Grau. Once again, Alexandre Desplat outdoes himself with one of the film’s best assets — it’s suspenseful score.

Indeed, Suffragette will be recognized as one of the year’s best films not because it makes you beat your chest and celebrate women having won a hard-fought battle but because it may be one of the few films on the subject that makes it point by showing what individual women had to go through on a person level. It is Mulligan’s story but how many more women like her were punished for even thinking about wanting more.

Gavron is a relative newcomer with feature films but finds in Mulligan the perfect focal point. She could have told this story with any actress in the lead and it would have been good. With Mulligan in the lead the film becomes great. It becomes great because Gavron immerses us fully in this world — we can smell it, we can taste it, we can feel it wrap tightly around our necks until we want to scream. Suffragette is a master work.

Telluride 2012

Kris Tapley over at Variety has posted the lineup for the Telluride Film Fest. So far it’s mostly in keeping with what most have been circulating. What I’m wondering is, where is our Best Picture for 2016? The list:

Telluride’s main program slate for 2015:

“Amazing Grace” (d. Sydney Pollack, U.S., 1972/2015)
“Anomalisa” (d. Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, 2015)
“Beasts of No Nation” (d. Cary Fukunaga, U.S., 2015)
“Bitter Lake” (d. Adam Curtis, U.K., 2015)
“Black Mass” (d. Scott Cooper, U.S., 2015)
“Carol” (d. Todd Haynes, U.S., 2015)
“45 Years” (d. Andrew Haigh, England, 2015)
“He Named Me Malala” (d. Davis Guggenheim, U.S., 2015)
“Heart of a Dog” (d. Laurie Anderson, U.S., 2014)
“Hitchcock/Truffaut” (d. Kent Jones, U.S., 2015)
“Ixcanul” (d. Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala, 2015)
“Marguerite” (d. Xavier Giannoli, France, 2015)
“Mom and Me” (d. Ken Wardrop, Ireland, 2015)
“Only the Dead See the End of War” (d. Michael War, Bill Guttentag, U.S.-Australia, 2015)
“Rams” (d. Grímur Hákonarson, Iceland, 2015)
“Room” (d. Lenny Abrahamson, England, 2015)
“Siti” (d. Eddie Cahyono, Singapore, 2015)
“Son of Saul” (d. Lázló Nemes, Hungary, 2015)
“Spotlight” (d. Tom McCarthy, U.S., 2015)
“Steve Jobs” (d. Danny Boyle, U.S., 2015)
“Suffragette” (d. Sarah Gavron, U.K., 2015)
“Taj Mahal” (d. Nicolas Saada, France-India, 2015)
“Taxi” (d. Jafar Panahi, Iran, 2015)
“Tikkun” (d. Avishai Sivan, Israel, 2015)
“Time to Choose” (d. Charles Ferguson, U.S., 2015)
“Viva” (d. Paddy Breathnach, Ireland, 2015)
“Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” (d. Evgeny Afineevsky, Russia-Ukraine, 2015)

Actress Rooney Mara who stars in Carol will be honored at the festival along with Adam Curtis (Bitter Lake), and director Danny Boyle (Steve Jobs).

If you look at recent past Best Picture winners, most were seen either at Telluride or at Venice and Cannes prior. All except The Departed, if you go back ten years to 2006.

Birdman – Venice/Telluride
12 Years a Slave – Telluride
Argo – Telluride
The Artist – Cannes/Telluride
The King’s Speech – Telluride
The Hurt Locker (year prior, Toronto)
Slumdog Millionaire (Telluride)
No Country for Old Men (Cannes)
The Departed (October release)
Brokeback Mountain – Telluride
Million Dollar Baby – late release

The closer you are to the way the Oscars used to be — held in March with plenty of time to rally at the end of the year — the later the winners. Now, the winners come earlier. Could this be the game changing year? It’s possible. If not, that really leaves us with any film seen before now — Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out…and/or Steve Jobs, Spotlight, Carol, Black Mass, Room, 45 Years, Suffragette and Beasts of No Nation as our potential most likely winners.


