The Oscar race is often like getting to the theater early enough to get a great seat. If you’re not a somebody, you have to get there early to stake your claim, even if it means waiting around a while before the show starts. If you’re a Very Important Person it doesn’t matter what time you get there; a seat is already waiting for you. And if there isn’t one, someone will find one.
Out of all of the many films that get there early, only a small number of them can survive the gauntlet. Even with the best publicists money can buy, blogger advocacy and perhaps even star power, films, for whatever reason, fall away. Some, despite how hard they are sold as an Oscar product, never find any foothold. Usually the reason is that the film itself can’t match the publicity for it; it’s the rare film that manages to surpass the hype, and half the time that’s because the studio doesn’t realize what they have until it has shot out of the gate. Some films are sold first, getting there early, finding their place and holding onto it. Other films hit the sweet spot and only then do they get a team of publicists selling them for Oscar.
There are movies that fit both paradigms every year. Some stick, and some drop. For a while there, it was looking like Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone was going to be one of the ones that dropped. But now, with three Gotham nominations, it has been given a much-needed boost, one that might carry it through awards season. Winter’s Bone might start to do better than anyone could have ever predicted because of the combination of factors: 1) it’s a really good movie that lives up to the hype, and 2) it is underestimated, and therefore has nowhere to go but up.
Winter’s Bone now has more than enough steam to considered a bonafide Best Picture contender. It has a good “Oscar story” because it is one of two possible Best Picture contenders that was directed and written by a woman. Why is it these two films and not, say, Somewhere and Please Give? I don’t know, but it just is, Blanche, it just is. Buzz is a funny thing.
Debra Granik is probably assured, at the very least, a screenplay nod. And, though they can’t rest on their laurels because it is such a competitive year for actresses, Jennifer Lawrence should also be one of the five locks. Like Carey Mulligan last year, Jennifer Lawrence isn’t just the new “it” girl. She maybe gives one of the best performances of the year. The Gothams don’t represent the Oscars. But they are somewhat more mainstream than the Spirit Awards, which really do seem more about honoring true independent film. The choices here feel like an attempt is being made to cross over.
Four out of the five Best Feature nominees for the Gothams were already in the race, but this gives them a bit of a nudge forward. My guess is that Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right are the two that will benefit most from this. They both also got a richly deserved ensemble nod.
Since its NC-17 rating, Blue Valentine‘s fate is unknown. Will its illicit skin become transparent enough for critics and voters to see how truthful it is? If the film isn’t acknowledged, will Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams still get their due? Tough to say at this stage. Holding your seat takes patience and perseverance. Will Black Swan continue to hold its place as the film festival-goers were most excited about? The two safest bets from today’s announcement are Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right. But who says we have to play it safe?
The Best Picture race is nowhere near set. With each award announcement, the picture becomes clearer. Winter’s Bone didn’t look like it would be one of the ten. Secretariat did. Now, Winter’s Bone looks good, and Secretariat will need something extra to push it through.¬† When the Los Angeles and New York film critics make their announcements, things will again shift. They will keep shifting through the Golden Globes, the Producers Guild, and most importantly, the Directors Guild. Last year, everyone thought that Avatar was going to sweep the awards season after it won big at the Golden Globes. Not only did it win there, but The Hurt Locker was shut out. Many believed that their suspicion was correct: that The Hurt Locker was too low of a money-maker, not “Oscar-y” enough to win.
Although we were already predicting The Hurt Locker to win by that point, even we had our doubts. The Globes seemed to have sealed The Hurt Locker’s fate. But there was an ever-so-subtle shift at that moment that will be open to interpretation for years to come. Did Jim Cameron‘s win seem so anti-climactic as everyone waited breathlessly to see if Kathryn Bigelow would win again? Or was Avatar going to win if only Jim Cameron hadn’t given such an annoying speech? Did the Avatar team overplay their hand by having Cameron go on television and basically instruct voters to give Bigelow the win for Director, but Avatar Best Picture?
Was it really just a matter of nuts and bolts filmmaking versus a glimpse of a future of motion-capture actors and films that cost so much money only the privileged few can make them? Or was it just that they liked The Hurt Locker more? Everyone has their own idea of how David took on Goliath and won, but those of us who were poring over every twist and turn know that nothing can be taken for granted; it’s always touch and go until Barbra Streisand opens the envelope.
The Social Network is not showing any signs of losing steam. If anything, it is reaching a new wave of popularity. Two weeks at number one, with a minimum drop is no small potatoes. More than that, it is entering the public consciousness, and is now officially water cooler fodder. This kind of thing is rare in the Oscar race. It’s a film that was part of the discussion before it came out – it wasn’t totally out of the blue, but it was screened early with low-ish expectations. Most people thought it was going to be “the Facebook movie,” which amounts to a few Harvard brats sitting around and inventing a great business model. It isn’t that movie. Every time someone buys a ticket based on a recommendation, they are pleasantly surprised because it isn’t that movie.
This silly idea that it isn’t an Oscar movie, or that it leaves people cold, is beside the point: it is a good movie, organically good.¬†¬† Along with The King’s Speech, it is one that just works. Its broad appeal is what will give it an edge in the Oscar race; one doesn’t have to be a certain kind of person to enjoy it, as it almost always the case with films heading into the race.
I feel that Inception still has resonance. The impact it had this year will only seem bigger as we head out of this phase of the Oscar race. Christopher Nolan made one of the strangest films a big studio has ever released. Inventive, original, brilliant — it got there early and hopefully it remains solid The reason it seems so secure, other than the fact that it’s one of 2010’s standouts, is that it’s hard to imagine the Best Director five without Nolan. David Fincher, Danny Boyle and Christopher Nolan seem like they’re locked already. And that makes two slots still open – Tom Hooper maybe? The Coens?
The King’s Speech is holding its seat, quietly, but prominently.¬† Toy Story 3 has what may end up being Pixar’s permanent seat in the front row. True Grit has a seat being held for it, and The Fighter gets a boost after a second trailer reveals it to be not the sappy tearjerker the first one promised it to be. We see much more of Melissa Leo, who looks like a standout with the hair and the attitude.
I feel strongly that there could be room for surprises, even though there almost never are. The Blind Side was last year’s big surprise. Whatever this year’s is going to be isn’t something we’re going to see coming. Scott Feinberg has been floating the idea that the high profile documentary Waiting for Superman might be the first documentary to break the Big Picture Ten, and no one should count out Inside Job for that either; the truth is that there is a documentary category for a reason. How Pixar has managed to become part of the Best Picture race is interesting. Can the documentary branch also break through? We know foreign films can – if one is popular enough, and wasn’t submitted by its country of origin, it’s possible.
Still, the idea that ten Best Picture nominees was supposed go bigger, not smaller, in order to interest the general public holds. They surprised us with The Blind Side, which was as big as they come in terms of box office profit. It may be the lowest reviewed Best Picture contender of the last twenty years. That means, the rules are still being made up as we go. That means there is still room to improvise, adapt and overcome.
Here are the films with the best chance for a nomination right now:
The Social Network
The King’s Speech
Toy Story 3
The Kids Are All Right
Those with a pretty good chance but time will tell:
Made in Dagenham
High hopes but not yet seen:
Love and Other Drugs
For Colored Girls
How Do You Know
Next Three Days
Waiting for more information and reactions before we can say for sure (in other words, opinions of bloggers can’t be 100% reliable):
The Way Back