OFF THE CARPET: A season less ordinary…or is it?

Posted by · 10:07 am · December 22nd, 2008

(from left) Michael Caine, Heath Ledger and Christian Bale in The Dark KnightThe critics have nearly concluded their annual kudos dish.  The first guild has spoken, giving us some sliver of insight into what Academy members might think of the 2008-2009 Oscar season.  With such a thin crop of contenders, the tome has been “broad, but shallow, playing field,” leaving the opportunity for multiple films to find their champions and even the least AMPAS-friendly of products to find room at the table.

So as we inch toward year’s end, what have we learned?  When it comes to the usual blend, the Academy will find a way.

A scenario has been kicking around inside my head for some time that, like one concerned reader in another post, scares me to death.  It is pretty much a done deal for “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” two refreshingly different films where AMPAS tastes are concerned, but paradoxically boring with the knowledge that there is passion elsewhere, seemingly too intimidated to rear its head.

“Frost/Nixon” and “Milk” are assured after that, it seems, two films cut from the AMPAS cloth from a director who knows that cloth well and one who only finds Academy acceptance when he goes there, respectively.  After that, “the knowledge” has become the truly exciting spark of the season: can a populist film such as “The Dark Knight” or “WALL-E” find the right base of passion to push through for a Best Picture nomination?

I fear we may have all gotten carried away with ourselves and our love of these films, whether you fall on one side or both, because we’re ignoring AMPAS tendency at our own peril.

In a nutshell, I’m somehwat afraid that John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” will push past the populist entries and make for the most boring slate of Best Picture nominees we’ve seen in a good many years.  It is sitting there, hovering, waiting for its opportunity, perhaps hopeful that “Frost/Nixon” is the speed bump it has to overcome, perhaps not.  But while I would saddened by a lack of Academy cojones to vote films like “The Dark Knight” or “WALL-E” into their field of the year’s best, “Doubt” finding its way there would be a forehead-smacking moment I don’t want to deal with.

Meryl Streep in DoubtDutch angles don’t suddenly make a play cinematic.  Meryl Streep’s cawing will be forgotten forever on February 23.  And a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay should be seen as an insult to writers like Eric Roth and Simon Beaufoy who dug for creative ways to carry their yarns from their respective source materials to the screen.

Am I alone here?  Going into the season, even recognizing the drought of quality, I thought this would be a rather surprising Oscar season.  I thought a lot of these fringe efforts could muscle in.  Certainly the five or six obvious Oscar contenders would not be the ones left standing?  Certainly such a small slate would force awards-giving bodies to look in the crevices of the year?  In the final analysis, it seems the scenario has bred a sort of laziness, the job already done for them.  Check the same five boxes and move on to 2009.

What a shame.  BUT, it’s not over yet, and so this could simply be my yuletide negativity getting the better of me.  Christmas is three days away and I’m removed from the rat race of Los Angeles until the new year, so relaxation is key.  And with that, I’ll keep it short.

Allow me to wish all the “Off the Carpet” readers a happy holidays.  Be safe, wherever you are, and find the warmth in whatever does it for you.  It comes but once a year.  Here are some early gifts from me to you…UPDATED CHARTS!

Ho, ho, ho.

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→ 39 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

39 responses so far

  • 1 12-22-2008 at 10:17 am

    Tim said...

    To me it seems like Wall-E is peaking at exactly the right time to grab a Best Picture nomination over The Dark Knight. I firmly believe one of these two will be among the five films nominated(it’d be a shame if they weren’t), but TDK’s momentum has seemed to slow while Wall-E’s has picked up. This time of year is very crucial to see which film everyone is talking about, last year it was Juno and before that it was Little Miss Sunshine. And both of them nabbed a BP nomination. This year it seems to be Wall-E. I think TDK and Wall-E are both likely frontrunners for the DGA and PGA, and I’m making the prediction that Wall-E will be among the 5 Best Picture nominees.

  • 2 12-22-2008 at 10:22 am

    JAB said...

    yo your supporting actress is a little messy, unless Vera Farmiga had a part in The Visitor that i missed, ditto Frances McDormand in I’ve Loved You So Long.

