In Contention


OFF THE CARPET: The great, appreciated unknown

Posted by · 5:47 pm · September 19th, 2011

As we move out of the Toronto fray, Venice and Telluride already a memory, we look to the season ahead. The starting gun echo of those three early fall festivals is beginning to fade away, and with the dust settled or settling, it’s interesting to note the lack of an inarguable emerging player. In fact, the only thing Toronto really did was heat up the Best Foreign Language Film conversation.

In recent years, films like “Brokeback Mountain,” “Juno,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The King’s Speech” have bubbled up in this frame as real contenders to take the lead in the Best Picture field. But nothing at this point really seems to have the kind of stranglehold on things those films had.

Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” with George Clooney front and center, is well-liked, but few really think it has the goods to be a significant Best Picture threat. Clooney’s own “The Ides of March” has enough detractors to raise doubt that it will be an across-the-board Academy favorite, while “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” — freshly opened in the UK — is happy to just be making the case for a nomination at the moment.

The Weinstein Company’s “The Artist,” from director Michel Hazanavicius, has continued a conversation that began in Cannes. But the overall vibe is that the victory will be landing in the field, not leading it (though who knows with these modest returns).

Really, with everything that’s screened in any real capacity right now, if you held the vote today, “The Help” would probably win Best Picture.

What this all could mean is that, as the LA Times’ Stephen Zeitchik and Nicole LaPorte proposed last weekend, modest indie, festival-driven cinema might not have much of a seat at the table this year, leaving the spoils for studio offerings. But what it says to me is that the strategy to dodge the festival circuit might have paid off crucially this year.

Peaking early in an Oscar season is always unfortunate. It establishes an expectation at the beginning of a long road. And voters always want something that at least has a whiff of freshness. So studios with films they think have the goods — like Paramount with “Young Adult” and Warner Bros. with “J. Edgar” — will not have to endure that consistent scrutiny from the start.

Jason Reitman has taken each of his films to the Toronto Film Festival, choosing Telluride as a sneak preview launching pad for the last two — “Juno” and “Up in the Air.” But this year, he and Paramount held “Young Adult” back for fear of overexposure.

Warner Bros., meanwhile, has recently brought Clint Eastwood’s work to the New York fest in order to build a sophisticated word of mouth, but it’s never really gone anywhere (largely because the films haven’t really brought the goods). This year, the studio opted for an AFI Fest bow for “J. Edgar” (as did Paramount last year with “The Fighter”), which comes in November as an addition to an on-going conversation. Word is the film wasn’t ready in time for New York, but nevertheless, getting an easy Los Angeles premiere out of the deal will probably have a bigger impact anyway.

Then there are the films that were never meant for the festival circuit, like Steven Spielberg’s one-two punch in “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Each of these could get the added boost of not having to rise to an elevated bar.

The flip side of all of this are the held-in-check expectations that will greet this year’s festival crop. Without frothing-at-the-mouth appreciation comes the opportunity for these films to still be a discovery of sorts later in the season. That’s beneficial, as well.

What this all adds up to, for me, is the potential for a competitive late-season frame for these titles, as well as the opportunity for something unseen to really capitalize (if, indeed, there are studios holding onto anything with an eye on weak spots).

It’s refreshing, for once, to not see a clear line to the Kodak. Last year, “The King’s Speech” was looking like the heart vote and the likely winner out of Telluride and Toronto, while “The Social Network” was screening simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles, kick-starting conversation around that film as a more high brow choice. The narrative was already set, and the road was long and grinding from there. Maybe that helps explain most of the restless, frustrating fatigue that set in as Phase One was barely in the books last season.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some interesting variables in the mix from the early September reveals. Brad Pitt, for instance, looks to be a threat in the Best Actor field for “Moneyball.” And he might find some company in that discussion should “Barrymore” and “Rampart” get solid distribution and campaign strategies in place, as Christopher Plummer and Woody Harrelson have established themselves as formidable. But there’s so much more on the horizon, and all of it will have its say.

So I’m excited and hopeful that the season is, finally, something of an unknown in mid-September rather than nearly ready for a postmortem. Bring it on.

And what a perfect time to be staring down a clear, open road of possibilities, because with that, posting at InContention.com draws to a close. It feels good to rattle off one more Off the Carpet column in this space before turning off the lights, and now, onward and upward.

Tomorrow, we’ll officially be relocated over at HitFix. Over the course of a few months, the archived content from here will be moved over to that space and, before long, the transition will be fully complete. (Everything from today will show up backdated there when we launch.) But all new material will be over there from now on. There will be a redirect post here as soon as everything is good to go, and after a while, the incontention.com URL will send you straight there.