Though All the Presidents Men and Zodiac are two of the greatest American films without a doubt, they really only have the newsroom in common. What they are about and how they tell their stories are vastly different. Zodiac, you could say, is All the President’s Men jacked up to 11. And even then that doesn’t cover it. Where they are similar is that they are both about men who were secretive. They are both about a trail of clues. They both take place amid typewriters and news briefs, reporters, ledes and headlines. It stops there because Zodiac is a horror film both because it’s about a violent, vicious sociopathic killer and because it is ultimately about the horror of unending deep diving obsession. All the President’s Men is much less complicated. It is about a story and two reporters who relentlessly uncover that story thus bringing down a president. There is a clear line between good and evil. There isn’t a whole lot of soul-searching to be done because there is only the right side and the story of deception. Think of them like World War II vs. Vietnam. Whenever a film comes out about a newsroom comparisons are made to both films — probably it’s inevitable. Spotlight is the latest such movie.  The thing about these comparisons, though, is they are nearly impossible to surmount; how can any film stand up to being measured against All the President’s Men and Zodiac? Last year’s Nightcrawler suffered the same fate — critics drag out those tired old cliches like they are in a pitch meeting: it’s Network meets Taxi Driver. Okay but how in the hell is any movie ever going to compare to those films? Either way, Spotlight is dividing critics in early reviews — with Variety giving it a thumbs up and calling it McCarthy’s best film, and Peter Bradshaw and Todd McCarthy a little more iffy.

A rave by Variety’s Justin Chang touches on that and notes the obvious differences:

Even without the onscreen presence of Globe deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), whose father famously steered the Washington Post through Watergate, “All the President’s Men” would be the obvious touchstone here. Like so many films consumed with the minutiae of daily journalism, “Spotlight” is a magnificently nerdy process movie — a tour de force of filing-cabinet cinema, made with absolute assurance that we’ll be held by scene after scene of people talking, taking notes, following tips, hounding sources, poring over records, filling out spreadsheets, and having one door after another slammed in their faces. When the Spotlight investigation is temporarily halted in the wake of 9/11, we’re reminded that the film is also a period piece, set during a time when print journalism had not yet entered its death throes. Like the American remake of “State of Play” (in which McAdams also played a journalist), McCarthy’s film includes a loving montage of a printing press, busily churning out the next morning’s edition — a valedictory sequence that may move old-school journalists in the audience to tears.

The story’s newsgathering focus ultimately creates a level of distance from its subject that works both for the film and against it. As information-system dramas go, “Spotlight” doesn’t have the haunting thematic layers of “Zodiac,” and it never summons the emotional force of the 1991 miniseries “The Boys of St. Vincent,” still the most devastating docudrama ever made about child abuse within the Catholic Church. Many of the victims depicted here — like Phil Saviano (Neal Huff), head of a local survivors’ group, and Joe Crowley (Michael Cyril Creighton), who movingly recalls his treatment at the hands of a priest named Paul Shanley — function in a mostly expository manner, offering up vital but fleeting insights into the psychology of the abusers and the abused, but without taking pride of place in their own story.

Here is where you see the film depart from those that came before it:

Where the film proves extraordinarily perceptive is in its sense of how inextricably the Church has woven itself into the very fabric of Boston life, and how it concealed its corruption for so long by exerting pressure and influence on the city’s legal, political and journalistic institutions. Given the blurrier-than-usual separation of church and state, and the fact that the newspaper’s own readership includes a high percentage of Irish Catholics, it’s no surprise that it falls to an outsider like Baron — a Florida native and the first Jewish editor to take the helm at the Globe — to play hardball with the Archdiocese. If there’s anything that keeps “Spotlight” from devolving into a simplistic heroic-crusaders movie, it’s the filmmakers’ refusal to let the Globe itself off the hook, pointing out the numerous times the paper’s leaders glossed over reports of abuse that landed on their doorstep.

That’s clearly the real story of Spotlight that illuminates the much bigger problem — still an ongoing problem — the story of how this travesty has been covered up and forgotten.

Spotlight plays in Telluride over the weekend. Can’t wait.


Senior critic for one of the two trade papers, THR’s Todd McCarthy, has seen Cary Fukunaga’s eagerly anticipated Beasts of No Nation. McCarthy gives it a great review, writing:

One of the most impressive things about Beasts is that it was able to be made at all, and with such verisimilitude. Shot mostly outdoors in Ghana, the action moves around a great deal and there are several large-scale scenes of troops moving into ever-bigger towns, skirmishes, battles and mass evacuations that obviously presented major logistical challenges. Given the country’s lack of much filmmaking infrastructure or a history of hosting big international productions, what’s ended up onscreen is very impressive, and Fukunaga’s camerawork is — as in his earlier films — lustrous and alert without falling back onto mere hand-held exigencies.