  • 3 12-22-2008 at 10:28 am

    G said...

    I doubt that Doubt will make it. It’s an “interesting” film that I enjoyed very much, but there’s nothing great about it. I think It’ll be just another Meryl Streep nomination, like “Music of the Heart” or “One True Thing.” I think The Wrestler might be the 5th nominee. Just you watch how that film takes the Oscar ring by storm. Movies like Frost/Nixon, Rachel or Doubt seem to dwindle in my mind as time passes, whereas The Wrestler, Milk, The Dark Knight and Slumdog stick. That might have an impact when the ballots are mailed eventually.

  • 4 12-22-2008 at 10:54 am

    D said...

    I don’t think TDK will get nominated and I have absolutely no problem with that. The fact that it’s even being considered is pretty cool.

    And the fact that Heath is practically a lock to win Supporting Actor is incredible. I am very pleased that people outside the fanboy community are realizing how great his performance was.

  • 5 12-22-2008 at 11:18 am

    D. said...

    I agree with Tim about WALL·E gaining momentum and slightly surpassing The Dark Knight for the time being, and the two will truly battle it out at the guilds (where The Dark Knight will have a slight upper hand, being live action and superbly produced and Nolan being a beloved director and whatnot).

    Now, Doubt – clearly it wouldn’t deserve being mentioned at the writers’ or directors’ guild awards, but would it shock you? Season that with possible (unprobable, yet possible) chances at the costumographers’ and producers’ guilds, and hey presto! Bye, bye Batman, wish-you-well, WALL·E. (And yes, I am fully aware the previous sentence is retarded. Just couldn’t help meself.)

    It would sadden, but not perplex me.

  • 6 12-22-2008 at 11:54 am

    Ryan said...

    IMO this season has been great. Usually my personal top 5 does not correspond with Oscar’s top 5 with 1-2 exceptions like Atonement, Brokeback Mountain, There Will Be Blood, Million Dollar Baby, Moulin Rouge, Lord of the Rings.

    So it’s odd to see 4 of my personal top 5 to be strong contenders: Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, Dark Knight, and Wall-E. Sure the ground is not as stable for the latter two, but to still be in consideration is quite fantastic.

    BTW my #5 film is Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. Where’s all the awards buzz for that one? Sigh.

  • 7 12-22-2008 at 11:56 am

    N8 said...

    I am a bit unnerved at the thought of Doubt replacing either TDK or WALL-E, but look at it this way: TDK is likely to be nominated by DGA and PGA, which will give it the momentum it needs to overcome WALL-E for that populist vote. Of course, I’d still prefer WALL-E to get that last slot, but I think it’s highly unlikely even if it has the popular vote over TDK, so for the time being, I’m in TDK’s rooting section.

  • 8 12-22-2008 at 12:16 pm

    Diego(uruguay) said...

    i hope Wall-E gets that nod…

  • 9 12-22-2008 at 12:28 pm

    Joe W said...

    Everytime “Doubt” picks up a nod somewhere I get scared that it will get in with the final 5. Slumdog, Milk, Button, Frost, and Doubt would be quite the boring line-up.

    What if we had Slumdog, Button, Milk, TDK, and Wall-E as our final five? I think that would be one of the most exciting best picture line-ups in a while. Truly representing the best of 2008.

  • 10 12-22-2008 at 12:33 pm

    D said...

    N8, I don’t see why you would be unnerved about Doubt getting a nomination. It seems like pretty standard operating procedure for the Academy. I know people like to complain about these things, but it won’t do any good. Might as well accept the situation and try to see the good in it. For WALL-E, it will win a Best Animated Oscar and for TDK, it will get an acting win. That’s a pretty big deal for both. Strictly speaking in terms of historical precedent, I think TDK getting nominated would be a bigger deal. As pidgeonholed as animated movies are today due to the Animated category, they have been nominated in the past whereas comic book movies have never even been considered. And I know this will piss some people off, but I think Batman Begins was one of the top 5 movies of 2005. Hell, I think it was much better than Crash, which I hated even before it won Best Picture.