It’s a good time for the change-over, as the season is about to really start roaring.  Guy’s first edition of The Long Shot this year will turn up there on Wednesday, and then, a day later, Gerard’s Tech Support preview piece.

For now, one more time, I point you to our Contenders section, which has been updated in full. The sidebar predictions currently reflect all changes. (Note: We won’t have the Contenders section fully functional at HitFix for another week or so, but this page will be here for a bit, so you can see where I currently stand. No more updating of those until we get it off the ground over there.)

So that’s that. Once more, allow me to say thank you for making InContention.com such a great place. Here’s looking forward.

[Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Touchstone Pictures]




→ 33 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

33 responses so far

  • 1 9-19-2011 at 5:52 pm

    Zack said...

    May I ask what made you decide to put Brooks back in the sidebar? Just curious.

  • 2 9-19-2011 at 5:54 pm

    Zack said...

    Shit, sorry, just saw that you answered that very question in Contenders.

  • 3 9-19-2011 at 6:01 pm

    Brock Landers said...

    I think there is more enthusiasm for The Descendants than you are indicating, but overall I agree with everything you said.

    Based on that J. Edgar trailer, I have a feeling it is going to end up becoming the front-runner once it plays at AFI fest. The script is great and it looks like Eastwood has directed it very well.

  • 4 9-19-2011 at 6:07 pm

    Andrew M said...

    I think Young Adult will be a big surprise once it comes out, and Extremely Loud will not be that good (just my prediction, since I have nothing to really go on for either).

    And I know that you don’t think it will be a major player yet, but Dragon Tattoo will probably benefit from lack of festival picks and if any of the big movies fail to show (unless of coarse Dragon Tattoo is one of those movies).

  • 5 9-19-2011 at 6:18 pm

    Keith said...

    Good luck, Kris and Co. Looking forward to visiting your new digs.

  • 6 9-19-2011 at 6:18 pm

    average joe said...

    This may sound a bit silly, but on one hand, I kind of like that the “Oscar films” at Venice and Toronto have underwhelmed because that means that The Tree of Life has a better chance of sneaking in.

    Not including it in the best picture field would be the biggest mistake the Oscars have ever made in my opinion.

  • 7 9-19-2011 at 6:30 pm

    Andrej said...

    I’d replace The Ides of March with Midnight in Paris for Best Picture. It’s made lot of money, it’s Allen, and it got such an instant widespread acclaim, unlike Clooney’s quieter reception.

    I also see you’ve updated the foreign language film prediction. I wrote this somewhere else, but if Poland fails with the Academy, I’d go with Lithuania’s selection Back to Your Arms – on paper looks like the Oscar bait 2011. I hope the final product will manage to eclipse its unfocused trailer, though.

    Can’t wait to check out the new HitContentFix. ☺

  • 8 9-19-2011 at 6:38 pm

    Loyal said...

    It’s the perfect storm for a commercial film with good/great reviews, impressive box office, and an interesting Oscar season narrative to win Best Picture.

    I know many pundits are quick to say Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t an Oscar play but neither was The Departed or No Country for Old Men. Sometimes the best way to win the Oscar is to not chase after it. Let The Artist (Weinstein!) and War Horse (Spielberg!) and The Descendants (Fox Searchlight!) destroy one other during in the award circuit. Fincher is due.

  • 9 9-19-2011 at 6:46 pm

    TheyCallMeMrTits said...

    Well he (Fincher) certainly has the most daaarling fans.

  • 10 9-19-2011 at 6:52 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I’m sure this happens every single year, but THIS year, I feel like most of the big contenders (sight seen and unseen) have factors going against them. And I don’t mean QUALITY (as I’m sure most of these are great). I’m talking ‘win’ potential.

    -The Descendants – looks in good/best position for right now, but … win?
    -Tinker Tailor – is it wow enough for AMPAS?
    -The Help – too female-centric?
    -The Artist – too silent, too foreign (actors)?
    -War Horse – Spielberg. But SO much anticipation. Really has no where to go but down.
    -Tree of Life – since when has AMPAS gone for Malick in the past? Too arthouse?
    -Midnight in Paris – can a Woody movie really win again?
    -Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – such an unknown. Daldry, that cast, it could be a surefire win. But God only knows.
    -J. Edgar – Eastwood’s day may have come & gone. Could be great, could be drab.
    -Ides – so-so/okay response thus far. Some raves sprinkled in.
    -Young Adult – could be great, but such a question mark.
    -Moneyball – Kris/Anne, having seen it, don’t see it as AMPAS win material.
    -Dragon Tattoo – remake, hard-edge Fincher. Win? Don’t think so.

