OFF THE CARPET: Taking the temperature

Posted by · 2:10 pm · May 25th, 2009

Jeremy Renner in The Hurt LockerIt’s somewhat surprising that our year-in-advance Oscar coverage is only three months old.  That now ancient list of predictions seems so long ago, and yet, even with Cannes behind us and this or that indication of a few of the contenders, I have no idea how to offer an educated update beyond general housekeeping.  The season, it seems, will remain elusive for just a little while longer.

Here’s what we know: Critics didn’t respond to Universal’s “The Boat That Rocked” across the pond.  But the Brits hardly have a soft spot for Richard Curtis.  Along similar lines, Stephen Frears’s “Chéri” hasn’t exactly inspired either.  But both films, from awards savvy studios, could find a second wind when they eventually open Stateside.

The biggest Oscar hopeful to emerge from this year’s Cannes fest is, in my opinion, Jane Campion’s “Bright Star.”  Heralded in some quarters as a return to form for the director, and snatched up by the intrepid Bob Berney (formerly of Picturehouse and now closing in on a name for his distribution company with partner Bill Polhad), the film could be a nominations hog, anywhere from six to 10 possibilities.  You’ll note all of my ponderings in that regard in the latest chart update below.

Beyond Campion’s period piece, there was little to write home about, it seems.  Focus’s “Taking Woodstock” from director Ang Lee, perceived by some to be the studio’s big hopeful a few months back, landed quietly on the Croisette and quickly became an afterthought.  But it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle of a Lars Von Trier scandal and buzz surrounding festival favorites Michael Haneke and Quentin Tarantino.  We all know mediocre can go a long way in an Oscar campaign, so it would be unwise to count anything out just yet.  That said, there could be other options for the studio.

Speaking of Tarantino, his latest indulgence, “Inglourious Basterds,” was a different film to different people, but the subtext seemed to be, “Oh, Quentin,” as usual.  That didn’t stop Christoph Waltz from taking an acting prize at the fest, so perhaps we have a new supporting actor contender on the radar.  But will The Weinstein Company have the campaign funds to handle both “Basterds” and perceived heavy “Nine?”

Also notable: Pedro Almodóvar’s latest, “Broken Embraces,” was largely seen as a step into safer territory than the auteur’s usual brand of daring cinema.  For some, that means Oscar could shy away, but if we’re being honest, some accessibility could do Almodóvar a lot of good when it comes to AMPAS.

(from left) Lenny Kravitz and Gabourey Sibide in PreciousThe obvious cinephile must-see to come out of the fest, of course, was Von Trier’s “Antichrist,” which landed an award for actress Charlotte Gainsbourg.  But it’s probably safe to assume the conservative Academy won’t find much to admire in a film saddled with accusations of misogyny from a filmmaker with the biggest ego this side of…well, Quentin Tarantino.

So beyond Campion’s film, what do we really have?  Pretty much the same thing we had three months ago.

All of the expected heavy-hitters (Weinstein’s “Nine,” Searchlight’s “Amelia” and Warners’ Mandela film) may as well stay put for now, while the Paramount slate still appears somewhat dubious until we know more (tough subject matter in Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones” and perhaps merely commercial potential for Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” though that didn’t stop “The Departed).

All of that said, I’ve had a feeling since Sundance, and certainly now with a standing ovation in Cannes, that Lionsgate could jump back into the ring again this season with one of the year’s most acclaimed films to date: Lee Daniels’s “Precious.”  It’ll pack the heavy punch of an Oprah Winfrey endorsement, which certainly helped Lionsgate in 2005 when “Crash” slipped up on everyone.  Then again, nothing came of her support for “Australia” last year, so its no ace in the hole.

From our perch here at the end of May, however, “Precious” simply seems to have that “little film that could” potential percolating.  It could face off against fellow Sundance hit “An Education” in that regard, but Lionsgate will have all its eggs in one basket, while Sony Classics has a typically full slate of indies to promote and no clear focus yet.

