Sunday, September 07, 2008

Naked Gold Man: Baby Steps

Festival season (Hello TIFF!) births and defeats many Oscar dreams. But it's worth remembering that while all the festival "sure things" are named and buzzed about -- Slumdog Millionaire, Rachel Getting Married, The Burning Plain, Lovely Still, Changeling, The Wrestler, etcera... -- that they're rarely counted. There are only 5 slots in each category... or less. The Oscar race is long and hard and there are few sure things. Particularly in September.

But one thing that the new buzz reflects truthfully is that the race is always on. Oscar competition starts long before a film is released -- critical perceptions and audience reactions can never be controlled per se but they can be manipulated and managed, tweaked, anticipated, hyped or countered. This occurs in any number of ways from the moment of conception: the pre-production buzz (who is cast? is John Q Director right for the material?) to birth...

...(the first reviews and that nail biting opening weekend) to the toddler days when the film starts exhibiting its own personality, a product of both nature (filmmakers as proud parents) and nurture (pre-Oscar awards, media favoritism and industry and public discussions serving up the Environment).

And even if a golden hopefully is great and/or statue friendly (not always the same thing), there's the completely uncontrollable variable: what and who else is dancing around begging for the same attention? Fact: A year with 30 truly great lead performances will result in the same number of nominees as a year with only 7. This is why "locks" are so rare despite the ubiquity of the word in nearly every Oscar conversation.

That said, the following cute toddlers will surely be included in that invitation-only private school @ the Kodak Theater. They've made the race that much more difficult for any young film choosing to follow.

Animated Film - WALL•E. Only 2 spots left and they'll just be happy to be nominated.
Visual Effects - Iron Man. You know they'll honor it somewhere ... somewhere being right here. Only 2 spots left
Score -John Williams for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Why would they stop now? He's been nominated for every single Indy outing. Only 4 spots left.
Acting - only 19 actors and actress need apply for the 20 spots.

Heath Ledger's Joker performance in The Dark Knight is still monumentally creepy to think about or be reminded of, isn't it? Eight weeks of ubiquity, often a great inoculation for hysterically praised work, haven't managed to dilute its feverish pull. That's an impressive feat and a performance that once seemed like a worthy "likely contender" is now a "lock". But we still don't know what this means for the larger Oscar picture. And it's all about the larger picture. "Supporting" is where Ledger's buzz first happened. But many voices are starting to shout for "Lead" status. The Joker's ghostly presence and penchant for chaos will affect future candidates and the Oscar race... but which one. Both? Pre-season can be filled with reversals... he could conceivable alter the chances of candidates in both categories as actors jockey for space and attention in the abundant pre-season honors. And does the desire to honor the late great young actor, pull the rest of the film and its achievements upwards and into the Kodak or not? It's also possible that the long haul to Oscar nominations (still 4 months away) could convince some voters that Ledger's posthumous nomination honor is reward enough for this Batman film. Honestly, what does Batman contribute to his own movie (this time around)?

Ledger's performance is already briskly jogging towards that January goal. Other competitors are still crawling. Penélope Cruz and Woody Allen's writing (the latter always somewhat in the running) could very well represent for Vicky Cristina Barcelona but neither are done deals and could be crowded out with ease if the fall films are especially strong. Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) Melissa Leo (Frozen River -previous article) will now be leaving the safe realm of the theoretically worthy and entering the real world of starry household name competitors and heavily funded movies. I love the arrival of the fall films. So many golden possibilities ahead. I personally can't wait to see what happens next. And you?

Oscar Prediction Revisions & Best Actress Psychic updates are coming round about September 20th (apologies for the long wait)


Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to The secret life of bees. The sheer cast and the trailer do it for me. Compare that to the pathetic The Women. blah. The Harvey Milk film is one of my most awaited. Also looking forward to 'The Pool' which is looking very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Of all the locks you mention, I wouldn't bet on Williams just yet. I mean, I am predicting him at the moment myself, but consider how he had been nommed for every Star Wars movie before 1999, too, and then snubbed for each of the prequels. Sure, the Academy was able to nominate him for something else in each of those years, which is not a possibility in 2008 AFAIK, but still - couldn't this pattern repeat with Indy?