Central to the film’s power and success are the two lead performances. How a child actor could be coached to reveal and project the enormous range of reactions and emotions required for the role of Agu is practically unimaginable, but Attah is persuasive and true and constantly interesting to watch as a boy forced to endure extremes of experience to be wished on no one. The film would not have been worth making without a capable kid at its center, and the director found him.

Starting out with what could have been a cliched figure of a charismatic egotist lording over a bunch of helpless youngsters, Elba keeps revealing more and more layers of his troubled character, to the point where the Commandant begins to assume Shakespearean proportions as a Macbeth-like figure who may not really have what it takes to be a completely successful and enduring despot. The actor keeps pushing his characterization further and further to the rather surprising end, never taking the easy way.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw gives the film four out of five stars:

Director Cary Fukunaga has handled projects as diverse as the migrant drama Sin Nombre, a Jane Eyre adaptation with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, and episodes of TV’s True Detective. This film, premiering at the Venice film festival, is his best film yet.

Fukunaga brings flair, muscular storytelling, directness and a persuasively epic sweep to this brutal, heartrending movie about child soldiers and a civil war in an imaginary West African country, based on the 2005 novel by Nigerian-American author Uzodinma Iweala.

It is a tale of fear, degradation and abusive dysfunction – a violent and disorientating nightmare with a shiver of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Idris Elba gives an outstanding performance as a charismatic and sinister warlord who finds that military power, however intoxicating, is subject to the fickle imperatives of politics, and the suit-wearing opportunists in the cities far from the country badlands he has come to rule.

AwardsDaily will be catching Beasts of No Nation when it screens here at Telluride in the coming days.


During out latest podcastof Oscar Poker, Jeff Wells and I contemplated the idea that this could be a year where the Best Picture race might depart from last year’s lineup of small earners. Indeed, we could be looking at a year where many of the films vying for Oscar are $100 million plus blockbusters. With the Telluride festival looming on the horizon and Toronto right after it, the festival films will maneuver for their usual place in line and are set to mostly dominate the Best Picture lineup, either for nominations or for the big win.  That’s certainly possible, probable even, given the short season.

There is, however, potentially another scenario that might take hold and that’s if the Academy embraces the kinds of films they don’t usually honor these days: big studio films and blockbusters. There are quite a few being crammed into the later part of the year that could easily earn upwards of $100 million or more, making this one of those years where the public has actually seen many of the films nominated.

The first of these to make bank would be Mad Max: Fury Road, which has already been discussed in various circles and has a lot of good faith behind it, at least as of now. It has several advantages heading into the race, namely its strong female-driven cast, which is unlike any other movie heading into the race with the notable exceptions of Joy (which will likely be a $100 million movie as well), and Suffragette (which will probably do well but not hit a jackpot).  Mad Max will also stand out for being one of the few films that uses practical visual effects, which we know traditionalists in industry appreciate and may want to reward. Fury Road has earned $152 million domestic and $221 worldwide.

Next up would be Everest, which could be headed to Telluride and already has good word of mouth from embargoed preview screenings. With dazzling visual effects, an emotional story at its core and relatively timely subject matter, Everest could, at the very least, be “in the conversation,” especially if it’s a big Telluride film. That would give it festival cred along with its massive standing as a big studio movie.  The trick will be giving it a shimmer of respectability, elevating it from its general audience stature and into the “prestige pic” zone.

That will also be the problem for the holiday release of probably the most highly anticipated film of the year for Joe Popcorn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This film will have two stigmas attached heading in — the first is that it’s based on the film that birthed the tent pole and “ruined Hollywood.” That’s how a lot of the old timers will see it even though they themselves nominated it for Best Picture in 1977 (it was too big to ignore). But JJ Abrams is trying to do something a little different with The Force Awakens. He’s trying to wrestle back the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas’ muddied legacy that went a bit sour after the original Star Wars trilogy. Sure, many fans do not care but the old timers who vote on industry awards will care.  Kathleen Kennedy is the producer, which lends much credibility to the project and Abrams himself will imbue the film with nostalgia for the old Star Wars movie. That can help elevate the film from mere blockbuster to potential Best Picture nominee. It seems like a long shot but it is not outside the realm of possibility and should be taken very seriously at this stage, even if it is a space movie.

There is also the trailer just released for Concussion, starring Will Smith, which will probably make a good deal of money and be widely seen. The Walk by Robert Zemeckis is another big effects movie that will make money and could be in the race for Best Picture. Steven Spielberg can always be counted upon to be a big earner and Bridge of Spies will do well — most likely hitting $100 million or thereabouts.

