OFF THE CARPET: Suiting up

Posted by · 12:46 pm · September 21st, 2009

George Clooney in Up in the AirYou might have noticed this morning’s round-up reverted back to “Oscarweb.”  The big late-summer festival trilogy wrapped up with Toronto’s kudo-dishing over the weekend and on the other side, we face the long haul.  The season is officially here.  You ready?

As punishing as it feels, I’m still excited for our weekly coverage.  Punishing because monthly diagnosis is so liberating, but we’re at that stage where the nuances of the season are worth tracking closely, the layers of the race peeled back slowly but surely.  Today’s Off the Carpet column kicks all of that off for us at In Contention.

Tomorrow we’ll have a list dedicated to the best of the Academy’s chosen.  Wednesday, Guy will launch “The Long Shot,” a new weekly awards column that will consider things from afar without the dizzying insider silliness you find in this space every Monday, and I’m really excited for that.  Gerard comes back Thursday for another series of Tech Support columns, and, of course, Anne and I will continue the conversation Friday in our weekly Oscar Talk podcast.  I think we’re covering all bases.

So, as we go into the season, what do we know?  And do we think we know more than we actually do?  Probably.

“Up in the Air,” for instance, was the story of September if only because any goodwill toward “Precious” was already a known commodity.  Jason Reitman’s “Juno” follow-up comes along at just the right time for the country, taps into actor George Clooney’s movie star quality to find other insights and pretty much nails a tone, a vibe, an overall sense of things.

Yes, this is what Best Picture winners do.  But I get the feeling far too many are willing to call the race over and done with before it gets started.  That attitude is a bit defeatist, in some sense, and not at all reflective of the realities of the season, which can change on a dime (regardless of the fact that the last two years have been two of the most predictable to date).

“Up in the Air” is a much better film than “Slumdog Millionaire,” but when it comes to an awards season, it isn’t “Slumdog Millionaire.” Nor is it “No Country for Old Men.” It is a film made in the brilliance of its script, the carefulness of its execution.  But it isn’t likely to come off as a hero for below-the-line types who prefer films that are at least moderate technical showcases. Reitman’s film isn’t meant to be a technical showcase, but neither were a number of masterful films that fell to contenders with the easy sell of crafts consideration.  But a whip-smart campaign could crack an egg on my face just like that.

(from left) Lenny Kravitz and Gabourey Sidibe in Precious“Precious,” with its one-two audience award punch in Sundance and now Toronto, crushed “Up in the Air” as the perceived “frontrunner” over the weekend in the eyes of many.  The trend around this time of year is to twist easily with the breeze, and that’s fine.  But while we’re all so anxious to declare a locked-in victor, again, let’s be honest with ourselves.

“Precious” is a masterpiece, one of the best films of the year.  It is about childhood ruined and the hope that survives that.  It is an expertly directed piece that could well win an Oscar for Lee Daniels, but it doesn’t go down as smooth as “Slumdog Millionaire,” even with (abstractly) similar thematic ideas.  One might be inclined to consider it a more viable contender than Reitman’s film if only because it wears its craft on its sleeve.  But it is a very difficult sit, so it isn’t likely to become the “most agreed upon” effort, especially given the new voting system rules.

Even “A Serious Man,” which for me is the master work of the year, could have trouble landing a nomination, to say nothing of a win.  The film works on a level the Academy rarely appreciates, but this group has surprised me before, so I’m willing to allow for the jury to still be out there.  My fingers are crossed.

But I’ve just rattled off three of my favorite films of the year and made pretty solid cases against them winning.  The point being, no questions have been answered here.  If nothing else, a shape is forming.

This time last year “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” had yet to screen but was by-and-large “the one to beat.”  It wasn’t until November (in this space, actually) that anyone was willing to indicate a shifting tide in favor of Danny Boyle and Fox Searchlight.  So perhaps films like “Nine” and “Invictus,” the perceived heavies of the year, could screen and bobble the landing and we’ll all be talking about “Precious” and “Up in the Air” again in two months.  But for now, there is a lot that can happen.

However, the festival circuit has brought a few other variables to chew on.  Like a Best Actor situation at The Weinstein Company that may be fascinating to watch.  I don’t think we’re going to see Daniel Day-Lewis, Viggo Mortensen and Colin Firth all slide into contention, but the latter is the story as we move into the season.