  • 11 12-22-2008 at 12:48 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    JAB: shit, thanks for pointing that out — I’ll adjust it when I’m back at the homestead, but obviously it’s for Truth and Burn.

  • 12 12-22-2008 at 1:43 pm

    The InSneider said...

    I still don’t get the Doubt hate. It wasn’t cinematic enough? That’s a lame argument. It’s a great story! Isn’t that why we go to the movies. And Kris, you keep saying that Hoffman seemed confused as to play the character. Well whatever he did worked fine for me. When the lights came up I really wasn’t sure what I thought of Father Flynn’s presumed guilt. And that’s the power of Doubt. It makes you think and search inside yourself for answers when there are no definitive ones. It works on so many levels and the performances are excellent, Streep included. I don’t care if it was a cut and paste job because I didn’t see the play and the film stands as its own thing. And there were so many subtleties that a second viewing teased out. I’m with you on Wall-E but we simply don’t see eye to eye on the merits of Doubt. I don’t think it will sneak into the Best Picture lineup as you seem to suspect it could, but like one poster above, I DO think The Wrestler is fighting for that 5th slot. And I wouldn’t call Frost/Nixon a sure thing just yet. Everyone seems to really admire it (it’s nothing if not a gripping, well-made film), but no one seems to be particularly passionate about it. And the bottom line on Milk is that it just wasn’t a great movie. It just straight up wasn’t. It was very good but it wasn’t capital-G Great. Everyone says there’s only 1 BP slot up for grabs but I think there’s still 3 and I think it’s between Milk, Frost/Nixon, Wall-E, The Dark Knight, Doubt and The Wrestler. Sorry Revolutionary Road. You blew it.

  • 13 12-22-2008 at 1:44 pm

    McGuff said...

    I just saw Doubt a few hours ago … nothing makes for a good half-day of work like a trip to the movie theater after. I need time for it to settle to really properly digest my thoughts on it, but for now, I know I liked it very much. It’s impeccable acting, though I thought Philip Seymour Hoffman stood above Ms. Streep, as he continues to prove that he’s so far ahead of other actors … it’s kind of ridiculous. I would still give Heath the Oscar, of course, but I feel passionate that PSH is nominated.

    The problem with the film, and I say this just two hours removed from it, is the emotional detachment of it all. And this, I think, is what is plaguing this season. The film just struck me as cold. “Milk,” which is deeply emotional territory, didn’t tug at my heart strings like it could have … or more poignantly, like it should have. Kris has expressed similar feelings with “Benjamin Button”, and as someone familiar with the play, I know “Frost/Nixon” hardly digs deep into emotional territory. And don’t get me started on peripheral Oscar flicks like Seven Pounds…Really, don’t.

    If anything, I think this is where the passion for WALL-E and Slumdog comes into play. These were movies that I didn’t feel detached from, that weren’t afraid to deal with real emotions, even when the main characters were foreign from the American audience.

  • 14 12-22-2008 at 2:03 pm

    Hans said...

    ….I’d like to think TDK does some heart tugging as well….

  • 15 12-22-2008 at 3:09 pm

    Mr. F said...

    I’m hoping Frost/Nixon doesn’t get nominated. I haven’t seen it but if it is snubbed it will make the BP race more exciting. I’m hoping the nominees will be Benjamin Button, TDK, Milk, Slumdog, and WALL-E, but who knows.

  • 16 12-22-2008 at 3:29 pm

    JAB said...

    i don’t feel like anyone would care if Frost/Nixon missed out…

  • 17 12-22-2008 at 3:39 pm

    Chris said...

    As long as The Dark Knight and Milk are nominated, I really don’t care who else is in the final five.

  • 18 12-22-2008 at 3:49 pm

    Scott Ward said...

