OFF THE CARPET: Taking the temperature

Posted by · 8:28 pm · May 23rd, 2010

Now that we’re on the other side of Cannes, I felt it was a good time to put a finger to the wind, stare into the tea leaves, shake the magic 8-ball and basically just take stock of where we’re at roughly three months away from the start of the 2010-2011 film awards season.

The festival, covered diligently by Guy Lodge around these parts (we thank him), brought little to write home about where Oscar potential is concerned.  The truth is, it rarely does.  But as the year takes shape, things start to linger.  A film like “Inglourious Basterds” can transform muted if appreciative response on the Croisette into a foaming-at-the-mouth bid for a surprise upset in just a few months’ time.

The big narrative stand-outs for most were Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful” and Mike Leigh’s “Another Year.” Perhaps the latter has an easier Oscar path ahead, given that it was more unanimously accepted and could ultimately be a soft lob for Academy types.  Sony Pictures Classics swooped in and nailed down domestic distribution, so I think we’re looking at a bona fide Best Picture nominee to go along with likely bids for Best Actress (Lesley Manville) and the usual expected tip of the hat from Leigh’s fellow screenwriters.  Maybe even a Best Director nod, too.  And yet the film didn’t win a single festival prize.  See how this works?

“Biutiful,” on the other hand, is in murkier waters.  The film received a slightly divisive response, but González Iñárritu can be a divisive filmmaker.  He brought “Babel” to Cannes four years ago and wasn’t met with consensus approval, after all.  Then a strong Paramount Vantage campaign and a respectable $30 million-plus domestic box office haul got it into a field of five.

But “Biutiful” may not have as much going for it.  For starters, “Babel” benefited from a star presence to help it out with box office.  “Biutiful” has Javier Bardem front and center and he’s just a few years removed from his Oscar, but obviously he’s not a “star” in the same fiscal sense.  (He managed to win the Best Actor prize at the fest, albeit in a tie, which is a decent start.)

Additionally, as Anne Thompson mentioned in a mid-fest column, and as I alluded to earlier that day, we’re not even sure a studio will bite, given the inherent box office limitations.  That’s a lot of baggage out of the gate.  Maybe a someone — The Weinstein Company has been mentioned as a possibility — can pick it up and turn Bardem into an awards season player, but if it becomes a money loser (possible, given the budget), I don’t think we’ll be looking at a Best Picture nominee even with 10 spots to fill.  Obviously, I could be wrong.

Also coming on strong was Doug Liman’s Plame-gate drama “Fair Game,” which could be a play for last year’s Oscar champ Summit Entertainment in the Best Picture race.  Naomi Watts and Sean Penn seem to have a case for acting nomiantions, especially the former.  However, I’m curious to see how the studio will handle a campaign that doesn’t unfold serendipitously, as “The Hurt Locker” seemed to do last year.

Beyond those three, there wasn’t much else: some documentary hits (Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job” is already looking like this year’s doc feature winner), one or two foreign hopefuls (Lee Chang-dong’s “Poetry” seeming to be a high mark) and some added momentum for Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine.” Obviously “Robin Hood” came and went seemingly before Cannes audiences got a look, so it’s a non-starter in this race.  Outside hopes for costume design and sound editing are on the table, maybe one or two other below-the-line possibilities, but little else.  “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” meanwhile, brings with it the intriguing possibility of another tip of Oscar’s hat to Michael Douglas.

It’s not unheard of, as Pete Hammond reminded a few weeks back.  But Paul Newman finally winning an Oscar for “The Color of Money” is a little different than Douglas saddling back up to the role that won him his Oscar.  Douglas also has a respected portrayal in “Solitary Man” in his portfolio this year.

Let us know how you think this year’s Cannes slate will fare in the Oscar season.  My hands are obviously somewhat tied, having not seen any of these films yet.  But I look forward to discovering them in the coming months.  In the meantime, it’s still summer.  We got off to a dicey start, and “Shrek Forever After,” though it was a charming surprise for many, doesn’t look like it’ll change the tide this weekend.  It goes without saying it’ll be tough for the film to join fellow DreamWorks title “How to Train Your Dragon” in this year’s animated feature field.

As for the year so far, “Dragon” is tops for American cinema in my book and could ride that critical and popular wave all the way to an adapted screenplay nod like the green ogre himself did nine years ago.  Other efforts such as “Mother and Child” and “Please Give,” while well-received, will ultimately just become part of the quarterly statements for their respective studios rather than serious awards players.  Meanwhile, populist fare like “Kick-Ass” and “Iron Man 2” are likely non-starters.  The latter will be lucky to pick up the same pair of nods its predecessor did.

The coming weeks bring everything from “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” (already released in New York and a potential play for lead actor Andy Serkis) to “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (lots of talent below the line).  Searchlight will try to stoke the fire under Sundance fave “Cyrus,” Roadside will keep the conversation going on Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone” and Pixar will be back with a new installment of the “Toy Story” franchise.  But all eyes are really on July 16, right?

After that, Telluride, Venice and Toronto will be looming and the season will be around the corner.  Then we can start getting serious about some of the year’s upcoming contenders.  We’ll check back in with a column in the interim, say June 21.

My first predictions for the 2010 season are listed in the sidebar.  It was refreshing to wait.  I’ll be doing it again.  Meanwhile, the Contenders section has everything tiered up as I see it from this perch, but it’s still early yet.  Lots to come.

