OFF THE CARPET: Why it should be ‘The Messenger’

Posted by · 9:46 am · January 4th, 2010

(from left) Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster in The MessengerThe writing is on the wall. “Nine” is on the precipice, teetering, on the brink of falling from the Best Picture ranks, 10 nominees or not. Speculation flies as to which film will be the beneficiary (as most concede this is the only slot in flux, though there are certainly compelling arguments against a secure spot in the line-up for “Up” and “A Serious Man”). And I find myself going back and forth as to which film deserves the designation.

A glance at my best of the year column reveals what should be the obvious answer for me: “Star Trek,” J.J. Abrams’a tight reboot of a franchise that now has a new, vibrant lease on life.  It was, after all, my #11 film of the year.  It will absolutely land a number of #1 and #2 votes because, as mentioned in Friday’s Oscar Talk, it simply remains one of the most enjoyable films of the year for a great many.

Also, it’s pretty nice when you have someone in the race, like Quentin Tarantino, calling it his favorite film of the year.

That said, voters may feel that their sci-fi/genre vote has been cast with “Avatar,” while “District 9,” from producer Peter Jackson and director Neill Blomkamp, is another genre entry that deserves a fair glance and could cock-block Abrams and company out of contention as well.

Meanwhile, Nora Ephron’s “Julie & Julia” and Nancy Meyers’s “It’s Complicated,” two Scott Rudin-produced efforts featuring an on-fire Meryl Streep in a comedic capacity, could be sleepers to watch for.  But one could easily see the two splitting sentiment in some way.

Fox Searchlight’s attempts to salvage a season in the wake of a crash-and-burn performance for Mira Nair’s “Amelia” may pan out for one of the studio’s critical faves, “(500) Days of Summer” and “Crazy Heart,” but I wonder if enough concentrated enthusiasm is out there to be found.

Adam Yauch at the 2009 Independent Spirit AwardsThat leaves my #14 film of the year, Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger.” Entertainment Weekly’s Dave Karger may have been considering the above when he decided to shuffle the film into his predicted slate of 10, or perhaps not.  But it’s also not that far-fetched.

In the course of an interview with actor Woody Harrelson in this space some weeks ago, we told you about a screening of the film hosted by actors Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller for an audience including friends and colleagues like Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Sean Penn, John C. Reilly, Lisa Kudrow, Harry Dean Stanton, Emile Hirsch and more.

Penn has also become involved — quietly, of course — with getting the film out there, as well.

But the point I’d like to make here is, if indeed “The Messenger” is on course to slide into the Best Picture category, and regardless of the fact that “Star Trek” ranked higher on my list of the year’s best, I believe Oren Moverman’s film is the one that deserves to benefit from latter-year stumbling.  And the reason is simple: Adam Yauch and Oscilloscope Pictures.

In just two years, this modest branch of Yauch’s company has been acquiring and distributing some of the most compelling independent cinema there is.  From topical, quality documentaries (last year’s Oscar nominee “The Garden,” for instance, or “Burma VJ” and “No Impact Man,” not to mention one of 2008’s best films, “Dear Zachary”) to unique narrative features (Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy” and So Yong Kim’s “Treeless Mountain”), Yauch (who was recently diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland) and his colleagues are interested in forwarding unconventional work with nary a grotesquely craven business interest to be found.

And “The Messenger” is just the next step, a dynamic film with powerful performances and perhaps the most relevant point of view on the current military conflict we’ve seen in cinemas to date.  To honor it with a Best Picture nomination would validate Oscilloscope’s commendable industry trajectory and put it in a position to raise the stakes, take things to the next level.

The MessengerMoreover, a vote for this film over the blockbuster entertainments of the field would indicate that the Academy isn’t as opportunistic as it appeared to be with that big off-season announcement.  A Best Picture nomination for “The Messenger” wouldn’t move the needle for ratings, but it would be something of a definitive statement that this category still has a modicum of prestige to it.  A Best Picture bid would still have that air of the elusive, and that, I think, is what the organization should, in some way, be concerned with preserving.

But there isn’t a group mind behind these things.  So that is a consideration I’m quite aware won’t be in the cards in any tangible way.  But I think the passion that could drive a film like “The Messenger” to a Best Picture nomination is something that ought to be celebrated, and for now, at least, I’m optimistic.

The Contenders section has been casually tidied and the predictions in the sidebar have once again been updated.

→ 40 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

40 responses so far

  • 1 1-04-2010 at 9:59 am

    Morgan said...

    Having seen both Avatar and District 9, I have to wonder if the SFX voters maybe won’t all vote for Avatar en masse for best special effects. It seems to me that District 9’s effects employed a lot of thought and down-and-dirty practical ingenuity (not to mention a whole lot more special-effects houses) whereas perhaps Avatar’s effects seem too much like a trade-secret algorithm. District 9 seems more like a special effects man’s special effects movie. That’s one Oscar upset I’d love to see. I don’t think Avatar is as much of a lock on this award as many might think.