We know Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant is going to make bank as will Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. We’re also counting on Steve Jobs to be big — edging close to $100 million very likely, given the popularity of Jobs overall.

All this means is that the smaller films could be sidelined this year to make way for these massive studio pictures. If so, that would be a stark departure from last year’s slate of Best Picture nominees when the Academy chose films that made no money but had strong publicity teams and good reviews behind them over films that made lots of money, a reflection of public enthusiasm.

How did those movies do overall in terms of Oscar buzz helping their overall take? Let’s take a look:


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Obviously given a big assist by Oscar season was American Sniper, which would have done well with its target demo anyway. The Imitation Game doubled its money when it got the Oscar’s seal of approval. Selma took in the bulk of its earnings post-nomination because it was in limited release until January. There is no doubt that the publicity around Selma help drive its box office.  The closer to the end of the year the film is released, the bigger the Oscar bump. It doesn’t look like the Oscar heat itself is necessarily driving people to go to the movie theaters and see these films, though.

2012 was a very good year for Oscar and box office, with 6 out of 9 making over $100 million. These high grosses are not necessarily BECAUSE of Oscar, though.

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What factors will determine which way the wind blows this year? The critics make a big difference, not so much in how they review but how their awards help shape the conversation and the buzz. That can sometimes be in conflict with what the industry prefers, and what the pundits think, but usually the Oscar race is driven more by “prestige” than it is by likability or even capturing the zeitgeist. The Oscar voters, and industry voters, discover their favorites the way the critics do now — in dark theaters under ideal circumstances. They tend to be privileged, mostly white, mostly male across the board.

The critics can sink a movie late in the game, especially when that movie doesn’t have anywhere to go. How can you bypass them? You can do it the way Warner Bros. did with American Sniper if you have the deep pockets and high impact celebrity that someone like Clint Eastwood or Bradley Cooper brings. A little movie could never rally in the 11th hour the way that movie did. They showed it to voters way before critics even had a crack at it, completely bypassing the usual circuits. Thus, the film was nominated everywhere because there were no voices trying to shape its buzz early on.  Though it was named early on by AFI as one of the top films of the year, it didn’t get a major nomination from the Critics Choice or the Golden Globes. But it did get Producers Guild recognition.

When it finally screened at the AFI Fest (immediately after Selma that night) the reaction from critics was muted, perhaps in comparison. Thus, few people were naming it as a nominee heading into the beginning of the race. I do remember (I’ll never forget, actually) a brief email exchange with Anne Thompson who said “how can you be predicting American Sniper?” That was how little we pundits viewed its heft in the race. You could feel it, though, because the film had managed to slide under the radar and did not allow its buzz to be shaped by the noisemakers. That was smart. The movie made a lot of money and was the only film the general public had really seen by the time the Oscars took place.

Conversely, Selma was also screened very late. It did not have the deep pockets the WB had in terms of sending out screeners early and often. The film was attacked right at the peak of voting and it never really had time to recover because it landed so late. No one was really paying much attention to the American Sniper controversy because they were all busy shouting down Selma. In the end, both would get a Best Picture nomination but Sniper would get the Best Actor, Screenplay and Editing nod.

Last year was an interesting one in that the front-runner was somehow Boyhood, because people like me felt confident that this industry would never allow a film that good created with such devotion over 12 years be passed up for Best Picture. As it turned out, how wrong we were. The industry resisted it almost completely, awarding Boyhood a single Oscar for Supporting Actress in the end. This was in stark contrast to the critics and even the British film industry. But Hollywood is about the studios and the five families. It is also about self-preservation and Birdman represented everything Hollywood wants to be about, and more importantly, what it doesn’t want to be about. That thread of the anti-super hero movie was enough to push it over the edge. Boyhood had too long a slog between Sundance and the Oscars. Despite how hard the team worked to bring recognition to their dedicated, hard-working collaborators, Hollywood all but shunned those efforts. It was a true head-scratcher. Still, Birdman was simply more well-liked overall and more accessible.

That is why being the frontrunner often caaries such a heavy albatross. How much easier it is to breeze in with low expectations and very little baggage and claim the prize. Even if you’re a massive Hollywood blockbuster like Gravity you can still look like the “little movie that could” up against something like 12 Years a Slave if the micro-budget film has the label of “frontrunner” stuck to it.  We don’t yet have a frontrunner at present. By the end of Labor Day weekend we might.