    So yeah, nothing seems like a sure bet, which is kinda exciting. But I don’t know how to feel about that, either. Anyone else agree?

  • 11 9-19-2011 at 7:16 pm

    John G said...

    I really enjoyed reading your site the last couple years. Thanks for all the great analysis and good luck at your new location!

  • 12 9-19-2011 at 8:38 pm

    RichardA said...

    All of this might be a win win for Win Win.

    And the way the Emmys went for a surprise win for Melissa McCarthy, I’m guessing that she won’t be forgotten come Oscars time or, at least, the Golden Globes.

  • 13 9-19-2011 at 8:46 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yeah, everyone wants to talk up Melissa McCarthy all of a sudden. Not gonna happen with Oscars, but Globes, maybe.

  • 14 9-19-2011 at 9:12 pm

    daveylow said...

    Those who haven’t seen The Artist should not dismiss it as “too foreign.” The film has no dialogue until the end so it does not play like a foreign film. It’s set’s in Hollywood.

    I think once The Descendants is released it’s going to be very popular, probably Payne’s most successful film to date.

    Why does J. Edgar look like The Aviator redux in its trailer? People were trashing The King’s Speech last year for being typical Oscar material but if J. Edgar doesn’t look like it’s trying to please the Academy, what does?

    If War Horse makes audiences weep, forget the competition. (Unless the movies comes across as a children’s movie–it is based on a book for kids.)

    I’d much rather see Harry Potter nominated for Best Picture than Midnight in Paris.

  • 15 9-19-2011 at 9:19 pm

    Mr. F said...

    I can see McCarthy getting in, but it’ll be an uphill climb. The main problem is that she’d have to be out there kissing ass, which will most likely interfere with her shooting schedule for Mike & Molly.

    But overall, I can see her getting nominated for the Globes, and maybe even get a double SAG nomination, which would help. That, plus the WGA probably nominating Bridesmaids as a filler spot for whatever they can’t nominate (The Artist most likely) will definitely raise the movie’s profile, and consequently hers.

  • 16 9-19-2011 at 9:40 pm

    Paul said...

    I honestly think two of the films that should really be watched out for are Young Adult and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Of course, both may underwhelm, but I would sort of enjoy seeing Reitman and Fincher battle it out since they both (in my personal opinion) are deserving as of late.

  • 17 9-20-2011 at 2:20 am

    movielocke said...

    I wonder if we’re maybe too quick to discount Hugo.

    Because what if the film pulls a Babe? which is probably easier for Scorsese to do than that film’s director.

  • 18 9-20-2011 at 4:38 am

    matsunaga said...

    Kris, I for one looks forward to ‘Young Adult’… Have you seen the film? If so, can you give some juicy details on the cast performances? I understand Theron’s inclusion but Oswalt?

  • 19 9-20-2011 at 5:17 am

    Sebastian Nebel said...

    average joe said: “Not including [The Tree of Life] in the best picture field would be the biggest mistake the Oscars have ever made in my opinion.”

    I full-heartedly agree. I really don’t quite understand how Malick’s film is merely considerd a “dark horse” around here. Certainly Fox Searchlight is going to push it for Best Picture, right?

  • 20 9-20-2011 at 6:32 am

    red_wine said...

    This only shows that the Academy’s narrow-minded approach to choosing Best Picture nominees will result in a shit slate of nominees specially in a weak year such as this.

    Why not nominate Meek’s Cutoff or A Seperation or Uncle Boonmee or Certified Copy or Tree Of Life or other celebrated art house fair since most of the studio offered Oscar bait has been greeted with meh, with literally no film garnering passion.

    Seriously the Oscar’s 10 is not even representative of American cinema, let alone world cinema. Its just a seemingly random set of Oscar begging movies (or movies positioned as such) most of the time.

    I think Dragon Tattoo just has to be decent for everybody to leap onto its bandwagon, at this point people are just looking for a contender they can be passionate about.

  • 21 9-20-2011 at 9:06 am

    Maxim said...

    “Why not nominate Meek’s Cutoff or A Seperation or Uncle Boonmee or Certified Copy or Tree Of Life or other celebrated art house fair since most of the studio offered Oscar bait has been greeted with meh, with literally no film garnering passion.”

