OFF THE CARPET: Insert witty Oscar column headline here

Posted by · 1:59 pm · November 25th, 2008

Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonThis year’s Oscar season is sapping the creativity from my bones.  Perhaps it’s foolish to come to this space every week and offer a full-blown column.  Sometimes there isn’t much to talk about.  This year, however, the things we do have to talk about don’t seem worth talking about.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” for instance, was the most anticipated film of the season.  But three days after finally seeing the film, I’m not feeling the resonance I anticipated.  The film is a cinematic marvel, a stroke of screenwriting brilliance and a massive leap forward across an array of technical achievements.  But it hasn’t captured my imagination like I thought it would.

Your guess is as good as mine on that one.

“The Reader” finally screened to the press at large yesterday, both here in Los Angeles and in the Big Apple.  The buzz leading up to the big reveal was that, hey, this might be a bigger contender than we anticipated.  But personally speaking, the result is almost an afterthought — no lingering, no spirited embrace of the film’s themes and story particulars.  Just another film.

So, is it just me, or is the soft landing of so many of the year’s perceived heavies beginning to tangibly expose 2008 as the Oscar low point we all thought it would become?

I find it interesting that one of the year’s best entries, Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York,” is all about an artist struggling to make something meaningful, something everlasting.  That seems to be the aim of a number of the season’s hopefuls, and like Caden Cotard, they never quite get there.

Another of the year’s best, “Pineapple Express” (of all things), is a romp with no particular artistic focus, a blending of David Gordon Green’s stranglehold on the mundane and Seth Rogen’s grasp of the new funny.  No reason for it to be on the top tier, yet there it is.

Ayush Mahesh Khedekar in Slumdog MillionaireWhich brings me to the one film that sends a shockwave through my system every time I watch it: Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire.”  In a year dreadfully morose or otherwise low key, here is a film — and a filmmaker — seemingly unburdened by the world’s harsh realities.  Indeed, it’s a film that uses those realities toward the resolution of a whimsical narrative that stands out as a result.

I can’t help but wonder if I’m the only person having this reaction, which is why I can’t shake the feeling that “Slumdog Millionaire” will be this year’s Oscar victor.  The Fox Searchlight story has been a beautiful one, the studio landing three critically acclaimed but unabashedly light-hearted films in the Best Picture race three years in a row.

Eighteen years after the studio set up shop and 11 years after its first brush with major awards success, how serendipitous would it be for a Simon Beaufoy-scripted effort to once again surprise during the awards season, but as a victor this time, rather than as a mere dark horse nominee?

And furthermore, if the competition is “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” how atmospherically different (yet thematically similar) could two contenders possibly be?  I sense a rift on the horizon.

Or maybe not.  This is the damnedest Oscar season I’ve seen yet…and I’ve seen a few.  I wouldn’t place a bet on anything, even perceived shoo-ins.  What’s more, to have such an “off” year like this in the midst of the Academy’s most turbulent era of change and metamorphosis — toss a coin, folks.

What is left isn’t drawing the same enthusiasm as the films that finally dropped over the last two weeks.  “Gran Torino,” screening in Los Angeles on December 1 and having already shown to a handful of critics and journos, is increasingly being considered more of a star vehicle for Clint Eastwood to make a play at a Best Actor trophy.  Walt Kowalski could be his Rooster Cogburn.

Rosario Dawson and Will Smith in Seven Pounds“Seven Pounds,” meanwhile, could be a surprise for more than a few.  I’ve heard some “Crash” comparisons, which could be good or bad depending on your tastes.  It could be something special, but you wouldn’t know it by those non-descript, Will-Smith-on-a-milk-carton posters.  We’ll know in about 10 days (well, we better know — I have a BFCA ballot I need to fill out sooner or later).

But that’s all we have to look forward to at this point.  Weird how that happens.

Mainly, I’d say it’s time to start really putting this awards year into perspective.  December is less than a week away and I feel like the season, despite more waiting than usual, has been flying by.  Before long it’ll be January, and names like David Fincher, Danny Boyle, Gus Van Sant, Ron Howard and Sam Mendes will give way to Michael Mann, Peter Jackson, Mira Nair, Kevin Macdonald, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron and, yet again, Clint Eastwood.

I’m ready if you are.

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→ 32 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Featured · Off the Carpet

32 responses so far

  • 1 11-25-2008 at 2:07 pm

    Paulo said...