Unacquired possibilities in the same category can make their presence known at any time, but the market is keeping them on the periphery.  The moment someone bites, however, Robert Duvall may well become one of the season’s darlings in “Get Low,” and to a lesser extent, Edward Norton could make a case for himself in “Leaves of Grass.” The former comes in the more universally admired film, however.

(from left) Samuel L. Jackson and Naomi Watts in Mother and ChildAnnette Bening could leap into the lead actress race with a “Mother and Child” pickup (or certainly Naomi Watts in supporting), while Marion Cotillard will soon shake up the race when she becomes the lead actress push for “Nine.”

So let’s allow things to unfold before we jump to diagnose this beast.  The road is long and it is anything but straight.  The fun is in the journey, and it starts here.

As mentioned in the last column, we’ve done away with the weekly Oscar charts.  The obsession on who’s up and who’s down is officially for the birds in my book and passing commentary (with the requisite perspective) is more valuable to me than a green or red arrow.  So in their stead we have revamped the Contenders section somewhat, offering a three-tiered structure as a way of gauging where the threats might be.

Despite my moment of weakness in including Duvall on the chart last week, no film will be moved into my predictions or into the frontrunners section of a category without distribution.  It’s the best way to control the clutter.  Additionally, no film will be moved into the frontrunners section of a category if it has not been seen.  It seems only logical.

So, have a look at our Contenders section to see how things are shaping up, check out Guy’s updated predictions for a different take on things, or, as always, get a load of my thoughts on the race as I see it in the right sidebar.

→ 26 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

26 responses so far

  • 1 9-21-2009 at 1:08 pm

    Loyal said...

    I’m a bit confused as to how Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker is a frontrunner, whereas Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine is an “also in play.”

    At first I thought it had to do with films in release or seen in festivals versus those not. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.

    Johnny Depp managed a nomination for Sweeney Todd for christsake. DDL’s nomination for a musical seems like a no-brainer to me.

  • 2 9-21-2009 at 1:13 pm

    Bing147 said...

    Why isn’t Watts on the contenders page then?

  • 3 9-21-2009 at 1:13 pm

    The InSneider said...

    Kris, what do you make of Brothers’ chances, especially in the supporting categories?

  • 4 9-21-2009 at 1:16 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Loyal: Like I said in the copy, if a film hasn’t screened, it’s not in the frontrunners section. If there are some I missed in that regard, let me know.

    Bing: She’s there.

  • 5 9-21-2009 at 1:20 pm

    JAB said...

    I really don’t see Amelia or Capitalism getting into the top ten while films like The Lovely Bones sit on the side, then again i haven’t seen any of those movies.

  • 6 9-21-2009 at 1:22 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    The two bottom spots after all. I’m certainly not sold on either. Things will change.

  • 7 9-21-2009 at 1:26 pm

    m1 said...

    It still hasn’t sunk in that Shutter Island was moved to February. If it wasn’t, it would open in 2 weeks. On another not so plus side, I think (500) Days of Summer will be overwhelmed in numerous categories.

  • 8 9-21-2009 at 1:27 pm

    Derek said...

    Kris, what information do you have to consider Marion Cotillard switching to lead? I have seen Nine, and a lead campaign would be an awful mighty stretch that would very likely cost her an almost guaranteed supporting nod.

  • 9 9-21-2009 at 1:30 pm

    red_wine said...

    This year has been low on unabashed critical gushing, with only Up and The Hurt Locker getting universal raves and really great reviews. The third film might be A Serious Man, which was the best reviewed film in Toronto followed by Up In The Air and A Single Man.

    But the first true honest-to-god certainty seems to be Up In The Air. Its a given for Picture, Director, Screenplay & Actor. And Kris, whatever you might have thought of Cornish, she’s getting absolutely smashing reviews at the moment.

  • 10 9-21-2009 at 1:35 pm

    j said...

    I have heard greater buzz about Firth than that guy in Hurt Locker & Mortensen.

    Cruz has the best role though, based on awards for the play productions. Cotillard’s or Dench’s is 2nd, then Day-Lewis.

    I’m not sure anyone’s seen Avatar in full yet (It’s a “frontrunner” for editing.).

    I continue to hope 500 Days gets no consideration at all for such a bad screenplay.