What about Wally Pfister for Cinematography?

Middento said...

FYI: Telluride was a wonderful event for foreign film this year but otherwise not so stellar for the remaining Oscar categories. (This includes the 20 minutes of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" at the tribute to David Fincher, which apparently did not do what the 15 minutes of "There Will Be Blood" did at the same tribute to Daniel Day-Lewis last year.) In the exact same category (and getting similar buzz) to last year's "Juno," however, was Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire." And remember that "Juno" similarly came out of nowhere.

So put all that info where ya want. ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh Nathaniel,
That whole Oscar-ultrasound bit had me in stitches! Pure genius. In terms of filled up slots, I think it’s safe to say that Del Toro is more then a “likely” candidate at this point. Festival reviews have been glowing, actors LOVE him and it’s the kind of role Oscars seems to eat up. Agreed on John Williams, “Wall*E”, “Ironman” and Ledger. Though the latter is going to be interesting… will buzz shift him towards lead? Can he maintain frontrunner status through the fall? How will the precursors factor in? Personally, I’m rooting for him in supporting; he’ll have a better shot of winning and that why his LEAD “Brokeback” nod will always stand out more.

Also, Jolie is a total lock. Plain and simple. (Best Actress is shaping up to be a killer category this year.) Oh, I saw “Happy-Go-Lucky”! A friend of mine in the UK sent me the region 2 DVD and Hawkins is fantastic- defiantly a McTeer-“Tumbleweeds” type of deal. I nod looks likely at this point.

Cruz will probably get some Globe attention… but will she end up like Johansson for “Match Point” come Oscar time? Woody’s script seems like a lock given his perennial nominee status but o. screenplay looks super completive this year!

Other locks: “Dark Knight”; cinematography and sound.

QUESTION: Since Film Editing seems to be the category that frequently rewards “pop-corn films” that prove to be critical/ B.O. gold (Jaws/ Aliens/ Die Hard/ T2/ Basic Instinct/ Speed/ Air Force One/ The Matrix/ Collateral/ Bourne Ultimatum), will they honor “Dark Knight” there? I’m a DK enthusiast, don’t get me wrong, but I had issues w/ the cutting. However Oscar’s editing branch seems less prone to honor slow-pacing so… how do you they’ll handle it?

Anyway, awesome writeup- as usual. :) Hope work isn't too crazy. Looking forward to sharing the upcoming fall movie season with you.

Anonymous said...

Oh, what did you think of the MILK trailer?!!!!

I think it looks amazing. We could have a real winner on our hands, no? Gus Van Sant, Focus Features and gays are sure overdue!


i very briefly talked up the Milk trailer here. Loved it.


good question on editing. I think that's a great point (about popcorn films and that category) but won't even supporters know that the editing of TDK is the most problematic of all of its tech contributions?

hmmm. maybe not.

as for Pfister and cinematography... he's definitely in the running but before we see what else is out there it doesn't seem wise to consider a tech contribution in an always hugely competitive category as a lock. Particularly since he's not a legend like say Conrad Hall or Vilmos Zsigmond or whomever.

adam k. said...

I think Cruz is practically a lock now, too. Particularly given the Bardem factor. She's much stronger in it than Johannson was in Match Point, and she's absolutely the best thing about the film. I think she's much more likely than the screenplay, if there's only one nod for the film.

I think Ledger will stay supporting... I finally saw the film, and I don't think there's much justification for a lead push. He's NOT the lead.

I think Dark Knight's likely in editing, too. They never care whether films are too long. Look at Return of the King...


oh it's not the length that's the problem with the editing ;)

Anonymous said...

