Oscar Moment: “Easy A”

21 12 2010

In honor of “Easy A” hitting video today, I’m writing this Oscar Moment specifically in regards to Emma Stone’s performance.  As Olive Penderghast, the 2010 model of Hester Prynne from “The Scarlet Letter,” she got some very deserved attention for her breakout role.  Here’s what I wrote back in September:

“Emma Stone is hardly a new sight for anyone that’s been seeing good movies recently; she has been scene-stealing as the heartbreaking Jules in ‘Superbad’ and the zombie-killing Wichita in ‘Zombieland.’  This, however, is the movie that will bring her into the mainstream consciousness.  ‘Easy A’ gives her all the material for a breakout role, and Stone seizes every moment to create a character that will shoot her into stardom.”

The movie was very well received by critics upon release (an 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes) yet still somehow managed to miss a Best Picture (Musical/Comedy) nomination from the Golden Globes.  In its place: “Alice in Wonderland.”  Big mistake.  Huge.  However, Stone did get her recognition in the form of a Best Actress nomination.  There’s hardly a chance for a win against the two “The Kids Are All Right” actresses and an even further shot at an Oscar nomination thanks to an impressive dramatic faction headlined by Natalie Portman.  But what’s with our bias against comedic actresses?  Why does the Academy only feel the need to honor actors dealing strictly in serious fare, perhaps dabbling in comedy but keeping their heart in drama?

A lot of Stone’s fans have raised this concern for months now.  Why not Emma Stone?  She’s as deserving as most of the actresses in the predicted five at the moment.  While she may not have an illustrious career under her belt or have undergone a massive physical transformation, Stone goes above and beyond what a movie like “Easy A” requires from its leading lady.

Castor over at Anomalous Material elaborated on Guy Lodge’s article at In Contention making a case for Stone, listing five reasons he came up with that might be the reason why comedy is so constantly overlooked by the Academy.

  1. Western audiences are conditioned to enjoy flashy and bombastic dramatic performances, such as Daniel Day Lewis’ in There Will Be Blood, over more subtle or seemingly “effortless” portrayals.
  2. Giving a good performance in a great movie is harder and hence more deserving of recognition than shining in a mediocre/good movie.
  3. Comedic actors are generally less talented than dramatic actors.
  4. Comedies are generally not as good, serious and important as dramas.
  5. Drama is harder than comedy.

As an actor myself, I’ll argue that comedy is every bit as hard as drama – there are just those for whom comedy comes naturally.  You can’t fake comedy because it takes total commitment.  Drama can be passably done with half a heart, and a well-liked actor can often do this to great acclaim.

For my money, Emma Stone gave one of the best performances of the year.  But according to Academy standards, her Golden Globe nomination is her highest reward.  Is this right?  Should comedic actresses get their due?  Is a performance like Stone’s deserving to stand next to Natalie Portman’s come Oscar night?

BEST BET FOR NOMINATION: Best Actress

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Oscar Moment: December 17, 2010 Awards Round-Up / New Predictions

17 12 2010

Well, folks, if you had any doubt that Oscar season was here before this week, you can’t now.  Nearly every critics group chimed in with their best of the year, and we got two massively important nominations lists from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.  The puzzle is really starting to come together, and since there was so much going on, the format of the last two weeks just didn’t really work.

In place of the usual “here’s the group, here’s what they selected” rambling, I decided to issue a new set of predictions based on what we saw over the past week.

A few notes before I begin: there’s no poll this week, and I’m debating whether or not to include one at all from here on out because there has been so little participation.  Also, please click the links! I spend a lot of time linking the titles of movies to other posts I’ve written that might be of interest.  The first time I mention a movie, it links to the trailer on YouTube.  The second mention goes to my Oscar Moment on the movie.  The third mention goes to my review, if applicable.

Past predictions: Early December 2010November 2010September 2010.

Best Picture:

  1. The Social Network
  2. The King’s Speech
  3. The Fighter (7)
  4. Inception
  5. Black Swan (3)
  6. Toy Story 3 (5)
  7. The Kids Are All Right (10)
  8. Winter’s Bone
  9. True Grit
  10. 127 Hours (6)

No change in my top 10, but some big trends have emerged.  It’s clear that “The Social Network” is the critics’ group darling of 2010.  Do you want me to name all the cities and organizations who named it their Best Picture?  I’m proud to say my own city of Houston named it theirs (updated on Saturday).  Ok, here’s the list:

  • African-American Film Critics
  • Boston Society of Film Critics
  • Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association
  • Detroit Film Critics Society
  • Houston Film Critics Society
  • Indiana Film Journalists Association
  • Las Vegas Film Critics Society
  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association
  • New York Film Critics Circle
  • New York Film Critics Online
  • San Francisco Film Critics Circle
  • Southeastern Film Critics Association
  • Toronto Film Critics Association
  • Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association

In addition, it picked up nominations from nods from critics in Chicago, St. Louis, and Phoenix who have yet to announce their winners.  On top of the previous win from the National Board of Review, “The Social Network” clearly has a ton of heat heading into the home stretch.  It received 6 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture (Drama), 9 Critics Choice Award (BFCA) nominations including Best Picture, and 2 Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award nominations including Best Ensemble, their version of Best Picture.  Critics make a difference, but they don’t decide Best Picture.  It helps, though, that it won top prize from the incredibly influential film centers of New York and Los Angeles.