    Well I knew you would replace Jolie for Blanchett, and Pitt is even down. Dont you think that giving all those nominations to BB and leaving Pitt out would be the snub of the decade. A total Brangelina snub? Thats not too much?

  • 2 11-25-2008 at 2:21 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Not really. It’s a passive performance. That’s just how the cookie crumbled.

  • 3 11-25-2008 at 2:34 pm

    John said...

    My most anticipated film of the year is ‘Australia’. Watching it’s RT scores plummet into the mid 50s is very disheartening. If there were 2 other movies I was also looking forward to they were ‘Curious Case of BB’ and ‘The Reader’. Both are receiving tepid, but solid reviews. Whispers of emotional detachment … This is NOT what I was hoping for.

    Hopefully ‘Slumdog’ and ‘Milk’ can fill my void. I really was hoping that 2008 would blow me away. It still might. But I’m saddened by this last weeks news from many online sources.

  • 4 11-25-2008 at 2:39 pm

    JAB said...

    overall: good picks,
    but i don’t get putting Frost/Nixon in Best Picture over The Dark Knight, and don’t you think if Doubt gets three acting nominations that will get it enough support for a best picture nod as well?

  • 5 11-25-2008 at 2:48 pm

    Kid said...

    What are the films your really looking forward to next year?

  • 6 11-25-2008 at 2:51 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Dev Patel in Supporting is utterly bewildering. He is nothing but that movie’s lead, and I cannot possibly imagine anyone logically saying otherwise. It just doesn’t make sense.

  • 7 11-25-2008 at 2:52 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Well with you giving so much praise to Benjamin Button why still concider it not more than that? The things you mention are great and makes it an automatic contender and even frontrunner any other year. I understand it didn’t live up to expectations, but that was near impossible.

  • 8 11-25-2008 at 2:55 pm

    Paulo said...

    Kris I really trust your predictions. I remember a few years ago you saying Big Fish would just get one oscar nom. (I hated that lol), but you were rigth. But the other critics are praising Pitt more then you and even raving him more then Cate.

  • 9 11-25-2008 at 2:59 pm

    Dan said...

    Well, I’m glad The Wrestler finally broke the top ten… with the year being such a disappointment, I really don’t see how it can’t be a strong favorite.

  • 10 11-25-2008 at 3:14 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    It seems like Matt Damon’s character in The Good Shepherd is similar to Pitt’s character in Button…true? Roth scripted both characters.

  • 11 11-25-2008 at 3:41 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “He is nothing but that movie’s lead”

    The character is the lead, English. But the character is played by three different actors. Patel in supporting is both logical and wise.

    “don’t you think if Doubt gets three acting nominations that will get it enough support for a best picture nod as well?”

    One word: “Iris.” And there are plenty other examples as well.

    Spuil: My feelings on Button are still complicated. Lots to praise, but my issues aren’t about the expectations. The film is put together in a very peculiar manner, one that makes it nearly impossible to warm up to. That can be as good as bad, and at the moment, I’m struggling with it. Need to see it again.

    Gittes: Not really. There isn’t much of a soul to Button (dare I say). There is a lot more substance to Damon’s character, IMO.

    That said, Pitt’s performance is fine, folks. The point is, he isn’t called on to do anything with it that would announce him as an awards candidate. In my view, that puts him at a disadvantage, but it should take nothing away from the work.

    That covers the first wave of queries. ;)

  • 12 11-25-2008 at 5:01 pm

    Silencio said...

    Did you ever get to see Choke? That’s probably gonna crack my personal top ten this year. Same for In Bruges.

  • 13 11-25-2008 at 5:25 pm

    Holly said...

    Kris,

    Speaking of contenders for “BP , did you ever write your thoughts on “RR” ??

    As if so, where is it located on your site?

    Thanks

  • 14 11-25-2008 at 6:15 pm

    Ali E. said...

    I believe all this “not emotional enough” reaction towards BB will probably prevent Fincher from getting a nomination himself. And that will make it harder for BB to win Best Picture. Slumdog Millionaire or Milk may have greater chance…

  • 15 11-25-2008 at 6:36 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Still makes no sense to me Kris. I’m not talking about the character really… Dev Patel, the kid who begins the movie, is seen all throughout the movie on the show, the kid who drives the movie and ends the movie, is most definitely a lead. The whole thing is centered on HIM, from HIS point of view and it is entirely HIS movie. The little kids are supporting, sure, but the guy whom the movie revolves around is clearly a Lead.