  • 2 1-04-2010 at 10:00 am

    Morgan said...

    PS- there is a precedent for this thinking: District 9 beat Avatar for production design (Avatar came 2nd), courtesy of the LA Film Critics.

  • 3 1-04-2010 at 10:07 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Maybe you’d have a case if it was just the fx branch voting, but it’s the entire Academy.

  • 4 1-04-2010 at 10:07 am

    Chase K. said...

    I’m rooting for an “Invictus” shutout.

  • 5 1-04-2010 at 10:14 am

    Andrew F said...

    I’m wondering if “An Education” is as safe as we think it is. I adored the film, but where’s the buzz? Besides Carey Mulligan’s performance, we’re hearing very little about it.

  • 6 1-04-2010 at 10:34 am

    Patryk said...

    Brilliant analysis. “The Messenger” deserves this nomination for all the reasons cited. Career best work from Harrelson and Foster. And Morton was great also.

  • 7 1-04-2010 at 10:46 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    I honestly just don’t see it. The Messenger being this year’s Doubt (a slew of acting nominations, but shut out of Best Picture) is far more likely in my view. Though it would be inspiring if it got in, especially over something like Invictus.

  • 8 1-04-2010 at 10:48 am

    billbil said...

    I like this take on what “should” be in the “List of 10”. I would love to see THE MESSENGER included.

    But I would also love to see INVICTUS not included and either DISTRICT 9 or STAR TREK instead. Gosh it’s difficult for me to pick between these two. I suppose, if I really had to be honest, I’d probably select STAR TREK only because DISTRICT 9 seemed just a bit “smaller” to me – wonderfully unique and thorough but not quite as “grand” as STAR TREK. I am a sucker for emotionally involving grand movies – something AVATAR almost missed completely.

  • 9 1-04-2010 at 10:57 am

    Chris138 said...

    I loved The Messenger but am having trouble seeing it nominated for Best Picture. Anything is possible, I just think that Nine or something else will still take the slot.

  • 10 1-04-2010 at 10:58 am

    justme111 said...

    What about The Blind Side? Gulp…

    Supp. Actress is the one to watch. Mo and Kendrick are locked and Farmiga looks safe.

    Morton depends on how loved The Messenger is.

    I think Moore is not making it. The SAG snub killed her buzz. Think Kristin Scott Thomas last year.

    Cruz will make it in the end, she´s well known and they obviously like her. The SAG nod was revealing, imo.

    I think Kruger will make it too. That SAG nod arrived just in time. The movie is a lock for several bigger nods and that helps A LOT, imo. That´s why I think she´s safer than say Moore or Morton. Internal competition with fan favourite Melanie Laurent will damage her chances for sure though.

    for now I´d say:


  • 11 1-04-2010 at 11:14 am

    Brian said...

    The Blind Side is definitely in the running. Tragically.

    If there was an Avatar backlash, which hasn’t happened yet, then I think District 9 might have a shot. I’d probably vote for it over Avatar honestly. It blew my mind a lot more. But as stands Avatar is sweeping the techs with ease.

  • 12 1-04-2010 at 11:15 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    no one from nine deserves an acting nomination, no one has enough to work with but daylewis and his performance is cut up by bad editing, im also waiting for invictus to die

  • 13 1-04-2010 at 11:18 am

    Bill Melidoneas said...

    I agree that An Education isn’t safe in the Top 10 group.

    Locks: Avatar, Precious, Up in the Air, Ingl. Basterds, The Hurt Locker (5)

    2nd stage grouping: Invictus (Clint subbed twice last year gets redeemed, and the older academy will embrace it), Up (it seems destined to get in since the announcement of the expansion) (2)

    In or possibly out: An Education, A Serious Man, Star Trek, Dist. 9, It’s Complicated, The Messenger, 500 Days of summer (3 out of these 7 will make it in) I say An Education, Dist. 9, and Star Trek.

  • 14 1-04-2010 at 11:36 am

    sosgemini said...

    “Morgan said…

    PS- there is a precedent for this thinking: District 9 beat Avatar for production design (Avatar came 2nd), courtesy of the LA Film Critics.”

    There’s another more obvious comparison, The Matrix beating Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

  • 15 1-04-2010 at 11:45 am

    Bill Melidoneas said...


    How does Matrix vs. Star Wars: Ep. 1 compare with Dist. 9 vs. Avatar.

    My money says it’s a closed and shut case, Avatar runs away with the tech categories. Dist. 9’s v/fx beautiful, quieter than Avatar’s some could say the invisibility of it’s v/fx hurts it while Avatar’s v/fx speak to you loudly.

