THE LONG SHOT: Waiting for the miracle

Posted by · 7:50 pm · November 10th, 2010

(From here on out, my nomination predictions will be updated weekly to coincide with this column. Check them out here.)

Tweed-coated and steam-breathed, winter formally arrived in my corner of the world this week, and with it the slightly grim realization that just over seven weeks remain of this year.

I say “grim” not so much because I’m unprepared for the rigors of Christmas shopping or because 90% of my year’s to-do list remains undone—though neither of those truths are helping—but because, from a film perspective, 2010 feels to me like it needs at least another couple of months to find itself.

Yesterday, I found myself battling with two lists of 10 films: the first, my own provisional best-of-year collective, the second, my revised predictions for the Best Picture Oscar nominees. Neither list, in my experience, has ever had much to do with the other (of course, I’ll take that back should the Academy reveal hidden depths of enthusiasm for, say, “White Material” on nomination morning), but both the rough drafts I wound up with had one thing in common: they’re badly in need of a late-breaking great film or two.

My personal Top 10 will be fine: in addition to the season’s remaining big-screen attractions, I have a cushion of catch-up screeners to fall back on as I search for an extra diamond or two. The Academy’s 10 I’m a little more worried about: with an (admittedly green) good-not-great verdict settling over David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” following last night’s premiere, it’s left to the Coen Brothers’ reworking of a B-grade western to class up what could end up being a rather narrow Best Picture race. The rest of the winter release schedule looks alarmingly lean on plausible contenders – perhaps put off by last year’s high-profile December flop-jam of “The Lovely Bones,” “Invictus” and “Nine,” the studios have this year opted for earlier reveals.

All of which should be encouraged: I’m all for abolishing the idea that tasty prestige fare should be predominantly a Christmastime treat. But as I glance over the seen films in contention thus far, I’m not convinced that the wealth has been spread so much as cut: I see a number of respectable films in the running, a few good ones, but not much that feels fresh or revelatory.

Everybody likes “Toy Story 3,” sure, but forgive me if the third (and, by degrees, weakest) instalment in a beloved and bank-making franchise feels like a tepid choice for film of the year. “Inception?” A great idea, incompletely executed, from a director who has made more emotionally satisfying films. “127 Hours?” You know where I stand on that one, but even if I liked it more, it’d still strike me as a small-scale directorial workout from a filmmaker capable of bigger things. Even my favorite of the by-consensus “locked” nominees, “The Kids Are All Right,” is more supremely well-served dim sum than richly layered banquet; on the heels of recent champs like “The Hurt Locker” or “No Country for Old Men,” any of these would be minor victors by comparison.

Of course, the smart money isn’t on any of the above emerging victorious, but as I’ve said before, the presumed frontrunners don’t suggest a race for the ages either: I expect the smart, melancholy “The Social Network” will have more lasting impact than the trim anecdotal history of “The King’s Speech,” but I also suspect David Fincher has made more indelible films.

This, of course, is merely one man’s take; others have opined that 2010 is a vintage year, and some of them are even speaking from an awards-watcher’s vantage. But it does appear that some of the studios, opportunistically eyeing those extra five slots, might be perceiving a certain softness in the race: cue talk of Paramount launching a full-on campaign for Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” a well-crafted auteur doodle released to mixed reviews back in the wilds of last winter.

Meanwhile, given how much I prefer it to many of the titles seen as safely “in,” I’m compelled to support the dark-horse buzz for Ben Affleck’s “The Town”—a stonking meat-and-potatoes entertainment held back from greatness by some narrative glitches—while simultaneously wishing we could reach a little higher, or bolder, for alternative ballot-fillers: a formally courageous indie like “Blue Valentine,” for example, or any one standout in this robust year for documentaries. If the innovation of The Ten merely leads to voters scrambling to fill space with profitable studio chancers that “will do,” then I can only hope it’s a very short-lived experiment indeed.

As I so often do, then, I find myself looking pleadingly to the sharper, stranger corners of the arthouse (and then, even more pleadingly, back to the Academy) to color up the lower reaches of the category. Right now, of the seven I’ve seen, only one of my current projected Best Picture group feels like it’s touching honest-to-God greatness: Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” sees a premier auteur on peak form, unpicking penetrating human questions that acquire more possible answers with further viewings, and yet it’s a sizable question mark even for a nomination.

“Black Swan,” similarly, finds one of our most idiosyncratic and adventurous contemporary filmmakers exploring new stylistic territory and coming up trumps; it’s the kind of exciting (and even semi-mainstream) creative leap that an institution dedicated principally to the celebration of American cinema should recognize without hesitation, yet while other pundits confidently predict its nomination, I keep wondering if voters who have resisted Darren Aronofsky up until now will be persuaded by this ornate, highly-strung oddity.

