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Nathaniel Rogers has sketched an outline for what the Best Actress race might look like. He has smartly divided up the field between veterans and the hottest of the moment. His top five includes Viola Davis for Fences, Emily Blunt for Girl on a Train, Ruth Negga for Loving, Annette Bening for 20th Century Women (he has given it a “wishful thinking” notation), and Rosamund Pike for United Kingdom.

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The news about Passengers coming out of CinemaCon made it sound like a comedy, maybe not aimed squarely at the Oscars. But some further digging indicates that it’s not a comedy comedy, and it’s very likely headed straight for the Best Picture race. It’s being released December 21st of this year, but will likely start screening sooner. Will it hit any of the major festivals first?

The Oscar race is making the jump slowly but surely to be more inclusive of “genre films,” but specifically Sci-Fi. Inception, District 9, Gravity, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian are all recent Best Picture nominees, Ex Machina likely almost was. Thus, it isn’t even a strange thing to think about a nomination for Passengers, which tells the story of a group of colonists en route to a new world, two of whom wake up about 90 years too soon. Apparently, it’s a love story, but it’s also likely about the future of humanity.

The one constant in the science community, across almost all disciplines, is the fundamental idea that if we stay on this planet, eventually mankind will die off (best thing for all the other life on the planet, really). Thus, the next question is how and where can the human race survive. Can we get to any of those Earth-like planets so far away that they would require two hundred years of space travel to reach? That is the premise of Passengers.
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2016 Cannes Jury

  • George Miller – President (Director, Writer, Producer – Australia)
  • Arnaud Desplechin  (Director, Writer – France)
  • Kirsten Dunst  (Actress– United States)
  • Valeria Golino (Actress, Director, Writer, Producer – Italia)
  • Mads Mikkelsen  (Actor – Denmark)
  • László Nemes  (Director, Writer – Hungaria)
  • Vanessa Paradis  (Actress, Singer – France)
  • Katayoon Shahabi  (Producer – Iran)
  • Donald Sutherland SUTHERLAND (Actor – Canada)

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After a brief delay due to labor-law protests by French entertainment workers, the Official Selection for the 69th Cannes Film Festival has been unveiled this morning in Paris. The festival begins on May 11.

Opening Night Film

Cafe Society – directed by Woody Allen

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As we head into the last moments of Oscar voting, sentiments toward a favorite still seem divided. Even as the heat of the Bernie Sanders campaign dies down, there can be no dispute about the topic of the Wall Street meltdown and its impact on the economy, on how it reshaped our government, and The Big Short’s urgent call for Americans to pay attention. If The Big Short does anything, it puts an exclamation point on the end of the sentence, “Wake up. WAKE UP!” And yet, you know and I know that it is not in the nature of many citizens to do so.

Still, for my money, if I’m picking Best Picture I’m thinking about that. I’m thinking about that exclamation point and how it might look when we glance back at 2016 from some time in the future. Or future selves might ask, “Did any of us care? Did Hollywood people care?” Maybe some did, but maybe enough of them didn’t. There may be other films in the race that give voters an easier, more clear-cut way to show they care. We all need to know that the people we see onscreen are worthy enough to root for. We have a harder time with complexity, and especially with the dreaded anti-hero. Thus, the genius of telling the story of the Wall Street collapse from the point-of-view of the rats hanging around in the alley will leave some ambivalent about whether or not they’re supposed to care about those characters.
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Early on in the season, I remember thinking, actually writing, that we were looking at a year where four films with leading roles for women, where the subject matter was about women, would be launched into the Best Picture race. The year began with Carol, Todd Haynes’ stunning love story between two women, based on Patricia Highsmith’s first novel, adapted by Phyllis Nagy. Mad Max: Fury Road came out early, in mid-May, and it too seemed to be headed for the Best Picture race. Brooklyn and Room and maybe Inside Out held great promise, as well. There was even some talk that one of these films could actually win. Of course it never turns out the way we expect, and this year it seems particularly strange that it really isn’t turning out that way. In fact, it’s pulled so far in the opposite direction of  those hopes, one wonders how it is that this could have happened the same year the country might be electing its first female president.
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I began my website in the year 2000. The idea was to monitor the Oscar race from beginning to end. It was just one of those funny things that my first time covering the awards was a crazy, unpredictable year of the kind I haven’t seen since — until this year. The Oscars were still being held in March. There was barely a working SAG Ensemble award yet. Hardly any critics groups to speak of. No real awards trajectory like we have now. There was Toronto, maybe, and there was the end of the year rush for “Oscar movies.” The public really had  a say back then, so when both Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made a shitload of money, it was no secret and no surprise that they would then be up for the Oscar race.

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One of the interesting dynamics in this very competitive Oscar year is how two very strong, very tech-heavy films are each nominated in nearly every category. Mad Max: Fury Road is at a slight disadvantage with no acting nominations, to Revenant’s two. But the similarities between the two films are striking in what they say about the film industry overall, the movies going public, and the Oscar race.