--I don't know, Nathaniel. If The Dark Knight makes a big enough splash to even threaten in the major categories, I think editing will be a near lock. Worse editing jobs have received nominations (off the top of my head, I can think of Gladiator, Cold Moutain and a few others). I also think Pfister's a strong contender for cinematography, on the basis that the first (lesser) work got nodded. Then again, Kaminski couldn't get nominated for his legendary work with Spielberg this decade (what's up with that?)

--The really disappointing thing about the praise thrown at Ledger is that I think Oldman and Eckhart give equally great performances (Bale's quite good at well, and I think Nolan's done wonders in making Bruce Wayne/Batman more interesting then in previous incarnations, but it's still not a great role). At this point, I'd support a nomination for any of them.

--Maybe this will be the year of the 2003 auteur making good. Peter Sollett, Danny Boyle, and Thomas McCarthy could all get oscar nods (well, Sollett's not likely, but the trailer for Nick and Norah makes it look great)

Anonymous said...

You think Nick and Norah looks good? Eh. Don't underestimate Jeff Goldblum in Adam Resurrected which is quietly building steam. The reviews are unbelievable (for Goldblum) and many say he could well be up for an Oscar. I mean, Cinematical:

"Goldblum's performance as Adam is complex and engrossing to watch, and while I can't begin to fathom what it must have taken out of him to get inside this story and character to pull the performance off at this level, it's truly a wonder to behold onscreen. The Oscar buzz circulating Goldblum's turn in this film is far from hype; he educes the death and rebirth of a man's soul in such a way that I'd be hard pressed to compare it to anything I've ever seen onscreen."

Variety called it a tour de force. Willem Dafoe is also getting great write ups for it.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Hi Nat,

Love the ultrasound, escpecially the 3D version - looks like such a cute baby.

I agree that it's easy to get carried away with locks at this point but when you consider of the 60-70 odd films that may be in the play for the major noms this year we've probably only seen about 10 of them and only another 15 are appearing in the festivals.

It's looking like another year where all the big players are holding off until mid November-December before showing their product. It's hard to imagine 2 of the Best Picture noms coming from Toronto this year (last year there were 4 but I don't think people had Juno or Micheal Clayton on their radar at that point).

The 3 films I'm most looking forward to seeing this autumn are probably unlikely to make much of an impact with the Academy (Body of Lies, Burn after Reading and New York, I Love You). However with big hitters like Changeling, Soloist and Revolutionary Road still to be fully uncovered I think we're in for an exciing season.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I guess I am one of those blind supporters 'cause I thought editing in The Dark Knight was superb... but last year taught us there are never actual locks in this category, didn't it? That even getting nods in many major categories while having theoretically award-worthy editing guarantees nothing?

In Pfister I trust mainly because of the IMAX factor. I imagine that impresses a heck out of his DP peers.

Glenn said...

I think it was Nat himself who said this, but there is no way anybody or any movie should be called a "lock" before it has at least opened. A lot of the critics weighing in on movies that have screened at festivals are international critics and you never know how American Academy members are going to react. Just look at Into the Wild from last year. Or Dreamgirls before that. Or... or... or... so many examples of movies that people were calling locks so far in advance that they looked like fools when their hails of "it's a lock, no doubt about it etc" ended up being wrong.

To go on from what Ryan said - "Also, Jolie is a total lock. Plain and simple. (Best Actress is shaping up to be a killer category this year.)" - the fact that best actress is a "killer category this year" means nobody is a lock, especially Jolie who missed last year with an easy get and when there are literally a dozen other major contenders.

Adam, I'm glad you're agreeing with what I've been saying all along. Heath Ledger is not the lead. Sure, he has as much screentime as a lead actor would in a 90 minute, but The Dark Knight is not a 90minute movie. It's a 2 and a half hour comic book movie, which has a clear and definable lead actor in the form of Christian Bale. Everyone else is supporting.


