OFF THE CARPET: King…for the moment

Posted by · 10:02 am · September 20th, 2010

Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” is on top of the world right now.  Telluride buzz was hot and it carried all the way through the Toronto International Film Festival to a coveted People’s Choice award.  The race is already being boiled down in some quarters to this old school Academy play versus a Gen-Y instant classic opening in just under two weeks.  You couldn’t ask for more if you were The Weinstein Company with this film as your prize pony…

…except maybe a season half as long as it actually is.  Hooper’s film finds itself in a very precarious spot right now.  Just ask awards consultants at Paramount Pictures.

After coming out strong with the of-the-moment “Up in the Air” last season, taking the same Telluride-Toronto crowd-pleasing path, their film slowly boiled down to an also ran and even came up short in the one category it seemed assured going into the Academy Awards.

It’s easy to peak early in an Oscar season.  It takes tactical endurance to really come out on the other side with something to show for yourself and “The King’s Speech” is burning fuel fast and early.  But I imagine if anyone understands this it’s Harvey Weinstein, who, if he does find himself in a battle with “The Social Network” for the big prize, will be going toe-to-toe with one of his former Miramax executives, Cynthia Swartz (who has overseen Best Picture marches for “Crash,” “No Country for Old Men” and “The Hurt Locker” in recent years).

But I don’t want to be too reductive this early in the season.  It’s just September.  Strategies are frankly still being fortified.  And it’s not fair to campaigns that haven’t had a chance to really put their best foot forward yet.

For instance, Fox Searchlight has a healthy competitor in Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours.” The film has developed an unfortunate reputation for being a tough sit but most everyone who has seen it agrees that it is an emotional, poignant piece of work.  The term “life-affirming” has made its way so stealthily into the everyday written conversation on this one it almost seems skilfully planted, but it really is a solid way of describing the effort.

And what of “Toy Story 3,” which I’m told will receive a top-flight, serious campaign?  It’s easy to dismiss it as something the actors would never vote for but the logic on the other side is as sound if not more: biggest box office hit of the year, most critically acclaimed film of the year, the (apparent) swan song of a flagship franchise for one of the few studios that has found a consistent way of bringing in greenbacks.  It seems like the only film to encapsulate everything this industry is about.

Meanwhile, Paramount, perhaps still smarting from last season’s trajectory, will be holding on to “The Fighter” until November, late-October at the earliest.  The trailer debuted last week and seemed to check off a number of cliche boxes for some, but it nevertheless reflects a high-gloss, prestigious sheen that makes you wonder if it will be a contender.  And the Coen brothers’ “True Grit” will be the last film to screen for voting bodies and critics this season (late-November, so not quite as late as “Avatar” last year).  Who knows how potent that mixture will be?  (Though I’ll go ahead and hazard this much: Roger Deakins will finally get his Oscar this year.)

No question, hats off to “The King’s Speech” by commanding this early “lead,” as it were.  And the film won’t open to cries of, “Really?  This?”  It has the goods.  The wise move might be to pull back a bit now and let all the other contenders come out and play and make their case.  No need to chafe.  Before long, the November 26 release date will be here and there’ll be plenty of time to rekindle the fire and keep it burning into phase two, where you really earn your stripes.

From here we launch headlong into the season, with festivals in New York and London still to come (though neither boasts considerable debuts at this point).  Strange that it feels we’ve done so much, yet it’s only just begun.

Next month “The Social Network,” “Secretariat,” “Conviction,” “Hereafter” and sleeper possibility “Jackass 3D” all release, each of them looking for room to navigate this season.  Will the founding of Facebook strike interest in the public?  Will the heroic story of a racehorse underdog resonate with audiences?  Has Hilary Swank overstayed her welcome?  Will the split critical reaction to Clint Eastwood’s latest mean all that much?  Will Steve-O’s porta john flinging escapade capture the zeitgeist and warm AMPAS members’ hearts?

Those are the questions we’ll have answered over the next few weeks.

The Contenders section has been slightly tweaked this week.  Each category has been broken out into its own area now.  I may begin adding some commentary to those pages, maybe not.  But at least it’s not a giant page you have to scroll through now.  Remember to check these pages throughout the week if you’re eager for my latest thoughts, as I will update them any time something strikes me, while the sidebar predictions will only be officially tweaked each Monday.

Finally, remember to keep track of Guy’s guesses at his page throughout the season.

[Photos: Zimbio, Paramount Pictures]

→ 29 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

29 responses so far

  • 1 9-20-2010 at 10:16 am

    Jack said...

    “so not quite as late as “Avatar” last year”

    Which STILL burnt out early! You really need a lot of stamina to play this game.

    Also I see that Chad’s been editing your work?

  • 2 9-20-2010 at 10:22 am

    Hunter Tremayne said...

    Well, you see, Kris, this is where Harvey is being really, really smart. It’s the most popular film at Telluride. It’s the most popular film at Toronto. Nobody has a bad word to say about it. And, altthough you claim it is “burning fuel fast an early” it is doing it without a trailer, public awareness and advertising, so the only things it is “burning” is blogger interest.

