OFF THE CARPET: Take a deep breath…

Posted by · 9:59 am · August 31st, 2009

George Clooney in Up in the AirThe calm before the storm is beginning to subside.  Can you sense it?

By the end of the week, the Venice and Telluride fests will be underway.  A week later, Toronto will weigh in.  When the smoke settles in roughly three weeks, the season will suddenly be a lot clearer…and yet so much of it will remain a mystery as latter year hopefuls limp (or stomp) into the fray in November and December.

Yes, the season is upon us.  And while studios continue to think over the true value of Oscar notices, especially in a widened playing field, business marches on as usual.  Venice will tell the tale for efforts like “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” “The Informant!,” and “Capitalism: A Love Story,” while Telluride could make or break the hopes of films such as “The Road” and “Up in the Air.”

Some overlap will go down in Toronto, but the most anticipated first-look there will likely be the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man.”  Meanwhile, distributors might be looking to beef up their schedules with films like “Creation” and “Leaves of Grass” looking for buyers.  But for those with ponies primed and ready, these festivals are very much the starting gun for awards runs, as ever.

So before the madness ensues, we get one more stab in the dark.  But given the perceived road ahead, it seems to me that films with a healthy pre-season awards profile going into the fall are in pretty good shape as it is.

Summit’s “The Hurt Locker” didn’t find the foothold the studio had hoped for at the box office, but the film will be making its way to DVD and Blu-ray at just the right time.  Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” meanwhile has done quite well financially and will also be hitting home video when it counts.

Pixar’s “Up” still has high hopes to become the first animated film since “Beauty and the Beast” to be nominated for Best Picture (asterisk or not), though there are plenty who will tell you the film isn’t secure just because there are five extra slots up for grabs.  And “Star Trek” survived a painful blockbuster season that included the likes of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” to become the only viable live action populist option.

The Tree of LifeBut with the festival product set to bow, I find myself looking farther ahead to the potential late surprises of the year.  After all, this time last season, “Slumdog Millionaire” was but a blip on the radar screen.

Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” is the December “surprise” that most have an eye on.  But with the newly named Apparition ushering “The Tree of Life” into cinemas just in time, one begins to wonder whether Terrence Malick can move the awards needle.

Additionally, Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” could be finished and ready to debut for a qualifying run if the suits continue to like what they see (and if the film is picked up).  Those decisions will be made in the next month or two.

So there are a few things that could shake up the season.  “Up in the Air,” already reported in this space as Paramount’s coveted awards hopeful (long before Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” was sent packing to 2010), might be the “surprise” that hits the industry soonest when it screens in roughly a week.

And that’s really all there is to discuss.  It’s put up or shut-up time and in a few weeks, this space won’t be filled with the general hot air of anticipation.  We’ll actually have some grist for the mill.

One final note on predictions.  This will be the last time we feature Oscar prediction charts at In Contention.

I have used the template in some form every year since I started doing this in August of 2001, and if I’m being honest, I nicked the idea in part from Nathaniel Rogers back then.  David Poland and others followed suit shortly thereafter.  And no one can compete with the old Zeusefer listings that vanished after the 2002 season.  Now it’s the requisite format for handling these things at other outlets, and that’s fine.  But it no longer works for me.

Telluride Film FestivalCharting the “progress” of Oscar contenders, indicating whether they’re “up” or “down” from week to week (or even month to month), adds a derby element to things that just isn’t the attraction it once was.  It has always been a disservice to the nuance of an awards season, but it was also the best way of carrying across my thoughts on how the race was shaping up.

I don’t by the idea that it provides a road map for the season, to look back and see the peaks and valleys of this film or that, because it is something so often rooted in subjectivity.  But to obsess over where these films are registering each and every week, building one’s own tiny Oscar race within the coverage, it’s just not interesting to me anymore.

So instead we will be re-imagining the Contenders section when we start in on weekly coverage in a month or so.  Maybe a tiered set of hopefuls, updated when necessary, but certainly not gliding up and down the scale with every whisper and change in the wind.  And definitely not ranked in an authoritative way.

Perhaps I’ll offer up a chart just prior to nominations, to give an idea of how I see the hierarchy of playing out, but for now, I think it’s only fair to consider the playing field as even as possible, and this is the best way I know to indicate that with our coverage.

Of course, the sidebar predictions will always reflect my most up-to-date predictions, and with the charts out of the way, I might feel more compelled to change them more frequently.  We’ll see how it goes.

See you on the other side of the fests.  Enjoy the final chart update…

Main Category Charts
Technical Category Charts
The Contenders
Oscar Prediction Archives

→ 29 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

29 responses so far

  • 1 8-31-2009 at 10:35 am

    Jesse said...