    That’s is a very common overstatement stemming, I think from this strange impatience and desire to instantly gauge a film’s worth and Oscar chances based on “early buzz” dismiss everything and anything that isn’t universally loved (or fit with a particular person’s biases). I am willing to bet that you haven’t seen most of the films that you’ve written above, red. There had been plenty of films that were liked or liked “enough”. Strange too, how you list “Tree of Life” but forget that the very first impression out of Canned seemed to be worse than, say “Ides of March”. Also, do you honestly think absolutely everyone loved “Meek’s Cutoff”? It is a pretty divisive film. And so is “Unclee Boonmee.”

    “with literally no film garnering passion.”
    This is nonsense. These films have gathered passion. The question is how many people have to be passionate about a given movie for it to regiester on your radar? Ten? Fifty? You are being jsut as arbitrary as the academy here. I’d rather hear what you youself are crazy about than to hear your take on what you think is actually liked (something I don’t think most of us a very informed of in the first place).

    “Its just a seemingly random set of Oscar begging movies (or movies positioned as such) most of the time.”

    No offense, but that means very little coming from someone who is so quick to dismiss movies sight-unseen. I totally understand being skeptical about Academy’s taste but sautomatically equates anything that remotely looks like an Oscar contender with $hit is not much different.

  • 22 9-20-2011 at 9:08 am

    ninja said...

    Just give it to Harry Potter. Among best reviewed of the year, huge success in a consistently praised series, people actually saw it. Anything else would be really “because we desperately don`t want to award Potter”.

  • 23 9-20-2011 at 9:32 am

    red_wine said...

    Maxim, I’ve seen most of them and love them. And this is not the first year I have said that movies like these need a chance. The exclusion of foreign language films is a pet peeve.

    But this year seems specially dismal in that even the main stream media gets excited about some films by this time, Oscar pundits too, but this year its all a big meh with only few films left to be screened.

    It just pricks that even in a year of not very great quality (from the looks of it) the Academy will nominate half heartedly whatever it can from what is offered and not look to other avenues for more esoteric material.

    This current slate of contenders has not caused my peeve just brought it into sharper focus, when I find myself staring at almost nothing I feel excited about. And what I am excited about, is outside the realm of possibility due to the Academy’s self inflicted myopia.

  • 24 9-20-2011 at 10:36 am

    tony rock said...

    Nothing so far has truly garnered “win buzz,” but something will come along. Something always does. I’m getting good vibes from Young Adult and Dragon Tattoo. And lo and behold…their creators have something of an overdue status.

  • 25 9-20-2011 at 11:35 am

    Wheels said...

    red_wine: I feel the same way you do about the fall movie lineup – a little blue that some of the movies I’m anticipating got a chillier reception in the festival’s than I expected.
    But it’s important to remember that the Oscars are a mainstream awards body. I think Certified Copy is one of the coolest movies I’ve ever seen, but there is no void big enough for a movie that arty to be nominated. The Academy will find their movies this year, and if they don’t come from Clooney, Polanski and Fincher, there are plenty of other places for them to look that are a better fit than the arty art that you want them to look at.

  • 26 9-20-2011 at 11:42 am

    And said...

    “Why not nominate Meek’s Cutoff or A Seperation or Uncle Boonmee or Certified Copy or Tree Of Life”

    because the same studios who made those flops, aren’t gonna vote for foreign/indie flicks and admit defeat. they will find something to nominate, even if it ends up being eight “The Helps” and a couple “Blind Sides”

    Also the test reviews of Hugo said it was wonderful, never underestimate Scorsese, it is no accident or coincidence that he is the best director in the world

  • 27 9-20-2011 at 11:56 am

    And said...

    “Just give it to Harry Potter. Among best reviewed of the year, huge success in a consistently praised series, people actually saw it. Anything else would be really “because we desperately don`t want to award Potter”.”

    I wouldn’t, one good entry doesn’t forgive 7 terrible ones. (excluding the insane mexi one.)

  • 28 9-20-2011 at 12:01 pm

    Silencio said...

    “So I’m excited and hopeful that the season is, finally, something of an unknown in mid-September rather than nearly ready for a postmortem. Bring it on.”

    exactly. it feels good to give a shit again.

  • 29 9-27-2011 at 5:05 pm

    jake said...

    Leonardo dicaprio should finally be the front runner after so many performances being overlooked — it’s insanity. Brad pitt is good in moneyball but best actor? No. Jonah hill is virtually a zombie in the movie — i really wish that the academy would reward comedy and go for Charlie Day in Horrible Bosses — one of the best performances of the year. viola davis and bryce dallas howard should round out the other wins.

  • 30 9-27-2011 at 5:06 pm

    tom said...

    I feel like ryan gosling is better in drive and ides of march and should be nominated this year even if it’s for best supporting actor for crazy stupid love.

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