Being on the Oscar beat for ten years and you learn a thing or two. The one thing that keeps coming back to me as the season begins is how quickly bloggers and critics are eager to give a success or failure judgment to potential “Oscar movies.” It slowly but efficiently breaks my heart every year to watch how films are consumed and tossed like fast food. I don’t claim to be above this game. I AM this game. But it doesn’t make it any less frustrating or disappointing.
It’s always great to read an enthusiastic early review of a film that such and such a blogger loved. It is always a bummer to read a negative review. A film’s life, though, be it destined for Oscar or hopeful of big box office, is often in the hands of a few people who are doing many things while judging these films. They aren’t just wandering into a theater in the middle of the afternoon with their lover, sinking into the seats and letting a great story carry them away. They are on their way to a Fox Searchlight party, or an interview with the filmmakers, or a powow with other bloggers.
Some of them see five films in one day.
Some films are good enough that it really doesn’t matter when they are seen and under what circumstances (Slumdog), but some films do require the right state of mind, or, at the very least, a less cluttered headspace. It is these films (provided they aren’t out and out bombs) that I try to keep a closer eye on.
Nonetheless, this is the Oscar Watch for Awards Race 2010 and we must continue to dream big. And in so doing, we must search for the best of the best. The Oscars must be about “the best,” not “the good-enough.” Even if the results end up being the lowest common denominator, it does no good to aim low. Aim high, because that’s where the stars reside.
And if you dream, dream big.
That said, there are things about Oscars 2010 that are already getting under my skin. You may notice my bitchiness rearing its ugly head already on Twitter. One thing I’ve never been able to stand are people who speak with authority when they have no right, nor no invitation, to do so. Critics don’t do that; bloggers do. It is a constant struggle to remember to be mindful of one’s place, both in the world at large and in the context of the race. I have never been in this game to mindlessly follow the opinions of others. Think for yourself. Trust yourself. That way, it doesn’t become an echo chamber.
Oh, and remember this much young readers: humility always rules. Arrogance always sucks. And nobody knows anything.
Now, let’s refocus on the Oscar race. What, if anything, can we take out of this last flurry of festival stuff? Telluride has flown by (thank you, Eric, for covering it) and Venice is still in full swing. The NY Film Fest and Toronto loom large.
Toronto will be double the size of Telluride and Venice in terms of coverage. One of the problems with Toronto now is that it already feels like many of the films have had their moment in the spotlight, only to fizzle out once they open. Again, some films are mightier than the chatter: Slumdog, Juno – but some aren’t.
So, who or what looks promising?
Best Actor – Colin Firth and James Franco are two to watch. Usually, the five contenders in the acting slots line up fairly early but we can usually count on a small, unified cluster to begin forming now. I suspect two of those locked slots will end up being Firth and Franco. Best Actor still has some question marks — Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Michael Douglas, Ryan Gosling, Robert Duvall – and then, of course, Jeff Bridges for True Grit, Matt Damon for Hereafter, Mark Wahlberg for The Fighter.
Of those who have been seen already, I would rate the Best Actor category to look like this (if I had to predict five today):
1. Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
2. James Franco, 127 Hours
3. Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
4. Robert Duvall, Get Low
5. Michael Douglas, Wall Street 2 or Solitary Man
I need a slot for Javier Bardem for Biutiful, but I fear I may be alone in my wishful thinking for that perf.
And if you doubt Gosling for Blue Valentine, remember the film has an important advocate – EW’s Dave Karger.
But five predictions today are meaningless. That didn’t stop me from taking a shot.
Best Actress – Natalie Portman has made a big enough splash that she should be seriously considered as one of the Big Five. Best Actress is wide open — there aren’t really any locks at this point. The closest thing you have to any sort of permanent fixture in the race is either Annette Bening or Julianne Moore.
And now we have Portman, who stars in what is apparently very difficult material. I am flashforwarding to Portman on the red carpet at various awards shows or on Entertainment Tonight trying to promote this film and having to explain the lesbian scene. This isn’t a movie or a role that can be reduced to a plucky five minute sound bite. And therein lies the rub.
Never Let Me Go is currently floating in limbo, as no one is ready to say it has Oscar potential just yet. Michelle Williams has two performances to consider, but Blue Valentine will be her more publicized role, since it also stars Ryan Gosling and has Weinstein backing.
Gemma Arterton has a slight chance for consideration for Tamara Drewe, certainly for a Golden Globe nod, right alongside Easy A’s Emma Stone.
Jennifer Lawrence‘s buzz has died down considerably, but she is still in the mix. Once your movie has already opened and been reviewed, how do you keep it present in voters’ minds? By doing exactly what Lawrence has done: make yourself too hot to pass up. Remember, voters are mostly older, white, straight males.
Toronto should spit out a few contenders, or else doom them to obscurity. But one expects Hilary Swank to perhaps make an impact.
If I had to choose five actress today, again, a fairly meaningless practice as things are going to change dramatically in the coming weeks — but just as a snapshot (and based solely on the reactions of bloggers and a few critics):
1. Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right (star power and subject matter)
2. Natalie Portman, Black Swan (level of difficulty)
3. Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone (Miss Right Now)
4. Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine (just good acting, but tough sell)
5. Leslie Manville, Another Year (still my favorite performance of the year)
I need to add Naomi Watts for Fair Game but I can’t find an empty slot.
Julianne Moore is in the mix with Bening. I am not sure both can be nominated. I had to choose. I went with Bening.
And finally, Best Picture. Do we even have any current frontrunners for Best Picture? Right now, I feel certain about only three contenders, Inception, 127 Hours, and The King’s Speech.
We still have many potential titles to blend in that have no yet been seen by anyone: True Grit, Hereafter, The Fighter, Everything You’ve Got. Still, if I had to do a Best Pic ten right now, leaving off films that haven’t yet been seen, I’d do it this way (from most likely on downward):
2. 127 Hours
3. The King’s Speech
4. Another Year
5. Toy Story 3
6. Fair Game
7. Inside Job (wishful thinking on my part but still holding out hope that a doc will crack the top five)
8. Blue Valentine
9. The Kids Are All Right
10. Black Swan
Best Director is tightening up – but room must be left for the potential additions of Clint Eastwood, the Coen Brothers and possibly David O’Russell. We know that Best Director is now a more crucial category than even Best Picture in sussing out the final winner.
Still, we’re looking at a current estimation of already seen titles:
1. Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
2. Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
3. Mike Leigh, Another Year
4. Christopher Nolan, Inception
5. Doug Liman, Fair Game
Someday, as Bruce Springsteen would say, we’ll look back on this and it will all be funny.
But for now, we carry on.