OFF THE CARPET: A spade is a spade

Posted by · 11:10 am · December 28th, 2009

Sam Worthington in AvatarOscar ballots are being mailed to AMPAS members today.  So now is the time to pay attention to the buzz, as most ballots are returned within the first couple of weeks (which says everything you need to know about how much time and care is put into the process by voters).

However, it’s somewhat amazing to me that not much has shifted in the scheme of things since the last proper Off the Carpet column.  Of course, there is “Avatar” (which I’ll get to in a second), but otherwise there are just a bunch of non-issues rearing their heads (like “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” being in the conversation, for instance, or the perpetuated Mo’Nique/bad press angle).  Chalk it up to boredom.

The only significant note is “Nine”‘s box office whiff, which accompanied an entirely dismissive response from critics and has left many wondering whether it will be able to push through into the 10.  Passion is still necessary, despite the wider net, and it’s becoming more evident than ever that getting voters to check the film off as a #1-3 choice is going to be a chore.

The most appreciated aspects, of course, are the below-the-line achievements (which I still think could be enough to get it across) and Marion Cotillard’s “why-the-heck-have-they-been-campaigning-for-lead?” performance.  Rightly so.  Maybe The Weinstein Company can switch gears like Fox Searchlight did with Maggie Gyllenhaal and find one more nod in the major categories.

Speaking of “Crazy Heart,” has anyone noticed the top critics giving it a rather solid thumbs up?  And if nuance is what you need, it currently sits at an 84 on Metacritic with a pair of heavy-hitting 100 scores from A.O. Scott and Roger Ebert.  I think it’s about time to get a little serious about the film as a sleeper awards possibility and not take the easy (rather hasty) road by writing it off as a “performance” thing.

Patrick Goldstein was shrewd enough to point writer/director Scott Cooper’s achievement out as one unfairly disregarded in a recent column, and I guess I’m just happy someone else gets it.  When you’ve got dwindling contenders like “Nine” clinging for dear life, the race is ripe for the taking.

But, of course, you’ve heard all this before.

From my perch, and obviously I’m not alone on this front, James Cameron’s “Avatar” has taken the poll position on this race and is looking likely to nab the Best Picture prize, against…all…possible…odds.  I know many will thumb their nose at that notion and fight against the grain, and God love you for it.  “Up in the Air” is very much in the hunt and “The Hurt Locker,” if the afterburner switch is ever located, has the potential to get there, too.

(from left) Anna Kendrick and George Clooney in Up in the AirBut is Summit going to spend the considerable extra money necessary to grab a designation that won’t mean much, to steal a phrase from Mo’Nique, “financially?”  Or will the prestige the film has already secured be enough?  Would you spend a dollar to (maybe) make a dollar?  Despite a modest re-release, there’s no real box office bump to be had here.  And DVD sales will be what they’ll be.

Meanwhile, are Oscar prospects for “Up in the Air” really such a priority for Paramount, a studio that quietly stalled a holiday wide release for “The Lovely Bones” in favor of a January wide bow in order to maximize box office potential when the film failed to catch on commercially (which was always goal #1)?  I’m not so sure anymore.  These things need to make money first.

Indeed, there was a time I thought “Precious” would take the prize, but as so many have noted then and since, the film peaked too early and doesn’t look likely to grab a second wind.  Or will one of the billion things Oscar’s gossip monger threw at the wall actually stick?  You know I’m skeptical.

So, yeah, “Avatar” is the one to beat.  Whether it can hold on to that position or not, that’s anyone’s guess.  But no one will be able to compete with this combination of critical approval, box office brawn and industry significance.  Let’s call it what it is.

The only race that is really interesting to me at this point, as in, the only race that doesn’t have a “one to beat” frontrunner, is the Best Supporting Actor category.  There are so many dynamics flying around it’s a bit dizzying.