    You are comparing it with Up in the Air. Well, let’s look at that picture. Firstly, it was severely damaged going into the Oscar campaign over the scandal over its screenplay. Secondly, it was a serious movie, for all it’s comedy tropes, about downsizing and unemployment. Thirdly, it had a downer of an ending.

    Now let’s look at The King’s Speech. Firstly, it will have no screenwriting scandal. Or any other scandal. Secondly, it is a crowdpleasing, inspirational movie about overcoming the odds. Thirdly, it has a rousing upper of an ending.

    Finally, you say it’s biggest competition is “The Social Network.” Now this IS a movie that is burning fuel fast and early. It is advertising all over town, it’s all over the media, it’s a cause celebre, it’s the Movie De Jour, it’s The Best Movie Ever Made Of All Time That Bloggers Have Seen In The Last Two Weeks.

    Now, it seems to me, that based on the above, one of these pictures is more in danger than the other of dying young and leaving a pretty corpse.

  • 3 9-20-2010 at 10:27 am

    Mr. F said...

    What Disney needs to do when it comes to Toy Story is to focus their campaign on Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay (hell, even director). I still believe that Up could have taken at least the screenplay award, but based on the FYC ads I saw, after it got the BP nomination it just focused on the animated feature award, which was not necessary since it was pretty much a lock.

    For this, they need to forget the Animated Feature category since a it is a lock for a nomination (not a win though), and just go for the big ones.

  • 4 9-20-2010 at 10:30 am

    Derek B. said...

    I was so into my ‘serious mode’, I laughed for about two minutes when you snuck Jackass 3D into the very end. Well placed!

    I would LOVE commentary on the contenders pages, especially on some of the smaller categories you don’t touch on in the main articles. Some reasoning as to why someone was knocked down or moved up would be cool for each weekly update. Just an idea.

  • 5 9-20-2010 at 10:30 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Hunter: All of that is perfectly valid. Though I never said The Social Network wasn’t in danger of burning out, too, mind you.

    And FYI, I’m not trying to be a party pooper. I’m just pointing to the obvious caveat of early awards buzz. We see it every year. The only film that survived that Telluride/Toronto buzz spike and came out the other side holding Oscar was Slumdog Millionaire. Every other recent winner has been either a steady play throughout the year (Crash, No Country, Hurt Locker) or a late comer to the season (Million Dollar Baby). And The Departed was its own animal.

    But for the record, I think The King’s Speech will survive it, too.

  • 6 9-20-2010 at 10:52 am

    Sean C. said...

    Johnny Knoxville’s heartbreaking depiction of a man getting kicked in the nuts will easily score him the Best Actor Oscar.

  • 7 9-20-2010 at 10:58 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Jack: “Avatar” didn’t “burn out,” exactly. It just never quite took hold.

  • 8 9-20-2010 at 11:00 am

    hopeless pedant said...

    It’s early, but The Social Network is the only film that seems to me to have a shot at winning at least 2 of the big 3 critics’ awards (NY, LA, NS). King’s Speech sounds like a NBR special, though that group has little impact.

    My guess is that TSN being a big hit (quite likely) and winning precursors (far more likely than King’s Speech) will translate into its being the front runner.

  • 9 9-20-2010 at 11:15 am

    americanrequiem said...

    i see nothing for the town was added, shame. hope to see that film grow as the year progresses. Best actress is looking great this year. Im glad we have so few big movies coming out unscreened this year

  • 10 9-20-2010 at 11:17 am

    Dominik said...

    “sleeper possibility “Jackass 3D””

    “Social Network” might be the candidate of the younger Academy members, but “Jackass 3D” will warm the hearts of the old folks!

  • 11 9-20-2010 at 11:42 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    Up in the Air came out so late last year. I feel like the buzz had died down and Hurt Locker was already beginning to roll before it was even released domestically.

  • 12 9-20-2010 at 11:45 am

    Sean C. said...

    “but “Jackass 3D” will warm the hearts of the old folks!”

    It confirms what they long suspected: the nation’s youth are idiots.

  • 13 9-20-2010 at 12:15 pm

    Graysmith said...

    For reasons I can’t really explain, it just feels like The King’s Speech is a kind of movie that wouldn’t be in such danger fizzling out as Up in the Air was last year. It’s kind of that sturdy Hollywood period picture that can just keep chugging along. I don’t know, I can’t really explain it. For all the praise it’s gotten, I still feel like it’s flying under the radar in a way, what with there not even being a trailer for it. It just feels like the kind of film that isn’t going to be getting that hyped up because it’s not really a hype movie.. I don’t know, none of this probably makes sense. Just my gut feeling about it.

    In that regard I definitely think The Social Network could be in greater danger of fizzling. It’s very much the all happening right now film, and it’ll have to do well at the box office and keep chugging along into November. It’s definitely the much tougher sell to the Academy than The King’s Speech, and it’s opening much sooner.