Rather than drive myself crazy with more speculation on unseen contenders, there are some considerations for films that have already been widely screened, if not already released.  Will the director’s branch recognize Kathryn Bigelow’s astute handling of the surprisingly complex “The Hurt Locker?”  Better yet, will the acting branch see Jeremy Renner’s performance as the controlled piece of artistry that it is?  Or could the film simply be rendered moot by the upcoming “Green Zone?”

Can Pixar finally find its way into Best Picture contention for “Up,” another home run and, for many, a watershed moment in the studio’s maturation?  Or what about the most critically acclaimed release of 2009: J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek?”  Could it find more tech room than it would have without the lauds and boffo box office?

(from left) Jordan Nagai (voice) and Ed Asner (voice) in UpSadly, however, that’s where the first half of the year hits a roadblock, outside of an obvious animation home run for Focus and “Coraline.”  I can’t remember the last time there wasn’t at least one clear awards favorite from the January-June time frame.  Maybe when the buzz swirls around “The Hurt Locker” a little more next month that will change things.

I won’t bother with meaningless speculation on the year’s upcoming contenders (yet), but one thing that has been on my mind is a question I imagine we’ll all have to ask sooner or later: If James Cameron’s “Avatar” is going to be this big game changer, should it not follow that the film will have a significant Oscar impact?  We’ll see.

As I shuffled through the charts for an arbitrary update, I began to sense an extremely light playing field.  Of course, a number of titles have yet to pick up distribution and that could change things in an instant.  I refrain from listing a contender on the charts until it has secured domestic release, though all possibilities, as always, are listed in our Contenders sections.

But it’s been a bit of a struggle regardless to fill lists of 10 throughout.  Hopefully that isn’t an indication that we’re heading for another weak season, but if last year was taught us anything, it’s that when it comes to the Oscar game, Hollywood can make chicken salad out of chicken…well, you get the picture.

On to the update.  We’ll revisit things again in a month or two, depending on what happens.  Enjoy:

Main Category Charts
Technical Category Charts
The Contenders
Oscar Prediction Archives

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60 responses so far

  • 1 5-26-2009 at 8:34 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Taking Woodstock didn’t get good reviews, but people were crazy for Imelda Staunton’s performance.”

    Which people? The majority of the reviews I read used assorted variations of “hammy,” “theatrical” and “over-the-top” to describe her work — and not in a kind way.

  • 2 5-26-2009 at 8:45 am

    Ivan said...

    An Education
    Bright Star
    The Human Factor
    Shutter Island

    Kathryn Bigelow/The Hurt Locker
    Jane Campion/ Bright Star
    Clint Eastwood/The Human Factor
    Lone Scherfig/An Education
    Martin Scorsese/Shutter Island

    Matt Damon/The Informant
    Daniel Day Lewis/Nine
    Ryan Gosling/All Good Things
    Morgan Freeman/The Human Factor
    Viggo Mortensen/The Road

    Abbie Cornish/An Education
    Carey Mulligan/An Education
    Michelle Pfeiffer/Cheri
    Hilary Swank/Amelia
    Emily Watson/Within the Whirlwind

    Matt Damon/The Human Factor
    Kodi Smitt- McPhee/The Road
    Alfred Molina/An Education
    Ruben Ochandiano/Biutiful
    Stanley Tucci/The Lovely Bones

    Patricia Clarkson/Whatever Works
    Judi Dench/Nine
    Emily Mortimer/Shutter Island
    Michelle Williams/Shutter Island

    Away We go
    Bright Star
    Broken Embraces
    The Hurt Locker
    All Good Things