(from left) Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard in An EducationIs Christopher Plummer in a position to capitalize on the clearest case for sentiment this season or is “The Last Station” a bit of a fizzler that won’t resonate enough to warrant it?  Will Stanley Tucci be singled out as the best part of the ill-regarded “The Lovely Bones” and, in tandem with good will for an equally wonderful turn in “Julie & Julia,” coast on to his own overdue recognition?  (Better yet, will voters side with his performance in the latter?)

And talk about sentiment, what about Woody Harrelson, who’s been haunting this season from the outset with a performance in “The Messenger” that could be enough to get people to actually watch the film and, perhaps, help usher it to a surprising Best Picture nomination?  Or is it all just moot and voters will just single out Christoph Waltz as their chance to give a big prize to Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” (and one even detractors would have a tough time arguing with)?

Then there is that fifth slot, which, excuse me, I just don’t think is going to go Matt Damon’s way.  It’ll be entirely depressing if it does happen, I have to say.  But then I can’t help but think Alfred Molina is waiting to surprise everyone (as someone does every year) with a nomination for “An Education” without major precursor attention.  (Or could Peter Sarsgaard actually pull that trick himself?)

So many variables in that field.  I’ll relish watching it unfold.

Anyway, the sidebar predictions have finally been updated once again and you can check out each field in depth at our Contenders page.  Next week it’ll be 2010.  Can you believe that?

→ 47 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

47 responses so far

  • 1 12-28-2009 at 11:30 am

    cineJAB said...

    1. Up in the Air
    2. The Hurt Locker
    3. Avatar
    4. Inglourious Basterds
    5. Precious
    6. Up
    7. An Education
    8. Star Trek
    9. Julie & Julia
    10. Crazy Heart

  • 2 12-28-2009 at 11:36 am

    Adam Smith said...

    Sorry to be vulgar, but if that Best Adapted Screenplay slate comes to fruition, I will piss myself with glee.

  • 3 12-28-2009 at 11:39 am

    Bob McBob said...

    Say it ain’t so:

    I knew James Cameron had a temper a on film set when he was working diligently and he didn’t get out of the crew what he wanted, but I wouldn’t have guessed that he would treat a fan like this, especially after his recent film is set to break all kinds of box office records.

  • 4 12-28-2009 at 11:48 am

    Ben M. said...

    I would love it if Crazy Heart were to get a BP nom instead of something like Nine- it is probably my favorite movie of the year and I’m hoping the extra BP slots would be used for small films or atypical oscar contenders which are good movies but may not have broad support, rather than nominating poorly received oscar bait.

    Also while I agree supporting actor is an open and exciting race (I would throw Christian McKay in that mix if voters actually see his film), I also think there are chances for surprises in supporting actress after Mo’Nique, Kendrick, and Farmiga; actor and actress do look fairly locked however.

  • 5 12-28-2009 at 11:49 am

    Speaking English said...

    ***Then there is that fifth slot, which, excuse me, I just don’t think is going to go Matt Damon’s way. It’ll be entirely depressing if it does happen, I have to say. ***

    I’m still crossing my fingers for a Lead Actor nomination for “The Informant!” How this brilliant performance has gone unanimously unnoticed is beyond me, so here’s hoping he can pull a Tommy Lee Jones in 2007 and become a surprise nominee.


  • 6 12-28-2009 at 11:53 am

    Andrew said...

    I really don’t think Nine deserves a Best Picture nom; the movie was a total mess and it had no plot whatsoever. Most of the cast was boring and even Cotillard wasn’t that great to be nominated for that role. She was better in Public Enemies but still, her performances this year are not Oscar-worthy, not even of a nomination.

    The Lovely Bones is a dead horse IMO. Tucci will get in for it anyway.

    I also think 500 Days of Summer, Star Trek, Julie & Julia and It’s Complicated have a big chance to get in the top 10. Or even The Young Victoria. Nine and The Lovely Bones were a total disapointment for most people and the bathmouthing is out of control. Mo’nique might be a victim of bathmouthing in the end too, just like Eddie Murphy a couple of years ago.

