OFF THE CARPET: Counting chickens

Posted by · 11:09 am · January 3rd, 2011

The critics have had their say.  “The Social Network” has enjoyed an impressive kudos haul throughout the month of December.  Game over, call it, throw in the towel, all other comers need not apply, “there is only one.”

That’s the instinct.  But I embrace caution over haste (and I’m not on the advocacy bandwagon), so sue me if I’m just not there yet.

One of the more undercooked arguments I’ve read recently that places “The Social Network” in the Oscar frontrunner position is that you should call the race as it stands rather than forecast.  Obviously that goes completely against what it means to prognosticate, but it also ignores the fact that what’s afoot isn’t always represented by what’s in the news, at least at this early stage.

Yes, the critics predictably went gaga over the film.  But the #2 coming out of that circuit is probably “Black Swan.” So do we then assume the race for Oscar is between those two films?  Of course not.  Because, however overstated the point may be (by necessity, though, given stubbornness), critics don’t vote for Oscars.

And if we are only to call the race as it stands in a given moment, then “Winter’s Bone” should have been considered the frontrunner after the Gothams.  (Of course, it wasn’t.)

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s significant (to say the least) when the critics file in behind one contender like that, but I wonder if we’re entering an era where that is more and more the regularity.  We’ve always had “critical darling,” but it may be moving past “darling” for that set and into the realm of “this is our pony.”  That won’t always line up with Academy sentiments, though, and last year had a nice narrative pushing things along for “The Hurt Locker.”

For my part, I’ve yet to go on the record as calling a film “the frontrunner.”  I took my pass at winner predictions last month (another stab coming this week) and I’ve contributed my (often misinterpreted) rankings to Movie City News on a weekly basis, but I don’t think we’ve had the information necessary to gauge a true frontrunner.  Especially knowing what we know…about what we know.

(And it’s not about trying to inject arbitrary competition to make things interesting.  After all, the ad dollars flow whether it’s close or a landslide, so that’s another silly idea that ought to be shot down.)

As the guilds speak up — starting tomorrow with the WGA and PGA nominations — we’ll begin to accumulate those pieces.  And yes, “The Social Network” will be on both lists…as will a number of other contenders.

A better argument for the film that I picked up somewhere was the idea that, the more wide open the field, the more the splintering could benefit the early “frontrunner.”  As “True Grit” continues to rake in impressive box office, it becomes a new hat tossed into a ring that already includes “The Social Network,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Fighter” and, arguably, “Toy Story 3.”

One thing is certain: the critics’ fave definitely has one of the more aggressive campaigns thus far, both in what you see and what you don’t (though classy, nevertheless).  Being in it to win it when a number of others seem content with the financial or visibility impact of merely being in the conversation is a happy commodity indeed.

It’s not thinking members of the Academy dim-witted to expect them to side with the heart over the head, by the way.  It’s simple analysis of a group that hasn’t yet fully revealed itself as a different, changed beast.  It might be that.  And this might be the year the youthful shift of that membership really makes its impact felt (because there is no narrative to explain away a victory for Fincher’s film like there was for “The Departed,” “No Country for Old Men” or “The Hurt Locker.”)  No one knows for sure, though, and don’t let them tell you otherwise: they want the turkey out of the oven way too soon.

The fact remains there’s just too much to consider: the names of heavyweights asking to host screenings of “The King’s Speech” (the film that yields applause this season more than any other); the steady up-tick in appreciation for “True Grit” the industry showed over the holiday (a holiday that saw the film stick the box office landing); the campaign blitz for “Toy Story 3” (which is actually turning some heads); the press going to bat for films like “The Fighter” and “Black Swan” in the face of last month’s near sweep.

It’s simply not over.  Not yet.  Nor should it be.  And by the way, “Black Swan” excepted (which was only mentioned once in this article), “The Social Network” is the film in this race I think deserves the Oscar most.  Go figure.

I expect most everyone is waiting for phase two at this point.  The 10 is all but settled, and whatever the bubble contenders may be, they’ll not likely have a play at the trophy anyway.  So campaign strategies will be tailored to where we are and where we’ve been in order to address where we’re going.

Same as it ever was.

Two weeks ago I ran a comb through the Contenders section and set it to reflect the race “as it stands.”  Certainly a lot of it made sense.  But ballots are in hand now, not last month.  And now is when the sands can shift, if they’re going to.  Here is what I’m thinking for now.  And the sidebar predictions reflect those updates.