I’m trading, of course, in a lot of “ifs” – the only choice one has when discussing the Oscar race before any of the relevant precursors have chimed in yet. We have a lot of waiting and watching to do in the next seven weeks, during which time we should resist the temptation to pile the expectations of an entire season upon “True Grit”—lest it turn out to be anything less than a religious experience—and expand the conversation of worthy contenders before the mechanics of the season contract it for us.

[Photos: Paramount, Walt Disney Pictures, Fox Searchlight]




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58 responses so far

  • 1 11-11-2010 at 5:31 pm

    Parrill said...

    Thanks for clearing that up Guy

    Exactly why I come here. As much as I think I know you “Guy”s seem to know more.

  • 2 11-11-2010 at 6:20 pm

    James D. said...

    Only allowing a foreign film to be nominated in one year makes sense. It looks weird when a film is nominated two years in a row.

    Then again, the foreign film category should have the same rules as everything else – a domestic release date. It is really stupid for films that have not opened in the country to win every year, especially when they are as shitty as The Counterfeiters-Departures-The Secret In Their Eyes.

  • 3 11-11-2010 at 6:38 pm

    Drew said...

    SJG,

    While it doesn’t act as a kind of stand alone sequel, I don’t think that really matterted too much given that it probably was the inention of the filmmakers not to make each entry stand alone pieces. It is a continuing saga and does require some prior knowledge, but I don’t think it is enough to take a completley fresh viewer out of the film. The references to prior installments were minimal but enough show the Toys predicament of a grown-up child moving on to another point in his life. The fantastic openning action sequence followed by the POV home movie of Andy’s child hood was also great reminder of the lives that these toys had with their playmate.

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that these toys characteristics have remained similar thoughtout partly for the sake of continuity and the fact that they haven’t been played with for years since the second intallment. They are the same characters that an entire audience has grown up with so changing them now, or at least so suddenly, might confuse the viewers.

    I didn’t feel that the daycare act was rushed as much there was only so much time that could be devoted there given how quickly the inner-workings of the daycare center are revealed. The pacing honeslty didn’t bother me at all during that sequence. I recall there being plenty of tension during the escape. Especially considering how menacing some of the toys at the center were and how Buzz was altered for the sake of the villain. The sequence at Molly’s house needed to be done quickly as Woody’s objectives were too important to remain at the childs home. It was more then justifying the ending, it was also giving necessary exposition for Lotso and his motives and adding some dimension to his character.

    I felt the pacing of the film was tight overall. Not one minute did I look at my cell phone for the time or think that film was moving too slow.

    Don’t worry about rambling, I’m not honeslty going to argue too much since it’s been roughly six months since I’ve seen the movie and my memory might be a little foggy. I have to say though that it has been about the same amount of time since I’ve seen Inception and I think by comparison, Toy Story 3, flaws and all, is a much worthier candidate for the best picture race than Inception is, and other best picture winners certainly pale in comparison to the former.

  • 4 11-11-2010 at 11:05 pm

    Glenn said...

    “Shutter Island will be more popular as the years go by, similar to Hitchcock”s Vertigo”

    Except making comparisons to movies like “Vertigo” will do nothing but harm it.

  • 5 11-12-2010 at 3:48 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Only allowing a foreign film to be nominated in one year makes sense. It looks weird when a film is nominated two years in a row.”

    Not exactly fair, however, when it’s only eligible for the ghetto category in its first year — while its unnominated rivals are free to compete across the board the following year.

    As you say, this whole mess could be fixed by employing the same eligibility date restrictions as in the general field — though that, in turn, is hard on lower-profile films that can’t find distribution, and often only find it thanks to an Oscar mention.

    A broken system, however you do it.

  • 6 11-13-2010 at 8:29 am

    Free said...

    I’m not sure why so many are just now starting to notice the severe lack of serious BP contenders for 2010. It’s been a mediocre year from basically day one. Were we to have 5 nominees, wouldn’t really matter. But so far, I’m not seeing a respectable top ten list on the horizon.

  • 7 11-13-2010 at 8:43 am

    JJ1 said...

    I see a respectable 10, but I can’t find a respectable 15, which is disconcerting.

  • 8 11-13-2010 at 9:57 am

    AdamA said...

    @Mark: I think you’re forgetting why the Oscars expanded to ten in the first place–to make *sure* movies like Inception and Toy Story 3 got in. It was their Nolan/Pixar counterparts, The Dark Knight and Wall-E, that started all the outrage and (combined with low ratings) spurred the Academy to make the call.

    You might not like it, but know that this will absolutely continue as long as their are ten spots. For me, the odd thing is that some of the more ratings-boosting nominees (Avatar, Inglourious Basterds) probably would have gotten into a slate of five, and this year (Inception, Toy Story 3, The Social Network) it appears to be the same case!