Pre-Nomination Musings

Mister Tee
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Postby Mister Tee » Thu Jan 28, 2010 1:02 pm

It may be just my own life miasma, but I'm finding relatively little enthusiasm for the Oscars this years. It's nice that, against all odds, we appear to have a real best picture race (one that might even be affected by the new voting standard). But the acting races have devolved to a point where the only reason one category remains in question is because there's a chance an appalling winner could be chosen. The rest of the field might as well be engraved in stone. To some degree, this is an unlucky one-off -- Waltz/Mo'Nique have dominated both critics and populist balloting like no supporting team since the Landau/Wiest gavotte in ‘94, which makes for dull viewing but, if it's deserved, what can you do? But, beyond that, I'm starting to wonder if we'll ever have a genuinely wide-open tournament again, as long as the unholy alliance that is BFCA/Globes/SAG/BAFTA continues to flood the zone -- staging shows not merely precursing but essentially co-opting the Oscars,and all of them, it seems, having adopted the Broadcasters' "We must predict the Oscar choices" credo. I love Jeff Bridges and his performance, but it's basically impossible enough SAG voters saw Crazy Heart to choose him; their votes just about had to be a salute to his career, and confirmation of his growing seasonal "buzz" (a word I've come to loathe in this context). There's every signal that the precursing groups now take this sort of thing as their mission, which has vitiated interest in the big award, and will only continue to do so. I truly don't see any way out of this.

So, how do I keep myself engaged? I concentrate on the nominations -- there, at least, we have potential for novelty or surprise. thoughts about what we'll be hearing next Tuesday morning:

In a sense, the expansion to ten nominees has added needed interest to the race, as nearly everyone presumes the DGA five -- Avatar/Hurt Locker/Up in the Air/Inglourious/Precious – would have been the full best picture slate in a standard year. Now, we at least have the subsidiary pleasure of guessing at the second-tier (probably chanceless) five. Or should I say three, as it seems most (including myself) think two films are nearly certain to make the list – Up, and, based on Guild success, District 9. After that, it becomes a major crap-shoot, with anyone's guess as good as another's; none of us have any idea which pockets within the Academy will be most influential in terms of promoting candidates. As I see it, those final three might hail from any of three rough categories: well-reviewed but small indies (A Single Man, A Serious Man, The Messenger), down-the-middle-brow dramas (Invictus, Crazy Heart, An Education), or lightweight popular favorites (Star Trek, Julie and Julie, The Blind Side). One is tempted to take a one-from-column A approach – A Serious Man, An Education, Star Trek – but until we've gone through a year or two of this new system, we have no way of knowing the parameters. Listening to what those last candidates turn out to be might be the most entertaining aspect of nominations morning.

The expansion to ten does seem to remove a favored parlor-game, guessing at the lone director (and the corresponding dropped best picture director). But we can play a version of it, if we assume again the DGA five would have duplicated as our best picture set. It's likely at least one of those five will not be cited by the directors' branch. Most (again, me included) would tap Daniels for the dishonor, but I wouldn't be so sure Reitman's safe, either. His film seems too solidly in the best picture competition to be ousted, but James Brooks felt the same about his status in 1987 and got the boot -- screenplay-dominated films are vulnerable here. As for what will do the replacing...sometimes (as Eric pointed out last year) we can be overly optimistic about the directors' level of daring. Yes, they've gone with Talk to Her and Vera Drake, but they've also opted for far more pedestrian if unobjectionable choices, like Diving Bell and the Butterfly or The Truman Show. I see Precious Doll is predicting Haneke, and I've been tempted to push the Coens. But I think a more typical directors' choice might be District 9...something well-reviewed and a bit off-center, with a slightly hip gloss, but well within the normal zone.

In the acting categories, the only real interest is at the margins. No one doubts Bridges, Clooney and Firth are making the list, and, though I questioned him early on, Renner has been so much a part of The Hurt Locker's visibility push that I'd now be startled if he were left off. Freeman, it turns out, is the marginal candidate, but I think a fairly strong one – or, at least, strong compared to Mortensen or Damon, probably the only actors with a chance of making a surprise appearance.

Best actress is similarly locked for four spots – Bullock, Mulligan, Sidibe, Streep. Helen Mirren seems to me an unusually weak fifth candidate, but she benefits from competitors who are similarly disposable (Cornish, Blunt) or, sadly, too unheralded to have more than a do-you-believe-in-miracles' chance (Swinton). I won't be sure it's Mirren till I hear the name read off, but I can't bet against it.