[Photos: Columbia Pictures, The Weinstein Company, Paramount Pictures]

→ 19 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

19 responses so far

  • 1 1-03-2011 at 11:37 am

    Brock Landers said...

    I just have this feeling that The King’s Speech is in a Juno position. People kept saying that it would be the one Academy members would go for and that No Country was too cold for their tastes, but in the end they went for No Country.

    On another note, I do think True Grit is going to make quite a splash come nomination time and I think even though it won’t be a favorite in many categories, its wide support and huge box-office success will land it a win in the Supporting Actress and Cinematography categories. I can’t see anyone topping Steinfeld, unless there is category confusion. I think the votes will be split between Leo and Adams for The Fighter, resulting in a loss for both. Bale is an absolute lock for The Fighter though, and if he somehow loses to Rush I will fucking flip.

  • 2 1-03-2011 at 11:37 am

    red_wine said...

    Toy Story 3 is the film that deserves to win the most. The Kids Are All Right and True Grit are the other films that I almost love.

    The Social Network and Winter’s Bone (the top 2 critics pick) I respect, and I borderline abhor Black Swan and Inception. The Fighter hasn’t crossed my path yet.

    I feel the saddest statistic of the season that is that Toy Story 3 has not won a single Best Picture award all season. Well few have apart from Social Network with each of Winter’s Bone, Black Swan and The King’s Speech staking a case to have won one.

    The prospect of being pitted against such “serious” somber humorless films like Social Network, Black Swan, Inception and Fighter seems almost insurmountable for Toy Story 3 though probably no other film’s ending sent people home tail tucked between the legs to curl up and weep some more. But its easy to over-look it, its just animated.

    Which is what the critics seem to have done too. In the critic circles where they have nominations too, I surprisingly saw Toy Story 3 repeatedly miss the Top 5 and even Top 10 in many places. The symphonies of praise sung back in June were a farce then perhaps. Oh its just a childrens’ film about old toys, these big vigorous dramatic films, this is where the juice is.

    Toy Story 3 does not even have a lord’s prayer worth of chance in this race. But for 10 nominees, a nomination would be completely out of question. Its hard out there for actor-less animated films. In my review, I’ll discuss the script, write a line each about score and visuals and then… pass. Ah here’s a live-action film, let me write reams about the performances and contemplate them and dissect them and study them.

  • 3 1-03-2011 at 11:44 am

    Paul Outlaw said...

    Matt Damon–I think so, too.

  • 4 1-03-2011 at 11:51 am

    Maxim said...

    Red, no offense but your teary plea on behalf of Toy Story 3 (lord’s prayer and all) was almost as painful as the movie itself. Sorry but I do not mean that in a good way.

    But let me start elsewhere. Could it be that your clailms of animation bias, as seen on critic’s lists are actually misplaced?

    After all, did Wall-E and Up not end up on many top 10 lists?

    So, could it be that when it was all said and done not as many of them were as impacted by Toy Story 3?

  • 5 1-03-2011 at 11:57 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    No one projects like Maxim.

  • 6 1-03-2011 at 12:15 pm

    tdr said...

    I think red_wine is onto something with saying that some people might see Toy Story 3 as a children’s movie because for all the universal themes it represents it’s still about a kid and his toys (much like a lot of Pixar’s movies) which might make some people feel infatilized. It will be nominated for sure, but a win? I don’t think so. I think if an animated movie will win Best Picture it would be and probably it should be in the vein of Waltz with Bashir, where there are adult themes and adult problems put forth and adults dealing with them.

  • 7 1-03-2011 at 12:28 pm

    Sawyer said...

    I like the predictions.

    BP: Same
    BD: David O. Russell instead of Tom Hooper
    Actor: Wahlberg instead of Duvall
    Actress: Same
    Sup. Actor: Garfield instead of Damon
    Sup. Actress: Weaver instead of Adams

  • 8 1-03-2011 at 1:05 pm

    Loyal said...

    “A better argument for the film that I picked up somewhere was the idea that, the more wide open the field, the more the splintering could benefit the early “frontrunner.” As “True Grit” continues to rake in impressive box office, it becomes a new hat tossed into a ring that already includes “The Social Network,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Fighter” and, arguably, “Toy Story 3.””

    Exactly! That was the point I made to Poland and was picked up by Wells in his column. It’s great and all that Grit is so successful but it’s simply yet another film for voters to scramble to and support, splintering the vote even further.