  • 7 12-28-2009 at 11:54 am

    Andrew said...

    Jeez what was I thinking? BADMOUTHING!

  • 8 12-28-2009 at 12:15 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    If the Academy is considering Avatar for best picture, they should also consider Transformers 2 for best pic, or consider a 12-gage to the head. My three cents.

  • 9 12-28-2009 at 12:19 pm

    Hans said...

    If Fantastic Mr. Fox gets an Adapted Screenplay nod, will it be the first non-Pixar animated film to receive a nod in the major categories?

  • 10 12-28-2009 at 12:27 pm

    aaron said...

    couldn’t have said it better myself, mr. gitz. but you and i are definitely in the minority when it comes to avatar.

  • 11 12-28-2009 at 12:28 pm

    Ben M. said...

    Beauty and the Beast (Disney but not Pixar) got a BP nod, and Shrek got a screenplay nod.

  • 12 12-28-2009 at 12:45 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Shrek got a screenplay nod

  • 13 12-28-2009 at 12:46 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Bob, that video is such bullshit, a child could figure out it was a TMZ staffer gunning for a rise out of Cameron. And the “fan” comes off looking like the asshole Cameron deems him to be, frankly. Intriguingly, whatever the “fan” did to be called an “asshole” is edited out of the video.

    Don’t waste my time with that gossip-mongering horseshit.

  • 14 12-28-2009 at 12:56 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I’m still afraid of the scenario where the Academy manages to nominate Avatar for BP but won’t nominate anything else people might’ve seen, therefore rendering the whole 10 nods expansion totally useless. Does anyone know how the current buzz stands in regards to Star Trek, District 9 and The Hangover?

  • 15 12-28-2009 at 1:04 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    the best adapted screenplay category is inspired, and one of the weaker categories this year if they go with movies like invictus(buhh)

    still waiting for nine to fall out of best picture and hoping invictus will to

  • 16 12-28-2009 at 1:13 pm

    Loyal said...

    Just got back from Avatar. All demos, kids, blue hairs, blacks, whites, couples… Can’t remember the last time I sat in a Sold Out Monday Morning (1050AM) movie. Jurassic Park? Phantom Menace? Maybe this what Star Wars was like in 1977.

    The writing appears to be on the wall for Avatar. It’ll blow past 300m this week and will probably be well past 400m by Feb 2nd.

    If it were only a money maker, maybe there could be an argument made in favor of Up in the Air (the only other film that could possibly win BP). But it’s an industry changer with great reviews as well. No-brainer selection for the win.

  • 17 12-28-2009 at 1:14 pm

    red_wine said...

    Crazy heart does have very good reviews to solidify Bridges case as he stars in a very well-regarded movie, something like The Wrestler last year. Bridges has his spoiler in Clooney as Rourke had his in Penn but then again, Rourke was not a main-stream beloved star and Bridges has that going for him. That said I’m extremely surprised Clooney has come out on top in critics awards.

    Streep kinda has this wrapped up. We all knew there was gonna be a third time. Well it has come now and unlike last year when there was much derision around her performance in doubt, this year a win won’t be entirely unwarranted as she surprisingly has the critics behind her. Mulligan is a star in the making and will likely earn her due later.

    I absolutely refuse to believe that Avatar will Best Picture. I can’t imagine it. This is like another Beautiful Mind waiting to happen. I still think The Hurt Locker will win. The Hurt Locker is not a difficult art movie or hard to understand or appreciate, its a straight up actioner and is the most well-liked movie of the year. The only thing against it is its failure to find an audience.

  • 18 12-28-2009 at 1:14 pm

    Alex in Movieland said...