    I certainly can’t say much because I haven’t seen it, but I’m with G and TheInsneider in thinking that The Wrestler could be the suprise, and worthy pick. Kris, I know you only included associations and groups in your tally of awards, and I’m sure you already know this, but The Wrestler is said to be the best film of the year by at least two prominent critics that I know of: Christy Lemire (Ass. Press) and Ben Mankowitz (no idea how to spell it, and yes there are probably dozens of other critics who should be on the show, but nonetheless he is slighty credible).

  • 19 12-22-2008 at 4:02 pm

    daveylow said...

    I really hope Doubt isn’t nominated for adapted screenplay. What did Shanley have to do that was so special to adapt his play for the screen? Nominating Doubt would be very lazy on the Academy writers who are coming up with the nominations. I think they may think twice before nominating two play adaptations for the screen.

  • 20 12-22-2008 at 4:30 pm

    Markus said...

    Your constant moanings about Streep’s performance in Doubt just proves what a lousy critic you are. The peformance was brillant and you should consider a new line of work…

  • 21 12-22-2008 at 4:33 pm

    Matthew said...

    As much as I love Wall-E, I don’t think it deserves a nomination. Ratatouille deserved one last year (especially over Michael Clayton). I really really hope that the Academy won’t be a bunch of boring folks and vote Doubt in. I would really like to see The Dark Knight. It would be a nice gift at the end of an altogether disappointing season.

  • 22 12-22-2008 at 4:46 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yes, InSneider, it’s a great story. I could’ve gone to Broadway and seen the same thing years ago, so what’s the point of a cinematic adaptation without, you know, something cinematic? I don’t think “it’s a great story” is really enough of a counter-argument.

    Markus: Really? I thought it just proved, you know, different strokes for different folks. Just when you think we’re back on track with some intelligent discussion…

    And by the way, I don’t fancy myself a critic, never have, and have been up front about that for years. I’m a guy with an opinion. And this gig is lucrative enough, so no, I won’t be considering a new line of work. Thanks for adding nothing to the discourse, though. Cheap shots are aplenty these days and they do nothing but provide speed bumps for those of us looking to engage…so it goes.

    Scott: I don’t think The Wrestler has the right kind of broad support to push through, personally. It’s a clear case of a critical darling that can’t bridge the gap ultimately. But that’s my opinion. I’d love to be proven wrong.

  • 23 12-22-2008 at 4:51 pm

    D. (With a full-stop. Not the other guy) said...

    I agree with Matthew on Rattatouille and WALL·E — the former seemed more complete, evenly well-written with a maturely constructed storyline arc (and was also ever-so-slightly better reviewed than the latter), but noone even thought of it ending up in the Best Picture category.

    I guess the question is, can WALL·E pull this of on the strenghts of its’ superb first act?

  • 24 12-22-2008 at 5:05 pm

    Markus said...

    Mr. Tapely,

    Sorry to hit such a sore spot and to add nothing to your endless, boring and meaningless ramblings….

  • 25 12-22-2008 at 5:07 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    No worries, Markus. Nobody’s perfect.

  • 26 12-22-2008 at 6:03 pm

    K.K. said...

    To be honest, I have lost faith in the Academy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Doubt gets nominated over TDK or Wall-E. However, what about Revoluationary Road? It’s Sam Mendes (sorta) back in form and dealing with messy family drama again. And we are missing one of those in the lineup.

  • 27 12-22-2008 at 6:40 pm

    Aaron said...

    I agree with what some people have said earlier…a best picture lineup with Benjamin Button, Milk, Slumdog, The Dark Knight, and Wall-E would literally be orgasmic…I wouldn’t count that scenario out yet…Doubt and Frost/Nixon will have its supporters, but truthfully I do not feel the same kind of passionate support that the previous five do….

    …this has been a year of change, and who knows, maybe the Academy will step out of the box for once and snub solid, if un-spectacular Academy-friendly works such as Doubt and Frost/Nixon….

  • 28 12-22-2008 at 6:56 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I think “Frost/Nixon” is a solid film, personally. It’s at least a FILM, opened up somewhat from the play. And Langella cracks it out of the park in the third act.

  • 29 12-22-2008 at 7:05 pm

    Zan said...