However, “The King’s Speech” set itself up for a second-stage surge by scoring more nominations than “The Social Network” at all three of the major groups that announced this week.  It received 7 Golden Globe nominations, the most of any movie in 2010, including Best Picture.  It received 11 BFCA nominations including Best Picture.  It received 4 SAG Award nominations, tied for the most of any movie in 2010, including Best Ensemble.

These voters are not necessarily like critics in their taste, and it would only take a win of one of these big awards to hoist Tom Hooper’s film to the top spot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win the Globe for Best Picture simply because they almost always choose the most nominated movie.  Then again, that strategy didn’t work out in 2008 when “Slumdog Millionaire” with 4 nominations triumphed over the pack leader “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with 5 nominations.  “Slumdog” swept the critics awards that year, so there could be an interesting parallel forming.

But for me, one of the big stories of the week was the emergence of “The Fighter” as a serious contender.  We had heard good things, but most called it somewhat predictable and formulaic.  No one was jumping up and down with joy, yet we saw an unprecedented outpouring of support this week.  It received 6 BFCA nominations including Best Picture, 4 SAG Award nominations, tied for the most of 2010, including Best Ensemble, and 6 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture.  I got a chance to catch the movie this week, and it’s feel-good surface could make it a dark horse to watch out for in the race.

Then again, so could “Inception,” which picked up 4 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture, something Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” couldn’t do back in 2008.  It has also been a staple on the critics circuit, although taking second fiddle to “The Social Network” of course.  The summer blockbuster has been a part of every top 5 or 10, practically the only certainty outside of a movie not involving Facebook. With 10 BFCA nominations as well, it could make a play for Best Picture as well.  It could easily wind up the most nominated film of 2010 at the Oscars given its impressive technical aspects.

“Black Swan” is also making strides in the race, scoring a record 12 nominations from the BFCA, 4 nominations from the Golden Globes including Best Picture, and 3 SAG Award nominations including Best Ensemble.  The box office has helped too, and as it expands into more theaters, expect it to be the audience favorite art-house movie.  I think it’s got to be a shoo-in for a nomination now, although the win will be tricky given the subject matter.

“The Kids Are All Right” goes up thanks to its great showing with the New York Film Critics Circle, winning more categories than “The Social Network,” and receiving 4 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture (Musical/Comedy) as well as 3 SAG Award nominations including Best Ensemble.  It had a big miss with the BFCA, though, failing to score a Best Picture nomination.  It should easily win the Globe for Best Picture, and the prospects are looking much better than they did last week.  But I’m still not entirely certain that it’s going to get an Oscar nomination…

“Winter’s Bone” continues to stride nicely towards a Best Picture nomination, notable for being the only movie to win a Best Picture prize from a critics group other than “The Social Network” (kudos to San Diego for the originality).  It missed with the Golden Globes, but they rarely delve THAT indie.

Slipping this week are “True Grit” and “127 Hours,” neither of which found much love from the Golden Globes.  The former was completely shut out while the latter received three nominations but not for Best Picture or Director.  The one-man show was unlikely to score a SAG nomination apart from Franco, but “True Grit” missed big by not receiving a Best Ensemble nomination given its star-studded cast.  They did manage to score with the BFCA, both receiving a nomination for Best Picture.  “True Grit” received 11 total nominations from the group while “127 Hours” scored an impressive 8.  Neither look very strong at this stage, and if there are going to be any surprises on nomination morning, it could come at the expense of these two movies.

Worth noting: all movies predicted (with the exception of “The King’s Speech” because it was ineligible) appeared on the American Film Institute’s Top 10 films of the year.  Ben Affleck’s “The Town” was also included.

Best Director:

  1. David Fincher, “The Social Network” 
  2. Christopher Nolan, “Inception”  (4)
  3. Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan” 
  4. Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”  (2)
  5. David O. Russell, “The Fighter”  (NR)

Dropping off: Danny Boyle

Barring some massive surge of appreciation for the boldness of Nolan or Aronofsky’s work this year, Fincher has this in the bag simply because he’s the only prior nominee with his eyes on the prize and he deserves it.  (Nolan took home Best Director from the African-American Critics Association and the Indiana Film Journalists Association, and Aronofsky won with San Diego and San Francisco critics.)

