THE OSCAR RACE SOLIDIFIES

Oscar nominations, out Jan. 15, are just over four weeks away.

The Race

The first week of December marks the unofficial start to Oscar season. Critics groups of varying importance announce their winners, leaving Oscar prognosticators to begin speculating about what will and will not be nominated and what such and such award means for so and so’s chances.

But over the course of the last week, three major organizations, with substantially different memberships, released their nominations:

  • The Screen Actors Guild, according to its website, “represents more than 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcasters, journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals.” (Puppeteers?) While this is considerably larger than the Academy’s Actors Branch (the largest Academy branch, with about 1200 members), its members are the only one of the three that actually vote in the Oscars, giving it somewhat more legitimacy as a predictor.
  • The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which gives out the Golden Globes, represents about 90 people, and while its award show is lavish, alcohol-soaked and remarkably well-watched, its membership is a bit of a joke. According to Peter Howell, “current HFPA members include real-estate agents, car salesmen, showbiz publicists, hairdressers and even a few journalists. All that is required to maintain membership is permanent residence in Southern California (so much for ‘foreign’) and a mere four published articles per year, often in obscure publications that aren’t freely disclosed.” They are notorious for nominating big stars regardless of the movie quality (such as Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp for the 2010 film The Tourist, which has a “top critics” Rotten Tomatoes score of 9%) and break their awards into the sometimes-arbitrary distinction of “Drama” and “Comedy or Musical.” Still, a nomination or win at the Golden Globes may provide a film with the publicity it needs to be seen by genuine Academy members.
  • The Broadcast Film Critics Association, which gives out the Critics Choice Awards, is, according to its website, “the largest film critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing almost 300 television, radio and online critics.” (Why radio critics still exist is beyond me.) Over the course of the year, the BFCA releases weekly movie ratings that are, for whatever reason, largely untied to their Best Picture nominations. This year, for example, four of the top 10 highest-ranks films (Guardians of the Galaxy, The LEGO Movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Captain America: The Winter Soldier) failed to earn a nomination, while the more high-profile but lower-scored Unbroken did. (To be fair, I am holding a grudge against the BFCA for ranking the last Harry Potter film its best of the year and then completely shutting it out of its Best Picture list. See the bottom of this article for individual scores.) Regardless, the Critics Choice Awards are excellent predictors for Oscar nominations – of the 47 Oscar Best Picture nominees since the Academy went from five to 10 nominations in 2009, 43 have also been nominated by the BFCA (writes Steve Pond).

Despite their varying clientele, the three organizations produced near-identical nominations for many of the major categories and solidified an Oscars race that felt chaotic after the slew of early-December critics awards. Here’s a quick look at what went down:

Best Picture

Five films earned Golden Globes and Critics Choice nominations for “Best Picture” and a SAG “Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture” nomination: Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. The first two are far and away the favorites for an Oscar win, earning the majority of critical acclaim and critics’ prizes two weeks ago. Selma missed out on the SAG nomination (reports say that members did not receive screeners in time) and Into the Woods took home a Golden Globe “Best Picture” and Critics Choice “Best Ensemble” nomination. Other films with at least one nomination include Foxcatcher, Gone Girl, Whiplash, Unbroken, Nightcrawler, Pride and St. Vincent. I’d say there are three other films with any chance of a Best Picture nomination: Interstellar, American Sniper and A Most Violent Year. At this point, anything else would be a huge shock.

Best Actor

Four actors received three nominations last week (Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game, Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler, Michael Keaton for Birdman and Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything) and three actors received two (Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, David Oyelowo for Selma and Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Budapest Hotel). Of those, Keaton and the two Brits playing mid-century geniuses (Cumberbatch as Alan Turing and Redmayne as Stephen Hawking) are the only sure-fire nominees. American Sniper has gotten little love so far, but its director (Clint Eastwood) and star (Bradley Cooper) are Oscar favorites and should not be counted out; Timothy Spall (or Peter Pettigrew as you probably know him) won the New York Film Critics Circle award for Mr. Turner but has recently lost a lot of ground. 

Best Actress

Five actresses received all three nominations: Jennifer Aniston for Cake, Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything, Julianne Moore for Still Alice, Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl and Reese Witherspoon for Wild. The Hollywood Reporter noted on Monday that “only 12 performances that have received SAG, Globe and Critics’ Choice noms have failed to go on to receive an Oscar nom,” (most recently Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips, Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks and Daniel Bruhl for Rush) making these five actresses clear favorites. The main spoiler is Marion Cotillard for the Belgian film Two Days, One Night, but her 2007 win for La Vie En Rose has been her only Oscar nomination (despite earning Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations for Nine in 2009 and earning Golden Globe, Critics Choice and SAG nominations for Rust and Bone in 2012). I wouldn’t count on this year being the year to change her Oscar luck. 

Best Supporting Actor

Like Best Actress, five actors shared nominations from all three organizations: Robert Duball for The Judge, Ethan Hawke for Boyhood, Edward Norton for Birdman, Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher and J.K. Simmons for Whiplash. No one else is really worth mentioning at this point, though I would be pleased to see Logan Lerman earn a nom for his portrayal as a WWII tank crew member in Fury.

Best Supporting Actress

Four actresses received three nominations (Patricia Arquette for Boyhood, Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game, Emma Stone for Birdman and Meryl Streep for Into the Woods), and Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year only missed out on a SAG nomination. Naomi Watts in St. Vincent and Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer each took in one nomination in the last week, but I think that Laura Dern, who plays the mother in Wild, is a more likely replacement should one of the top five fall.

