Why does it seem like the beginning of October is already too late to push through an Oscar contender? If you’re a big star in a big movie you’re already on the radar of those who write about Oscar buzz, a thing that increasingly has no there to it. But if you’ve just given the performance of your life in a movie nobody has seen how does your publicist get enough people to see your performance to find a spot for you in the already crowded acting or Best Picture categories?
This moment in the Oscar race is what I always think of as the Million Dollar Baby zone. Clint Eastwood brought that film in at a time when there were less media outlets focused on the race, as many of them are now, and when those of us who were focused on the race – it was like me, David Poland, Tom O’Neil and Kris Tapley and a few others – had our radars tuned to The Aviator, which seemed, at the time, like it might finally be Martin Scorsese’s big Oscar win (he would later go on to win big with The Departed, nothing less than one of the best films ever to win the award). But then people saw Million Dollar Baby. I’ll never forget reading Poland’s site the day after that screening — there was simply no question what movie was going to win and win big.
What I now wonder looking back at those seemingly innocent times, with all of the chatter we have now, so many hunters stalking Oscar prey, where the demand far exceeds the supply, would we have already been well aware that Million Dollar Baby would have been the big Oscar winner? Would it be showing up on Oscar charts as the de facto frontrunner? So much has changed since then.
Either way, and for whatever reason, after Toronto it always feels like the window of opportunity to break through gets smaller and smaller as the days go by. If you’re not considered a major contender already, by October, your chances are slim. But they’re not zero. Late entries can sometimes shake up the race, like The Reader did when it bumped The Dark Knight, altering Oscar history while doing so.
On today’s Off the Carpet column, Kris Tapley looks at the Best Actor race, but specifically at those performances that could be overlooked. I had no idea he was writing this, and I was writing a similar piece at the same time (great minds…) only mine covers Best Picture and Actress too (albeit not as thoroughly as Kris…). So you want to head over there to In Contention to read that piece.
Oscar buzz is now and has always been something undefinable – it’s like sexual attraction: you know it when you feel it.
It isn’t anything you can really control. You can try, certainly. You can have every Oscar blogger and journalist on the beat saying your film will be nominated and will win but that doesn’t really mean that it’s real Oscar buzz. Oscar buzz is what you felt last year with The King’s Speech. It buzzes through the industry and it buzzes on the streets – it is organic, natural excitement for something that is just plain good. It’s different from the kind of buzz you feel from a magnificent breakthrough, or a masterpiece — that you felt with The Social Network last year, or perhaps Drive this year. Drive is a movie people can’t stop talking about, but is also a movie that lives on a different island from The King’s Speech.
As we already know, sometimes these two different forms of buzz overlap and the Best Picture winner IS the film people are buzzing about as this year’s masterpiece: No Country for Old Men, for instance.
Right now, the films that are making money and people are talking about them, recommending them to their friends and are considered hits would include The Help, Midnight in Paris, and now, Moneyball. The other films hovering in the background are being written about and praised — Drive, Attack the Block, Tree of Life – but they have yet to pierce the membrane of the general public’s consciousness to any significant degree.
But here are a few names and titles of those who could slip through the cracks — because to find a place for one you have to bump another. And how do you do that? If you think of actor and actress as being mostly locked:
George Clooney-probably locked
Brad Pitt-probably locked
Jean DuJardin-probably locked
Leonardo DiCaprio-mostly locked
Gary Oldman-mostly locked
But if so, then what of: Ryan Gosling (Drive or Ides), Woody Harrelson (Rampart), Tom Hardy (Warrior), Michael Fassbender (Shame),Demián Bichir in A Better Life, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Chris Evans (Puncture), Gerard Butler (Machine Gun Preacher), and then unseen Matt Damon in We Bought a Zoo, Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, either of the unknown actors in War Horse or Extremely Loud, etc.