Tom Hooper moves down because the actors are the star of the campaign, not him.  Since so few people know of him and his other movies, there’s no rush to recognize him.

Boyle departs the list this week as love for “127 Hours” has grown soft, replaced with reservations by David O. Russell.  Given that he’s not the most popular man in Hollywood, it’s going to be hard for him to score a nomination.  But if the love for “The Fighter” continues, the goodwill could push him into the race.

Best Actor:

  1. Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech” 
  2. Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”  (3)
  3. James Franco, “127 Hours”  (2)
  4. Mark Wahlberg, “The Fighter”  (NR)
  5. Ryan Gosling, “Blue Valentine” 

Dropping off: Robert Duvall

Firth still stands steadfast at the top amidst all.  He has made a decent showing with the critics, winning top marks from Detroit, San Francisco, Washington D.C., the Southeastern critics, and the incredibly important groups in New York and Los Angeles, both of which chose “The Social Network” as their Best Picture.  If all else fails, he should be the one way the Academy knows they can reward “The King’s Speech.”

But the real story of the season so far is massive surge of love for Jesse Eisenberg, whose performance in “The Social Network” could easily have been overlooked due to his age.  That has not been the case so far as Eisenberg has dominated the critics circuit, winning top prizes from Boston, Houston, and Toronto in addition to taking the first prize of the year from the National Board of Review.  If the movie starts dominating everything in its path a la “Slumdog Millionaire,” Eisenberg could surprise and win.

Yet James Franco has won more awards on the critics circuit, taking the prize from Dallas-Fort Worth, Indiana, Las Vegas, and the New York Film Critics Online.  This is the kind of performance that the critics really love, and its adulation from this corner doesn’t necessarily translate to Oscar gold.  Apparently a lot of people simply won’t watch the movie because they are scared (which is a terrible reason), and the overall buzz for the movie has plummeted thanks to that and Fox Searchlight’s clumsy release strategy.

Firth, Eisenberg, and Franco are all locks at this moment, their status solidified by appearing on nearly every Best Actor shortlist including from the BFCA, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards.  After that, there are essentially four actors vying for the final two slots – Jeff Bridges, Robert Duvall, Ryan Gosling, and Mark Wahlberg.  The first two are the conservative picks; the last two are riskier.

Bridges and Duvall both received nominations from the SAG Awards and the BFCA but were overlooked by the Golden Globes.  The SAG is usually a good indicator of the Academy’s ultimate selections, but they are also notorious for getting sentimental for older actors.  Given the tepid support for “True Grit” and the absence of support for “Get Low,” I don’t know if the Academy can justify to itself the inclusion of two prior winners in movies they didn’t really like.

Mark Wahlberg, a prior nominee for 2006’s “The Departed,” only managed to score a nomination from the Golden Gloves and a win from the African-American Film Critics Association, but the surge for “The Fighter” bodes well for his chances despite missing nods from the BFCA and the SAG Awards.  The leading actor usually gets swept along for the ride in scenarios like these, and that feels likely for Wahlberg.  However, since the heart of the film is Christian Bale, not leading man Wahlberg, he could still be overlooked.

And then there’s Ryan Gosling, Best Actor nominee in 2006 for “Half Nelson,” whose raw performance I still keep in my top 5.  There are two interesting trajectories Gosling has taken through awards season: in 2006, he was nominated by the BFCA but snubbed by the Golden Globes and SAG Awards on the way to an Oscar nomination.  In 2007, his work in “Lars and the Real Girl” was recognized by all three organizations yet not nominated by the Academy.  “Blue Valentine” is an entirely different path, as Gosling was nominated by the BFCA and Golden Globes but not by the SAG Awards.  I have faith … for now.

Best Actress:

  1. Natalie Portman, “Black Swan” 
  2. Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right” 
  3. Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”  (4)
  4. Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine”  (5)
  5. Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole”  (3)

No change in my top 5 this week as the same four actresses – Portman, Bening, Lawrence, Kidman – seeming to dominate the circuit collected nominations from the BFCA, the SAG Awards, and the Golden Globes.  Unfortunately, due to the conflicting genre of their movies, we won’t get a Bening/Portman face-off at the latter ceremony.  (And as a note, Kidman is at #5 because I just don’t think she will win.  I see her as the Helen Mirren in “The Last Station” of 2010, a prior winner collecting every nomination but never with a real shot to win.)