Nick has been making a somewhat convincing case that he's the lead -- at least in so far as he drives the story... which to me is one of the weaknesses of the movie.

where is Batman?

arkaan i disagree that Pfister's work on Dark Knight is stronger than his work on Batman Begins. I think TDK is a better movie overall but apart from a couple purely genius shots I think BB is more consistent in that particular area. but maybe that's just me.

as for the editing. I wasn't trying to imply that voters won't nominate it because of its great or less than great quality (depending on your point of view) I was just trying to point out that TECH categories almost never have locks so early in the year.

Anonymous said...

Slumdog Millionaire seems have the "Juno" slot locked up for Best Picture.

At least one biopic will make it to the final five. I'm betting on Milk.

The Dark Knight may or may not get nominated but there may be backlash if there isn't.

Either Benjamin Button or Australia will make it. Not both. At least one will disappoint.

The last slot is a race between Revolutionary Road, Changeling, and Wall-E.

adam k. said...

Well, one could also argue that Pfeiffer's character drove the story in Stardust. She also gave the film's best performance. But was SHE the lead? I mean, come on.

Seriously though... a better example, perhaps, is Bardem in No Country. Similar plot-moving villain, who doesn't die, who also doesn't have much of a personality beyond wanting to kill people (and is thus rather inaccessible). Everyone considered him supporting, and rightly so. I think he's the best parallel.

One could also make the case that this is more like DDL or Anthony Hopkins in their respective best actor nominated roles. But Hopkins I think is a special case, cause he was such a complex character and the real heart of the film was the direct interplay between him and Starling (making them the two leads, arguably). And I think DDL benefited from it being a big prestige picture and from everyone else in it sucking.

Ledger is simply the standout in a very good cast, who had the task of making a deceptively simple character (only real objective/subtext/motivation = kill people/cause chaos/blow things up) dynamic and interesting. That is the definition of an awardable SUPPORTING role.

But honestly I wasn't as bowled over as everyone else. It was just Heath Ledger giving another brilliant performance (which we all knew he could do). I was just pissed that he's gone now and he won't be able to give us more.

Yes, Ennis Del Mar is still his best work.


adam k. said...

Also, if you look at the posters/ads, you can see that the studio, at least, never intended to market Ledger as the lead: he's not even second billed.

Not the case with others like Streep, Whitaker, etc.

Robert said...

Have decisions been made about how to release Che? I haven't heard and I just can't predict Benicio until.

I just can't see Heath as the lead in The Dark Knight. But with the screentime distribution it may not be Bale either. Could it be... Gary Oldman?

As for Dark Knight winning editing despite having poor editing... well they did give Lost in Translation an award for Screenplay


anon --slumdog can't possibly have the JUNO spot locked up yet because

1) it hasn't opened.
2) we don't know how the mainstream media will react -they were OBSESSED with Juno.
3) we don't know the public reaction. The public went crazy for JUNO almost instantly to big box office dollars.
4) there are other movies coming that will want that slot too ;)
5) TIFF isn't even over yet. and there's still NYFF and all the holiday movies to come.

Anonymous said...



NicksFlickPicks said...

I wouldn't say Ledger is "the" lead, but I definitely think he and Bale and Eckhart are all leads. And in response to Adam's point about No Country, I cited the same film as a buttressing analogy in the same argument, because I think Brolin, Bardem, and Jones are all leads in that film, too. But there's no need to rehearse this all again.

I don't think Changeling will reach any higher than Jolie, if she's even nommed. Buzz has not been uniformly glowing for the film or the perf, and contrary to how it sometimes feels, not every Eastwood movie scores across the board. (And even if they did, every good run must come to an end.)

I don't know if the fall has a single movie on its docket that I am hold-my-breath excited for, the way I was last year for I'm Not There and Eastern Promises and several others. I'll need convincing all through the season, though I am eager to see Viola Davis push Meryl around their big scene in Doubt.


