OFF THE CARPET: Once more into the breach

Posted by · 8:11 am · August 30th, 2010

So nine years ago yesterday I started a crappy, embarrassing little amateur site on Yahoo!’s now defunct Geocities platform and called it Oscar Central. It was a way to blow off steam in film school, maybe fold an offline hobby (Oscar-watching, predicting, obsessing) into an online community that seemed to already have healthy numbers. Plus, hey, it was the early years. I figured some low tech internet training was far from the worst thing I could be doing.

That’s a long way of saying today kicks off my 10th season of Oscar coverage online, and in that decade, plenty has changed. One thing has remained the same, however, and that is a focused interest, both from myself and a growing readership, in the admittedly arbitrary and somewhat solipsistic process of awarding the “best” in filmed art and entertainment.

To put it more succinctly: Here we go again.

The 2010-2011 Oscar season takes its first real steps Wednesday as the 67th annual Venice Film Festival sets sail on the Lido. That opening night will see Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” get its toes wet as Fox Searchlight tests the season’s waters, perhaps with a worthy follow-up to the director’s 2008 awards title “The Wrestler,” perhaps not. Two days later the 37th annual Telluride Film Festival lifts its curtain in the mountains of Colorado, bringing any number of “surprise” bows (we all know what they’ll be but, again, I’ll respect the fest’s wishes in this space), before Toronto’s media circus fills in the cracks and brings us to mid-September and the fiery beginnings of Oscar’s 83rd barbecue.

Much will be answered during those 18 days. Paths will be paved, strategies set and publicity ranks fortified as the dog and pony show that is the film awards season starts anew. But here on the northern edge of the season’s Rubicon, the die has not yet been cast. The possibilities are still endless, any and all speculation fair. Intuition and phantom buzz mingles nicely in these twilight moments, yielding multiple interpretations of the oncoming, still faceless beast.

You might, for instance, hang a lot of consideration on release date decisions and the idea that strategy foundations are already solidified before waves of critical eyes have fallen on the merchandise (forgive the vulgar term). You might make the usual calls to the precious few actually in the know in this calm before the storm. You might start the snark early by poking fun at people for dutifully reminding you of their modest contenders, or you might fight off stagnated group think by searching for alternative vantage points.

Personally, I try to take a deep breath. Because you get few chances to do so on this roller coaster of shifting perception, narrative and endgame. The season itself is alive, a breathing organism observed from conception through maturity to natural expiration. Like all great stories, it has a beginning a middle and an end, and so we find ourselves bathed in prologue.

It’s always proper to give thanks for the brave souls of potential that have landed outside Oscar’s back-loaded tramping ground. Films like “Shutter Island,” “Winter’s Bone,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Inception,” “Toy Story 3” (to be sure), “Get Low” and “How to Train Your Dragon” may find their way to Oscar’s recently expanded center ring, but they would do so on a longer timeline more demanding of endurance. And they serve as mere introduction to chapters yet to be revealed.

Most conversations at this stage yield an inevitable, “It looks like a weak year.” But as I glance across the landscape of contenders, I see that, indeed, 2010 doesn’t look to be a banner season. Nothing really has the hallmark of bona fide awards flavor in any big way, and that’s probably a good thing. It lowers the expectation to manageable levels and keeps the canvas uncluttered in the early stages.

After taking a year away from the Best Picture fray, 2008 victor Fox Searchlight is back in a big way with four films that could gain traction. They are Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” follow-up “127 Hours,” the Hilary Swank starrer “Conviction” and Mark Romanek’s adaptation “Never Let Me Go.” Each film may have its drawbacks but four shots on goal is plenty for this savvy studio to work with.

Most of the other usual season suspects seem to have clearly defined “big dogs” ready to take on the circuit. Focus Features is serious about “The Kids Are All Right” as an Oscar play (not, as some seem to suspect, Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere”); Sony Pictures Classics has Mike Leigh’s Cannes hit “Another Year” leading the way (though more and more effort is being put behind summer indie “Get Low”); Paramount is excited about the prospects of David O. Russell’s boxing biopic “The Fighter” (before having seen anything of the Coens’ “True Grit,” mind you); Sony will have it’s eggs in “The Social Network”’s basket (though the last minute entry of “The Tourist” might be worth keeping an eye on); and “The King’s Speech” will likely be the easiest get for The Weinstein Company (though word is a run at the big prize could be in store for the foreign “The Concert”).

