OFF THE CARPET: Whittling further as convention flees

Posted by · 11:56 am · August 3rd, 2009

Max Records in Where the Wild Things AreAnother month, another step closer to the awards season.  As the summer winds down and the industry slowly begins to square itself with the off-season’s bombshell Oscar news, the picture becomes a little clearer.  Kind of.

Universal Pictures, in a move speculated upon endlessly by now, shuffled two of its contenders — Paul Greengrass’s “Green Zone” and Joe Johnston’s “The Wolf Man” — off to 2010.  As Anne Thompson shrewdly noted in a recent item, the decision likely has everything to do with a numbers game.  The studio has experienced a rocky two quarters this year and things aren’t necessarily looking up.  Some think, in the case of “The Wolf Man,” the shift was made to avoid another box office misfire in 2009 (as by now, with push after push, the film is beginning to smell fishy).  Others say the “Green Zone” shift had a lot to do with “The Hurt Locker”‘s release pattern.

Whatever the case, the evacuations change the Oscar landscape ever so slightly, giving us just a few more talking points in the vacuum of August before we have anything of value worth discussing when the fall festival season hits in less than a month’s time.

Universal is now left with two critically divisive, commercially dubious titles in Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” and Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” to hawk for awards consideration, effectively (if you’re asking me, though I realize no one is) taking the studio out of the game this year — or, at the very least, making the hill steeper.

But taking note of the studio awards landscape, it doesn’t seem to me that anyone else is on surer ground.  As I look out at the many contenders and the campaigns being prepared for them, it appears the entire industry will be dealing with unconventional approaches and product to go along with the new changes in the Best Picture category (and all the headache that comes with them) this season.

Universal dependent Focus Features, which recently unveiled an impressive new trailer for the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man,” has a considerably lighter awards load this year.  In some ways the studio seems more fiscally focused than ever, with Richard Curtis’s recently re-titled “Pirate Radio” getting a re-edit for commercial benefit and Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” looking to capitalize on the concert’s 40th anniversary for a box office boost.

However, those films aren’t being positioned as awards hopefuls.  And with a Best Picture push planned for Henry Selick’s animated “Coraline,” as well as a Coen effort more akin to “Barton Fink” than “No Country for Old Men,” perhaps eschewing conventional awards strategies will pay off in an unconventional season.

Michael Stulbarg in A Serious ManParamount Pictures, meanwhile, hasn’t kicked up a lot of awards dust in the off-season, largely because no one has seen much of Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” and Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones.”  But it also has plenty to do with avoiding the “frontrunner curse” that has taken down contenders such as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Dreamgirls” (two of them Paramount films, you’ll note) in recent years.

However, Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” is beginning to stir up excitement as a departure from outright comedy and a growing-up moment for the director.  Comparisons to Alexander Payne are beginning to bubble up (test screening reactions surfaced last week), and though a Toronto exhibition will ultimately tell the tale, hopes are high for the film as an Oscar heavy amid giant names like Scorsese and Jackson who sport films that are, again, more focused on making a profit than landing awards.

The Weinstein Company is certainly on dicey waters for the moment, despite having one of the perceived frontrunners in pocket.  “Nine” represents a make or break moment for the distributor, whose financial distress has been touched upon frequently in the media.  I’m sure the Weinsteins would prefer the limitless checkbook they enjoyed under the Disney banner for years to parade their contender out to the masses, but, again…convention isn’t ruling the day this year.

Fox Searchlight has a film in Mira Nair’s “Amelia” that could be seen as a major player from afar, but a prestigious biopic isn’t exactly in the studio’s wheelhouse and the film could come up short, leaving Wes Anderson’s stop-motion Roald Dahl adaptation “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.”  Perhaps a festival pick-up lies ahead, but from here, the studio certainly seems to be out of its element.