If The Revenant is about the survival of man, or more specifically, the ultimate survival of the parasite that was white Europeans invading the Americas, Mad Max: Fury Road is about how those men fucked it all up and now it’s time for a woman to take charge, take the wheel, grab the rifle. and make humanity’s last stand. Tom Hardy stars in both. In The Revenant, he’s the villain, an opportunistic white man. In Fury Road, he’s Mad Max himself, restrained in chains and in need of a female to rescue him. But he’s the good guy, among too few good guys.

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It’s such an interesting year to test the Oscar stats. Even Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan is not 100% on board on with The Revenant being a surefire winner as most others are. Why didn’t it win the Producers Guild award? Why didn’t it get a SAG Ensemble award nomination? Those questions still haunt this year’s wildly unpredictable race. But it’s harder to argue with a total of 12 Oscar nominations. Except, when we look more closely, you see that in all the years of the preferential ballot, there have only ever been four Best Picture nominees with 12 nominations heading in. Of those, only one – The King’s Speech – won Best Picture. The other two did not: Song of Bernadette and Lincoln. The Revenant is the fourth.

The other interesting stat to note is that in the recent years where the preferential ballot was in play, no Best Picture winner won more than 6 Oscars total (The Hurt Locker). In most recent years, Best Picture has won as few as 3 or 4 Oscars, total. In split years, no Best Picture-winning film has ever won more than 3 Oscars.

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One of the reasons we keep returning to 1976 is that it’s supposedly the one year that many people in the Oscar game point to as one of the worst Best Picture wins in Academy history, when a scrappy little movie called Rocky bested films as impressive as All the President’s Men, Network, Taxi Driver, and Bound for Glory. The more I’ve learned about the Oscars in the years I’ve been covering them, the more I’ve understood why that Rocky win represents a valuable a lesson: it was an inclusive, not an exclusive win. In that the Oscars are better, I think, when they take into account the public at large and do not turn too much inward — as they did pointedly last year, with Birdman — thus very nearly exiling themselves onto Oscar Island. Movies are made for everyday people in the real world. The further the Oscars get away from that, I think, the more they lose their value in terms of defining a snapshot in time of our cinematic culture overall.

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You know it’s a crazy year when even the pundits can’t agree on which movie is going to win Best Picture. Usually by now we have a consensus. If there is any disagreement, usually it’s over one or two films, not three. My best argument for and against each of the three frontrunners winning.

As surprising as it all seems, if any of these three wins Best Picture, it won’t be that surprising. The Revenant? Not a surprise; it won the DGA. Spotlight? Not a surprise; it won the SAG Ensemble award. The Big Short? Not a surprise, it won the PGA. No one is really helping us out here — any kind of traditional stat hunt supports a win for The Big Short. Yet it seems to go against the grain of common sense and the winds of the moment. Here is a quick for and against:

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“It’s sort of like the flood’s about to happen and you’re Noah. You’re on the ark. Yeah, you’re okay. But you are not happy looking out at the flood. That’s not a happy moment for Noah.”
― Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

Adam McKay brought The Big Short to Congress yesterday. More Republicans than Democrats showed up, which, as Glenn Whipp writes in his piece, was a positive sign for McKay. Then he said what I hoped he would say, which is the single most important thing to take away from The Big Short – this is not a partisan issue. This is something all Americans have to be concerned with:

“I think the right-left divide is the biggest scam that’s ever been perpetrated on America. Trillions of dollars have been siphoned out of our pockets over this stupid right-left distraction that’s been created by the moneyed interests. We made this movie to transcend the partisan politics.”

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It might not seem exciting to the average person, but here in awards world we’re waiting on one movie to break up many of the stats upon which we rely to figure out what will win Best Picture. There are two schools of thought when it comes to Oscar predicting. The first is to go on gut and intuition — or to sometimes pad that by speaking to actual voters (which can often be misleading). Intuition says that you jut feel the buzz. You can’t really explain why. You either feel it or you suspect it or you want it really really bad. The second method is to go by stats. Not just any stats, but the informative stats that are based on things like the number of people voting, the kinds of people voting, and the reasons why they are choosing what they choose. I have to admit that this year has confounded both methods. Intuition, because the pundits have been mostly wrong from the outset. And stats, because if pundits are right, this could be the year the stats all went to shit. Like credit default swaps shit.

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Sometimes it’s hard to separate your heart from your head during Oscar season. Despite trying to keep your bias from creeping in, it inevitably does for various reasons. Loving a winner often means you line up with the consensus, the consensus that you often rail against. The consensus that you’ve deemed too white, too old and too out of touch. When they agree with you, suddenly they’re a reputable group. When you agree with them, you fall back in love, ever so briefly, until they disappoint you again. There is no point in fighting the tide — though I’ve tried and tried over the years. One would think that we would wear our unique tastes like a badge of honor, taking pride in our individuality whenever we disagree with a large consensus. For some reason, we don’t. We humans like to think we are not only on the winning side, but that the winning side is with us. If we pick our favorite and it becomes a winner, that’s one thing. If we can feel that they pick a winner that we’ve helped them chose, though? Whole different thing. “You get the sundae, Vinnie. You get the sundae.”