Warner Bros. will see what it can get for “Inception” but has the potential for another wave of Clint Eastwood support in “Hereafter”; Disney has a sure-thing in “Toy Story 3,” but has been showing “Secretariat” to measured approval; indie venue Roadside Attractions will try to step up its game with “Biutiful” and “Winter’s Bone” (though scuttlebutt regarding parent Lionsgate is that Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” could get yanked into December for a run); Fox follows up the monstrous year of “Avatar” with more modest comedy stylings in “Love & Other Drugs” and perhaps some good will for “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”; and Universal will, perhaps happily, watch from the sidelines for a second year in a row.

And as broad early summaries go, that’s about it. Any number of surprises tend to lurk, so hold on.  It’s a long, bumpy ride.

The sidebar predictions have been updated and the Contenders section has been polished, adding a simple ranking system.  I know a number of folks bemoaned the loss of the charts last season so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give an ordered indication of my thoughts.  I won’t be keeping up with the shifting and sliding, though.  A quick note: anything currently lacking a domestic distributor has been relegated to the “rest of the field” sections of each category for now.  And as we await the release date fate of “The Tree of Life,” which could yet move to 2011, I thought it best to shuffle it to the bottom of the deck throughout for the time being.

We’ll revisit things next week, after a number of the unseen finally get their moment to impress.

In closing, a few notes on our impending coverage this season: First, Guy’s correspondence from the Venice Film Festival kicks off Wednesday.  I’ll again make the trek to Telluride this year, coverage starting Friday. We will not, however, have a presence at the Toronto festival for the first time in four years. Between Venice, Telluride and whatever studios plan to screen here in LA during that span, I think we’ll be properly covered regardless.  We’ll miss a handful of early looks, but that stuff will make its way to screening rooms in town shortly after the overly stuffed Toronto fest winds down.

Anne Thompson and I are hoping to keep the weekly Oscar Talk series going while we’re separately attending the Venice and Telluride fests.  It could get tricky, but we’re aiming for a new edition on September 3.  Regardless, after festival madness subsides, it’ll be weekly (Fridays), uninterrupted, throughout the season.

When Guy gets back from Venice and after Toronto concludes, he will again launch his own Oscar column, The Long Shot, on September 22.  That will run every Wednesday throughout the season.

After completing a first round of crafts category forecasting via his Tech Support column on September 9, Gerard’s corner of the site will take a break for a couple of weeks as the September festivals wrap themselves up.  In that time I’m thinking about writing up a couple of Tech Support specials for the season, as I quite miss writing in depth about those categories.  I haven’t quite put my finger on what they’ll be yet, but Gerard’s second volumes will pick back up in early October and conclude early-to-mid December, when our annual Tech Support interview series will launch once more.

Finally, we’re sad to see Chad Hartigan retire his box office coverage on the site following yesterday’s final installment of Sunday Cents on the last weekend of the summer movie season.  Since that first post in March of last year, Chad’s has been a unique and refreshing voice around these parts, one I’m sure you’ve all enjoyed reading and, many times, debating.  His work as a box office analyst in the industry is in flux and he’s putting the extra energy toward developing his second feature.  Hopefully I’ll join him on that side of the line one of these days, but for now, color me jealous.  He will, however, see his Life Without Oscar series to its end in December.  So don’t fret.

We’re looking forward to a great season and hope you are, too.  Now, take that deep breath…

[Photos: Walt Disney Pictures, Roadside Attractions, Fox Searchlight Pictures]

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87 responses so far

  • 1 8-30-2010 at 2:13 pm

    jiveturkey said...

    Also, what do you think about Redford’s “The Conspirator”, in any of the categories?

  • 2 8-30-2010 at 2:15 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Just waiting for a distributor to pick it up. I’ve heard it doesn’t get good until the end, however.

  • 3 8-30-2010 at 2:52 pm

    cineJAB said...

    We’re on the same page about a lot of things, mostly Never Let Me Go and The Social Network being the relative behemoths of the season.I don’t see Nolan or Aronofsky being left out of the director race though, or 127 hours getting more than a nod for Franco, and a cinematography nod. The trailer was a bit bleh for me, but that one shot of falling into the water seals up the cinematography nomination. Also, where is Blue Valentine?

    my 10:
    Another Year
    Black Swan
    Blue Valentine
    The Kids Are Alright
    Love & Other Drugs
    Never Let Me Go
    The Social Network
    The Tempest
    Toy Story 3

  • 4 8-30-2010 at 3:06 pm

    jiveturkey said...