Fox and James Cameron have a lot riding on “Avatar,” a film that, if it were to be nominated, would certainly be one of the most unconventional nominees in recent memory.  But once again, unsure ground.  After seeing admittedly impressive footage at Comic-Con, I’m no longer willing to place that bet.  Some things are too creatively progressive for this bunch.

The only studio that seems to have a tried-and-true production strategy on deck is Warner Bros., with Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus,” which, like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Gran Torino” before it, hasn’t been seen by anyone who’s talking and won’t likely cross the press’s path until December.  And say what you will about “Gran Torino”‘s awards nose dive, the film made money.

Michael MooreThen again, even Warners could end up with a highly unconventional contender if Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are” capitalizes on its promise and captures the collective heart of the Academy.  But campaigning “Wild Things” for Oscar is a far cry from campaigning “Invictus,” “Gran Torino,” “Million Dollar Baby,” etc.  And the “Dark Knight” campaign from last year yielded disappointment on a dreary January Thursday, so perhaps Warner strategists would be more comfortable sticking with what they know.

Sony has the delightful “Julie & Julia,” but it has also had a hell of a time translating the usual Oscar bait into Best Picture bids as of late.  A late summer comedy will have a trying time with that in mind.

So with the majors out of the way, we now stumble onto the Overtures, the Summits, the Sony Classics, the Roadsides and the Lionsgates, smaller studios (with even smaller budgets, mind you) that happen to pepper my list of the predicted 10 Oscar nominees and have a healthy presence on the full chart as well.  Hell, Bob Berney’s company doesn’t even have a name yet, but “Bright Star” nevertheless seems a safer bet than most of the studio product.  It’s like 1996 all over again, in many ways.

Or maybe that’s all wishful thinking on my part.  Block voting and voting mandates from the studios (yes, it happens) could just as easily flood the category with three from this studio, two from that, etc., making for a giant self-congratulatory (or, in these trying times, self-pitying) moment.  But we’re still a long ways off, and as exciting as the guessing game is, there are a number of fascinating projects on the way that can’t get here soon enough.  If we’re still talking Oscar when the dust settles, great.  If not, whatever.


After this month’s chart update, we’ve got one more stab at things before we start to make actual educated guesses on this stuff.  For now, it’s still very much — you’ll forgive the pun — up in the air.  We’ll revisit things once more on August 31, just before Guy ships off for Venice, I ship off for Telluride and John ships off for Toronto.  When the dust settles somewhere in the middle of September, maybe we’ll actually know what we’re talking about.  Until then…

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→ 38 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

38 responses so far

  • 1 8-03-2009 at 12:08 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Senator already had to make massive cuts after releasing just one film (The Informant) so it’s not even a given that they’ll be able to release Brooklyn’s Finest. If anything, it may turn into a Yari Film Group/Nothing But the Truth kind of non-release so I have a hard time thinking it can be a contender at all.

    Not to mention that I’m sure it’s terrible.

  • 2 8-03-2009 at 12:14 pm

    Matthew said...

    Surprised that “Where the Wild Things Are” isn’t even in the top ten of cinematography. The few new shots revealed in the new featurette, along with the entirety of the new trailer were astonishing in their beauty. Though Acord has shot other absolutely beautiful movies and been snubbed, so I guess this still makes sense kind of.

  • 3 8-03-2009 at 12:20 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Chad: It’s mentioned in one category, the category where the biggest PR and Oscar push is planned, so it’s hardly scattered across the predicted spectrum. But you’re right about the potential Yari similarity.

    Matthew: It’s at #10.

  • 4 8-03-2009 at 12:45 pm

    Brad Brevet said...

    Delightful Julie & Julia? It was okay, but damn if it didn’t drag on and on and on… I think Streep’s chances improve with it because she was entertaining, but I don’t expect much for the film itself.

  • 5 8-03-2009 at 12:48 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I loved it, but like I said in my review, it could have been trimmed by 10 or 15 minutes to be sure.

  • 6 8-03-2009 at 12:53 pm

    j said...