Viola Davis-mostly locked (will they put her in supporting)
Glenn Close-probably locked
Meryl Streep-mostly locked (no one has seen Iron Lady)
Tilda Swinton-mostly locked (depends if the violence is too off-putting for Acad. members)
Rooney Mara, Michelle Williams (some good buzz coming out of NY Film Fest for her perf), Elizabeth Olsen, Keira Knightley, Charlize Theron for Young Adult, Felicity Jones for Like Crazy, Emma Stone for The Help, Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia, Vera Farmiga for Higher Ground, Emily Watson for Oranges and Sunshine.
And there is the totally out of nowhere performance of someone like Adepero Oduye in Pariah. The film received a standing ovation in Sundance. Read more about it here. Most likely you’re looking at a Spirit Award nomination here, and possibly a win. But nonetheless, these names can sometimes cross over. Yes, the Oscar race is about celebrity but it’s also about discovering, occasionally, new talent, and plucking them from obscurity and into the spotlight. It happens. Not nearly often enough, but it happens.
To that end, I’d like to personally spotlight a few films and performances I fear are going to be mostly forgotten come Oscar time.
The general consensus, give or take, seems to be shaping up like:
Midnight in Paris
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close
A tenth slot maybe open — The Ides of March, Tree of Life, Drive, Hugo, We Bought a Zoo, My Week with Marilyn, Iron Lady, Take Shelter, Shame, Warrior, etc.
Top Five For Your Consideration – Best Picture
1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Yes, it is a prequel, yes, it is a cheesy concept, yes, it isn’t going to make you look respectable dressed up in your tux at an Oscar party if you pick it on your ballot. No, it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being nominated, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the best films of 2011, yes, even still. Was a time when Oscar wasn’t so highbrow (lowbrow pretending to be highbrow but still…) that they would elect to nominate movies that are outside of the box, beyond the way of thinking because they were successful, they were well made, and they captured the zeitgeist in a given year. If Oscar movies are to represent the best in a given year, they should not discriminate because those films aren’t perioddramasfeaturingpeoplewithdisabilities-fightingnazisduringeitherworldwar-preferablybritishandmakegrownmencry. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just a good movie. Doubtful any Academy member is going to sacrifice his/her one and only number 1 vote for this one but hey, as Blondie says, dreaming is free.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – no, I haven’t understood a Harry Potter movie beyond the Prisoner of Azbakan, but even I can recognize the giant-ness, the overall success, the phenomenal contribution to the economy of Hollywood and the imaginations of whole generations. Even I can appreciate the series of films for what they are. Not a one has been nominated for Best Picture and now, finally, with the last – which currently is the best reviewed mainstream film of the year (it shares its metacritic score with Moneyball), it seemed as though it might have had a shot at a nomination finally.
Addition note to Oscar voters: nominate Harry Potter for Best Picture and watch your Neilsen ratings become fully engorged.
3. Drive – of all of these, Drive still has the best chance. Yes, it got sliced and diced by the critics who count: AO Scott of the NY Times and Kenneth Turan of the LA Times, which diminishes its chances significantly, simply because if they didn’t go for it how are the old timers in the Academy going to go for it? Nonetheless, it has a chance because it, like Tree of Life, isn’t a movie you go, eh, I liked it okay. It’s a movie you either loved or didn’t like at all. That leads me to believe there will be enough number one votes for Drive, the most talked about film of the year so far, to make it to number one. It only needs something like 180 or so to make it to the first cut and then it will depend on number 2 and 3 votes. So you got to figure, if a voter has a movie at their number one that doesn’t make the first cut it’s probably going to be something obscure. And if it’s something obscure (like Melancholia, for instance), the number 2 might be Drive.