    One last thing: I think you’re casting too wide of a net for “the field”. Salt? Charlie St. Cloud? You should probably delete a lot of people/films now.

  • 5 8-30-2010 at 3:10 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yeah you’re probably right. I generally forget about everything in there anyway.

  • 6 8-30-2010 at 3:17 pm

    m1 said...

    You do realize that Despicable Me is a contender, right?

  • 7 8-30-2010 at 3:18 pm

    m1 said...

    45-Ha, ha! You’re FUNNY! 127 Hours not getting nominated? Ha! Do you actually think Boyle will be ignored after the phenomenal Slumdog Millionaire? HA!

  • 8 8-30-2010 at 3:26 pm

    m1 said...


    Inception will not get nominated for best picture. That is all.

  • 9 8-30-2010 at 3:38 pm

    m1 said...

    24-That’s exactly what I felt about the Golden Globes. First Juno, then The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and now (500) Days of Summer all went empty-handed. BOO!!!

  • 10 8-30-2010 at 3:39 pm

    m1 said...


    Roadside Attractions not only has Biutiful and Winter’s Bone to campaign for, but I Love You, Phillip Morris, as well. They picked it up, and are releasing it in December!

  • 11 8-30-2010 at 3:46 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “45-Ha, ha! You’re FUNNY! 127 Hours not getting nominated? Ha! Do you actually think Boyle will be ignored after the phenomenal Slumdog Millionaire? HA!”

    That’s pretty naive reasoning, actually. It’s relatively uncommon for filmmakers to score with the Academy twice in a row — the last Best Director winner to get nominated for his follow-up film was James Cameron. None of his successors have managed the same feat.

  • 12 8-30-2010 at 3:58 pm

    Andrew M said...

    I think 127 hours will be really good or really bad, there won’t be much of a middle ground for a film set almost entirely in a cave. I do see a cinematography nod. though, the water scene and the shot going down the straw in the trailer look amazing. I defiantly think Never Let Me Go will be one of the leaders, along with The Social Network (my most anticipated movie), after the buzz I’ve heard about it.
    @Kris It will never happen and I don’t expect it to happen, but could Garfield get in for both movies?

  • 13 8-30-2010 at 4:00 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    According to AMPAS rules, an actor cannot be nominated twice in one category for two different films. IMO, the Academy’s most B.S. rule, but there you have it.

  • 14 8-30-2010 at 4:03 pm

    Ivan said...

    Clint Eastwood was nominated for Letters from Iwo Jima after his win for M$B.

  • 15 8-30-2010 at 4:04 pm

    Andrew M said...

    Wow that is a stupid rule, thanks Kris.

  • 16 8-30-2010 at 4:11 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Ivan: You’re forgetting “Flags of Our Fathers.” Getting technical, I know, but that was his first post-Oscar film, and it didn’t take.

  • 17 8-30-2010 at 4:17 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    True Grit is gonna take it home. On paper it seems to hit all, uh, quadrants!

  • 18 8-30-2010 at 4:19 pm

    James said...

    That would certainly be interesting if Eisenberg got nominated. It would be nice to see some inspired choices and to recognize more youthful actors cause there are quite a few, and Eisenberg to me hasn’t been in a film I’ve seen that I disliked. Films like The Squid and The Whale and Adventureland would land on my top 10s of their respective years and Zombieland is a blast.

  • 19 8-30-2010 at 4:20 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Oh, and if we’re talking about films that touch on all the things the Academy loves, then it’ll be a battle between True Grit and The Fighter. To the bank…

  • 20 8-30-2010 at 4:36 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I can’t help feeling that the Academy has closed its chapter on the Coen brothers — they’ll keep scoring nominations, but I have a weird hunch they’ll never win again.

  • 21 8-30-2010 at 4:49 pm

    Douglas said...

    no Natalie Portman for Black Swan?

  • 22 8-30-2010 at 5:00 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Not yet anyway.

  • 23 8-30-2010 at 5:13 pm

    eurocheese said...

    Interesting to see Mulligan up in your picks – she was my top pick for Actress last year, and I’m really excited to see her film. Also wanted to say I’m a regular follower of both you and Anne (Thompson), and you guys should really be proud of what you do. I love your commentary even when I disagree with you.

  • 24 8-30-2010 at 5:40 pm

    m1 said...