    There needs to be a valid reason not to vote for Social Network. And that valid reason hasn’t appeared. Let’s see what happens with the PGA and DGA.

  • 9 1-03-2011 at 2:35 pm

    daveylow said...

    Toy Story 3 is most likely going to win in the animated film category. So I doubt if the Academy is going to give it a best picture award. I think if you’re going to have a separate award for animation feature, then animated features should not be nominated in the best picture category.

  • 10 1-03-2011 at 2:47 pm

    DylanS said...

    red_wine: I will give you “Black Swan” and “Inception”, even though they feature very obvious comic relief at moments, but “humorless” is a very very poor adjective to describe “The Social Network” and “The Fighter”.

  • 11 1-03-2011 at 2:48 pm

    Jacob S. said...

    I think David O. Russel can easily kick Arronofsky out of the Director category. The more I remember Black Swan, the more I remember hating the directing. Honestly, I think that movie would have fallen apart if it wasn’t for Portman.

    Of course, I’m not a member of the academy, but I’ve been getting a vibe lately from others that agree with me.

  • 12 1-03-2011 at 3:04 pm

    Georgia said...

    How I would love it if the totally unexpected happened, and Inside Job was nominated for Best Picture and won. Then having 10 nominees would make sense, so that documentaries and animated could be included and have the possibility of winning.

    It would also position the Academy not as a rubber-stamper of critic’s consensus, and not as an old hidebound institution, but a political professional entity that believed in the power of film acting for positive change.

    I know it will never happen.

  • 13 1-03-2011 at 3:35 pm

    Marshall said...

    No Garfield, but still Lesley Manville?


  • 14 1-03-2011 at 7:09 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I was just about to say what DylanS said. “Humorless” is exactly what “The Social Network” and most especially “The Fighter” are not. In fact, the latter was one of the most consistently funny I saw all year.

  • 15 1-03-2011 at 7:29 pm

    DylanS said...

    I don’t think anything made me laugh harder than Bale jumping out the window.

  • 16 1-03-2011 at 10:49 pm

    Hans said...

    ^^Yes! Great moment. Just saw The Fighter today. Loved it! Hope all four of them get nominations.

    Everything seems to be so cut and dry at this stage. The screenplay categories seem like they could go a lot of ways though, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had an 8/10 matchup with BP. Count me as one of those ready for the guild phase.

    I like your thoughts on Makeup and Inception, Kris. The one scene bookends the film quite nicely, and TDK got in on the sole merits of the Joker’s makeup (though that played a much more iconic role). Shouldn’t we be getting a bake-off list from the Makeup branch soon?

  • 17 1-04-2011 at 6:16 am

    JJ1 said...

    I’m still feeling a possible Wahlberg for the 5th slot.

    Duvall & Gosling are primed (respect, buzz), but I don’t think anything is set in stone wth that 5th.

  • 18 1-04-2011 at 12:49 pm

    billybil said...

    I have yet to see ANOTHER YEAR, BLUE VALENTINE and THE WAY BACK. However, I did just see KING’S SPEECH and THE FIGHTER and I was disappointed in KING’S SPEECH and pleasantly surprised by THE FIGHTER. Right now, although I think ANOTHER YEAR is going to be very high on my list – I would probably vote for TOY STORY 3 as Best Picture. SOCIAL NETWORK is a tremendous accomplishment and excellent in so many ways but I do think the framing device was a little simplistic and not worthy of the challenging character create in Zuckerberg and there is a problem with trying to make me feel for GARFIELD’s character when I don’t. On the other hand, I find it pretty difficult to find anything about TOY STORY 3 that wasn’t accomplished at the highest level. I suppose that’s the determining factor for me – what was attempted and what was achieved. TOY STORY 3 is incredibly clever, charming, emotional, exciting, surprising, and fascinating all in the context of an animatic film about toys. SOCIAL NETWORK is also many of those things but just not as exceptionally finished.

  • 19 1-04-2011 at 8:19 pm

    MJS said...

    I just noticed something interesting about this race, stop me if this is old news. The Oscar contender with the longest running time (Inception) is a mere 142 minutes long. In fact, of all the major contenders only two even go past the two hour mark (The Town and The Social Network at 125 and 120 minutes respectively). This is notable as we haven’t had a year without at least one nominee longer than 142 minutes since 1988, and that was with only five nominees in most of those years. What’s going on?