  • 16 11-25-2008 at 7:03 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Well he’d have zero shot in a lead campaign with the muscle out there. The studio knows this. Perfectly reasonable to go with where you have the best shot to be recognized.

  • 17 11-25-2008 at 7:33 pm

    sofia said...

    As tom O’Neil said, I think, that oscarologistas are underestimating Sally Hawkins in the polls, but I would like the members of the academy at the time of voting, no surrender their vote only for having a famous name without assessing the proceedings , as they do in the surveys that are going directly to the names of celebrities.
    Finally I would like to see win the oscar a new face either Hawkins or Hathaway.

  • 18 11-25-2008 at 8:49 pm

    JAB said...

    I’m seeing Slumdog tomorrow…very excited!

  • 19 11-25-2008 at 9:19 pm

    michael mckay said...

    No Country for Old Men wasn’t particularly a “warm” film either. Very “cold” in fact. In comparison, I think Benjamin Button (based on everything I’ve read) has a much stronger emotional pull. I like it’s chances. I think Slumdog will get a Best Picture nomination, but I can’t see it winning more then one or two categories at most (with it’s best shot probably coming in the Adapted Screenplay category). Button and Rev Road just seem to big, and epic in scale, for Slumdog, and other contenders, to overcome.

  • 20 11-25-2008 at 9:23 pm

    tony rock said...

    Kris, why oh why do you still have Frost/Nixon in the lineup? I know it’s getting better reviews on this side of the Atlantic but to me it seems the buzz is dead…The Dark Knight and Doubt have a better chance at the fifth slot

  • 21 11-25-2008 at 9:24 pm

    JAB said...

    I think Button and Dark Knight Split Best Picture and Best Director, each get a bunch of techs, ledger and taraji win supporting categories, Slumdog gets adapted, Rev. Road gets best actor and actress.

  • 22 11-26-2008 at 12:44 am

    Andre said...

    ok, call me lazy, but I skipped to the comment thingy the second I read your line about “slumdog”… it’s really the best thing I’ve seen all year and, though I wouldn’t put it in the same place as “There Will Be Blood” and “The Fountain” (my favorite films of 2006 and 2007 respectively), it is the ONLY film I’ve seen so far that has moved me (including “Synecdoche, NY”, but excluding “The Wrestler” – US$ 40 for a festival ticket?!?!?!).

  • 23 11-26-2008 at 10:58 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    tony: The buzz is dead because the film hasn’t released yet. Give it time. Us first wavers don’t make or break a film’s Oscar potential and in due time, I think you’ll see the pendulum swing back.

  • 24 11-26-2008 at 12:20 pm

    Liz said...

    Kris,

    Not to jump ahead or anything, but you mentioned Kevin MacDonald at the end of your list. I know you loved “Last King of Scotland,” so are you looking forward to “State of Play”? I loved the original BBC miniseries, and I’m apprehensive about how they’ll condense it, but I’m looking forward to it.

  • 25 11-26-2008 at 4:26 pm

    JAB said...

    Slumdog was phenominal, i just saw it today.
    Best of what I’ve seen so far.

  • 26 11-27-2008 at 8:41 pm

    Chad said...

    Just saw Milk and thought Sean Penn was phenomenal. His best work since “Sweet and Lowdown” and almost washes the terrible taste of “Mystic River” out of my mouth. I’d vote for him over Rourke any day. But Josh Brolin in supporting? No thanks. I’ve seen actors in high school plays do a more convincing drunk rant.

  • 27 2-10-2009 at 8:02 am

    AARON said...

    Well guys, Slumdog and Milk, are about even for me. It would be such a chance to take a bet on the two. Look, how The Reader got in, I have no clue, it’s an incredibly overrated film that doesn’t even deserve to be in the running. Benjamin Button is Freaking Awesome! But I don’t think it will win. F/N was great, but nope. So, what we are down to is Milk, and Slumdog. I’m finding trouble deciding between the two. It’s one of the hardesr decisions I have ever had to make, trying to decide for 10 days and I still don’t know!!

  • 28 2-10-2009 at 8:07 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Aaron, it’s not hard at all. “Slumdog.”