I’m still picking Portman as I feel her performance is too good to be denied, and the love for “Black Swan” is high.  She has also established herself as a critical favorite, winning awards from groups in Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Indiana, Las Vegas, the Southeast, and the New York Film Critics Online.  She has appeared on every shortlist for Best Actress, minor as a critics group or major as the BFCA, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards.

As I discussed last week, Portman has the performance but Bening has the respect.  To win, she doesn’t need to be collecting all these awards, although it would help.  She took home a very important Best Actress prize from the New York Film Critics Circle, a very influential group in the race.  Until we see her go up against Portman, I see no reason to say she’s entitled to an Oscar victory for her career.  She will need to win from the BFCA or the SAG Awards to assert her authority.

Jennifer Lawrence has also shown up on nearly every list made by critics, and she’s been winning her fair share of awards too, including from Detroit, San Diego, Toronto, and Washington D.C.  She’s a critical darling in her own right, but I think she’s too young and too fresh a face to win.

There are several actresses vying for that last spot – Hilary Swank for “Conviction” who received a surprise SAG nomination, Halle Berry for “Frankie & Alice” who received a Golden Globe nomination, Julianne Moore for “The Kids Are All Right” who received a Golden Globe nomination, dark horse Swedish actress Noomi Rapace for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” who received a BFCA nomiation, and Lesley Manville for “Another Year” who won the National Board of Review’s prize for Best Actress.

But I still think that last spot will be filled by Michelle Williams for “Blue Valentine” who was recognized by the Golden Globes and the BFCA as one of the best actresses of the year.  She’s been an Oscar nominee before, and I think she has what it takes to sneak in.

Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Christian Bale, “The Fighter” 
  2. Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech” 
  3. Jeremy Renner, “The Town”  (5)
  4. Andrew Garfield, “The Social Network” 
  5. Mark Ruffalo, “The Kids Are All Right”  (NR)

Dropping off: Matt Damon

Christian Bale has become the closest thing to a lock we can get this season, winning nearly everything in sight.  In addition to picking up Best Supporting Actor nominations from the BFCA, Golden Globes, and the SAG Awards, he won the award from Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Houston, Indiana, Las Vegas, New York Film Critics Online, and Washington D.C.  If nothing else, Oscar socialism could be at work here to give “The Fighter” a trophy.

Geoffrey Rush received the trifecta of nominations this week as well, although his only win on the critics circuit has come from the Southeastern Film Critics Association.  He was the runner-up, though, for the Los Angeles critics, a very influential group.  If Bale’s temper flares up soon, expect Rush to capitalize and take the trophy.

Rising this week is Jeremy Renner, last year’s Best Actor nominee for “The Hurt Locker,” who also received the three crucial nominations that Bale and Rush did.  He’s a quick way to recognize the movie if they don’t want to give it a Best Picture nomination.

Andrew Garfield, while being recognized by the BFCA and Golden Globes, was snubbed by the SAG Awards.  While I think the success of “The Social Network” will keep him afloat, I don’t think his nomination is any certainty.  Worth noting – some much deserved love went the way of Armie Hammer, Garfield’s co-star who breathed life into the Winklevi, from the Toronto Film Critics for Best Supporting Actor.  Two nominees from the same movie hasn’t happened in this category for almost 20 years, but perhaps if “The Social Network” hits big, it could happen.

Mark Ruffalo finally makes it into my shortlist after receiving the Best Supporting Actor prize from the influential New York Film Critics Association as well as nominations from the BFCA and SAG Awards.  It’s still a little strange that he missed out on a Golden Globe nomination (at the inclusion of Michael Douglas in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” no less), but the surge of love for the movie looks to power him into the race over John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone,” who received a SAG Award nomination in addition to his prizes from San Francisco and San Diego.

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”  (3)
  2. Mila Kunis, “Black Swan”  (NR)
  3. Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”  (2)
  4. Amy Adams, “The Fighter” 
  5. Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom”  (NR)

Dropping off: Hailee Steinfeld, Dianne Weist

I still have no idea what to make of this category.  Melissa Leo seems to be an across-the-board favorite, so I’m inclined to favor her.  She received nominations from all three major groups announcing this week and won the award from Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington D.C., the New York Film Critics Online, and most importantly the New York Film Critics Circle.  In a year where there appears to be no clear favorite, she may be the consensus choice that everyone can agree on.

Amy Adams was also on board with Leo for the big three this week, also winning Detroit and Las Vegas’ prize.  She could ultimately be Leo’s foil as vote-splitting becomes an issue.  Of the six movies that received dual Best Supporting Actress nominations over the past decade, only one managed to win (Catherine Zeta-Jones over Queen Latifah in “Chicago”).