If you look over predictions now and stay on top of the way things shake down throughout the season, you’ll see that most will continue to predict “prestige pics,” like Brooklyn, Carol, Youth, etc. It is wise to stick with what we know about Oscar voters. But keep an eye out for the bigger blockbusters this year. Many of them might surprise us with how high they go and where they land.


feature telluride last day

The Venice Film Festival is in a unique position to capture the first blush of a film that might ultimately do well during Oscar season.  This was true of Gravity and it was true of Birdman. The next stop after Venice is Telluride, which is its own kind of launch pad that doesn’t necessarily need Venice, but once a film is highly praised in Venice the feeling is often contagious. What is it about Venice and Telluride that lends itself to this kind of impact? Timing. It’s all about timing.

As the summer comes to an anti-climactic close, it becomes more and more clear every year that the kinds of films critics are best suited to write about, the ones that keep them employed, the ones the adults will pay to see, are usually only let out of the gate in the fall season. By that point, there are hundreds of fingers waiting to hit the keypad. There is too much coverage for not enough material so being relatively “first” on the scene is crucial. This is as true of Venice and Telluride as it is of the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review (no, I do not distinguish between them anymore).

Right around now, critics and bloggers are preparing for these two festivals and waiting to be enthralled. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. We have no idea what kind of a year this will be, because so many of the films that are most anticipated aren’t making the festival rounds at all. The pattern has followed the same steps in the last few years — high anticipation builds for the Big Oscar Movies that are shown in October, November and sometimes December, while the movies seen at Telluride hover in the background and are mostly taken for granted (The Artist, The King’s Speech, Argo, Birdman). Last year the Oscar predictors were placing high on their lists films like Unbroken, Into the Woods and two that would make it in — American Sniper and Selma. Little attention is paid to possibilities seen at Telluride because there are so many big movies still waiting to be seen.

And yet, as we keep repeating here at AwardsDaily, the win always comes down to the girl next door — the familiar and reliable underdog that never felt like the frontrunner. The psychology of the voting consensus is as maddening in the Oscar race as it is in political elections. The moment you become a threat, forces work actively to take you down. It’s good but it’s not THAT good. Really, that’s the film that’s supposed to win Best Picture? I can guarantee you that both Birdman and Argo would have suffered that same fate if they were the predicted winners heading into the voting season. A few people (Kris Tapley) disagree with me on this — they think the movie is the movie is the movie. I think it’s a matter of perception; where our expectations lie determines how we perceive a film.  Last year, what really was the “little movie that could” and the “scrappy underdog,” Boyhood, was morphed into the mean ol’ frontrunner because it won so many critics awards. It might not have won Best Picture anyway but its formidable status in the race made it a punching bag.

Of course, none of this makes any difference if you’re holding onto a film like Slumdog Millionaire. It came into Telluride with the lowest possible expectations — rumors of it being released “straight to video” persisted. Once it hit big it never took a tumble, not even when the “poverty porn” accusations blew up, not even when the scandal involving the poor stars of the films took hold. Nothing was going to take that movie down.

Here we are once again facing the Venice Film Fest and the Telluride Film Fest colliding during Labor Day weekend. Jeff Wells at Hollywood-Elsewhere made a short list of movies he expects to see on the list:

Steve Jobs, Suffragette, Black Mass, Spotlight, Son of Saul, Beasts of No Nation, Carol, Amazing Grace, Marguerite, CharlieKaufman‘s Anomalisa (probably), He Named Me Malala (maybe), Room, Hitchcock/Truffaut.

And our good pal Michael Patterson also put in his latest predictions:

15) “Taxi”
14) “Marguerite”
13) “Hitchcock/Truffaut”
12) “Anomalisa”
11) “Amazing Grace”
10) “Room”
9)   “Spotlight”
8)   “45 Years”
7)   “He Named Me Malala”
6)   “Carol”
5)   “Steve Jobs”
4)   “Black Mass”
3)   “Suffragette”
2)   “Beasts of No Nation”
1)   “Son of Saul”

What’s playing Venice that might be that seat-rocking out-of-body experience that sends the critics into a tailspin? In competition there is Cary Fukanaga’s Beasts of No Nation. It could launch big and then hit Telluride shortly thereafter generating that one-two punch we’re looking for. Out of competition Everest and Black Mass. Ditto. Although Everest was screened recently by critics thus it can’t have that first flush of the season when viewers see something no one else has yet seen, which only adds to the intensified landing.