    Doubt’s acting was fantastic, but it was nothing that deserved a victory in any field and especially didn’t deserve a nomination in BP. As McGuff mentioned, the film has a distance to it. I felt it was built for the stage, and the theatrical aspect of it didn’t translate well. The ending was completely uncinematic, and I wish that more had been built around the characters other than just this threadbare plot they gave us.

    I don’t understand how the most critically praised film of the season (The Wrestler) isn’t getting more attention as a veritable contender.

  • 30 12-22-2008 at 10:32 pm

    qq said...

    Frost/Nixon has got to be more vulnerable than people are making it out to be. Isn’t this the kind of film that suffers in the preferential balloting process? It’s not going to be snagging the number 1 votes. Wall-E and The Dark Knight will. I don’t really see Doubt cleaning up the number 1 votes, either, so I don’t see it as having much potential as a spoiler.

    The safe money is probably on F/N, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s going to come up short when the nominations are announced.

    Also, nice to see the Woody prediction. It’s a ballsy move, but I could definitely see it happening.

  • 31 12-22-2008 at 11:46 pm

    John Y. said...

    I don’t think “Doubt” will make it into the final five, but if it does, good for it. It’s one of the year’s best films.

  • 32 12-23-2008 at 2:46 am

    Jerry Grant said...

    BP:
    Definitely count “Dark Knight” in. No “Doubt.” 5th slot is between “Wall-E” and “Frost/Nixon.”

    No Ron Howard for director. Instead, Aronofsky or Stanton (both are more likely than Woody). Neither have yet properly gotten their due nomination-wise, and I think the Academy will fix that this year. Also, Van Sant may not be so secure.

  • 33 12-23-2008 at 3:51 am

    Glenn said...

    qq, you could say that about a lot of middling Best Picture nominees. Think of movies like “Seabiscuit” and “The Cider House Rules”. Who honestly put them at #1?

    “To be honest, I have lost faith in the Academy,” – well K.K. you make it sound like the Academy have made the exact right opinions every year. They haven’t and they won’t this year. Not every awards body can have perfect nominees and unlike critics groups the people voting don’t sit around saying “wasn’t that movie swell? let’s give it a prize!”

  • 34 12-23-2008 at 7:58 am

    dan said...

    Doubt will not get nominated for a Best Picture nomination. The only way it could possibly pull the huge stunner is by a strong showing at either the DGA/PGA and winning the SAG ensemble. It’s not going to happen.

    The LOCKS for the Best Picture Oscar nomination are:

    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    The Dark Knight
    Milk
    Slumdog Millionaire

    The final slot is a wild slugfest between Frost/Nixon, Wall E, Doubt, and Revolutionary Road (even tho as Kris said, it’s on life support).

    A look at the important PGA and DGA nominations:

    How it looks atm:
    PGA
    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    The Dark Knight
    Slumdog Millionaire
    Frost/Nixon and/or Milk
    The Wrestler has a shot here I think too
    Wall E???

    DGA is much more clear cut

    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    The Dark Knight
    Frost/Nixon
    Milk
    Slumdog Millionaire

    Frost/Nixon has the lead for the final Oscar spot.

    Also- The Globes don’t mean much this year as far as the Best Picture Drama winner, with TDK and Milk not even nominated.

  • 35 12-23-2008 at 10:26 am

    Scott Ward said...

    Uh, Dan,The Dark Knight is everyting but a lock for a Best Picture nomination. In fact, that has preety much been the only thing people have argued about since the summer. If you would like to share with us why it is a lock, please do so, but from now own don’t confuse personal hunches with sure locks.

  • 36 12-23-2008 at 10:30 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Personally I think there is only one lock: “Slumdog Millionaire.” It’s the only universally agreeable candidate. Everything else seems arguable in numerous ways.

  • 37 12-23-2008 at 10:08 pm

    Kenya Miller said...

    What is up with these Wall-E for Best Picture? I thought the Best Animated Film was created for such films. It was a great film…but not enough to herald it to the Best Picture category.

    And what’s with the Doubt hatred? It’s a pretty good film.