Mila Kunis stormed onto the scene this week, capturing nominations from the BFCA, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards.  For a girl who this time last year was best known in cinema for her roles in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Max Payne,” this is a startling turnaround.  The love shows that they love her performance, and I think the Oscars will reciprocate the love in a few weeks.

Helena Bonham Carter continues to ride on the coattails of the success of “The King’s Speech,” also popping up in all three major groups announcing their nominations this week.  I see her much like Taraji P. Henson for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or Catherine Keener for “Capote” – great actresses turning in fairly good performances in beloved movies.  Fairly good can’t win, but it’s sure going to get nominated.

The campaign for Jacki Weaver worked, so pat yourself on the back, Sony Pictures Classics.  The “Animal Kingdom” actress was cited by the BFCA and Golden Globes as one of the five best supporting performances of the year, and she won the title outright from the  Los Angeles critics, an extremely good sign that she’s headed for a nomination.  The SAG snub hurt, and she still has to deal with lack of notoriety.  But if it’s about the performance, she stands a good chance.

Dark horse Juliette Lewis won Boston’s prize for her work in “Conviction,” but I think it’s too small of a part to get nominated.  Hailee Steinfeld took home top honors from Houston and Indiana for her work in “True Grit” and managed to net nominations rom the BFCA and SAG Awards.  However, category confusion and lack of familiarity could keep her out.  And for some strange reason, Dianne Weist has gone totally unnoticed this season save a meaningless Golden Satellite Award nomination.  Bye, bye…

Best Original Screenplay:

  1. Inception  (3)
  2. The Kids Are All Right 
  3. The King’s Speech  (1)
  4. Black Swan  (5)
  5. Another Year (4)

Another pick that’s pretty far out there, but I’m getting a feeling that “Inception” will win Best Original Screenplay.  The critics are all over its originality, and everyone seems on board the train.  If “The Social Network” takes Best Picture, how else to reward this movie other than a few technical awards?  Best Original Screenplay, of course, as the movie redefined originality and creativity for millions of moviegoers.  The BFCA and Golden Globe nominations don’t hurt either.

Hot on its heels is “The Kids Are All Right,” which was recognized for its screenplay by the same two organizations.  It also won the prize from the New York Film Critics Association (over “The Social Network,” I might add).  There was a two-year comedy streak from 2006-2007, and we just hit a two-year drama streak.  Perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to swing back…

While “The King’s Speech” also received the same two nominations, I just don’t feel like anyone is jumping up and down with love for the script.  It’s an actor’s movie, not a writer’s movie, and the mentions feel more like courtesy than necessity.  However, it did win the prize from the Southeastern critics and San Francisco and was a runner-up for Toronto, and Los Angeles’ prize, so maybe I’m wrong.

“Black Swan” is in because everyone likes the movie, and it got the nod from the BFCA.  “Another Year” stays in because the Academy loves Mike Leigh.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  1. The Social Network 
  2. Toy Story 3 
  3. 127 Hours  (NR)
  4. Winter’s Bone  (5)
  5. True Grit  (3)

Dropping off: Rabbit Hole

“The Social Network” is still in peak condition, winning nearly every Best Screenplay award there is.  But I hesitate to call it a lock as “Precious” surprised the heavily favored “Up in the Air” last year.  The heart is a factor in this category, and the heart belongs to “Toy Story 3.”

“127 Hours” soars to #3 thanks to its recognition by the BFCA and the Golden Globes in spite of my prior qualms that it wasn’t a movie that succeeded because of its writing.  But if Danny Boyle can’t get a Best Director nomination, it sure looks like he will get one for Best Adapted Screenplay.

“Winter’s Bone” has been collecting plenty of screenplay nominations along the critics circuit, and it seems like a solid choice for a nomination.

“True Grit” slips to #5 and only stays in because the Academy loves the Coen Brothers’ writing.  If “The Town” shows some might, it could easily replace the Western.

So, what do YOU think?  Who do you think is cruising towards an Oscar nomination?





Oscar Moment: “Animal Kingdom”

11 12 2010

Who is Jacki Weaver?  The Oscars could force you to know who she is on February 27 by awarding her Best Supporting Actress.

Sony Pictures Classics saw a performance in Weaver in “Animal Kingdom” that they thought was awards-worthy but knew it would never be considered unless they campaigned the heck out of her.  The movie is a little-known specialty release straight from Australia with Guy Pearce as its only faintly recognizable name.  It received a small release in the United States after winning a big prize at Sundance but garnered little buzz except for the raves it drew for Weaver as a crazy mother.

Trying to capitalize on this goodwill, SPC started campaigning her early seeing how wide-open the Best Supporting Actress category was (and to a large extent, still is).  They sent out “Animal Kingdom” screeners on September 30, remarkably early and the first of the year’s to arrive.  To Oscar bloggers, they sent out T-shirts with Weaver’s face plastered on the front.  They also put up FYC advertisements on major pundits’ sites starting in September, noticeably before any other movie this year.