    New to top 20: Streep vehicle; 2 docs (one in the T10 of MC for ‘09). Off: of course Funny & Green, Informant interestingly. Bright Star up a bit while fellow female-helmed Amelia down; Education sails into “real” nominees. Up in the Air jumps into top ten, pushing down Avatar and/or Bones
    Juno director debuts. Scherfig up while Nair drops off. Wild Things Up and knocks out Informant.
    Clooney instead of Damon in T5; hmm, not a fan. Though Damon & Cruz now each in only one T5 makes sense. Keats and mediocrely-rated Enemies out. Tautou still T10.

    Weisz up a lot. Honestly, the only thing I’ve seen her in is the Mummy franchise; I did like her though. Weird Staunton debut. And Anna Kendrick in the continued smashing Up in the Air does since her breakout role is in that travesty of horribleness ( 4/10 Nine. Bye to Cheri & Funny People.

    Does it look like enough animated films will submit to get 5 noms? I watched Ponyo; it was cute and slight. Probably better than a # on the list though. 9 up; it’d be interesting if there was T5 w/double Disney & double Focus. I kind of hope that multiple animated films pushing for a BP nom doesn’t change things ever so slightly and knocks out Up…even though I’m seeing it as more of a lifetime achievement thing for Ratatouille & Toy Story.

    Adapted: Wild Julia>Informant Enemies. Docs can get screenplay noms?
    Art Direction: Bright Star still 1 (& in Costumes), Potter up a bit thanks to Public Enemies’ mediocre reviews; Basterds just outside top 5.
    Cinematography: Potter top 5 debut; yay. Also up a bit in VFX.
    Editing: Locker debuts at 2; Bright Star still T5.

    Hmm, looking at BP vs. acting noms, Clooney/Kendrick at 8, Freeman/Damon at 1, Day-Lewis/Dench/Cruz at 2, Mo’Nique at 3, Cornish at 4, Mulligan/Molina at 5, Swank/Gere at 7, Renner at 9, Ronan/Weisz at 11.

    Main thing besides clearing of critical mehs, Up in the Air sails up, Informant plummets down. Is there a particular reason for Informant? The horrible trailer maybe?

  • 7 8-03-2009 at 12:55 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones is worth keeping an eye on. I’m not sure about Wahlberg.

    It seems that Green Zone’s move to 2010 hasn’t been accompanied with whispers of “misfire.” That’s good. I believe in Greengrass.

  • 8 8-03-2009 at 1:00 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I know people that have seen Green Zone and said it’s fantastic. But that it’s an action film. Not to be considered a pejorative, mind you, but that could give you an idea of studio thinking where a bumped release date is concerned.

    j: Wow. Quite the dizzying recap, my friend. To answer your two questions, yes, The Informant trailer made it seem much more slight than expected, so I hedged and left its biggest chances with Damon and screenplay.

    And I tossed Moore’s screenplay into the mix on a whim. Bowling for Columbine won the WGA for original in 2002, after all, so it’s possible, though not probable.

  • 9 8-03-2009 at 1:01 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    did you see the trailer for the lovely bones with julie and julia? Plus where is disney?????? A would love to see studios pushing coraline, fantastic fox, up, where the wild things are, what a year this would end up being eh? Out of all companies I have faith in Warners so if they know what the better movie is, theyll campaign for it

  • 10 8-03-2009 at 1:01 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    and the weinsteins have inglorious basterds and the road, more hope for the road at this point

  • 11 8-03-2009 at 1:04 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    No trailers before press screenings, Requiem, so no, haven’t seen it. Actually, strike that. At a screening of Basterds last week, a Halloween II trailer was inexplicably attached. Larry King was in the screening and he cracked me up: “Oh, previews. We have to sit through previews in screenings now.” With the low New York accent, it was funny. Trust me.

  • 12 8-03-2009 at 1:14 pm

    Markus said...

    There is no way in hell that Swank will win a 3rd Oscar over Streep unless AMPAS totally loses their minds. How can you have Swank listed over Streep?

