The chatter on the web about how there aren’t enough Oscar hopefuls to fill ten slots this year, let alone five, is heating up. I’ve already read several of them, including the most recent piece by Dave Karger.
While I usually tend to agree with this line of thinking, this year I’m inclined to debunk it. The main reason for this is that the Academy is enduring one of its best periods right now, one of its bravest, and one of its most detrimental. Best, because they’ve been picking great films over the past few years, brave because they aren’t “popular choice,” and detrimental because it comes at a time when the American public’s taste in general has plummeted in the mainstream and supposedly, their ratings have suffered because of it.
Even with films like Toy Story 3 making lots of money, there are plenty of them that are making money that are so bad one tends to lose faith up one side and down the other: faith that there is a future for great filmmaking, faith that art still matters, faith that the business side of Hollywood will hold with so much shit raining down.
2010, I feel sure, will go down as a great year for film and the Oscars, of all things, will be the one telling people as much. The so-called “art house films” that don’t draw mainstream audiences are as strong as they have ever been. Women film directors are emerging in such numbers that we’re close to not even bothering to care if the film IS directed by a woman or a man.
The films that will be called great this year, I suspect, will not be “Oscar movies.” They will be genre movies and they will defy convention. Starting off with Martin Scorsese’s challenging, psycho-epic horror film, Shutter Island, and continuing with Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, and Toy Story 3 you have three strong potential Best Picture nominees that are outside the typical genre we associate with Oscar.
More typical entries might be Winter’s Bone, and The Kids Are All Right. Hopefully Academy members will respond to the moving and unforgettable Blue Valentine (seen at Cannes), and the slightly obtuse but nonetheless timely and provocative Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (if it makes money and if it isn’t roasted by the critics).
Shutter Island just looks better as the year goes by. ¬†It isn’t a perfect film, and it is not easily accessible, but its ambition, its uniqueness, and its great performances should put it in the running. ¬†It is Scorsese after all. Whether it will be hip enough, hot enough or cool enough to gather steam in the post-Toronto phase is an open question. ¬†I suspect that it will hold as other potential contenders fall away. ¬†What it has already is lowered expectations as a contender, which puts it in a good place to be considered the highly desirable slot of “underdog.”
And there are so many other potentially great films yet to come – another non-traditional pick could be Inception, and we’re still waiting on Tree of Life, True Grit, The Fighter, Somewhere, The Way Back, Secretariat, The Betty Anne Waters Story (now called Conviction), The American, The Social Network and Clint Eastwood’s The Hereafter, which could be another genre-busting Best Pic contender.
As those of us in the business of Oscar watching, we know that the those working behind the scenes to push a film matter almost as much as the reviews. Who is handling what often makes the difference between what films will be remembered. The hard-working publicists who are on their game early, pushing hard will ensure that their films are right where they need to be, especially if those films already have the necessary buzz and great reviews. They know when they have a winner. They know when they have a “lucky to be nominated” and they know when they have a “no way, but maybe some below the line nominations.”
They don’t know this, of course, until the the films have been seen not just by a handful of bloggers, but critics and audiences. When the goodwill has wafted in their direction, they know it and they run with it.
What I’m getting at here is that this seems like a hopeful year for finding ten Best Picture nominees because everywhere I look I see great filmmaking, from big budget to indie, from horror to sci-fi, from drama to fantasy, from documentary to animated. ¬†These kinds of years make an annual habit of watching Oscar much more worthwhile.
I still am not seeing, though, that One Ring to Rule Them All. ¬†What film will WIN? ¬†Last year and the year before, the scrappy underdog was set — both Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker were films people were saying “great movie but it’s too small to win.” ¬†The “it can’t win” refrain is one to question, especially when the pic has everything it needs, namely great writing, directing and acting.
Speaking of acting, it is easy to say that Toy Story 3 is the film that can win when everyone is saying it can’t win (except Erik Childress, over at Cinematical, who said it could become the first animated pic to win). ¬†The actors are the ones who might prevent that from happening. ¬†We haven’t even hit Toronto yet so it’s way too early to be looking for the Little Movie that Could, the scrappy underdog, the one that can’t win but somehow does.
We wait. ¬†We wait.