Sure enough, their work hasn’t gone unnoticed: in the first week of awards precursors, she has won Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review, the first big group to announce their year-end favorites.  She was nominated by the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics in the same category but lost to Melissa Leo for “The Fighter,” and she was also recognized by the Golden Satellite Awards.  Back in her native Australia, she won Best Actress in an across-the-board “Animal Kingdom” sweep.

So clearly the goodwill for Weaver is there, but the question still remains: can an unknown foreigner win, or receive a nomination, for an Oscar?

Marion Cotillard went all the way for “La Vie en Rose” back in 2007; few knew her name then.  The same year, Amy Ryan dominated the critics circuit, winning almost every group’s Best Supporting Actress prize for her work as a negligent mother in Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone.”  She was hardly on the map, but thanks to Miramax’s campaigning and her widespread support, she entered the field at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and Oscars.  The NBR’s pick for Best Supporting Actress has gone on to receive an Oscar nomination 6 out of the last 10 years, although only once did they manage to pick the winner (Penelope Cruz in 2008).

I think in order to get past the issues with name recognition, Weaver is going to need a strong showing from the critics groups in the weeks to come.  If they like her, then nominations from the Golden Globes and SAG Awards should ensue, making an Oscar nomination highly likely.  All signs point towards this trajectory now, but the momentum could easily shift away from Weaver.  One thing’s for certain: she makes a dull Best Supporting Actress category in 2010 a little bit more exciting.

BEST BET FOR NOMINATION: Best Supporting Actress





Oscar Moment: “The Ghost Writer”

28 11 2010

Back in June, I wrote a polarizing piece suggesting that “Shutter Island” could be a legitimate player in the Best Picture race.  In the poll, most people thought that was a big pot of croc.  But what if the February release that we should be looking out for is Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer?”

For many of the same reasons “Shutter Island” is being considered, we should consider this movie.  It has the name of high-prestige director on its masthead who has been rewarded by the Academy in the past decade (2002 for “The Pianist”).  It has critical support; both movies received identical BFCA scores of 81.  It is an audience-pleasing thriller that keeps you closely tied into the action until the conclusion.

But unlike “Shutter Island,” there is an aura of controversy surrounding “The Ghost Writer.”  Timed almost simultaneously with the movie’s stateside release was Roman Polanski’s arrest overseas for the statutory rape he fled the United States for decades ago.  The director instantly became a topic of heated conversation.  Should he face justice, or be pardoned after all these years?  No matter what you think, the debate put Polanski into a very present mainstream consciousness.  As Sasha Stone put it in her excellent piece Cinema Paranoia, “there was no room, nor any invitation, to look at ‘The Ghost Writer’ [after the hysteria].”

The Hollywood community flocked to Polanski’s side, and it will be interesting to see where this support goes in Oscar season.  The movie took an unexpected resonance in the face of the controversy, and I think it added a different dimension to the experience.  It certainly brought out a great deal of passion in certain people, and as Guy Lodge of In Contention pondered, “progressive media loyalty to Polanski may have gone into overdrive … [I] wonder whether the director’s band of supporters in the Academy might show up for the film come nomination time — despite its low profile and early release date.”

“The Ghost Writer” has already racked up several impressive feats this year that could bode well for it during the long season ahead.  Back in February, Polanski won Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival.  Over the summer, FIPRESCI, the international critics’ association, named it their best movie of 2010; their previous choices have included art-house favorites “Magnolia” and Best Picture nominee “There Will Be Blood.”  At the beginning of November, it received seven nominations for the European Film Awards, more than any other movie.

It remains to be seen whether these accomplishments or the controversy will amount to anything substantial in terms of Oscars.  What happens in Europe doesn’t necessarily reflect American tastes.  I think if the movie can get some support from critics groups, which isn’t too far-fetched given its 83% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 77 on Metacritic, “The Ghost Writer” could gain some significant traction for one of the bottom 5 Best Picture nominations and perhaps even an out-of-nowhere Best Director nomination.  Some have even speculated that Olivia Williams, who plays the wife of the former Prime Minister, could play into the Best Supporting Actress race.  Given the volatile field there, I wouldn’t discount her if the film starts to catch on.

Worth nothing as well: a below-the-line nomination could also be in store for composer Alexandre Desplat, who was recently awarded Composer of the Year at the World Soundtrack Awards.  However, he also has scores in play for “The King’s Speech” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the former of which is probably much more Academy friendly than “The Ghost Writer.”  I haven’t listened to the score from the ultra-baity English flick, but I will say that Desplat’s score was one of my favorite parts of the movie and is very deserving of a nomination.