45 Years is currently being hyped by Anne Thompson and others who’ve seen it. Charlotte Rampling has some great early buzz.  Do you see any potential Best Picture winners on this list?

We don’t yet know the Telluride lineup and it might not even include Beasts of No Nation, though Everest and Black Mass both seem likely. It will be a curious thing to see if Netflix can break into the game of Oscar. The Academy is ruled mostly by the five families with the sole recent exception of The Hurt Locker. Best Picture is usually Best Bread and Butter Picture existing within the confines of the Hollywood structure. Either way, as we sit perched on the edge of the free fall we wait with eager anticipation.

AwardsDaily rolls into Telluride on the 3rd of September. Watch for diaries, photos, periscoping, twitter and more.



My glaring mistake on the Gurus of Gold chart still sits there unfixed, even though I wrote to David Poland about it and also tweeted it out. That mistake was in somehow mistaking the word “Youth” in my head for “Shame,” which I do more often than I care to admit. I have no explanation for this. It could be old age but I doubt it. It could be dyslexia, which is entirely possible. Or it could be my own youth was fraught with so much shame I can’t wrestle the two apart. Either way, I have fixed it on my own because it’s so frustrating to look at.

Listing only films that have been seen first shows how strong Carol would be if the race was determined this way, at least from a fantasy football perspective. If you fold in the other Big Oscar Movies it would likely drop down on the list. Funny, isn’t it?


Poland decided to divide up the charts into three categories. The first, only films that have been seen. The second, the festival circuit films and the third the Big Oscar Movies. This, because Anne Thompson is continuing her method of predicting films she has seen only. We can check it later as the months progress to see which is the better way to predict – seeing or not having seen.

The second chart looks like this:


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I don’t think a documentary has any chance of landing on the top five of all ballots, no matter how liberal the Academy voters are. You can expect a couple of cheering comments about Bernie Sanders, though.  Also, Inside Out is going to have a tough time getting anywhere near the top five since the Academy continues to be ruled by actors and animated has its own branch.

I’m a bit baffled by Anne Thompson’s predictions in the first chart, I must admit. She has Son of Saul and The End of the Tour in over Brooklyn – which is backed by Fox Searchlight. So that’s seems a bit weird. Scott Feinberg, Nathaniel Rogers and I are the only two who have have faith in the Star Wars movie. Martin Scorsese’s Silence is for sure not coming out this year but for some reason it was listed on the films for consideration anyway. Because of that, I listed it. If by some chance it does come out at year’s end it would be considered but its inclusion is conditional.


Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt star in By the Sea and it will open the AFI Fest, Tim Gray reports. Written and directed by Angelina Jolie, the film is about a couple weathering the storms of a marriage in the 1970s. Jolie went big with Unbroken and now is going much smaller with By the Sea. Like her male counterparts, Jolie is kind of going to film school while experimenting with very different movies. Hopefully By the Sea will be better than Unbroken which, let’s face it, was pretty terrible.  It had its moments but overall was lacking a cohesive story, at the very least. But Jolie is ambitious and is learning and with each new work she will hopefully grow. Failing is the best part of learning and fingers crossed By the Sea is as cool and interesting as the trailer looks.


From Sasha’s review of Youth at Cannes in May:

Paolo Sorrentino just hit it out of the park here at Cannes, delivering what has to be the most compelling screening of everything I’ve seen here thus far with the possible exception of Carol. When it finally came to an end, the audience sat in stunned silence until at last the screen went totally dark… Both Caine and Keitel give career-best performances. One or the other is headed for the Best Actor race. Jane Fonda has a powerhouse few minutes on screen that could earn her an Oscar nomination as well, but with Fox Searchlight in the driver’s seat expect this film — catnip for Academy voters — to be represented in all of the major categories and perhaps to become a frontrunner to win.

This is a film of big ideas of the human experience, certainly among the most profound. Why are people so afraid of human touch? is one of the questions it examines. Is love meant to last? is another. It’s about show business, creativity, inspiration, but mostly about the eternal conflict between aging and youth. We have such power of attraction when we’re young but we often don’t learn how to properly wield that power till we’re old. The film is emphatic about its realization that we’re alive until we aren’t. It doesn’t matter whether that existence is important or insignificant, this universal truth remains.

