THE LONG SHOT: A new year wishlist

Posted by · 6:55 pm · December 30th, 2010

[Guy’s updated predictions here.]

Okay, I won’t lie to you: I initially conceived this column in my head last week as a Christmas Eve wishlist, but then got too busy mulling wine and Christmas shopping in Dublin snowdrifts to actually write it.

So a New Year’s Eve wishlist it is, then. Under either name, with the season currently in stasis until January’s Guild awards usher in the next phase of competition, here’s a list of ten open requests (or distant hopes) for Academy members currently hemming and hawing over their ballots.

Go forth into the world: Okay, I’ve given up my fight for a foreign-language Best Picture contender for yet another year. And despite a banner year for the form, a documentary nominee ain’t happening either. But is it too much to ask the Academy to recognize that not all notable filmmaking happens within U.S. borders? We’re looking at the sad likelihood of 90% of the Best Picture race being given over to American productions, with the lone exception, “The King’s Speech,” about as authentically British as a “Mind the Gap” T-shirt. Wouldn’t “Another Year” or “Animal Kingdom” be slightly more interesting stamps in Oscar’s passport?

Everything in its right place: So you like Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit,” do you? You really, really like her? Then grow a pair, like you did for the similarly miscampaigned Keisha Castle-Hughes in 2003, and vote for her in Best Actress, where she belongs. Yes, it’s a tough category – if she misses out, so be it. But it’s more honest than pretending the young lady who drives, narrates and appears in every scene of the Coen Brothers’ western is supporting anybody in it. Opportunities for category fraud have mostly been laudably dodged this year, as Julianne Moore and Lesley Manville’s handlers have refused to take the easy way out – don’t let Paramount get away with this one.

Keep the animated race, well, animated: Sure, we all know “Toy Story 3” has the Oscar gift-wrapped already – which is all the more reason to make the nominations diverse and interesting. Unlike some, I tend to think three slots is sufficient for this comparatively uncompetitive category, and it’s exciting to have a genuine race for the final place. But here I must step in and lobby for my beloved “The Illusionist”: you don’t have to think, as I do, that it’s a better film than its competitors combined to see that making room for a modestly handcrafted European artwork offers a more rounded reflection of the medium than checking off a trio of gleaming Hollywood blockbusters.

Find a foreign fix: Year in, year out, the Best Foreign Language Film award provides the biggest groan of Oscar night, as voters routinely bypass adventurous, broadly acclaimed works in favour of cosy mediocrities you’ll have forgotten by next Tuesday. This year features fewer consensus critical favorites in the running, which might mean less room for disappointment, even as it raises the odds of another anonymous winner. Just pick something good, Academy. Is that too much to ask? Actually, to hell with tact: vote “Dogtooth.”

Don’t take true independents for granted: Yes, people will tell you this year’s Best Picture race has “indie” stamped all over it, as “Black Swan,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “The King’s Speech” and “127 Hours” all claim that tag in spite of the star names they boast before and behind the camera. But there’s a world of difference between such titles and “Winter’s Bone,” a name-free (for now) contender from a mini-distributor that stands to represent genuine grassroots indie film in this year’s race – a nomination for Debra Granik’s film points to a wider reach for the Academy. (And while we’re about it, vote “The Kids Are All Right” too, albeit for a different reason: it’s nice to have one comedy in a field of ten, isn’t it?)

If it ain’t broke (and Best Actress ain’t), don’t fix it: For months early in the season, we were looking at that rarest of Oscar beasts: an acting category with no dead wood, no patronizing nominations given for external reasons, no faintly terrible performances. Between Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Williams and Lesley Manville, we were on course for a truly exemplary Best Actress slate – until the precursors started inexplicably throwing names like Hilary Swank, Noomi Rapace and Halle Berry, none of them a match for the frontrunners, into the mix. Resist name appeal and angry eyeliner, Academy, and stick with the early wisdom: a perfect score awaits.

Get particular with the technicals: Sure, you could use the technical categories to throw mentions willy-nilly at thickly varnished productions like “The King’s Speech” and “Alice in Wonderland,” just to beef up their nomination count, or you could stop, look and consider what technical contributions really abetted the storytelling as opposed merely decorating it: think of the sparsely atmospheric production design in “The Ghost Writer,” the unpretty but character-nailing contempo-period costumes in “The Fighter” or the trickily dirt-splashed lensing of “Winter’s Bone.” When it comes to these categories, the work needn’t look a million bucks to be golden.

Spread a little love: I’m sensing we’re not in for a “sweep” year, as no single contender looks to be a dominant force in both technical and general races – and that’s a good thing, in my book. A much as “The Social Network” has lorded over precursor season, it’d be exciting to see more splintered recognition for the films of 2010 on the big night – a mix-and-match winners list with no outright leaders somehow seems a more apt way conclude a cinematic year as bitty and variable as this one.

