More halfway-mark blues

Posted by · 8:20 am · July 5th, 2010

A few weeks ago, I commented upon the scarcity of viable awards contenders released in the last six months, coming to the unsurprising conclusion that there hasn’t been much to, well, comment upon. In the past few days, however, Variety’s Tim Gray and EW’s Dave Karger have revisited the subject … and haven’t come up with very much either.

A common emerging sentiment is that, with such a meagre first-half slate, filling 10 slots on a Best Picture ballot could be a challenge for many voters – and could ultimately result in a decidedly weak nominee field, one with more “Blind Sides” than “District 9s.”

Sasha Stone has challenged this by suggesting that, in what she (if not everyone else) believes will be “a great year for film,” the Academy may end up looking to arthouse or non-summer genre fare to fill the gaps – though, to take two of her listed alternatives, it has to be said that while most critics would be down with “Winter’s Bone” making the list, “Shutter Island” would be a much more contentious nominee.

Amid the naysaying, a glance at the overlaps in Gray and Karger’s pieces reveal a handful of likely nominees that most would be happy with. “Toy Story 3” looks comfortably on course for what could become as perennially automatic a berth in the Best Picture derby for Pixar as the one Meryl Streep enjoys in Best Actress – as long as The Law of Ten remains in place. “How to Train Your Dragon” in Best Animated Feature, Jennifer Lawrence in Best Actress, acting, writing and possibly Picture noms for “The Kids Are All Right” – sure, nobody’s arguing otherwise.

You’ve heard all those names before, and we don’t really need to discuss them again until later in the year, when we can see if they still stack up against fall’s prestige offerings – some of which, like “Another Year” and “Blue Valentine,” have already been seen and approved on the festival track.

But dig below the consensus candidates and a few more wayward possibilities emerge: some intriguing, some merely puzzling. (In the latter category, I would put Karger’s suggestion of Vanessa Redgrave as a dark-horse contender for slumming it in critically dismissed chick-flick “Letters to Juliet.” If we’re going there, let’s at least start a Supporting Actress campaign for Taylor Swift, for being the one human element of “Valentine’s Day.”)

Under the “intriguing” pile, however, we have a title listed by Gray, the Italian-language “I Am Love” – not a favorite of mine, but adored by the critical majority, and a reasonable crossover success, thanks to the presence of Tilda Swinton in the lead. Needless to say, a heavily stylized foreign melodrama faces an uphill climb with mainstream awards bodies — but when looking for first-half long shots, an unusual item with a passionate following is often a better bet than a softer sell (let’s say Nicole Holofcener’s “Please Give”) that is liked by many but revered by few.

Whether Italy will submit it for the foreign-language race (and whether that tricky voting branch would even bite if they did) is anyone’s guess. (Nathaniel Rogers contemplates this, and other foreign options, here.) In any event, John Adams’s (non-original, sadly) score is one of the year’s most talked-about so far, and Swinton’s performance is strong enough to merit some outside Best Actress discussion. (Any such discussion should chide awards bodies everywhere for blanking her superior work last year in the less accessible “Julia.”)

Gray also points out that while we’re still waiting for 2010 to find its feet in terms of narrative features, it’s already off to a racing start on the documentary side of things. Indeed, between the likes of “Restrepo,” “Inside Job,” “Waiting for Superman,” “Countdown to Zero” and lighter crowdpleasers like “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” it’s already possible to put together a credible slate of nominees for the documentary Oscar – though past form suggests we should expect at least a couple of those titles to be controversially snubbed.

More adventurously, Stone wonders if one such doc could go so far as to crack the Best Picture lineup. She’s plumping for Charles Ferguson’s Cannes hit “Inside Job,” but after seeing the more unique and emotionally involving “Restrepo,” I’d hesitate to call Ferguson’s film a frontrunner even in the ghetto race. Still, until “Inception” supposedly saves summer, and Venice and Toronto show their hand, it’s nice to have at least one category with more than two balls to juggle.

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20 responses so far

  • 1 7-05-2010 at 8:54 am

    Jim said...

    Toy Story 3 is locked. Only 9 more slots left. Hopefully Inception gets in too.

    How ironic would that be that the 2 filmmaking teams of Nolan and Co. and Pixar who lost out on Best Picture nominations back in 2008-which had a hand in todays move to 10 BP nominations-will in all likelihood be the first 2 films or so to secure a spot for the big prize.

  • 2 7-05-2010 at 8:58 am

    JJ said...

    Doesn’t this conversation occur every single June/July. I don’t get it. There’s always a feeling of ‘omg, when are the good movies coming?’ I really don’t think this year has been that THAT much more abysmal to the June/July point as previous years. I really don’t.