From Paolo Sorrentino, the internationally renowned writer and director of Italy’s Oscar-winning foreign language film The Great Beauty, comes YOUTH – a poignant tale of how we each find our own passion in life. Starring Academy Award winner Michael Caine as Fred and Academy Award nominee Harvey Keitel as Mick, YOUTH explores the lifelong bond between two friends vacationing in a luxury Swiss Alps lodge as they ponder retirement. While Fred has no plans to resume his musical career despite the urging of his loving daughter Lena (Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz), Mick is intent on finishing the screenplay for what may be his last important film for his muse Brenda (Academy Award winner Jane Fonda). And where will inspiration lead their younger friend Jimmy (Paul Dano), an actor grasping to make sense of his next performance? Set against a sprawling landscape of unforgettable sights and intoxicating music, YOUTH asks if our most important and life-changing experiences can come at any time – even late – in life. YOUTH will open in theaters December 4, 2015

youth poster

As of next week, this column will be an AwardsDaily weekly feature landing every Monday.

Last year, Anne Thompson at Thompson on Hollywood @Indiewire did an interesting thing. She decided to only make predictions about films she had seen as opposed to what 99% of Oscar predictors do — give an assessment of movies already seen and make assumptions and educated guesses about all the rest. I adopted her approach last year to see whether it made a difference as far as being a “good” predictor versus doing more harm than good. The main complaints against Oscar prognosticators come from, well, everywhere. Oscar coverage is one thing but nobody likes to see a sideshow attached to their work. Film distributors have enough headaches managing hype without the added pressure of prediction anticipation. Real journalists throw up in a little in their mouths when they either, 1) have to think about us at all, or 2) have to dwell for financial reasons in our midst. Filmmakers who find themselves thrust into the running are completely annoyed by the whole thing — the dog and pony show of it all. And most voters in the Academy believe we have no impact on the outcome of the awards at all.

And then there is Mark Harris at Grantland who is opposed to the idea of Oscar pundits being sheepherders, as I like to call them. That is, they do what script readers do in Hollywood — they weed out the most likely contenders from the vast number of films that voters need to see each year. Once the Oscar sorting and vetting has been done, a more manageable number of supposedly best-buzzed films remain. These are the movies critics have praised (mostly) and usually have publicists already attached to them because they were either made with awards in mind or else they are impressive enough to seem like films voters will go for.  Either way, these are the movies that end up in the pen. Voters then watch THOSE movies and pick from that pre-selected pile as opposed to plucking a film out of thin air that perhaps none of Oscar shepherds was thinking about.

Oscar prognosticators or predictors or bloggers or pundits or -ologists are considered bottom feeders. We are let in through the back door and most respectable folks don’t want to be seen with us. Can you blame them? Almost everyone in Hollywood would love it if we went away except for those rare times when they want under-the-table coverage to help their movie. The game is the game and it hasn’t changed THAT much in decades. What has changed is the amount of visible campaigning.

Before we look at whether Anne Thompson’s method is more reliable, let’s look at a few Oscarwatching principles.

  1. Nobody knows anything. All we know is what have seen happen countless times before. Until the Producers Guild weighs in we’re mostly in the dark with nothing but our instincts to guide us, and that gut feeling is unavoidably driven by personal preference. More often than not, the PGA winner is a slight surprise but rarely do we encounter as big a surprise as last year’s Birdman win over Boyhood, especially after so many other precursors had gone for Boyhood. We know it had to have been close because a week after Birdman won with the PGA, the BAFTA went for Boyhood. Usually the consensus leans strongly in one film’s favor and we stop seeing major divisions that close to the finish line. Awards groups have become mostly consistent these days as time constraints compress the selection process.
  2. Money changes everything. Just as in politics, you have to juggle public perception (don’t look like you care enough to overspend = PAC money) with reality (you can’t really get anywhere unless you spend lots of money). We bottom feeders come into healthy play here because we can give a boost to movies without an FYC presence by generating word of mouth for distributors with no money to spend. See, we’re not ALL bad.
  3. Flying under the radar is one of the hardest goals of an awards strategist because of people like me who get excited about a film and think “this one is going to win.” That expectation builds and sooner or later the film has nowhere to go but down because most of the time people see it and think, “really? That’s it? I was expecting more.” You want to remain lowkey like Argo and not out front, but if you find yourself out front there isn’t much you can do about it except cross your fingers and hope for the best.
  4. A true consensus is thousands not hundreds. A consensus is a big snowball made up of perception, word of mouth, publicity and likability. You build that consensus via the “dog and pony show.” Just like our presidential election. It takes time for that consensus to build and time is the one thing nobody has enough of during awards season. The nomination period spans literally the one-week extent of the holiday season. Most voters are sitting with their families and a screener pile and wanting to watch movies that the whole varied group will like. How that group responds will often inform how that voter will vote. (That’s a total generalization – take it for what it is). December 30th through January 8th. That’s it. If voters haven’t seen your movie before then, you won’t get in. If they haven’t heard of your movie or if there aren’t any stars in it, they aren’t likely to watch it. Publicists work themselves sick to get those movies seen, at the very least.  This is why early is almost always better unless you’re a big name like Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese or Jim Cameron — or Alejandro G. Inarritu and Leonardo DiCaprio. Big names draw eyeballs no matter what.
  5. Miss Right Now is never Miss Right. The whole thing happens so fast no one really knows what hit them. This is why a year after the Oscars most people can’t even remember what movies were nominated or whether they were really very good or not. There is not enough time anymore, not since the Academy pushed the date back a month and effectively took moviegoer’s reaction out of the Oscar equation. It is takes place in screenings and at parties and during holiday gatherings. It has nothing to do anymore with the zeitgeist unless that zeitgeist exists within the industry bubble.