Just get on with the show: Okay, scratch the last few points. Do what you like with the awards themselves – just put on a good night’s entertainment which you dish them out. I’d like to think that’s not asking too much, but after the slipshod, awkwardly hosted and sloppily directed telecast you cobbled together back in March, we can’t take anything for granted. I’ll take a leap of faith with you on the Hathaway-and-Franco combination: now bring back the nominated song performances, can the dancers and the montages, and write your hosts some material as zesty as they are pretty. Failing that, rope in Tracey Ullman to do her Helen Mirren impression for three hours.

And a happier new year: Right, so this isn’t strictly the Academy’s responsibility, but here’s hoping 2011 provides the makings of a stronger, spicier and more contentious awards season than the one we’re currently observing. Already, the naysayers are predicting a lean year, based on the grim menu of blockbuster retreads – even the universally adored Pixar have only “Cars 2” to offer – but there’s still much to invest in: may “The Tree of Life” prove worth the wait, may Almodovar, von Trier and Cronenberg all provoke and delight us anew, and may the critics of America find more than one movie to fight over in their year-end awards.

That’s it. I will be drinking to all these points and more, in generous quantities, tomorrow evening. What are your remaining hopes for the 2010 awards season? Spread them out — we’ve two months to go yet.

[Photos: Sony Pictures Classics, Kino International, Summit Entertainment]

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25 responses so far

  • 1 12-30-2010 at 7:05 pm

    Lucas said...

    Looking at your updated nominations: you’re predicting Alexandre Desplat gets nominated twice in the same category?

  • 2 12-30-2010 at 7:08 pm

    Jim said...

    Won’t we be in the same situation next year, Guy, after months and months of constant awards coverage and hype being thrown at us for the entire awards season and second half of the year?

  • 3 12-30-2010 at 7:10 pm

    Dooby said...

    Completely agree about Best Actress – all the performances incontention are so good, I guess I really don’t mind who wins, it’s deserved!

    In contrast to last year where I could make a list of actresses that gave better performances than all five nominees eg. Tilda Swinton, Melanie Laurent, Abbie Cornish…

  • 4 12-30-2010 at 7:14 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Lucas: Yes. Plenty of precedent for that.

    Jim: Depends how good the films are.

  • 5 12-30-2010 at 7:16 pm

    Mitchell said...

    I think that’s allowed. John Williams was nominated twice in 2005.

  • 6 12-30-2010 at 7:23 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Ditto John Williams in multiple years including 2001, 1989 and 1987, James Horner in 1995, Thomas Newman in 1994…

    As I said, plenty of precedent. Remember, it’s only the acting races that disallow multiple nominations for one person in a category.

  • 7 12-30-2010 at 8:01 pm

    forts said...

    A note about 2011 – Yes Pixar only has Cars 2 but Disney has the delighful looking Winnie the Pooh… I think it’s gonna surprise quite a few people

  • 8 12-30-2010 at 8:09 pm

    Brook said...

    I would pay money to see Tracey Ullman as Helen Mirren to host the Oscars.

  • 9 12-30-2010 at 8:38 pm

    Keith said...

    “you don’t have to think, as I do, that [The Illusionist is] a better film than its competitors combined”

    But if you DON’T think so, then why should you vote for it? If you believe that the “gleaming Hollywood blockbusters” — a phrase which you’ve managed to make pejorative — are the best films in the category, surely you don’t recommend voting for something else just for the sake of a “more rounded” field?

    In other fields — say, Best Actress — you’re urging people to vote for what they think are genuinely the best in the field, but here, you seem to urging a pity vote for THE ILLUSIONIST.

  • 10 12-30-2010 at 8:43 pm

    Princess of Peace said...

    You can’t possibly think that Dogtooth would win? I don’t even think it will get nominated. It doesn’t seem to be the Oscar’s cup of tea.

  • 11 12-30-2010 at 8:46 pm

    SJG said...

    I’ve never heard Tracey Ullman suggested as a host, but she would ROCK.

    Especially as Helen Mirren. (Or as Renee Zellweger.)

  • 12 12-30-2010 at 8:54 pm

    SJG said...

    Keith, I think Guy’s point is more that he hopes voters won’t be lazy and get sucked in by a glitzy campaign over carefully weighing serious alternatives that might be underdogs only due to circumstances rather than quality.

  • 13 12-30-2010 at 8:58 pm

    Jim T said...

    I don’t have any hopes for this awards season except to read marvelous articles like this one.

    And I’m glad it wasn’t as angry as it might have been. So specific and well-written!

  • 14 12-30-2010 at 9:03 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    Obsessive compulsive observation: The Town comes before Toy Story 3 in alphabetical order. (I’m looking at your ten best picture predictions.)

  • 15 12-30-2010 at 9:12 pm

    Matt King said...

    Great column, Guy, but I’m going to still be annoying and say, “I want to see your top ten list.”