  • 16 1-04-2010 at 12:06 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    Aside from “The Hurt Locker” (but hey, you can’t stop what’s comin’), that is one pretty looking Original Screenplay shortlist.

  • 17 1-04-2010 at 12:09 pm

    Sean said...

    I watched The Messenger this weekend and I am missing out on the love. This was not a bad film, but it wasn’t great. My friend and I thought it was ultra repetitive. I much preferred Foster’s work over Harrelson.

  • 18 1-04-2010 at 12:17 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Um, Kris, I know you’re still holding onto the 00’s, but it’s a new decade now. The date above the side column reads 2009. ;)

  • 19 1-04-2010 at 12:32 pm

    Avatar lock is broken said...

    I agree with Morgan. I think District 9 and Star Trek and maybe some other splashy sci-fi films are going to give Avatar a run for its money in the effects and sound categories. Isn’t there some cross over on those visual effects people? Will they back Cameron or one of their own?

    The dramatic films will be too hard for it to best in the rest of its nominations, since Avatar has motion capture acting and a flabby script and structure. Production design and costumes likely won’t go to a virtual painted CGI environment.

  • 20 1-04-2010 at 12:47 pm

    JJ said...

    Funny, so many movies I liked are in running for #10:


    Wasn’t wild about DISTRICT 9.

    I actually think STAR TREK stands the greatest chance of a Top 10 slot. And deservedly so. It’ll have some support down the line of guilds, too.

    And going out on a limb ……. I second the – “INVICTUS and AN EDUCATION seems JUST as likely to miss Top 10 as NINE does”.

    Other than Eastwood’s name & BAFTA support from An Education, will either of those 2 titles be on people’s #1 and #2 ballot??? I can’t imagine it unless there is wheeling & dealing.

  • 21 1-04-2010 at 12:47 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Robert: If The Messenger is this year’s Doubt, then it’s in, since obviously Doubt would have been in with 10. “This year’s so and so” isn’t a computable consideration the first year we have 10.

  • 22 1-04-2010 at 12:50 pm

    cineJAB said...

    yeah, there’s all this talk about how little box office Hurt Locker made, and how that could affect it’s chances, but An Education’s tally is even lower. I don’t think it has anything going for it other than Carey Mulligan and it’s screenplay.

  • 23 1-04-2010 at 12:53 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yes, but nobody’s talking about “An Education” as a potential winner.

  • 24 1-04-2010 at 1:13 pm

    JJ said...

    How many of BAFTA peeps will put AN EDUCATION in #1 or #2 when there are so many other great films they would likely honor with those #1s and #2s; films that struck a chord & made a lot more $$ thus far? Quite a few, but enough?

    I mean, Mulligan is in, clearly. Screenplay, yes. But Best Pic?


    I still see AN EDUCATION in same boat as INVICTUS and NINE. I’m not counting it out or anything, and I actually liked the film quite a bit, I’m just trying to see what fits in Top 10 (like we all are).

  • 25 1-04-2010 at 1:39 pm

    red_wine said...

    I would completely support Star Trek for a nomination and it would be more deserved than even Avatar. The film just plays… I mean it is so enjoyable and so extremely well-made. The cast was totally robbed of an Ensemble nomination from SAG. I’ve seen it a few times on video and if I see it one more time, I think I might put it in my Top 10. Gotta love it.

  • 26 1-04-2010 at 2:25 pm

    The InSneider said...

    The Messenger was good but it’s a small, performance-driven film and personally I didn’t find it worthy of a Best Picture nomination. I thought the romance was kind of clumsily handled. Didn’t love the way Morton’s character was written. Foster and Woody stuff was gold and Harrelson is very deserving of a nomination but I think District 9 or even Crazy Heart would get in ahead of this one… I don’t think Star Trek will get a BP nom, though I’d prefer it to D9.

  • 27 1-04-2010 at 2:38 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    This would be completely awesome. While we’re at it, Harrelson, Morton and Original Screenplay as well? Yeaaaaah.

  • 28 1-04-2010 at 2:39 pm

    billbil said...

    nicely said red_wine – Star Trek “just plays” – nicely said.

  • 29 1-04-2010 at 5:35 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    So justme111, are you saying that you think SAG and Oscar will match-up 20/20 in acting? Puhlease….

    Was it telling when Angelina Jolie was nominated for A Mighty Heart, then (rightfully) snubbed in favor of Laura Linney? Did you forget that Marisa Tomei was snubbed for SAG last year, and the parallels between The Wrestler and A Single Man are daunting (Venice buzz, major lead actor contender, supporting actress companion)?