    Kristopher, when will you be doing a big 2010 gathering… with all the future Oscar-nominees? March? Maybe February? :P I need such a contender list for my early March predictions…

    Let’s be serious, this season is more than half over. From now on, it’s autopilot and some small turbulence every 2 weeks when a BAFTA or some SAG announce :)

    and boy do I hope Matt Damon isn’t in. or Clint. or the awful cliche screenplay. Matt looked so uncomfortable doing it :)
    Give me some Anthony Mackie!

  • 19 12-28-2009 at 1:18 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Alex: I’m actually considering not bothering with it until late summer. Too much. Too much.

  • 20 12-28-2009 at 1:35 pm

    Loyal said...

    @ red_wine

    I loved The Hurt Locker. I think it’s by far the best action film of 2009 and Summit should be flogged for botching its release.

    But no matter how many critic circles throw their support behind The Hurt Locker, it’s still the film that only made 12m. In a year of 10 nominees, a year with Avatar in contention, I find it incredibly unlikely that a film that small can win. Bigelow will win, that’s its reward.

    I totally understand arguments for Up in the Air winning. It’s a really good, at times great film. It was directed by a wunderkind and Clooney holds the keys to Hollywood. And let’s not forget, Annie Hall beat Star Wars. I don’t think its happening again this year but it has happened in the past.

  • 21 12-28-2009 at 1:48 pm

    Bia said...

    Inglourious still seems to have its buzz…although Avatar is blasting everything away. I loved UITA, even though I thought I would not, and only felt that Anna and George were overrated a bit.

    I could see Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent taking out Vera and Anna in supporting.

  • 22 12-28-2009 at 1:53 pm

    red_wine said...

    @ loyal
    “it’s still the film that only made 12m”
    The Academy can rectify that if they give it Best Picture. Annie Hall won because it is one of the greatest films ever made. I feel so sad that had it been made today, it would definitely loose to Star Wars. Hell, it would loose to Avatar.

    I personally think that The Hurt Locker is a much bigger achievement than Avatar in every way and quite a lot of people feel that. But has there ever been a movie, who’s director had it all sewn up but the film didn’t have a chance? Isn’t the film that wins DGA always the front-runner.

  • 23 12-28-2009 at 2:00 pm

    Loyal said...

    @ red_wine

    “The Hurt Locker is a much bigger achievement than Avatar.”

    I’m speechless.

  • 24 12-28-2009 at 2:00 pm

    ninja said...

    Avatar is all kinds of awesome and deserves Best Picture win. And it wouldn`t be forgotten like some Oscar winners that didn`t stand the test of time.

  • 25 12-28-2009 at 2:31 pm

    Silencio said...

    Avatar was very good, not great. I’m somewhat ambivalent about whether or not it wins. As far as I’m concerned, District 9 or A Serious Man would be more inspired choices. Even IB.

  • 26 12-28-2009 at 2:48 pm

    j said...

    The site’s coverage of A Single Man’s chances with Adapted are odd. A number of times, A Single Man was predicted in the right hand column yet in stories about Adapted or in the Contenders page ASM was nowhere to be found. Now ASM is not in the T5 on the right-hand column yet a picture from it illustrates the category still. I only notice because I find it to be the best screenplay of the year.

  • 27 12-28-2009 at 2:51 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    j: I forgot to remove the photo.

    And it was one story about the adapted screenplay race that A Single Man was absent from (not “stories”), and that was only because I had failed to include it on the Contenders page at that time, and was using said Contenders page to navigate the column in question.

    Don’t read too much into things.

  • 28 12-28-2009 at 2:55 pm

    murdock said...

    I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again. A movie that has a 37% RT rating is a VERY BAD movie. Very bad movies do not make Best Picture. Therfore, I think Nine can be dismissed as a possibility.

  • 29 12-28-2009 at 3:21 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    10 nominees. 10 nominees. 10 nominees.