    Shutter Island, How to Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3, The Kids are Alright, Winter’s Bone …

    Aren’t those considered to be Oscary movies that could and may do very well 6 months from now?

    Aren’t there going to be a slewwwww of Oscary movies coming out in the next 6 months.

    I don’t mind these ponderings, I just think they’re funny, and placeholder discussions til September comes.

    Just my opinion. :-)

  • 3 7-05-2010 at 9:12 am

    Sam C. Mac said...

    JJ: You’re on an Awards Prognosticator site only 7 months into the year; do I need to state the obvious? (Good on you for putting “Shutter Island” out front though.)

    Guy: Nice job assessing the season in a non-chicken-with-its-head-cut-off sky-is-falling kinda way. You give a nice overview, suggest some possible developments later on, and plug Taylor Swift. What more can a guy ask for?

    “The only Oscar Prognosticator that ever mattered (to me).” -Sam C. Mac

  • 4 7-05-2010 at 9:16 am

    JJ said...

    Very true Sam C. Mac.

    This is why we’re all here. :-)

  • 5 7-05-2010 at 9:33 am

    red_wine said...

    Yeah I wanna see what’s so great about I Am Love. It has indeed received some out-sized praise but I don’t think its getting within spitting distance of Oscar.

    Some probable noms are TS3 for Adapted Screenplay, Animated & Picture. Dragon for Score & Animated(I don’t buy Kris’s idea of a screenplay berth, its not THAT good) and maybe Agora & Shutter Island for the art categories.

    Guy, do you reckon Mezzogiorno from Vincere might make a dash for Best Actress? Its the kind of performance that would be the locked favorite if it were in English language. I kinda see it as Cortillard in 2007, its a biopic performance with many big scenes, crying etc.

    And some left field shots might be Fish Tank, Dogtooth for Screenplay, Jarvis for actress perhaps but they already seem to have their ingénue locked in Lawrence this year.

  • 6 7-05-2010 at 9:34 am

    coffeefortwo said...

    That Karger article is such weak tea. He offers the reasoning for the article as follows: “two of 2010’s Best Picture nominees…were released before the end of June, so it’s only natural to wonder whether any films from the first half of the year could end up making the cut come next January.” Then two sentences later (two!), he quotes an anonymous Academy member to sum up the supposed dilemma: “I wouldn’t be surprised if nine of the ten Best Picture nominees come out the of the second half of the year.”

    THAT’S the great worry, the cause of hand-wringing and the justification for a front-of-the-magazine trend piece on the Oscars, that the number of Best Picture contenders from the first six months will drop from two to one.

  • 7 7-05-2010 at 9:37 am

    Adam M. said...

    It’s as if the subculture of Oscar prognostication develops collective memory loss every year. Have things ever looked promising by the halfway mark? It’s nifty enough that we already have one or two or three films that will land in the Best Pic 10. And ‘The Blind Side’ didn’t score a Best Pic nod for lack of any worthier contenders: other films were just snubbed. It’ll be okay, people!

  • 8 7-05-2010 at 10:21 am

    Al said...

    JJ, but this is the ten we’re talking about now. Last year we had 5 or 6 mainstream friendly films in the mix. Thats not going to happen this year unless they decide to go for more mediocre flicks. Not that I personally have a problem with less mainstream films making the cut, but considering thats a major reason to go to ten in the first place, it just seems like a failed attempt. I actually think this could be more harmful to the oscars than helpful.

  • 9 7-05-2010 at 10:29 am

    j said...

    Psh. She JUST missed the cut four times: Manchurian Candidate (Bafta/Globe noms), Hours (Globe/Bafta noms, split with both herself and her frontrunner co-star), Marvin’s Room (Globe nom, vote split with Keaton), and River Wild (Globe/Sag noms).

  • 10 7-05-2010 at 11:26 am

    /3rtfu11 said...

    The Academy resurrected the ten Best Picture nominee format for the publicly perceived snub of TDK but could it be possible that just didn’t care enough for it as a whole with the except of Ledger’s performance? This is so dumb to continue to have 10 slots – why?

    I’ll make the assumption Tilda Swinton will get her first Best Actress nomination.

  • 11 7-05-2010 at 11:46 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Todd Gilcheist just sent a Tweet over my bow noting that John Adams’s “I Am Love” score was released prior to the film.

  • 12 7-05-2010 at 11:48 am

    Sam C. Mac said...

    Kris: Right, it’s not eligible, but I don’t think Guy was suggesting it was anyway.

