OFF THE CARPET: When the movies play second fiddle

Posted by · 2:19 pm · September 29th, 2008

Kate Winslet and Stephen Daldry on the set of The ReaderShort column this time around because there are just a few specific things on my mind.

It’s been a relatively slow couple of weeks in the wake of the Toronto International Film Festival.  At least on the surface.’

Behind the scenes, studios are circling their wagons, securing Oscar ad buys, prepping their fall product and gently waiting.  “Hope you had fun at the fests,” they seem to be saying to the independent success stories of the year.  “The main event is about to begin.”

And yet, the “main event” consistently disappoints.  Downfall can as easily be attributed to hype as it can to poor quality, an idea our own John Foote pondered last week.  Indeed, there are a few productions I expect to be rewarded for their discretion this year, lying in wait while the usual suspects empty their chambers in the loud march to Oscar.

But it seems like casualties are already presenting themselves.  It pains me to see the Scott Rudin/Harvey Weinstein debate dragged through the mud every single day, right down to the manipulation of Nikki finke in order to make Weinstein look like an outright douche bag.  Whatever the particulars, is there any question that the real loser at the end of all of this isn’t Weinstein, isn’t Rudin, but “The Reader” itself?

A film with a lot of potential is tainted at the starting gate, while the efforts of Stephen Daldry, David Hare, Kate Winslet, etc., could be all for naught because gossip had to become printable “news” and bloggers had to one-up each other in order to be perceived as more important.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” has become more and more about the long road to the screen, the negative assessment of 20 minutes of footage from a few Internet sources and the Oscar prowess of Brad Grey than the film itself.

(from left) Brad Pitt and Elle Fanning in The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonEndless speculation tends to spiral like this when there isn’t a finished product to discuss, but there is a point of no return.  The “Button” buzz is getting close to that line, where no one involved can hope for the proper separation from all the chatter.

Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” seemed to be written about endlessly by critics at Cannes that felt they had the editorial expertise to whittle it down to something purposeful.  Even its legion of supporters couldn’t drown out the taint that emanated from the Croisette.  Does anyone who hasn’t seen it on the festival circuit expect to go into the theater without the back story in mind?

And what about the mountain of negative buzz circling Bryan Singer’s “Valkyrie.”  Of course it doesn’t help for a studio to shift the release date two or three times, food for the insatiable appetites of journalists looking for meaning in every nuance of every business decision, but how many already can’t shake the feeling that this is a cinematic misstep as a result of the coverage?  The film is trying its best to speak for itself, put its best foot forward with a nice new poster and trailer, but there is the sense that it is swimming upstream.

When the story about the movies becomes more apparent than the story within the movies, everyone loses.

I don’t have an Oscar prediction update for you this week because nothing has changed for me, beyond perhaps finding room for Josh Brolin in the Best Actor chart.  But this is the time of year when the talk becomes deafening and you just wish you could finally see for yourself and move on.  And this moment seems to creep up earlier and earlier each year.


→ 8 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

8 responses so far

  • 1 9-29-2008 at 3:04 pm

    Patrick W. said...

    I think if ‘The Reader’ is good this won’t matter, and I have high hopes it will be. Daldry must be at least satisfied to have agreed to an 08 release date. If he delivers this will all be forgotten for the most part. It’s got enough ‘prestige’ credentials to ride through, people will be interested in it despite this.

    It’s if the film is average that it’ll come back to bite it.

  • 2 9-29-2008 at 3:09 pm

    Craig Kennedy said...

    I’m not bringing this up in an Oscar blog to be critical of Oscar blogs in general or this one specifically, but the collateral damage caused to films in the brutal Oscar game is something that gives me pause about the whole thing.

    All too often amid all the sniping and predictions and perceived awards disappointments, a simple important fact gets clouded: Is the movie any good or not? In the end, that’s all that really matters and sometimes it seems like the awards put the cart before the horse so to speak.

    Valkyrie is somehow damaged goods sight unseen even though it seems increasingly clear to me that it’s not an Oscar type film. And that’s not a criticism of it. It is what it is, for better or for worse, but it’s drop in status is making it out to be a disappointment.

    Something similar seemed to happen a couple of years ago to Stranger than Fiction. It was being touted in some corners as an Oscar candidate from the script stage, yet when it came out it was a fairly light romantic comedy and it got creamed. Maybe I’m just bitter because I was charmed by that movie (a minority opinion, I know), but it feels like misguided perceptions helped kill it.

    I’m kind of rambling here about 3 different but related topics.

  • 3 9-29-2008 at 3:54 pm

    McGuff said...

    Good column, Kris, I agree with its sentiment. One you didn’t mention alongside “Che” was “Blindness,” the movie I’m most looking forward to seeing this weekend. It was (perhaps deservedly) bashed at Cannes, but John Foote’s review on this site from TIFF was pretty damn positive. However, is there a hope for Moore or Bernal or the movie itself anymore because of the desire to analyze the Oscar race as early as Cannes?

  • 4 9-29-2008 at 4:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I thought about “Blindness,” but its issues seem to have been ironed out for Toronto.

  • 5 9-30-2008 at 10:13 am

    oscarmeter said...

    The Dark Knight
    The Reader
    Revolutionary Road
    Slumdog Millionaire

    Danny Boyle/Slumdog Millionaire
    Stephen Daldry/The Reader
    David Fincher/Benjamin Button
    Christopher Nolan/The Dark Knight
    Gus Van Sant/Milk

    Josh Brolin/W
    Leonardo DiCaprio/Revolutionary Road
    Richard Jenkins/The Visitor
    Sean Penn/Milk
    Mickey Rourke/The Wrestler

    Anne Hathaway/Rachel Getting Married
    Sophie Okonedo/Skin
    Kristin Scott Thomas/I´ve Loved You so Long
    Meryl Streep/Doubt
    Kate Winslet/The Reader

    Ralph Fiennes/The Reader
    James Franco/Milk
    Heath Ledger/The Dark Knight
    Michael Sheen/Frost-Nixon
    Kodi Smitt-McPhee/The Road

    Elizabeth Banks/W
    Penelope Cruz/Vicky Christina Barcelona
    Rosemarie Dewitt/Rachel Getting Married
    Vera Farmiga/Nothing But the Truth
    Marisa Tomei/The Wrestler

    Rachel Getting Married
    Vicky Christina Barcelona
    The Visitor

    The Reader
    Revolutionary Road
    Slumdog Millionaire

  • 6 10-01-2008 at 8:27 pm

    Josh said...

    M.I.A. has written several new songs for Slumdog Millionaire. I would expect her to get nominated especially if the film is a big hit with the academy.

  • 7 10-01-2008 at 10:31 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Not “several.” There is one in there, and they use “Paper Planes” as well. The Bollywood track at the end is also new.