    An Education
    The Human Factor
    The Road
    Shutter Island

    Bright Star
    Public Enemies
    The Road
    Tree of Life

    Green Zone
    The Human Factor
    The Hurt Locker
    Shutter Island

    Bright Star
    The Lovely Bones
    Public Enemies

    Bright Star
    The Wolf Man

    Green Zone
    The Hurt Locker
    Public Enemies

    Transformers: Revenge of the Allen
    Where the Wild Things Are

    Bright Star
    Broken Embraces
    The Human Factor
    The Road

    Where the Wild Things Are

    Star Trek
    The Wolf Man

    Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos)
    In the Beginning (Á l´origine)
    A Prophet (Un prophéte)
    Spring Fever (Chun feng chen zui de ye wan )
    The White Ribbon (Das weiBe band)

  • 3 5-26-2009 at 9:58 am

    Aoife Tierney said...

    To Roark17: I heard the same things about the Lovely Bones. Im Irish and as Saoirse Ronan is in the lead role this film has been talked about a lot in the media here. The main reason for its release date being pushed back according to them is because Spielberg thinks she can win the Oscar. The story appeared in March I think.

  • 4 5-26-2009 at 10:20 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Rob: I’m quoting others, not offering a personal assessment. That seems to be lost on a few here. The Lovely Bones could certainly end up being an awards film, but you won’t catch anyone talking about it in those terms on Melrose (which may be the smart play, actually). People are quicker to talk up “Up in the Air” at this point.

  • 5 5-26-2009 at 10:22 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “Sorry to rant – but I think we ought to be celebrating what’s good that has already shown up and trying to figure how that will fit rather than arguing over films no one has seen.”

    That’s it in a nutshell.

  • 6 5-26-2009 at 12:57 pm

    Michael W. said...

    If we should talk about potential for films that has been released in the first half of the year, I have a feeling that John Malkovich could go all the way to a supporting nomination for The Great Buck Howard. I haven’t seen the film but there was a lot of great things written about him when the film opened.

    And how about Adventureland for original screenplay?

    It will also be interesting to see if The Soloist goes anywhere. I doubt it.

  • 7 5-26-2009 at 1:46 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Michael W.- never in a million years on all three counts.

  • 8 5-27-2009 at 12:29 am

    Glenn said...

    Yet again, people are letting their own thoughts cloud their judgment. Case in point “Amelia”. What differentiates itself from all the other middle-of-the-road biopics that have been nominated for Best Picture seemingly by default? Hell, just last year we had “Frost/Nixon” coast by to a nomination. “Amelia”, as Kris points out in his predictions, has a better chance than many others. I suspect though that “Bright Star” might overtake it in that demographic (female-oriented period drama).

    Can somebody write a list of all the movies that people said were going to be Oscar-nominated so far in advance and then failed. I’m sure it’s a long one. And it IS only May after all.

    And, of course, ANYBODY that thinks they can predict 5/5 in every category at this time of the year is delusional so there’s no real point in getting so crazy about it.

    “Shutter Island might become a default nominee, its Scorsese, they don’t care what genre he makes, but the Academy might ease off coz he’s finally won now.”

    I agree with your latter statement, but not the former. If he and the film get nominated that’ll be something like four in a row! Not even Clint Eastwood has that good a strike rate. And they didn’t really go for Scorsese’s “Age of Innocence” (costume drama/romance), “Kundun” (epic) or several others that seem like easy hits. Acting/Screenplay and maybe a tech or two (editing, obvs) seem likely, but I think there’ll be too many interesting people involved this year that they might skip Scorsese.

  • 9 5-27-2009 at 10:13 am

    leonardo said...

    My early predictions:
    Picture: Shutter Island.
    Director: Martin Scorssese.
    Actor: Leonardo Di Caprio ( Shutter Island ).
    Actress: Meryl Streep ( Julie & Julia ).
    Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo ( Shutter Island ).
    Supporting Actress: Judi Dench ( Nine ).
    Adapted Screenplay: Precious.
    Original Screenplay: Bright Star.

  • 10 6-05-2009 at 1:10 pm

    sophie said...

    I bet A prophet will be nominated for Best foreign film