  • 13 7-05-2010 at 12:52 pm

    Nick Davis said...

    It’s also got so many interpolated elements from other Adams compositions like Nixon in China that I think it was doomed to disqualification in any number of ways.

    I think it’s fair to say that the year never seems to brim with Oscar contenders by early July, but that’s usually because most of what’s been popular and critically smiled upon doesn’t seem up Oscar’s alley: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Star Trek, whatever. It seems rarer that Hollywood has barely even generated anything in the “popular but not really Oscary” track up to now. Even the movies that have made a lot of money, save TS3 and Dragon, just don’t seem to have any fans. Lots of years have a Braveheart or a Gladiator or a Brockovich that makes a solid popular and critical impression even if it only later looks like it’s got Oscar momentum. It’s hard to imagine anything that’s come out so far enjoying that kind of buzz resurrection later in the year. (And the fall frankly looks as dreary to me as the spring and summer have been.)

    I wish Green Zone had gotten a fairer shake. It deserved a lot of nominations that its early release, lukewarm reception, and low box-office guarantee that it won’t get.

  • 14 7-05-2010 at 1:57 pm

    DarkLayers said...

    It wasn’t just TDK.
    Consider this exchange with Bruce Davis in early 2008:

    Everyone has theories about what caused the ratings drop. Some
    say it was the movies. Some say the lack of stars. Some say the
    writers’ strike hurt the award season. What do you think caused this?
    I don’t think the writers’ strike had much to do with it. I think Jon
    Stewart did a terrific job. The things we could control went pretty
    well. The length of the show was good. We had some really memorable
    acceptance moments. I do think, finally, that the trend of the studios
    making big action pictures and the specialty houses making small,
    prestige movies is sort of catching up to us.

    How so?
    Some of these movies are just too difficult for a mass audience,
    frankly. And if we have moved into an era where there’s this dichotomy
    between big popular studio movies and smaller pictures for more
    specialized audiences, we may just have to get used to smaller
    audiences [for the Oscar telecast.] This could be a one-year blip but
    it doesn’t look like one. It looks like something that has been
    developing over the past few years. It’s as if the National Book Awards
    had to make a choice between giving awards to very serious fiction or
    to the most popular bestsellers. We’ve come to that point where there
    are two kinds of movies, and we’re focusing on the ones which, almost
    by definition, aren’t going to be blockbusters.

    Many people know AMPAS has genre biases. But as these biases begin to cut against the new intersection of art and commerce, it would be increasingly detrimental to them. This doesn’t necessarily mean the Governors’ Board made the right choices. Simply that there was a reason above and beyond one perceived snubs. Just observe comment 1. The artists who were perceived to be snubbed in 2008 are light in a dark summer of 2010. They are emerging again as critically acclaimed and popular.

  • 15 7-05-2010 at 2:16 pm

    kevin said...

    Guy, I hated Valentine’s Day. Anne Hathaway was the most enjoyable piece in that movie. I felt truly sorry for Taylor Swift because that embarassing performance was out of place – she was trying to hard ,extremely over-the -top performance , and soulless. I guess we are all entitled to our opinions.

  • 16 7-05-2010 at 3:57 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    What Nick said in his second paragraph, a hundred times over.

    Kevin: You really thought Swift was “out of place” in Valentine’s Day? As in, less comfortable than the numerous hamstrung movie stars in it? I can’t agree. If anyone was out of place, it was poor Shirley MacLaine.

  • 17 7-05-2010 at 5:54 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    Well, I just saw “Toy Story 3,” and I can’t say I see it as a “lock” as others suggest. It has a very strong third act, but it’s repeating what we’ve seen before, and not better than we’ve seen it before. The Oscar nomination system favors films with deep support over films with broad support. I can’t seen too many folks listing this high on their list, though perhaps no one actually dislikes it.

  • 18 7-05-2010 at 10:58 pm

    Ryan SC said...

    Toy Story 3 will be among the 10 nominees. The film is great and a good chunk of voters will also take into account it’s predecessors. Many will pencil in Toy Story 3 but in their minds, they are penciling in the entire Toy Story trilogy.

  • 19 7-06-2010 at 5:56 am

    Glenn said...

    Um, John Adams didn’t so much score “I Am Love” as the Luca Guadignino used Adams’ music to soundtrack the film. I’m pretty sure it was ALL previously recorded music from Adams’ back catalogue. Nothing original in there. Although I think the film could be one to look for as the seemingly prerequisite foreign slot in Cinematography.

  • 20 7-06-2010 at 6:38 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    My mistake — I thought there was some original material scattered amid the interpolations. Either way, I never imagined it would wind up being eligible.