  • 14 9-20-2010 at 12:29 pm

    Davin said...

    I think The King’s Speech can hold it’s buzz, particularly with Weinstein’s campaigning, but is it edgy enough to actually take the top prize? Slumdog, Hurt Locker, and No Country were all very dark, if not mildly controversial, as is The Departed, Crash and Million Dollar Baby. Am I completely wrong about this theory? Does anyone else see this as a problem for the film?

    That said, I still consider it to be the leading contender, the lack of controversy just seems to make The Social Network more culturally relevant, and that may be a threat to its chances.

  • 15 9-20-2010 at 12:44 pm

    qwiggles said...

    Kris is wise to address how easily great early buzz can turn into the fizzle in a stale pop come Oscar night. While King’s Speech is arguably in a much healthier position right now than Up in the Air — which was being called the likely winner at this point, while KS is hyped more as a sure nominee — I suspect there’s a strong backlash coming. At the end of the day, it’s a solid, emotional, precise, very calculated ‘overcoming’ story — the kind of thing that REALLY annoys people off if they came out of it fond but not in love, only to find everyone around them weeping. (see: A Beautiful Mind and the rancor it inspired among those who thought it was just OK.) That said, like ABM, it could easily win it all the same.

  • 16 9-20-2010 at 12:45 pm

    qwiggles said...

    *Err, “annoys people,” not “annoys them off.”

  • 17 9-20-2010 at 12:46 pm

    Eric said...

    I just can’t get over how confused I am that Lesley Manville is in the leading actress category. From the trailer, it seems like she was very much supporting. This will probably bother me until I see the film. Anyway, I feel like it is the right time for a movie like The King’s Speech to win Best Picture.

  • 18 9-20-2010 at 1:04 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Eric: Truly a case could be made either way but the plan right now is lead. I would not be surprised if it changed gears.

    The reason, by the way, that a lead play makes sense to so many is, well, it’s just that powerful a performance. The one you walk out of the film remembering. And a strong case can be made for her journey representing the film’s themes.

  • 19 9-20-2010 at 1:10 pm

    Eric said...

    Quite understandable. Well if its as good as people say it is, it should certainly be pushed for supporting so that Manville could win. Oh well.

  • 20 9-20-2010 at 1:33 pm

    N8 said...

    ARGH! Be careful with that cinematography prediction, Kris! You’re gonna jinx it! The last thing I can bear to see is Roger Deakins lose his ninth consecutive nomination.

  • 21 9-20-2010 at 1:39 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    By the way, I just added this note to the bottom, but remember to check the category pages throughout the week if you’re eager for the latest. They will be updated consistently, sometimes daily (depending on what strikes me), while the sidebar will only be tweaked on Mondays.

  • 22 9-20-2010 at 2:12 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Eric: As Kris said, a case could me made either way for Manville, though I’m firmly in the lead camp. But I’m sure you know better than to make such calls based on a trailer.

    If Manville is supporting, by the way, then the film can’t be said to have any leads.

  • 23 9-20-2010 at 2:22 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I disagree, Guy. I actually view Broadbent and Sheen as the true leads of the narrative. The film is structured around them. They may come off passive, but I think they’re front and center.

  • 24 9-20-2010 at 5:11 pm

    Dan said...

    I don’t think The Social Network is burning fuel to fast right now, Hunter. The film opens wide in 2 weeks, so we should be hearing a lot about it right now. This is very different to Up In The Air, which was pushing hard right now but didn’t open until December….a long time for people’s expectations to get too high and for the film to fizzle.

  • 25 9-21-2010 at 9:15 am

    cineJAB said...

    Best Picture:
    127 Hours
    Black Swan
    Blue Valentine
    For Colored Girls
    The King’s Speech
    Rabbit Hole
    The Social Network
    Toy Story 3
    True Grit

  • 26 9-28-2010 at 6:50 am

    Pete said...

    “Guy Lodge said…

    Jack: “Avatar” didn’t “burn out,” exactly. It just never quite took hold.”

    Very unlikely. It’s not that Avatar didn’t take hold. It’s just that it faced severe opposition (not just competition).

    “Davin said…
    Slumdog, Hurt Locker, and No Country were all very dark, if not mildly controversial, as is The Departed, Crash and Million Dollar Baby. Am I completely wrong about this theory?”

    You seem to be forgetting that Slumdog, Departed and Crash all ended on high notes. In Slumdog’s case, the audience didn’t bother that the ending was tacked on nonsensical rubbish because it agreed with the film’s trajectory.

    And Hunter, there was hardly a scandal over “Up In the Air’s” screenplay. That’s a very wrong word to use. And it did win a bunch of awards despite being a sucky film.

  • 27 9-28-2010 at 6:51 am

    Pete said...

    I have’t seen “King’s Speech” yet but, if it wins, does anyone here think that it will age well as a BP winner?