(Quick note: Guy will launch this year’s Page to Screen column next Tuesday, June 1.  Be on the look-out for that.)

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67 responses so far

  • 1 5-25-2010 at 5:43 am

    Alex said...

    @Maris…i’d bet my soul that Sturgess is the Lead. The guy i know who saw a test screening last year, said Farrell was in 1/2 of the film and Ronan was in 3/4 of the film so I dont know. Who knows how the film is now.

    But Sturgess is playing the guy its based on and Farrell is playing a made up character for the film. So i dont see why they’d relegate the main character in the book to supporting and promote a fictional character to lead.

  • 2 5-26-2010 at 1:20 am

    Jake D said...

    Speaking English: re: Hurt Locker- Really? I’m personally glad that we dodged having to deal with Avatar as a BP winner. I’d still probably give the gold to Precious, but Hurt Locker was a solid consensus choice – people have found gripes with it, but I expect it to hold up well. It’s a great little movie. Don’t know what would make you think it’s becoming seen as a bad choice.

  • 3 5-26-2010 at 1:43 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    English: It obviously hasn’t efficiently faded from your memory yet, since you’re still whining about it.


  • 4 5-26-2010 at 8:17 pm

    Maxim said...

    Serious question: is Solitary Man eligible for awards consideration this year. For some reason I was under the impression that the movie was on the radar last year even if it hasn’t gotten an official release.

    And no, I’m not consusing it with Serious/Single Man.

  • 5 5-26-2010 at 10:42 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It played Toronto last year but was released limited this month, so it’s a 2010 awards contender.

  • 6 5-26-2010 at 11:46 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    @ Jake and Guy: Speaking English lives in his own little narcissistic little world where he thinks his opinion is everyone’s else’s. Maybe if we all ignore him he’ll stop bothering us and go to IMDb or something.

  • 7 5-27-2010 at 7:55 am

    Sam said...

    Why would Hurt Locker be discussed in a story about next years Oscar nominees?

  • 8 5-27-2010 at 12:34 pm

    MovieMan said...

    “How to Train Your Dragon” is very obviously the frontrunner for Best Animated Feature, and it’s quite good, but there is room for improvement in both that and the Best Picture category. It’s a pleasure, but it IS flawed. “Chloe” is quite effective for the most part, but it’s far from Atom Egoyan’s most effective work (that would be “Exotica”). It won’t go near Best Picture. “The Ghost Writer” probably has no chance, having been released in February, but it is nonetheless worthy of some recognition for being an intoxicating and engrossing thriller. “Kick-Ass” is a lot of fun, but it’s no “The Dark Knight,” which wasn’t even nominated. Heck, it’s not even as good as any of the “Spider-Man” films. “The Runaways” is a better-than-usual musical biopic, deserving of recognition for Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, but it doesn’t have any momentum whatsoever.

    “Green Zone” shouldn’t be anywhere near Oscar consideration, as it is a structurally confused “The Hurt Locker”-wannabe and easily one of the year’s biggest flops. “Greenberg” is Noah Baumbach’s same old shtick: not as emotionally concise as “The Squid and the Whale” but certainly just as mediocre and forgettable as “Margot at the Wedding.” Ben Stiller isn’t even that good in it. “Robin Hood” opened to poor reviews, and for a good reason. There hasn’t been a more lifeless so-called blockbuster since Ridley Scott’s craptastic “Kingdom of Heaven.” Same with “Shutter Island,” which is easily Martin Scorsese’s worst film. It was boring and then ridiculous.

  • 9 5-27-2010 at 1:35 pm

    a-mad said...

    Nice lists, Kris.

    Swap out Toy Story 3 for Betty Anne in Best Pic and you’re good.

  • 10 5-27-2010 at 6:01 pm

    Maxim said...

    Thanks for the response. Here’s hoping Solitary Man won’t be passed over like Wonder Boys in terms of its acting.

  • 11 5-27-2010 at 6:03 pm

    Maxim said...

    Atom Egoyan’s most effective work (that would be “Exotica”).

    Oh, another Exotica fan! Awesome. Love that movie.

  • 12 5-27-2010 at 8:49 pm

    MovieMan said...

    “Exotica” and “The Sweet Hereafter” are both masterpieces, but I’d probably pick the former as the better if forced at gunpoint.

  • 13 5-29-2010 at 10:23 am

    med said...

    Based on the Academy’s 2010 disastrous award to the awful Bullock performance, we’ll most likey see a subpar performance win in 2011 — Renee Zellwegger perhaps…

  • 14 5-31-2010 at 2:01 pm

    T-Bone said...

    Curious why you don’t even mention 127 HOURS – Danny Boyle’s new movie coming out this fall from Fox Searchlight. The entire Slumdog team (Danny, Simon Beaufoy, Anthony Dod Mantle etc) is back, and a fantastic leading role for James Franco. Have you heard something negative about this film, or is it just off your radar?

  • 15 5-31-2010 at 4:03 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’m not yet convinced it’ll make it in time, but I’m certainly aware of it.

  • 16 6-02-2010 at 2:47 pm

    T-Bone said...

    Also, not sure why BETTY ANNE WATERS is getting so much advanced awards attention. I caught a test screening of this film, and it was like a bad tv movie. Hilary Swank was great, but the movie overall is a Tony Goldwyn special.