  • 30 12-28-2009 at 3:27 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    It will be very interesting to see how all of this pans out, the ten nominees and all. It certainly feels like there are several slots at the bottom that are wide open and that just about anything could happen. With Nine not getting the reviews and basically flopping, what’s to say that something like Star Trek can’t muscle in? It was after all very well received, it did well. There’s really no reason not to think it has a shot just because it doesn’t fit in with the old Five Nominees way of thinking about all this. It’s hard to imagine films making the top ten just because they fit the mold of a Best Picture type of film when they don’t have passionate supporters.

    It’ll either be the Academy falsely nominating films that fit the BP bill (Nine, Invictus) or they will embrace the ten and vote with their hearts and throw in a couple of curveballs for Best Picture.

  • 31 12-28-2009 at 4:16 pm

    Amanda said...

    Damon deserves to be nominated for the Informant! It was one of the best performances of the year. Im a big fan of his, but he doesnt deserve to get in for Invictus. I hate when the academy nominates people for “both” performances. Just put him where he deserve to go. His performance was better than Freeman and Clooney IMO and should get in before either one of those.

  • 32 12-28-2009 at 4:40 pm

    Sound Designer Dan said...

    “A spade is a spade.” Campea loves that line.

  • 33 12-28-2009 at 5:09 pm

    Erik 815 said...

    I think its time to take another look at the predicted 10, now that “the Big Four”are out, and the Lovely Bones and Nine have fallen from grace, whereas Invictus is looking fairly safe, and Avatar- which had most people concerned – looks very safe.

    I thinks we have 8 reasonably likely contenders, in roughly this order of certainty:

    “The Hurt Locker”
    “Up in the Air”
    “Inglourious Basterds”
    “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
    “An Education”

    and a number of films fighting for slots no. 9 and 10, being (and including the loooong long shots):

    “(500) Days of Summer”
    “A Serious Man”
    “A Single Man”
    “Bright Star”
    “Crazy Heart”
    “District 9”
    “It’s Complicated”
    “Julie and Julia”
    “Public Enemies”
    “Star Trek”
    “The Lovely Bones”
    “The Messengers”
    “The Road”

  • 34 12-28-2009 at 6:09 pm

    Patryk said...

    Wish there was more support for Viggo Mortensen. He gave a heartfelt performance in “The Road,” which seems to have been forgotten. Much better work than Clooney or Freeman

  • 35 12-28-2009 at 6:28 pm

    Kevin said...

    I can’t be the only person to have thought of this but it’s fairly likely that Molina hasn’t made a big a showing at the precursors as others (say Matt Damon) because he is splitting votes with Saarsgard. I think this could very well trip him up in terms of scoring a nomination and (barring a throwaway nomination for Damon), Mackay could definitely score a nod for his very well-received performance.

    Also, beyond Mo’Nique, Farmiga and Kendrick, supporting actress is a bit of a toss-up. Penelope seems to be the next best bet but I think Cottilard could spoil her chances for a nomination and instead one of (but not both) Moore or Morton (both respected actresses) and Gyllenhaal (if Crazy Heart’s supposed goodwill is to be believed) or Laurent (if IB’s passionate support ropes her in) will nab the last spot. Although, it IS hard to believe that for a film with a much-hyped female cast that Nine won’t score a nomination for ones of its ladies.

  • 36 12-28-2009 at 6:45 pm

    murdock said...

    Yes, there is 10 nominees, but do you really believe that Nine can get in over the multittude of films that also have a chance, that are good?

  • 37 12-28-2009 at 9:08 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I think autopilot voting is something to consider.

  • 38 12-28-2009 at 9:40 pm

    cineJAB said...

    @Erik 815:
    i think the sure things list is even thinner than you make it seem, and there’s no way Invictus is safer than Precious.

    Avatar, Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, and Inglourious Basterds are LOCKS.

    Precious and Up are close behind.