4. We Need to Talk About Kevin – only a really daring and subversive Academy would pick Lynn Ramsay’s unforgettable, haunting, brilliant film as a Best Picture contender. Unfortunately, now that they’ve changed up their rules we really have to deal front and center with their mostly mainstream taste. When they had ten slots to fill, hope sprang eternal that “little movies” could still make the cut. But now, alas. There is no hope for that. So only movies Academy members LOVED have a hope of getting in. And beware the movie Academy members LOVED. It probably ain’t going to be Kevin, despite how good it is. Ramsay, if she were a guy, would probably be a serious contender for Best Director, but since she’s a female she has to also overcome not being that celebrated wunderkind – because women rarely are. It happens, just not that often.
5. Attack the Block – I know it has no shot in hell, but what a great movie. It’s clever, surprisingly moving, and funny. It’s a bare bones B movie sci-fi but, despite that, it’s got a pretty great message all in all. I wish a movie like this could ever be conceived and made here in America. The closest we have to that is Super 8, another movie that should be considered as a likely BP contender, even if people think the buzz for it has died. I prefer to think about good movies, rather than genre movies, being chosen. But — the Oscars don’t work that way, as we now know.
Finally – just as many hoped The Hangover would have been nominated, a special mention should be made for Bridesmaids, which gets extra points for being written by and starring women. Two films this year have made over $100 million starring women that weren’t about women having sex with men. They were about thinking women – The Help and Bridesmaids. So, you know, wouldn’t it be nice if they could be rewarded for that.
For Your Consideration, Best Actor
Michael Fassbender in Shame
If I had to pick one Best Actor contender who should push through (although, whom to bump?) it would be Fassbender, who turned in two great performances this year – in A Dangerous Method, but in Shame he takes it to a whole different level. Fassbender’s brilliance can be seen specifically in one scene — it’s not the dramatic purging that we witness once his character begins to plummet, but it’s the inner conflict he’s experiencing when trying to decide which path in life to take that drove it home — his is, to my mind thus far, the performance of the year.
Here is what Darren Aronofsky, the jury head at Venice said about him:
“We were blown away by Shame and the cinematic power of it – the hard part is the many films deserved awards. Shame was an incredible journey…I want to say his (Fassbender’s) orgasm in the film is like the closing shots of [Fellini’s 1957] Nights of Cabiria. His collaboration with the director was inspiring and you can see the result of trust. Here is an actor who is fully, fully out there in every way and a filmmaker supporting it. It was a bravo performance.”
I’m also going to include this from Kris Tapley’s Off the Carpet column:
Demián Bichir‘s work in Christ Weitz’s “A Better Life” is still one of the finest pieces of work from a lead this year. Summit is serious about pushing the film and already has screeners out there.
For Your Consideration, Best Actress
Olivia Colman in Tyrannosaur
Championed mainly by Jeff Wells at HE, but looking to be forgotten unless people really do put Tyrannosaur into their DVD players, here is an actress worth paying attention to in a performance that deserves attention. Some of her early notices:
“But it’s not quite as dreamy as it sounds. Hannah, the female lead in Considine’s first feature, Tyrannosaur, is possibly the most humiliated woman in the history of cinema. A good Samaritan who runs a local charity shop, she is verbally eviscerated by the raging stranger who bullies his way into her life. He berates her goody-goody Christianity and cozy values, while the reality is that at home her husband horrendously abuses her. Astonishingly, Colman manages to bring a sense of hope, transcendence even, to this unremittingly bleak world. It’s a devastating performance.” – The Guardian
“Approach Considine’s brilliant directorial debut with caution. It’s a pitiless, fearsome beast that will hammer you in the gut, hard. And Olivia Colman will blow you away,” Tyrannosaur review | TotalFilm.com
One of the reasons why darker material is often overlooked by Oscar, I think, is that when they nominate a performance or a film it’s seen as an endorsement by the general public, and therefore, the Academy has to answer politically for what statements made by the film they’ve endorsed. This is why, I think, they often go so vanilla. Either way, these two performances in these two difficult films are well worth their attention.
And how about you, Oscar watchers? Are there any films or performances you’d like to see remembered?