  • 30 1-04-2010 at 5:49 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Now, in regards to the 10th slot, sentiment is shifting enough that more are falling in line with the potential of a nom for The Messenger. But at that point, the Top 10 predix are almost completely similar anywhere you look. Is it really that simple? Could it be that easy? Or is there still a surprise lurking…?

    I disagree about An Education being a weak contender. I’d say it’s at least close to equal with Precious, for one. Secondly, the SAG ensemble nod shows that it has strong support. Of course, it was a prime example of an ensemble contender, and in a year of five could/would likely still miss the cut. However, in a year with 10, combined with the British power, I do think it’s safe.

    What feels weakest to me is Invictus. Other than the performances by respected actors, is there that much passion? Or will it fail to garner enough #1/2 votes to make a difference?

    With that in mind, there’s SOME minor semblance of hope that District 9 and/or Star Trek could arouse enough passion to slide in. With this being such a monumental year for sci-fi cinema, is only one film going to reap the benefits of the expanded BP category? Like Messenger joining The Hurt Locker as war-themed films in contention, I think at least one of the two other sci-fi films might upset the biopic presumed to be an autopilot nod. Maybe the voters will feel just that original. Maybe…if they’re as apathetic as most of us are.

    The only conundrum then is: Which one?

    P.S. Kris, when are you gonna remove DDL’s pic above the Picture category? Haha.

  • 31 1-04-2010 at 5:55 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Oops, haha. Done.

  • 32 1-04-2010 at 6:19 pm

    Marshall said...

    Kris….are you trying to send a subliminal message that you want to vex “Invictus” like you did to “Amelia” and “Nine?”

  • 33 1-04-2010 at 6:22 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Haha, that was precisely what my first thought was.

    Hey, whatever it takes =). Now that the Invictus screener has leaked, I plan on watching it like Gran Torino last year: at home, on the 13th. Come what may….

  • 34 1-04-2010 at 6:52 pm

    Ed said...

    Not sure Invictus, A Serious Man, and Up are safe…
    I think Star Trek, District 9, and 500 Days of Summer are closing in on an upset…

  • 35 1-04-2010 at 6:54 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Why does anyone think Invictus isn’t safe? Seriously, stop letting personal feelings get tied up in this thing. The film played, to critics, definitely to the Academy. Let…it…go.

  • 36 1-04-2010 at 11:53 pm

    tony rock said...

    True words, Kris. I thought Invictus was mediocre, but lets face it…77% at rottentomatoes and apparently positive word out of Academy screenings. It’s in a much better place than Nine.

  • 37 1-05-2010 at 12:07 am

    Aaron said...

    I think the Academy is much more partial to Rob Marshall’s work than most of the American public, so I think Nine is in, regardless of the reviews and box office.

    Invictus is in too…you know Gran Torino would’ve made the top 10 last year. I assume Clint Eastwood has a substantially large niche in the Academy (considering he’s won four Oscars).

    The one film I’m not sure about is Up. I know I’m in the minority, but this film does not appear to have the same breathless praise that Wall-E did last year. I just don’t see the Academy nominating an animated film just because they didn’t last year.

    In regards to supporting actress, I don’t think Julianne Moore will make it. The buzz for this performance seems to have died (and for A Single Man in general, w/ the exception of Colin Firth). I think in the end Penelope Cruz will make it (unless Marion Cotillard is switched to supporting), and the last slot will either go to Morton or one of the Basterds girls. This is the most exciting category IMO.

  • 38 1-05-2010 at 12:07 am

    Dean Treadway said...

    I’d still like to see BRIGHT STAR get into the top ten. I know it won’t happen, but it deserves a place there. I’d give it noms for Pic, Director, screenplay, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Art Direction, and Costumes. As much as I loved SERIOUS MAN, it’s hard to imagine a film getting only a Pic and a screenplay nom (though it happened with FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL). AN EDUCATION seems bound for only three noms (pic, actress, and adapted screenplay), but that seems somehow likely. INVICTUS is definitely in (never understand those Eastwood naysayers). And I think STAR TREK has an excellent, and well-deserved, chance at a pic nomination. But I don’t really think THE MESSENGER is gonna make it in the top slot, though I could easily see it still getting three other noms. It’s very possible, too, that NINE will make it into the top ten anyhow. Anyway, predicting the Best Picture noms was somehow a lot more fun when there were only five slots.

  • 39 1-05-2010 at 9:53 am

    Marshall said...

    I don’t think it isn’t safe. I wasn’t sure if you thought it was, but now you have made yourself fairly clear.

  • 40 1-14-2010 at 7:23 pm

    Meli said...

    I would LOVE to see The Messenger get one of the ten spots. But what I want and what happens – for most things involving carrying an Oscar off stage, including even being a contender – are not often the same thing.