  • 13 8-03-2009 at 1:18 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Im liking all htis new found love for where the wild things are kris, I have a feeling it will only increase in the time to come. Although I feel you may be doubting its acting chops, jonze has gotten great performances in the past. Also I think it has a chance in special effects, and both sound categories, do you think thats possible? But why the dwindling love for The Lovely Bones? I guess well see thursday with the new trailer

  • 14 8-03-2009 at 1:25 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Markus: Based on likelihood of nomination, not win. I’m not predicting wins right now.

    And actually, if Swank knocks that role out of the park, they will indeed be more inclined to reward her a third Oscar before Streep. Stranger things have happened. And this conversation reminds me of 2004, when so many said a race between Swank and Bening was no race at all because there was no way Swank would get a second Oscar over Bening a second time.

    Five years later…

  • 15 8-03-2009 at 1:25 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    I believe The Lovely Bones trailer premieres this Friday.

    Good to hear about Green Zone ( I still wish it was called Imperial Life in the Emerald City). An action film, huh? If it plays like an action film, it’s an action film with many…undercurrents. No doubt about it.

  • 16 8-03-2009 at 1:30 pm

    Roark said...

    The Lovely Bones trailer will be on on Thursday but will be attached to prints of julie and Julia which will be released Friday.

  • 17 8-03-2009 at 1:44 pm

    Markus said...

    Bening vs. Swank and Streep vs. Swank is like comparing apples and oranges. Come on now, you can’t actually belive Swank can win a third even if she knocks it out of the park (which is quite doubtful)…The academy rarely awards 3rd Oscars and if they do Streep would surely be the recipient…

  • 18 8-03-2009 at 2:06 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Have you seen either performance, Markus? I’ve seen the Streep obviously and its great, but light. So like I said, if Swank knocks it out of the park, yes, I could easily see her winning a third. Your blind, aimless speculation aside, it could be a great performance.

    To state “no way in hell” is to show an ignorance of the fact that, indeed, stranger things have happened, which is the only reason I brought up the Bening thing.

    But, like I said, I’m not predicting winners, just nominees, so this is all neither here nor there.

  • 19 8-03-2009 at 2:07 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Hmm, any particular reason you’re opting for both Cruz and Dench over Cotillard? Marion has the role that generally owned @ the Tonys in years past. I think there’s enough love for her to score a second nom this year to make certain she’s not one of those one-nom-winners. Maybe.

    Also, I dislike your Original Screenplay lineup, because I think you’re underestimating (500) Days of Summer, which I feel Fox Searchlight will be fully behind. It could even snag a BP nod, imo.

    Other things look great though to me. Not much to say on that front except reiterating I agree here and there.

    I like that I’m not the only one not predicting “Ponyo” for the 3 animated slots….

  • 20 8-03-2009 at 2:26 pm

    Markus said...

    Kris, sorry for getting up your ire. I agree and respect your opinions. My only point was that Streep is obviously more deserving of a 3rd Oscar than Swank. If Swank knocks it out of the park, let the academy do as they will (but I doubt a 3rd Oscar will go her way no matter how good the performance is.) I will make no further comments on this matter….

  • 21 8-03-2009 at 2:27 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    I hope Abbie Cornish, Carey Mulligan, or perhaps Sigourney Weaver cuntpunts them both out of contention.

  • 22 8-03-2009 at 2:49 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Markus, I personally don’t think there’s an argument: Streep definitely deserves a third one more than Swank. If only the Academy saw it my way all the time…

    James: I kind of expect 500 Days to go away, but we’ll see. As for the Nine ladies, I hear great stuff on Dench and Cruz will have a great year, but Cotillard too, so who knows.

  • 23 8-03-2009 at 3:26 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Yeah, it’s a toss-up. I am not predicting two of them, but it seems that Supporting Actress demands two women from ensemble casts to get nominated, so I should prepare myself at least :P.