The general consensus is that this isn’t one of Polanski’s best, but is “not his best” better than “really good” from lesser filmmakers?  We’ll find out.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actress (Williams), Best Original Score

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay





Oscar Moment: “Country Strong”

26 11 2010

“Country Strong” is Middle America bait, combining country music and rehabbed alcoholic singers a la “Crazy Heart” with a spunky heroine with a down-home charm a la “The Blind Side.”  Coincidentally, both of those movies featured leading performances that won Oscars in 2009.  So are we looking at a similar trajectory for Gwyneth Paltrow, the movie’s leading lady?

Paltrow has already hit the promotional trail in somewhat unconventional but definitely effective ways.  She guest-starred on “Glee,” singing a cover of Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You.”  Then, directly aimed at the people who will see “Country Strong,” she performed the movie’s titular track at the Country Music Awards (CMAs) in Nashville.  Here’s a clip of her singing:

Let’s not forget that Paltrow has already won Best Actress for a completely different flavor of acting (for “Shakespeare in Love” in 1998).  Her star power could power her into the race even though her only Academy friendly movie that has gotten any recognition was “The Royal Tenenbaums” back in 2001.  However, her foray into the dramatic with “Proof” landed her a Golden Globe nomination, so perhaps “Country Strong” will have that extra push to get her into the Best Actress field.  Yet even taking her competition out of the picture, I think it would be difficult for the Academy to vote her to a second win.  They realize now what a great honor their trophies are, and when someone like Hilary Swank has the same amount of wins as Meryl Streep, something’s up.

Paltrow and the movie have lost one big building block to an Oscar campaign in the Golden Globes.  The HFPA decided to place “Country Strong” in the drama category, which is much tougher to receive nominations (not to mention wins) because of the more respected field.  If the movie were placed in musical/comedy (since it features a lot of song), Paltrow would compete against Annette Bening and Sally Hawkins.  In drama, she will face Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, and several other talented actresses.  And for the lightweight movie, talk about a huge long shot to score a Best Picture nomination.  The only way I could see it sneaking in would be for there to magically be more than 5 nominated films.

And since this is a movie about country music, it will be a strong contender in the Best Original Song category.  There are two featured tracks in contention for the win, “Me and Tennessee” and “Coming Home.”  The rules have changed in the Best Original Song category to try to prohibit one movie from hogging all the nominations and thus vote splitting; this is why Alan Menken only chose to submit one song from “Tangled” for consideration.  If “Country Strong” wants to win this category, Screen Gems needs to pick one song to put all their horses behind.

There are 18 days between the wide release of “Country Strong” and the announcement of the 83rd Oscar nominations.  If it manages to rake in some nice box office dollars, I suspect we could be looking at a financially successful movie popular with Middle America that this year’s Academy Awards really don’t have.  It could be an enticing proposition … but it would have to make big money FAST.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actress, Best Original Song

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Picture





Oscar Moment: “Frankie & Alice”

23 11 2010

How important is it for the diversity of Hollywood actors to be represented at the Oscars?  That’s a question many voters will be facing this year when they fill out their ballots.  Many pundits have put all the hopes of breaking up what appears to be 20 white acting nominees on the backs of 2001’s winner for Best Actress, Halle Berry.

Her latest movie, “Frankie & Alice,” made a last-second entry into the Oscar race not too much unlike “Crazy Heart” did last year.  But unlike Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-winning vehicle, Berry’s contention in Best Actress has hardly shaken anything up.  Of the 15 awards season analysts labeled the “Gurus o’ Gold,” not a single one of them included Berry in their five picks for Best Actress.  Ouch.

Perhaps it’s just the circumstances that make Berry feel like such a great contender.  As The Los Angeles Times put it, “for the first time since the 73rd Oscars 10 years ago, there will be no black nominees in any of the acting categories in the February ceremony.”  Who better than to prove that statement made in September wrong than Halle Berry, the first African-American actress to win Best Actress.  But ever since that tearful speech, things haven’t been going to well for Berry as she fell into the “Best Actress Curse” rut that has consumed so many worthy actresses.

Since 2001, Berry has been a Bond girl in “Die Another Day,” the movie so dreadful it caused the series to reboot, the notorious feline in “Catwoman,” which won her a not-so-coveted Razzie, and the star of two other movies scoring in the 10% fresh range on Rotten Tomatoes.  Her only movie to be certified fresh since “Monster’s Ball” won her the trophy was “X-Men 2.”  Clearly Berry has strayed far away from Oscar territory (and her 2007 attempt, “Things We Lost in the Fire,” got her nowhere).