  • 11 9-21-2009 at 1:38 pm

    John said...

    Here are my latest predics for BP (post-festival):


    Of course, I have, like 10 others that could factor in. But that’s what I’m feeling for now.

    For instance, I think A SINGLE MAN & A SERIOUS MAN could get several noms, but not quite for BP, etc..

  • 12 9-21-2009 at 1:53 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Derek: It’s not a “switch” since nothing has been set, but the plan (according to the studio) is that she’s the lead and the rest are supporting.

  • 13 9-21-2009 at 2:19 pm

    Aaron said...

    please no Capitalism: A Love Story. I really have doubts that the Academy would put a Michael Moore documentary in the top field. Hopefully they’re over him…he was sooo 2004.

    And after seeing Bright Star this weekend, Abbie Cornish deserves that damn Oscar nomination. She was absolutely fantastic (Ben Whishaw was very good too). All together, I thought it was a very brilliant film, and something that the Academy would want to honor (if people actually remember it come ballot time).

  • 14 9-21-2009 at 2:42 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    …or feel anything when they see it.

  • 15 9-21-2009 at 2:53 pm

    Jeremy said...

    I’m disappointed that Tilda Swinton only rates in the “Other Possibilities” category. I recognize that’s your take on the likelihood of the nomination rather than your opinion of her performance, but if she does get shut out it’s a damn shame. Easily the performance of the year thus far in my mind.

  • 16 9-21-2009 at 3:03 pm

    Amanda said...

    As much as I would love for him to get nominated for someting, I really dont see Matt Damon going anywhere with Invictus. I have read the script and there really isnt anything there for him. He is just kinda there. It’s Freeman’s movie.

    and I really wish Amy Adams would get some love for her performance in Sunshine Cleaning. I get why she isnt, but it really is a great performance and I hate that it is getting overlooked.

  • 17 9-21-2009 at 3:09 pm

    Morgan said...

    I realize and respect the fact that you did not like “Bright Star,” but I think to not even put it as a possibility for score or especially cinematography is a little harsh. I loved the film, so I’m of course biased, but I thought that both elements were absolutely beautiful. Given the positive critical response, if, as Aaron said above, they remember it come January, I could see it getting nominated for (if not necessarily winning) quite a few categories.

  • 18 9-21-2009 at 3:14 pm

    Patryk said...

    Jeremy: As Guy suggested in a previous post, if Swinton gets any critical support, she may indeed have a shot at a Best Actress nod. IMO, it is far and away the best performance so far this year.

  • 19 9-21-2009 at 3:21 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Morgan: Those are gross oversights if that’s the case. It’s definitely a contender in both. When I restructured the section, I realized some holes weren’t filled and that must be two that were left dangling. I’ll amend (the score is beautiful).

  • 20 9-21-2009 at 3:39 pm

    James D. said...

    I am going on record predicting a Best Picture nomination for The Hangover.

  • 21 9-21-2009 at 3:42 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...


  • 22 9-21-2009 at 4:37 pm

    j said...

    I think Bright Star is great, but the score was good at best. The beauty of the sound mostly was reserved for the acting, esp of the poetry recitations of the lovers, and quiet moments. The only part of the music I remember is that one repeated refrain that’s in the trailer, which wasn’t exceptional. The best parts were Cornish & the cinematography/art direction. I’d be psyched for Director/Pic too.

    Also, I wonder if the title “suiting up” refers to one Barney Stinson.

  • 23 9-21-2009 at 5:16 pm

    m1 said...

    If you guys have noticed, there haven’t been many thrillers in the race. State of Play wasn’t as good as it would’ve been, but still worth seeing. Shutter Island was moved to next year (sob!). Sin Nombre came out too early. The Shutter Island move will mess up the award season.

  • 24 9-21-2009 at 5:49 pm

    decs said...

    Kris, I thought that Ed Norton was an outside chance (albeit a VERY outside chance) of getting a nom for Leaves of Grass?

  • 25 9-22-2009 at 6:02 am

    John said...

    Regarding ‘State of Play’. Just saw it on dvd.

    Wow, was that better than I had anticipated.

    Too bad it won’t be remembered for anything.

  • 26 9-26-2009 at 2:39 pm

    Dan said...

    The Lovely Bones is sort of a “thriller.”