    Then it’s all wide open. There are three films that I just don’t think are secure at all, the obvious ones like Nine and Invictus, but then also An Education. I feel like all that’s gonna get is a Best Actress nod, and probably Adapted.

  • 39 12-28-2009 at 9:48 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Isn’t Rob Marshall in the Academy? Weinstein must be. How could Nine not get a #1 vote?

  • 40 12-29-2009 at 12:44 am

    Andrew said...

    Weinstein gets what he wants nomination-wise. I predict Nine is in.

    I think the #7 to # 10 spots are up for grabs. Go Bright Star

  • 41 12-29-2009 at 2:46 am

    Glenn said...

    “I’m still afraid of the scenario where the Academy manages to nominate Avatar for BP but won’t nominate anything else people might’ve seen, therefore rendering the whole 10 nods expansion totally useless. Does anyone know how the current buzz stands in regards to Star Trek, District 9 and The Hangover?”

    Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Up and Julie & Julia are all movies that “people have seen” and others like “Precious” and “Up in the Air” have posted respectable numbers and entered popular consciousness. This whole idea of “nobody seeing the films” is complete and utter bullshit. Plenty of people see the films, just not teen boys, the exact demographic of people who wouldn’t even watch the Oscars if they nominated The Dark Knight last year or The Hangover and Star Trek this year. I hate that stupid argument.

    I do think “District 9” could be a surprise. Although is it really a surprise if it gets in? I dunno. Not much would constitute as a “surprise” these days, would it?

    The adapted screenplay category IS wonderful (for a change). Fantastic Mr Fox being a particularly inspired choice that I hope the Academy goes with.

  • 42 12-29-2009 at 3:05 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    If “Nine” gets in (and it still stands a very good chance), that will summarise every argument against the ten-nominees idea.

  • 43 12-29-2009 at 10:12 am

    Danny said...

    I’m sorry to see not much more buzz for A Single Man beyond actor and S. Actress. I believe it deserves noms for BP, Dir, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay and Art Direction. But it seems to be getting a bit overlooked – only Colin Firth appears to be a sure thing, for a nomination but no more. IMHO it’s easily one of the 5 best films of the year, silly as it is to make comparisons sometime.

  • 44 12-29-2009 at 10:13 am

    Danny said...

    I’m sorry to see not much more buzz for A Single Man beyond actor and S. Actress. I believe it deserves noms for BP, Dir, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay and Art Direction. But it seems to be getting a bit overlooked – only Colin Firth appears to be a sure thing, for a nomination but no more. IMHO it’s easily one of the 5 best films of the year, silly as it is to make comparisons sometimes.

  • 45 12-29-2009 at 12:09 pm

    Ben M. said...

    I was wondering about the autopilot voting, I can see some members including it on their ballots as a late choice due to the oscar hype or just to fill things out, but I wonder if voters would really put it down as a #1 or #2 that way.

  • 46 12-29-2009 at 4:12 pm

    Brian said...

    Up in the Air still has the secret weapon of Ivan Reitman. If it manages to win the Globe (I’d still say it’s the favorite there) and Ivan is just beaming proud of his son, that’s exactly the kind of stuff AMPAS can not refuse.

    And I still feel so bizarre of the notion of Bigelow and Avatar splitting. Avatar is the definitive director’s movie. I mean he designed the fucking cameras for crying out loud.

  • 47 1-02-2010 at 5:29 am

    Ivan said...

    Wow the only category along with best supporting actress with a clear front runner i.e Waltz is the only one ”open”?

    Your Inglorious bias is of the charts ridiculous.

    Waltz has all the buzz in the world…he has a similar sweep like Heath last year,won Cannes,has by far the best reviews of all the potential competitors and is the only guy who stars in a movie that will be a contender.

    I like following predictions sites but going against the drain and overall sentiment because of personal taste is not individualistic or brave it’s childish.

    You can hate IB all you want,along with it Waltz but if you think that Waltz is not a clear front runner you’re absolutely wrong.