Spotlight on Ava DuVernay

Last week, the director of Selma became the first black woman to receive a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director. But according to a Daily Beast article, the film (apparently the “first studio biopic of … Martin Luther King Jr.”) was very nearly abandoned before it was ever made. Originally, Lee Daniels planned on directing it, but he dropped out in 2010 to shoot The Butler. The star of the movie, David Oyelowo, begged for DuVernay (“a former publicist and Hollywood crisis consultant”) to step in as director, and finally the main backers – a French company called Pathé – agreed. In the Daily Beast interview, DuVernay discusses the lack of black films made in Hollywood (calling out Belle, Beyond the Lights and Dear White People) and the political relevancy about a MLK film (“If he were still alive today, with all the Ferguson stuff, I imagine Dr. King would be right out there with the marchers”). But she tries not to make too many comparisons. In an interview with the New York Times’ Carpetbagger, she said, “People right now are so interested in this new context that the film is in and what does it all mean? … And I don’t know what it means.”

Spotlight on Whiplash

For those of you who haven’t seen it, I absolutely recommend Whiplash, a gripping, smart, musical thriller in the vein of Black Swan, centering on the relationship between a drummer and his abusive jazz teacher. It then is very hard to believe that one of the best films of the year was filmed in 19 days by a 28-year-old director. An article in The Hollywood Reporter tells the whole story. Director Damien Chazelle, a drummer himself, gave drumming lessons to star Miles Teller to get him prepared and also “meticulously outlined every scene, hand-drawing 150 storyboards, to keep the production moving like clockwork, shooting as many as 100 setups a day.” According to the article, “the pace was beyond feverish, with every set change turning into a mad dash.” Whiplash earned some love from the three nominating groups this week (especially for J.K. Simmons, the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor), but I would not be surprised if Chazelle and the film are nominated come January.

Spotlight on Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon won an Oscar in 2005 playing June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, but over the next eight years, she did little outside of romancing Robert Pattinson in Water for Elephants. But since forming a new production company called Pacific Standard, she has won raves for playing Cheryl Strayed (who wrote a memoir about trekking 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail) in Wild  and for producing Gone Girl, which is shaping up to be the most commercially successful Best Picture nominee this year. (Witherspoon famously angled to play Amy in Gone Girl, but graciously “took it in stride” when director David Fincher cast Rosamund Pike instead.) “All we set out to do was create strong, interesting female leads in film, and to end up with all the nominations is completely unexpected and completely thrilling,” Witherspoon told the New York Times’ Carpetbagger after hearing news of the Golden Globe nominations. Both Wild and Gone Girl have been touted as two of the best (and only) female-driven films in an otherwise male-heavy year. Regardless, she also recently received attention from Bette Midler who tweeted, “Reese Witherspoon wanders the wild for months in her new movie. I can totally relate, having lost my car in a mall parking lot. Lotsa times.”

Other News

  • Golden Globes: Two articles, “Are the Golden Globes going legit?” from EW and “More sophisticated Golden Globes a growing force in awards season” from the LA Times pondered whether this week’s nominations show the awards show is moving in a different, less blatantly star-seeking direction. The former mentions how Angelina Jolie was snubbed for directing Unbroken and starring in Maleficent though Jennifer Aniston earned a nomination for Cake: “Who would have thought the HFPA would have resisted the tabloid-salivating opportunity to put Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Aniston in the same room?”
  • Into the Woods: On my way to work each day, I see a witchy Meryl Streep glaring at me; it’s clear Disney is ramping up publicity in preparation for a Christmas Day release. Highlights: The Hollywood Reporter devoted an entire cover article to the film, librettist James Lapine gave an interview to the LA Times, Emily Blunt discusses singing in front of Sondheim for the Carpetbagger,  and Stephen Sondheim revealed that the surname of the original Broadway witch (Peters) is an anagram for the film witch (Streep). Lowlight:Into the Woods did not advance as a possible nominee in the makeup and hairstyling category, much to the surprise of Oscar prognosticators like Scott Feinberg, who currently rates the film as the likely Oscar winner.
  • Geniuses: A Daily Beast article gives lukewarm reviews to The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everythingand Mr. Turner while asking “Why Can’t Movies Capture Genius?” The author finds that one of the most successful depictions of genius, in Amadeus, only works because “Mozart’s opponent is both a metaphor and a person: Antonio Salieri is not just a mediocrity but portrayed as the manifestation of mediocrity’s universal powers to destroy original talent.”
  • Ellar Coltrane: The star of Boyhood (playing someone named Mason!) was interviewed by Yahoo! and said that his biggest stroke of luck was “just that [he] never turned into an a—hole — for lack of a better phrase.” He recently decided to sign with UTA, so it’s possible his acting career is only beginning.
  • The Hobbit: Stephen Colbert wrote the cover story for last week’s EW goodbye to the Lord of the Rings.Here are photos of him dressed up as the characters.
  • Interstellar: According to the Hollywood Reporter, Paramount is rebooting Interstellar campaign, “placing greater emphasis on its actors,” likely in the hopes of securing an Oscar nomination for lead actor Matthew McConaughey or supporting actress Jessica Chastain. Despite the new emphasis, I’d say those nominations are unlikely.
  • Transformers: According to The Guardian, Paramount is launching a campaign “for Michael Bay’s robot-wars movie to be nominated for best film and best director.” Despite the new emphasis, I’d say those nominations are fuck-all impossible.
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