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“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” – Carl Sagan

It will come as a major bummer to many on this site that George Miller did not win the DGA Award last night for Mad Max: Fury Road. It will come as an even bigger bummer that the person who won, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, won just last year, and has now made DGA history by being the first director to win the award in consecutive years. Miller seemed poised to be rewarded for his exceptional futuristic epic where he handed over the fate of humanity to a woman. How could we have all been so stupid? The awards race doesn’t work like that. It rewards the singular male hero. There is an affinity among older male voters with the eternally Lost Man. “He’s good. It’s the world and people around him that aren’t. He is lost, though alas, he is always heroic.” The Lost Man can’t be, for instance, a female astronaut who survives being stranded in space simply by being tenacious and lucky. He can’t be a tech nerd who invents a social network to give him a social life but ends up more lonely than ever, a hero and a victim at the same time. The Lost Man must be someone who pushes aggressively against the forces that oppress him. Thankfully, at least one of these times, it was an enslaved person at the hands of the oppressive racist South.

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The DGA Awards are tonight. The DGA breakfast is happening now. It is perhaps the most wide open race we’ve ever seen, unless it turns out not to be and then we’ll all pick up our balls and go home, writing it off as another predictable season. This is your reminder of how unpredictable it is at this moment.

Although, as Erik Anderson pointed out on Twitter yesterday, it is a little strange that all of the pundits at Gold Derby are convinced the winner will be anyone but Adam McKay, he is still the most likely to win tonight if you go go by stats. If you go by anything other than stats, you are going to find things split up.

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As we head into the weekend, we’re at our last stop before Oscar ballots are mailed out to voters. It’s been a season full of twists and turns. It has been unpredictable in many ways, with the final verdict still to be determined. We don’t know if the Oscars themselves will surprise us by making history, or if they will surprise us by NOT making history in an unpredictable season.

Why is it unpredictable? Usually, either the acting races OR the Best Picture race are unpredictable. This is a year where Best Picture and Best Director are both too close to call. Usually voters have to decide between two Best Picture frontrunners, like last year’s Boyhood and Birdman. Sometimes there are three movies in the Best Picture race, like in 2013 when 12 Years a Slave and Gravity tied at the Producers Guild, Gravity won the Directors Guild, and American Hustle won the SAG Ensemble award. In the end, 12 Years won Best Picture and Gravity won Director, American Hustle went home empty-handed.

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There are still four movies pushing to the center of this year’s Oscar race. They can be divided into two distinct pairs – the epics and the character dramas. Three of them are true stories. Only one of them is driven by a female lead, subverting the genre and franchise from which it sprung, and taking a big risk in doing so. Only one of them celebrates uncompromised heroes. Only one reaches for levels of absurdity and farce that spin our culture on its heels and shifts it in a different direction. Two epics that are high on cinematography and art direction. Two script- and actor-driven dramas that hunt down a mystery that ultimately uncovers corruption.
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Since 2009, the Producers Guild and the Oscars have both used the same preferential ballot process to choose their winners. No other awards group does it this way. The SAG Awards voters do not (not for Ensemble or any other category), the Directors Guild does not, the ACE Eddies do not, the BAFTA does not. Almost every other group tabulates their ballots with a simple plurality system: each voter selects one film, and whoever gets the most votes after one round of voting wins. It’s entirely possible that a film in a five nominee field can win with as little as 20% + 1 of the votes under a plurality system. But under the preferential system, a film needs to be highest ranked on a majority (50% + 1) of ballots to win.

Some films have no trouble winning, no matter how the ballots are counted: Argo and Birdman are two recent examples of this. But from 1945-2009, Oscar used a plurality ballot with five nominees. That means that it’s difficult to compare our current circumstances to any years before 2009, when larger divergences between the guilds and the Academy occurred more frequently than it does today. The shortened awards season (since 2003) along with an expanded Best Picture field and a preferential ballot (since 2009) has resulted in the PGA aligning itself with Oscar methods and hence becoming the precursor that has matched Best Picture 100% of the time. And it’s been the only one.

Since 2009 – SAG Awards Outstanding Ensemble missed matching Best Picture:
2009 – Inglorious Basterds
2010 – The King’s Speech
2011 – The Help
2012 – Argo
2013 – American Hustle
2014 – Birdman
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I first started covering the Oscar race back in 1999, when very few people were. Tom O’Neil and a few others had predictions sites. The LA Times, Premiere Magazine, and Entertainment Weekly would cover the Oscars in “Oscar season.” But I was really the first (whether people give me credit for it or not, and usually they don’t) to build a site, for better or worse, that covered the Oscars year-round.
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