    61-Yes, but Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire was better than Avatar. I have no doubt that 127 Hours will be superior as well.

  • 25 8-30-2010 at 5:52 pm

    Jim T said...

    Guy – I agree that consecutive success is nothing but guaranteed but there is also Daldry. Just for accuracy’s sake ;)

  • 26 8-30-2010 at 5:55 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Daldry’s never won: he’s still ascendant, as it were. Once the Academy’s actually handed someone the crown, they often like to take a break from them.

  • 27 8-30-2010 at 5:58 pm

    Jim T said...

    Oh, you meant win and then get nominated. Got it :p

  • 28 8-30-2010 at 6:43 pm

    Eric said...

    You’ve definitely gotta put the Blue Valentine babies up there. And I must be naive but I see Another Year getting hardly anything. Especially a nomination for Best Picture and Actress in such wide fields. Again, naive guess.

  • 29 8-30-2010 at 8:01 pm

    JJ said...

    Kris, what are your thoughts on a possible Lead campaign for Moore and Supporting for Bening in ‘Kids’; seeing as they wouldn’t have to compete against each other, and the argument is there that Moore is both in the film more, and the main story arc revolves around her, moreso.

  • 30 8-30-2010 at 10:11 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    JJ: That is 100% not going to happen. The studio can’t do it. Personal publicity gets involved in things like this. Trust me.

  • 31 8-30-2010 at 10:37 pm

    Jacob S. said...

    I haven’t read Charles Portis’ novel, but I have seen the 1969 version of “True Grit,” and I’m pretty sure that the young girl is the lead actress, not the supporting one, so I’m surprised to see her in the “Supporting Actress” category.

    It’s interesting to see you choosing overall younger actors and actresses. I wonder if those predictions will stick around.

    Anyway, I think the best chance “Get Low” has is Duvall for “Best Actor” or Murray for “best supporting Actor.” The latter, particularly, because I feel like everyone, including the Academy, loves Bill Murray and wants to give him a award, but he rarely acts in films and when he does they’re Wes Anderson films or Garfield, which the Academy isn’t really fond of. Murray’s role in “Get Low” was serious but also hit many comic notes with the dry wit Murray’s known for, so I think it’s the best shot at an acting nom he’s gotten since 2003, and the Academy will be willing to recognize it.

  • 32 8-30-2010 at 11:16 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Re: Steinfeld, I think Paper Moon is a good model to consider here.

  • 33 8-31-2010 at 1:06 am

    Glenn said...

    I get a distinct THE MISSING vibe from TRUE GRIT.

    I’ve kinda always figured NEVER LET ME GO would go the same way as CHILDREN OF MEN, up to and including the Screenplay nomination, but lack of major category citations elsewhere (no matter how good it is). Mark Romanek sure is an interesting prediction.

  • 34 8-31-2010 at 5:34 am

    JJ said...

    OK, Kris. I definitely take your word on these things, haha. And I get what you’re saying.

    Gahh, I’m just so freaking excited that Venice is here and we’ll be getting early word on some juicy stuff.

    For now, Black Swan is still my most anticipated movie of the Fall/Winter. But I have to say, all this early buzz (albeit, may not equate to Oscar noms) for Never Let Me Go has me very intrigued.

  • 35 8-31-2010 at 6:41 am

    Andrew M said...

    I could defiantly see Steinfeld get a nom. For supporting though, the academy isn’t ready to hand over the big prize to some “kid”. I like your picks for actors are on the younger side, since some of the best movies of the year could include some with a younger cast, it will be hard for the academy to ignore.

  • 36 8-31-2010 at 7:05 am

    DarkLayers said...

    m1, for refreshing memory’s sake.

    (1) Clint Eastwood didn’t get nominated for Best Director in the 1990s after Unforgiven.

    (2) Steven Speilberg didn’t get nominated after Schindler’s list until 1998

    (3) Jonathan Demme didn’t get nominated after “Silence of the Lambs”

    (4) Milos Forman wasn’t nominated after “Amadeus”

    (5) Michael Cimino after “The Deer Hunter”

    Moreover, Boyle didn’t necessarily have a lot of awards recognition and nominations from AMPAS, DGA, and other American groups prior to ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’

    I think the odds are pretty good that Boyle and 127 Hours will get nods, but that’s based on what I’ve heard about test screenings and Kris’ heresay about Fox Searchlight and Awards, but it’s not a sure thing.