Supporting actor is the category I think offers the best chance of surprise, because most candidates beside Waltz are in marginal territory. Harrelson is the strongest, probably very deserving, but his movie was widely unseen. Damon seems a remnant of a campaign that's folded its tents but forgot to go home. Stanley Tucci is an anomaly: his excellence in Julie and Julia whetted everyone's appetite for a dramatic coup de grace in Lovely Bones -- but, even having failed to deliver, he's somehow coasting (at least at the precursors) on that anticipation. I've said for some time I thought voters might go back to the Julie and Julia performance, and still think that possibility is live. But Bones' unexpectedly solid box-office the past two weekends complicates that (apparently the novel's fans, in short supply during the limited run, have finally turned up). I can now see Tucci getting nominated for either film, or splitting votes enough that he misses entirely. Alfred Molina is another strange case: well-reviewed, in a popular movie, with strong career credentials, but unaccountably left off SAG's ballot. Meanwhile Christopher Plummer, who did get key nods, seems to be playing a ghost role in the race -- he'd be getting a chanceless nomination for a movie virtually no one's seen. What's really odd is, these gentlemen have dominated the January award nominations without being critics' favorites. Waltz's near-sweep of the critics' awards obscured several other candidates making strong showings: Christian McKay, Peter Capaldi, Paul Schneider. It's puzzling why none of these have shown up over the past few weeks. (Critics' runners-up in other acting categories have) It's also a mystery why, with all Hurt Locker's acclaim, Anthony Mackie has not been mentioned once all season. I don't rule out one or two of these fellows turning up as a surprise on Oscar morning. Obviously, I could be wrong; we could end up with an exact replica of the SAG or Globe list. But I think there's at least the possibility of an unusually innovative slate come Tuesday.

Supporting actress has a stronger core group. Mo'Nique's steamroller didn't keep Kendrick and Farmiga from getting attention, and all three are certain nominees. After that, it's murkier. Julianne Moore is the most likely of those remaining, but she's far from certain. I have doubts about any of the Inglourious Basterds ladies making it – though I'll certainly say they're more apt to be named than anyone from Nine. I'm thinking, however, voters might go in a fresher direction: maybe citing Maggie Gyllenhaal alongside co-star Bridges for the surprisingly successful Crazy Heart. Or, perhaps,they'll go once again with Samantha Morton, who has shown an unusual ability to nail down borderline nominations.

For the first time in several years, we should have strong slates for both original and adapted screenplays, but the competition for slots in the two categories is very different. Nearly everyone has settled on the five likelies for original: (500) Days, Hurt Locker, Inglourious, Serious Man and Up. There's always the chance of a surprise -- White Ribbon from one direction, Avatar or Hangover from another -- but by and large we know what we expect. Over on adaptation side, though, chaos reigns. Clearly Up in the Air is set, likely with Precious right behind, and An Education ought to score in this category, at least. But past that we have perhaps the most bountiful field of any category -- even if you gloss over WGA nominees Star Trek and Julie and Julia, and discard not-completely-dead Invictus, you're left trying to cram Crazy Heart, District 9, Fantastic Mr. Fox, A Single Man and Into the Loop into two or three spots (In the Loop may be too much a niche film to score overall, but no branch is more disposed to niche items than the writers). Whatever the final five, several films will be able to rightly gripe that in most any other year they'd have made the cut.

Below the line, Avatar has taken away lot of what might have been suspense, as it seems sure to win art direction, both sound categories and visual effects, with editing at least a prospect as well. In cinematography, the only question is, will the branch nominate the film or shy away from digital-effect-driven work (as they did with the final Lord of the Rings)? If Avatar's nominated, I assume it'll win there, too.

The best race below the line appears to be costumes, as none of the big-ticket films offer the sort of achievement usually noted by this branch. Most of the year, bloggers were assuming a Nine win, but the film's critical/commercial crash -- plus the fact its costumes mostly amount to bustiers -- puts it out of the running (though it stands a fair chance at nomination). I see all sorts of possibilities -- Bright Star, Cheri, Sherlock Holmes, Public Enemies, The Last Station, The Young Victoria, Coco Before Chanel, Inglourious Basterds, Julie and Julia, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Where the Wild Things Are -- but am hobbled in predicting because I've seen so few of them. (A modest proposal: if the Academy's going to nominate throwaway films in this category, they should see to it they're available in DVD so we don't have to pay theatre prices to judge them) Of course, it's always possible The Young Victoria will run away with this -- which will mean the Broadcast Crtiics will have managed to poke their noses in and spoil one of the few competitive categories left this year.

And that's all I can bring myself to care about. Is there anything important I've missed?

Edited By Mister Tee on 1264708440

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