Having any kind of integrity is hard in this business. Cry me a river, right? Poor us. If we care, we operate by our own set of rules. Kris Tapley doesn’t predict winners until after nominations, only those he thinks have the best chance of being nominated. Anne Thompson only predicts films she’s seen. I keep a contender tracker that lists only films that have been seen or reviewed and have actual buzz. But the majority of pundits out there predict based on the pedigree we see on paper: who directed it, who is the publicist, what is the subject matter, and whether or not we expect the campaigns to spend money on screeners and print advertising. It is naive to think it’s all based on merit alone. It never has been. It never will be. Movies don’t get made on merit alone and there is nothing fair about who gets to make movies and why they make money and why they win awards.

So, let’s look at a few predictions from last year at this time. August, 2014.

Anne Thompson — predicting only films she’d seen, had these:

Anne’s Best Picture predictions in August:
1. Boyhood
2. Foxcatcher
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Mr. Turner
5. Get on Up

Two out of five got in ultimately.

Susan Wloszczyna predicting several films she hadn’t seen had:

  1. Boyhood
  2. Foxcatcher
  3. Unbroken
  4. interstellar
  5. Birdman
  6. The Imitation Game
  7. Gone Girl
  8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  9. Mr Turner
  10. Into the Woods

She got four out of ten and only two if you did 1 – 5 as Anne did.

My own list was:

  1. Boyhood
  2. Gone Girl
  3. Foxcatcher
  4. Birdman
  5. American Sniper
  6. Unbroken
  7. The Imitation Game
  8. Selma
  9. A Most Violent Year
  10. The Homesman

I got 5 out of 10. So I won that round. But that was before I started predicting Anne’s way, by only making predictions about movies I’d seen.  David Poland’s Movie City News Gurus of Gold will be putting out predictions that are divided into categories – films that have been seen and films that haven’t. That should be an interesting experiment to add to the pile.

Here are a few others who had predictions out early last year.



So here’s a little experiment. If I had to predict ONLY films I’ve seen, I would list my predictions thusly:

  1. Carol
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. Youth
  4. Pawn Sacrifice
  5. Inside Out
  6. Clouds of Sils Maria
  7. Love & Mercy
  8. The End of the Tour
  9. Ex Machina
  10. Sicario (which I have to see again)
  11. Alt: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

And predicting films I have not seen based on what’s “on paper” I’d go with what I have on Gold Derby right now:

  1. Steve Jobs
  2. Joy
  3. Bridge of Spies
  4. The Revenant
  5. Carol
  6. Beasts of No Nation Mad Max: Fury Road
  7. Black Mass
  8. Youth
  9. Trumbo The Hateful Eight
  10. The Danish Girl

I think I need to swap out one of those for Mad Max: Fury Road which I think could have enough buzz and momentum to get it in. So I will have to trade, for now, Beasts of No Nation.  I also want to put in The Hateful Eight and will have to take out something else, so I’ll swap out Trumbo for now.

Conclusion: I think it’s always better to strive for integrity in life, no matter what you’re doing. Anne Thompson cares more about sleeping at night than she does about being “right.” I admire that. At the same time, I’m not sure which is the better way to predict the Oscars. For me, it’s a work in progress with the main goal being “first, do no harm.”

Here are how the other pundits are predicting at the moment.

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