    This article made me realize just how uneven the film season is. Maybe Shutter Island being moved to February will at least give the year a little balance in regards to prestige pictures.

    Also, since I really only started following the Oscar race a couple of years ago, has there always been this sway toward awards hopefuls being released in the later months?

  • 2 8-31-2009 at 10:41 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    For the most part, yes. Certainly this decade, anyway.

  • 3 8-31-2009 at 10:52 am

    Loyal said...

    I wonder if Tree Of Life = There Will Be Blood.

    I remember how everything seemed to be No Country No Country No Country until There Will Be Blood showed up at the 11th hour and we thought we had something. A race!

    Alas, the better film lost. But it did become suddenly exciting for a few weeks.

  • 4 8-31-2009 at 11:09 am

    david said...

    It’s nice to see the new Coen’s film move up into your top ten (anxious to see it…looks hilarious)…but all the other films I’m still looking forward to the most (Avatar, The L0vely Bones, The Road, The Tree of Life) aren’t currently being predicted.

    The song category looks like a mess as usual. That’s one category I wouldn’t mind seeing the Oscars do away with. They always leave out most of the best songs anyway.

    Also, Public Enemies seems to have almost all but disappeared from all your predictions in the various categories. That’s a shame. I still think it’s one of the few films that’s been released this year that will still have popularity several years down the road.

  • 5 8-31-2009 at 11:21 am

    Loyal said...

    I was under the impression that no more than two songs from any one film may be nominated for an Academy Award.

    I think that change went into effect in 2008.

  • 6 8-31-2009 at 11:25 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    so there wont be a chart but there will still be predictions to thr right kris?

  • 7 8-31-2009 at 11:31 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Loyal: Think you’re right. Good catch.

  • 8 8-31-2009 at 11:33 am

    AmericanRequiem said...


  • 9 8-31-2009 at 11:37 am

    Loyal said...

    I would also like to add that based on your current predictions, Nine is an extra song nom and lead actress nom for Marion Cotillard (based on available info, TWC would probably campaign her for lead) away from 14 noms total (would tie the record).

    Of the 24 films nominated for 12 or more Oscars including BP, only 9 failed to seal the deal, 2 of which were this decade. Food for thought.

  • 10 8-31-2009 at 11:41 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Nine wont win best picture, Ive seen it, its not all that great, and I just dont think its time for Nine

  • 11 8-31-2009 at 11:44 am

    Loyal said...

    Ah, you were at the NY test screening. Can you shed additional light on the category placement for the actresses?

  • 12 8-31-2009 at 12:01 pm

    Mr. Milich said...

    Interesting how many movies seem to exist as post-mortems for the Bush years…

  • 13 8-31-2009 at 12:08 pm

    j said...

    Hmm, is Bright Star really suffering? I wouldn’t be surprised exactly, since critics generally like it somewhat but find it without passion or originality, but it’s both literary and female-auteur’d, which boosts it for me. Well, Cornish still has a good chance. I do hope, though, that Bright Star at least has a better chance at screenplay than Nancy Meyers, who brought us The Holiday.

    And I’m biased but I think 500 Days has a horrendous screenplay by people who will next bring us The Pink Panther 2; the only part of it I like besides what’s in the trailer is the last word. The lead actors I like though. Of course, I know some people feel this way about a certain movie written by an ex-stripper about a knocked up teenager…

    I’d probably enjoy Education’s chances a bit more if Scherfig wrote it too.

    I’ll root for Tree of Life sight unseen mostly for Sean Penn, though his chances of winning are slim given how he just won. Plus how only two of each gender have won 3 (though hopefully Streep’ll bring that # up).

    I still don’t think Damon will get 2 noms, and I will Swank to not get another one ever.

    I would lol if Supporting Actress nominees were Monique, Precious; Kidman, Nine; Loren, Nine; Cruz, Nine; Dench, Nine. Only once before have there been 3 sup actress nominees from the same film, Tom Jones. I guess if 3 came that’d be lol too.

    Is there any chance for there to be enough animated films for there to be 5 nominees? I kinda want Disney to have 3 noms here.

    Noms I’d be happy with: Potter/Bright Star/Tree Art Direction/Cinematography, Star/Potter Costumes, Tree Edit, Makeup Potter, Music Princess/Tree, VFX Tree/Potter.

    And I want September Issue to make waves in Best Doc. Why not; it’s so far getting better reviews than last year’s Best Foreign winner (though that was the worst-reviewed of the 5 nominees…).