    Have you gotten a chance to see (500) yet? Original is pretty bare this year, so I think it’s an easy in, due to the track record of the annual indie smash via Fox Searchlight. With the terrific reviews, they’d be silly not to pursue it anyway….We’re 4/5, except for Broken Embraces. If Volver didn’t get in, I don’t see this making it with the reception it’s had so far.

    That still leaves me sore, for the record.

  • 24 8-03-2009 at 4:23 pm

    Amanda said...

    I cant believe you took out Damon for lead actor and replaced him with Clooney. I have heard nothing but great things about him in the Informant and he should be nominated for it. Damon never gets enough credit for his acting and Clooney gets WAY too much. Just look at Syrina I thought Damon was so much better than Clooney and yet he didnt even get a mention.

  • 25 8-03-2009 at 4:30 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Fair enough, Amanda, but I’m looking at things differently. Up in the Air apparently showcases some of Clooney’s best work yet, from what I’m hearing. So your bias against him aside, considering he’s in a vehicle that’s expecting a big awards push (while The Informant is looking like Globes at best), I went with Clooney instead.

  • 26 8-03-2009 at 4:39 pm

    leocd said...

    I ask the same some guy ask before. Why Where The Wild Thins Are is not on a better position on cinematography, if that’s his highest point on the trailer?? (best trailer of the year by the way, if you ask me and thousands of people around the web).

    I really hoped that The Wild Things and 500 Days of Summer to be great movies. I’m a little bored of the same type of excelent movies coming every year.

  • 27 8-03-2009 at 5:19 pm

    Robert said...

    Why not Vera Farmiga for the Reitman film? She has a fantastic, very supporting-actressy kind of role.

  • 28 8-03-2009 at 5:25 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yeah, I was wondering that myself about Farmiga. She has the only female role of note in the novel, but I’m assuming this buzz for Kendrick is coming out of the press screenings. Colour me intrigued.

    That said, the novel in general didn’t strike me as great material, so I’m guessing Reitman has given it a real work-over.

  • 29 8-03-2009 at 6:27 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Robert: Kendrick is the one being talked up for awards within the studio.

  • 30 8-03-2009 at 7:27 pm

    James D. said...

    So is Capitalism: A Love Story the one film that you say will only garner a Best Picture nomination and nothing else? If it is the only documentary nominated for Best Picture, doesn’t it have to be logically nominated for Best Documentary?

  • 31 8-03-2009 at 8:21 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    James: Not necessarily. Fahrenheit 9/11 was intentionally NOT submitted as a documentary in 2004 in order to beef up its hopes at a Best Picture nomination. Though we all know how that turned out…

  • 32 8-03-2009 at 8:38 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Charlie Wilson’s War – is a Universal Picture not a Paramount Picture

  • 33 8-03-2009 at 8:57 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    /3rtfu11: Didn’t say it was a Paramount film. I said:

    But it also has plenty to do with avoiding the “frontrunner curse” that has taken down contenders such as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Dreamgirls” (two of them Paramount films, you’ll note) in recent years.

    The two obviously being Button and Dreamgirls.

  • 34 8-03-2009 at 10:37 pm

    Glenn said...

    It’s Kodi SMIT-McPhee btw.

    Not much to comment on though, really. It’ll just be interesting to see if the ten thing works in favour of the more eclectic films or not and then next year we’ll have a much better understanding of it all.

  • 35 8-03-2009 at 10:46 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Isn’t that what I have?

  • 36 8-03-2009 at 10:47 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Oh, just noticed. Must have spaced it. Been writing “Smit” for years at this point, so chalk it up to a brain far.

  • 37 8-05-2009 at 1:02 am

    Douglas said...

    Kris, no nomination prediction for adam sandler after all your praise? I thought he would have at least in your top 10 in the charts

  • 38 8-05-2009 at 1:11 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Just barely, but the reception and money kind of killed it. #11.