This could work in two ways.  First, like the prodigal son, they could be willing to welcome her back with open arms.  Or, the alternative is that they could shun her for disgracing her title as “Academy Award Winner Halle Berry.”  The movies she has been taking don’t exactly merit the descriptor.

A woman in the 1970s with multiple personality syndrome is more traditional bait for the Oscars, and people losing their minds traditionally go over well with the Academy (see: Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married,” Julie Christie in “Away from Her,” and Judi Dench in “Iris”).  But until she gets some big critical support, I don’t see this campaign going anywhere.

She does have one admirer, though.  Here’s pundit Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly last week on Berry in “Frankie & Alice:”

“The former Best Actress winner for ‘Monster’s Ball’ gives another strong, gutsy performance as a stripper with multiple-personality disorder (her other two personas are a racist white woman and, most arrestingly, a small child). Whether or not the film will be well-received enough for Berry to be able to challenge … Annette Bening and … Natalie Portman remains to be seen. But I’d certainly put her on the list of eight women … that have the best shot at filling out the five Best Actress slots this year.”

Perhaps there is hope.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actress (Berry)





Oscar Moment: “Blue Valentine”

19 11 2010

You’ve probably heard about “Blue Valentine” for all the wrong reasons, particularly because of the absurd NC-17 rating it received at the hands of the violence-loving but genophobic (that’s the fear of sex) ratings boards of the MPAA.  Harvey Weinstein lawyered up and is now going to stare down the ridiculous organization until they renege on the rating that has led all other movies to final ruin.

Why is the movie NC-17, for all those curious out there wondering?  Because it dared to give an honest portrayal of a relationship in its most devastating moments.  The movie has gained a reputation over the past year, after playing at Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto, for being a brutal watch but incredibly powerful because it dares to not fall into Hollywood schmaltz.  As Guy Lodge of In Contention put it when he first saw the movie at Cannes, the movie’s tagline should be “don’t see it with someone you love.”

The reviews so far have been fantastic, and they have been consistently rolling in as the film plays a new festival.  Kris Tapley of In Contention wrote in October that he “found it to be a delicate and truthful examination of a relationship in crisis.”  Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly raved:

“No movie I’ve seen at Sundance this year conjures the possibilities — or the current, gloom-and-doom marketplace environment — of independent film more powerfully than Blue Valentine. A lushly touching, wrenching, and beautifully told story, directed by Derek Cianfrance with a mood of entwined romantic dreams and romantic loss …”

The movie is a promising debut for writer/director Derek Cianfrance, and if the critics really show their love for the movie through their year-end awards, I think he could be rewarded with a Best Original Screenplay nomination.  Best Director this year will be packed full of some fan favorites reaching their peak (Fincher, maybe Nolan and Aronofsky), and the choice newcomer of 2010 will probably be Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech.”

But I get the sense that the reward for “Blue Valentine” will come through its actors, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  It is their movie, and most reviews I read state that Cianfrance largely steps out of the way and lets them create the art.  According to Sasha Stone of Awards Daily, this movie is the culmination of a whole lot of work and passion from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams:

“… Director Derek Cianfrance has been meticulously working on this film for a good ten years.  He brought it to Michelle Williams back in 2003, and a few years later they brough in Ryan Gosling.  The idea was to wait until the two of them were old enough to be believable in the part.  Since the film takes place in different moments in time, the actors had to take a hiatus and change themselves physically before coming back to film the later scenes of the couple.”

Cianfrance went to great measures to get the most authentic performances possible out of his actors.  Gosling and Williams largely lived their roles during filming, and Cianfrance captured as much of it as possible.  Praise has been pouring out for the two stars, ranging from “the performances of their careers” (Stone) to “pitch-perfect” and “gold” (Tapley).  Gosling and Williams, who both recently turned 30, are tremendously respected for their ages as can be seen through their previous nominations.  Both face difficult fields, but I think they can do it simply because “Blue Valentine” appears to fly because they knock it out of the park.

And then there’s the big question of them all: what about Best Picture?  For starters, it’s already racked up one nomination on the road to glory.  The Gotham Independent Film Awards recognized “Blue Valentine” as one of the five best independent movies of the year, along with other hopefuls like “The Kids Are All Right,” “Black Swan,” and “Winter’s Bone.”  This group picked last year’s Best Picture winner, “The Hurt Locker,” as their favorite and nominated “A Serious Man,” a 2009 Best Picture nominee, as well.  The Gotham Awards are hardly a reliable indicator for Oscar tastes, though, with a Best Picture nominee popping up every once in a while.

So who knows?  The publicity from the ratings drama isn’t hurting, but with the film’s release set for December 31, it will have very little time to find an audience, making it the “obscure indie” pick that the expanded field might be phasing out.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actor, Best Actress

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director