YES. that has to be the showdown i'm most looking forward to as well... though on a more popcorn front i'm also eager to see how easily The Bening can blow all of her co-stars off the screen in The Women (not that they'll put up half the fight Meryl could give Viola) ;)

and... i almost hate myself for saying it... but RENEE ZELLWEGER trying to come between ED HARRIS and VIGGO MORTENSON. so curious. Why would anyone look at her?

I kid. i kid.

it will be interesting to see how they campaign THE DARK KNIGHT (back on topic) though. There are so many ways they could proceed. but they'll have to choose one.

Anonymous said...

Also, Fox Searchlight also just bought The Wrestler. They also have Slumdog.

And Nate, you're right - tech categories have no locks, as a rule. Start with Children of Men in art direction and go from there... But I look at your predicted line-up, and it seems like five-for-five is within the realm of possibility at this early juncture. Two epic-y films (Australia, Defiance), noteworthy period work (Revolutionary Road), with The Road stealing the "so ugly it's beautiful" slot (not a regular one) and TDK as a blockbuster entrant

Anonymous said...

My feelings about the top five:

* The BIG Blockbuster of the year: The Dark Knight-Critics and Audience are agree with that film.

* Biopic of the year: Milk-There's still the "Brokebackgate", but maybe is more friendly in AMPAS terms.

* Epic-Romantic Production: Between The Curious Case... and Australia-One of them should get that spot, not both. I Feel that is Fincher's film but maybe I'm wrong.

* Respected Director: Between Changeling and The Reader-Eastwood is Eastwood but Daldry has a great record in Oscar terms, and now we know the release date of The Reader is in 2008.

* "Modern/Curious" Film: Difficult choice-
-The Road: McCarthy's book adaptation, Mortensen, Hillcoat and post apocalypsis theme...
-Slumdog Millioanire: Exotic production, dramedy, sucess in telluride and Toronto
-Wall-E: Pixar Sucess
-Defiance: WWII, Zwick production...

adam k. said...

How to campaign Dark Knight? Well, if I were them, I'd focus on Ledger and general Best Pic goodness. They just need to remind people that it made $500 million and was also a big critical success. Just hammer that home. Every film that commercially seismic that was also well reviewed has been nommed.

And Ledger should be supporting. And he should be the only one they campaign. I think to seriously campaign other actors would be like when they focused on all those women in White Oleander other than Pfeiffer. Gotta go with what's gettable. When there's been (correct me if I'm wrong) NO previous example of an actor being nommed for a comic book film (okay, save Al Pacino), asking for multiple noms is rather silly.

Anonymous said...

This is why I love u.
This is one of my favourite parts of the Oscar season, some films have had reviews pop out, some are still lurking in the shadows. Whispers, and "leaks" from production companies. Ahhhh. Let the games begin.

Anonymous said...

Well, A History of Violence was based on a comic book (graphic novel) and Hurt got nominated for it. Your point stands.

I think they should campaign everyone, but focus on Ledger. Neither Oldman nor Eckhart may be gettable, but both are great and worthy of a campaign.

Glenn said...

I don't quite see the advantage of campaigning Heath as lead though. He would be a very good bet to take the statue if he's nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but for Lead? I don't reckon they'd do it. Hell, they risk not even having him nominated if someone like Tommy Lee Jones shows up to spoil the party again. It just seems silly. Like, isn't it better to win the supporting Oscar than merely being nominated for the Lead? People will obviously remember Ledger and his performance, but if he won in Supporting then it'd be news. If he lost Lead it'd be a mere footnote.

Having said that, I still think it's sad that people seem to have conveniently forgotten about his Brokeback Mountain performance. The history books seem to be rewriting themselves and now it's The Dark Knight that will be his signature role, which is just not right.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I think he's supporting. Just like Bardem in NCFOM is supporting. Though I do get where the arguement is coming from (for the former. The latter, not at all).

Anonymous said...

IFC bought CHE. They're gonna do the one-week release and platform it in January. Because that's gonna work so well for a four hour amorphous biopic.

Strike it from your predictions.