    Another thing, what do you mean by “authentically British” (as you say early in the column)? I’m Canadian so I’m just not sure what you mean by that. I enjoyed “The King’s Speech”, but not to the degree of calling it a best picture (though a Best Picture contender for the Oscars, yes.) I have it in my honourable mentions, which may seem like high praise to put it near a top ten, but it’s not really. This year, I only felt relatively strongly about my top 6. After that it didn’t really matter. Anyways, what do you mean by “authentically British”?

  • 16 12-30-2010 at 9:18 pm

    jake said...

    my longshots are Paul Rudd for the flop How do we know — even though he gives one of the best performances. Rachel McAdams for Morning Glory and Scott Pilgrim vs the world — which was rated highly on rotten tomatoes and even made the top 10 for online critics. Black Swan is overrated and sorry natalie is not the best performance of the year (she should have won for V for Vendetta)

  • 17 12-30-2010 at 9:23 pm

    Andrej said...

    Guy, probably you’ve covered this before and I didn’t notice it but beyond personal preferences, what makes you put Tangled ahead of How to Train Your Dragon in the best animated film category?

    It’s also noteworthy that you have Toy Story 3, Tangled and The Illusionist for best original song as well, but How to Train your Dragon is nowhere to be found.

    Do you believe ‘Dragon’ will be forgotten that badly? :(

  • 18 12-30-2010 at 9:30 pm

    lazarus said...

    You know, I used to get upset at the omission of foreign actors, directors, writers, and the films themselves. But every country seems to have their own film awards from which Hollywood fare is largely excluded (aside from, yep, a foreign category). And while the Oscars are purported to be representative of something more Global, how can one realistically expect that when the voting body is overwhelmingly American, as are the promotional dollars poured into the main contenders by their studios? Why shouldn’t it slant towards Hollywood product? I think the rise of American indie films getting nominations and awards in the last 20 years is a more important victory than Pedro Almodovar, great as he is, winning a screenplay award.

    Okay, so a César or a Genie or a Donatello or whatever isn’t going to have the same cache as winning an Oscar. But again, considering Hollywood gave birth to this culture it’s not a crime for them to focus primarily on celebrating their own achievements.

  • 19 12-30-2010 at 10:13 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I gave Black Swan a second shot…and I still think it’s overrated and silly, but I did gain an appreciation for what Natalie Portman attempted in the film and what she brought to her (in my opinion) thin character. Granted, I still don’t think she’s entirely successful, and I again got exasperated at how she seemed to want to “show her work” in the performance, but I’m not pissed off anymore that she’s the frontrunner for Best Actress. Certainly better than, say, last year’s winner or even the winner before that. If she takes the Oscar, I’ll be happy for her.

    Still rooting for Annette Bening, though.

  • 20 12-30-2010 at 11:58 pm

    Gareth said...

    HEY! I have a “Mind The Gap” T-Shi….oh…. I see your point….

  • 21 12-31-2010 at 1:31 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Keith: What SJG said (and probably phrased better than I did at two in the morning).

    Princess of Peace: Of course not! But this is a wishlist, after all.

    Frank Lee: I’m honestly horrified — I’m ridiculously OCD about alphabetical order, to the point where I get annoyed when others put “127 Hours” first in the list. Corrected.

    Matt King: My Best of 2010 list is still coming, I promise! Just as well I waited, though — saw something yesterday that crashed the Top 10. As for “authentically British,” I admit that’s a grey area and a subjective call, but I mean a British film that’s not specifically tailored for the crossover prestige market.

    Andrej: I’m just wondering, in a tight race, if the films that are fresher in voters’ memories might have an advantage. But it’s an out-there prediction.

  • 22 12-31-2010 at 6:22 am

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    As a fellow obsessive-compulsive alphabetizer, I feel like I must mention that you may not have saved your list properly, Guy. “Toy Story 3” is still before “The Town”.

    Also, this is probably the best place to politely (and, yes, obsessively) ask that Kris make similar corrections in his predictions. He lists Lawrence before Kidman AND Leo before Kunis.

  • 23 12-31-2010 at 7:32 am

    ChrisG said...

    Guy, have you seen “Everyone else” by now? I’m really interested in what you might think about it.
    Otherwise: Great article. Agree on almost every single point. And oh my god do I have to see “Dogtooth,” but there’s no sign of distribution for Germany, yet.

  • 24 12-31-2010 at 9:36 am

    Al said...

    I completely agree about your views on “indie movies.” Sure they might be produced independently, but its not fair to compare name brand big budgeted (for indies) to films that are made for next to nothing, with people we’ve never heard of.

    Every year at Sundance you see names like Paul Giamatti and Catherine Keener, and say “wait a minute….I know them…..”

  • 25 12-31-2010 at 11:49 am

    Fitz said...

    Could someone explain to me why Fox Searchlight is still considered “indie”?