  • 14 8-31-2009 at 12:26 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Ya Loyal, theyre all basicly supporting, but if one role was to be pushed lead it would be marion, though none of their work was earth shattering, it was all very nice, but rob marshall show us his characters, he doesnt let us feel them and get in their heads, hes just not a great director, the movies just to much like chicago to have a repeat

  • 15 8-31-2009 at 2:15 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    I can’t believe the summer is ending, and all the huge films are going to be upon me soon. I hope it’s a good year.

  • 16 8-31-2009 at 2:24 pm

    Danny said...

    What do you think the chances of Tarantino competing for an original screenplay? I would hate for him not even to get a nomination, I think he definitely deserves it.

  • 17 8-31-2009 at 2:31 pm

    Alfredo said...

    Completely agree with you, David, about Public Enemies.

  • 18 8-31-2009 at 5:13 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    I find Inglorious Basterds to be the frunt runner for best original screenplay. If Im wrong and Tree of Life is no good this could be the year Pixar finally wins best original screen play

  • 19 8-31-2009 at 5:22 pm

    Tom said...

    I’m looking forward to The Tree of Life the most. I have no idea why. Are Sean and Brad both being campaigned as leads?

  • 20 8-31-2009 at 6:12 pm

    BDM said...

    So AmericanRequiem how was daniel-day lewis’ performance? Is it nominee worthy? Or a misfire?

  • 21 8-31-2009 at 6:44 pm

    Georgie said...

    I find it interesting that you predict (500) Days of Summer for Original Screenplay and not Inglourious Basterds… I’m a huge (500) Days of Summer fan and I wouldn’t think of predicting it before IB.

    I also think/hope that people will recognize Amelia for what it is: the biggest Oscar-baiting film of the year, if not the decade.

    And I have very high hopes for A Serious Man. The trailer was the funniest thing I’ve seen all year.

  • 22 8-31-2009 at 7:23 pm

    Jack said...

    Is “Inglorious Basterds” running as an original or an adapted screenplay? I thought it was a remake of the Italian movie–or was that just an “inspiration”?

  • 23 8-31-2009 at 7:29 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Georgie: Didn’t realize you had seen Amelia…

  • 24 8-31-2009 at 7:50 pm

    Georgie said...

    I really do need to stop passing off hyperbole as fact. The trailer just seemed to give off the ‘this movie will win Oscars regardless of whether or not it is good’ vibe. The Academy’s hard-on for Hilary Swank is mind-boggling, at least when it comes to 2004. There, I didn’t even blame Swank for it this time. Progress.

  • 25 8-31-2009 at 8:43 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    BDM, Its a fine performance, I wouldnt be suprised if he was nominagted. but I dont see a win in the works, especially it seems like a lesser effort after There Will Be Blood, I doubt he can ever top that performance

  • 26 8-31-2009 at 10:48 pm

    j said...

    It looks like each year about 2 or 3 Oscar heavies (in terms of the actual noms/wins) come before the 4th quarter:

    wall-e, dark knight
    bourne, la vie en rose, ratatouille
    inconvenient truth, miss sunshine, children of men
    crash, constant gardener, cinderella man
    eternal sunshine, motorcycle diaries
    nemo, seabiscuit
    frida, road to perdition
    moulin rouge, shrek

    I wonder if it is indeed Hurt Locker & Up to follow suit.

    And I realized also that Bright Star may be also hurt by Tree of Life being released by the same studio in the same year, given the casts & crews of each.

    I’m finding Actress the most interesting race and am highly curious about the performances of Streep, Ronan, Cornish, & Mulligan.

  • 27 9-01-2009 at 1:34 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “The trailer just seemed to give off the ‘this movie will win Oscars regardless of whether or not it is good’ vibe.”

    Does it really? Or is that just you projecting your resentment onto it again? As a period epic with, yes, some Academy-friendly elements, the trailer was just doing its job.

    I’m uninterested in the film myself, but the bile being directed toward it across the web is bizarre.

  • 28 9-01-2009 at 10:41 am

    Brian said...

    Thanks for your thoughtful (and thought-provoking) comments on why you are eliminating the charts. You’re dead-on about how they devalue the artistry in these films. I enjoy some ranking myself (and I’m glad you’ll keep some sort of list), but the continually tracked list with up and down indicators really does move me personally away from the films and toward the horse-race elements of Oscar watching.


  • 29 9-01-2009 at 11:39 pm

    Barry said...

    AmericanRequiem wasn’t at the latest test screening since they posted before it was screened (a friend attended it but wouldn’t disclose info except to say it will most likely be in top 10). So I’m not sure if they made any changes between when AmericanRequiem saw it and my friend.