1/14 Chart Update
My apologies for the lateness of this column.
With a week’s worth of guilds behind us, the underlying picture of the industry’s favorites has taken on a certain shape that is difficult to ignore. Five films (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “Into the Wild,” “Juno,” “Michael Clayton,” “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood”) have surfaced as definitive frontrunners for the five coveted Best Picture slots, and with a week to go before the nominations announcement (and ballots being submitted before the late Globes rush for “Atonement” and “Sweeney Todd”), the smart money would be on five of these contenders.
But there is no “smart money” in the Oscar game, is there? Why can’t I shake the feeling that, as so often is the case with the Academy, the group will go its own way and afford at least a shock or two? Can we really be so “locked in” to the line of logic that “Juno” is our Best Picture nominee sans director bid, while Julian Schnabel is tailor-made for a lone director nomination? Isn’t that, I don’t know…too easy? Yet that’s what I’m predicting still, as I have been for months upon months. It just seems too convenient a scenario.
I’m quite willing to offer up humble pie when I miss the boat, and so it is with much humility that I’m prepared to say “I was wrong” about “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood.” At the same time, guild support for those films was never something I was betting against. Perhaps “Blood” surprises me more than the Coens’ effort, but even that was assured many of the tips of the hat it received this week.
Thankfully I see there actually are levelheaded readers out there, witnessed by a comment in the comments section below about how obviously un-Academy “Blood” is. But this is a world with more than its fair share of fanboys and biased bystanders, so it was kind of inevitable that I would take shots for leaving the film (one of my favorites of the year) off of the charts for so long.
“No Country” is a different story altogether. Again, it was destined for the guild nominations it received, but beyond that, actual Academy members are beginning to jump on the bandwagon as if they feel they NEED to do so. Where early reactions were quite deflated, recent chatter has been through the roof. Make of that what you will.
The one film I totally missed the boat on was “Michael Clayton,” a well made, craftily written, but painfully average lawyer drama that has just set this town ablaze. I chalk it up to the Clooney factor and the fact that heavy-hitters like Steven Soderbergh, Anthony Minghella and Sidney Pollock are on producing duties, but it certainly has been one hell of a reception for Tony Gilroy’s directorial debut. Couldn’t have happened to a cooler guy, however, so I can’t get all grumpy about it. I didn’t see it coming, regardless. So never underestimate the Academy’s attraction to “good enough.”
“Juno” is the one film set to get a nod that has made considerable money going into announcement, and that might just be enough to sneak it through. The film didn’t have the guild showing it might have (missing a DGA nomination is telling, considering the group awards its Best Picture choices more so than its Best Director choices). But I suppose it has turned up in key areas nonetheless: ACE, PGA, WGA. I believe it to be a flip of the coin between “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and Diablo Cody’s ditty for the last slot, but who knows what kind of goodwill Julian Schnabel’s film has earned behind the scenes.
Surprising PGA and DGA (given that the guild rarely goes “artsy”) nominations, as well as a showing on the makeup bake-off list, indicate that there is a real chance there -- and not exactly a totally surprising one either. The first week the film appeared on the charts was September 10, during the Toronto International Film Festival (and when it wasn’t really on anyone’s Best Picture radar). It experienced some slipping and sliding throughout October and November before making its top five debut on November 27. So, suffice it to say, I’ve considered it a contender – if they actually watched it. Apparently, “they” did.
And finally, the other “frontrunner” along with “No Country” has to be “Into the Wild,” a film clearly embraced across the board, with surprising showings with the CAS and SAG (the film led the field there). The only critics group worth noting for Oscar prognostication, the BFCA, nominated it more than any other effort (though gave it no trophies last week). Ultimately I think it may come down to this film or “Michael Clayton” for the win, to be quite honest, because “No Country” and “There Will Be Blood” seem destined to split the vote in some strange way, but we’ll see. “Clayton” has a lot of goodwill for the ailing Sidney Pollock on its side right now as well, which might be a morbid way of looking at things, but there we are.
All of this is fine and good, but I say again, it can’t be this sewn up, can it? Of course, there is no late entry the likes of “Letters from Iwo Jima” that couldn’t find guild viewership in time but had plenty of mojo left for Academy members to see it and like it. “Sweeney Todd” was, I believe, the last screener to arrive, so there might be a line of logic that the SAG didn’t see it in time. “There Will Be Blood” was late to doorsteps, but Paramount Vantage has screened it endlessly, so there have been opportunities.
And poor “Atonement” seems to be experiencing some homeland pride against the effort or something. Even “Cold Mountain,” a Best Picture miss chalked up in some circles to anti-runaway production philosophy, managed a strong guild showing. “Atonement” has popped up at the ASC and ADG and nowhere else, despite, ironically enough, winning the Golden Globe for Best Picture. Could that be the “surprise” waiting for those of us crunching the numbers for the “obvious” scenario? I can’t be sure.
For now, I’ll just go with a set of predictions, as always, and let the rest of it marinate as we lead up to next week’s announcement. Final predictions will be posted Monday.
Previous Oscar Columns:
01/07/08 - "12/24 Chart Update"
12/24/07 - "12/24 Chart Update"
12/12/07 - "12/12 Chart Update"
12/10/07 - "12/10 Chart Update"
12/03/07 - "12/3 Chart Update"
11/27/07 - "11/27 Chart Update"
11/12/07 - "11/5 Chart Update"
11/05/07 - "11/5 Chart Update"
10/29/07 - "10/29 Chart Update"
10/15/07 - "The Oil Man vs. the Demon Barber?"
10/08/07 - "Clean-up on Aisle September"
10/01/07 - "Still Anybody's Game"
09/17/07 - "Post-Toronto Update"
09/10/07 - "Notes from the Eye of a Storm"
09/03/07 - "Launching the New Season"
08/03/07 - "August Update"
07/01/07 - "The Silence is Deafening"
02/26/07 - "Forging Ahead: In Contention's Year in Advance Oscar Speculation"