THE AWARDS SEASON BEGINS

The 88th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 28, 181 days from today.

The beginning?

Timidly, and without much pretension or preamble, the 2015 award season has showed its first signs of life.

Earlier this week, Academy voters received their first DVD screener in their mailbox — the low-budget, well-reviewed I’ll See You in My Dreams, a May drama “about late-in-life love and loss that stars Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott” (94% RT). Filmmakers thought their first-out-of-the-gate approach would gain the film media attention and awards buzz. (It did.) This first-screener strategy has worked occasionally in the past, earning acting nominations forThe Savages (2007), Frozen River (2008), Animal Kingdom (2010) and A Better Life (2011) but failing to muster up much support for Anvil (2009), The Intouchables (2012), Mud (2013) or Snowpiercer (2014). While it may not predict awards success, I imagine I would not be writing about it otherwise, which I like to think is a win in and of itself.

Also this week, the Gurus O’ Gold launched their first set of predictions. The chart, updated every couple of weeks from now until the Academy Awards, aggregates the predictions of 13 Oscars prognosticators. This year, the Gurus broke their chart into three: “Already Widely Seen/Festival Premiered,” “Making The Festival Run” and “Coming In Mid-October Or Later,” with Carol, The Danish Girl and The Revenant leading the pack, respectively. These predictions are rarely accurate — the Gurus predicted just three eventual Best Picture nominees in last year’s top 10 at this time — but likely mark, at least for Oscar bloggers, the season heavyweights and films to look out for. And so the race begins.

There are a number of contenders already out there. Mad Max and Inside Out earned exceptional reviews and awards buzz, made bank and, according to one blogger, “changed the game in regard to action and animation.”Jurassic World is now the third-highest-grossing film of all time domestically and worldwide (after Avatar andTitanic), prompting people to question or bemoan its lack of awards potential. (Minions, which horrifyingly crossed the billion-dollar marker, is thankfully not the topic of these conversations.) And some actors, such as Ian McKellan in Mr. Holmes, Lily Tomlin in Grandma and Paul Dano in Love and Mercy are already considered reasonable contenders for their respective races.

Of course, most of the movies are yet to be seen. A number of big film festivals are coming up, including Telluride (Labor Day), Venice (September 2 – 12), Toronto (September 10 – 20) and New York (September 25 – October 11). That’s where critics will first take a look at many Oscar hopefuls; that’s where it will be decided who is in and out of the conversation, who is an Oscar favorite and who will struggle to get media attention. Sasha Stone lays out a number of possible candidates in Best Actress and Best Actor, but many of these are sight unseen, on the list because the actor or director is Famous or the movie is Important. Stone says that it seems likely that top-tier candidates may spill over into the supporting categories because the Best Actor and Best Actress races are so packed.

There’s a lot still up in the air, but I’m excited to get back into the habit of frequenting movie theaters. I’m also hoping that with the uptick in Oscar news, I’ll be able to put together a viable post with increased regularity. The Kroll Reel is back in business.

Spotlight on Straight Outta Compton

Every year, at least one film vaults from nowhere into the spotlight of awards consideration. Last year, for example,Whiplash was not even on the Gurus O’ Gold pre-festival chart, which listed the 25 most anticipated films. Six months later it had won three Oscars and been nominated for two more, including Best Picture.

The folks behind Straight Outta Compton want to know why this can’t be their turn.

The film has done will enough to be a topic of serious conversation. It has a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and 72 on Metacritic, indicating very strong reviews, and it has earned $134 million at the box office. (According to Box Office Mojo, it had a budget of just $28 million.) 46% of the audience was African American, proving to the surprise of no one that the public is actually interested in films with some measure of diversity. It is relevant, playing into the racial tensions that are rocking the country. It is set in Los Angeles. And, according to The Hollywood Reporter, it scored at its Oscar screening. The room was 80 to 85% full, and the members that attended found the film incredibly powerful:

“The film itself seemed to go over very well. A powerful scene that plays before its opening credits was met with applause, an extremely rare response from hard-bitten members in the middle of a movie. (There have been only a few instances of it in recent years: following some of the numbers in Chicago, Anne Hathaway’s show-stopper in Les Miserables and the thrilling finale of Argo. And all of those films went on to win major Oscars.) According to another member, “I talked to many members afterwards and they were very impressed.”

I saw it tonight. As someone who knew embarrassingly little about N.W.A., Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, I still found it incredibly captivating and well-worth seeing. There are a lot of movies left to see, but I know I am definitely keeping this one on my radar.

Spotlight on Honorary Oscars

Since its creation, the Academy board of governors has sought out to award those with distinguished careers in the film industry at their annual Governors Awards. Early honorary Oscar winners included Shirley Temple (who received a miniature Oscar statuette) and Walt Disney (who received one statuette and seven miniature statuettes for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), and last year’s three winners were screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, director Hayao Miyazaki and actress Maureen O’Hara.

This year, the 51-member board of governors decided to award Spike Lee and Gena Rowlands with honorary Oscars (“presented each year as sort of a lifetime achievement award,” according to The Hollywood Reporter) and Debbie Reynolds with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (for “someone who has done important work for others”). Lee previously earned two Oscar nominations, including one for Best Original Screenplay for Do The Right Thing; Rowlands was nominated twice for A Woman Under the Influence and Gloria; and Reynolds was nominated once for The Unsinkable Molly Brown (though most know her best for Singin’ In The Rain).

Lee is the youngest male to receive an honorary Oscar since 1969. He has also been a frequent critic of the Academy since Do The Right Thing was largely ignored at the 1989 Oscars (a year that went for what many consider the mildly racist, or at least overtly stereotypical, Driving Miss Daisy). After Selma missed out on a Best Director and Best Actor nomination, he told The Hollywood Reporter: “If I saw Ava [DuVernay, the director] today I’d say, ‘You know what? F— ’em.’ … Anyone who thinks this year was gonna be like last year is retarded. There were a lot of black folks up there with 12 Years a Slave, Steve, Lupita [Nyong’o], Pharrell [Williams]. It’s in cycles of every 10 years. Once every 10 years or so I get calls from journalists about how people are finally accepting black films. Before last year, it was the year [2002] with Halle Berry, Denzel and Sidney Poitier. It’s a 10-year cycle. So I don’t start doing backflips when it happens.” His remarks to the group are likely to prove very interesting and likely news-making.

Other News

  • The producers: Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who produced the Oscars for three years in a row, stepped down after last ceremony. The New York Times wrote that the producers the Academy chooses will play a large role in determining the character of the show itself.
  • Mommy Meryl: Meryl Streep has played a number of lousy mothers, including one in this year’s Ricki and the Flash. The Hollywood Reporter made a slideshow.
  • New York is too small: The recent closing of NYC screening rooms has filmmakers worried and reporters declaring a crisis. Publicist Julie Tustin said, “This dire lack of inventory in New York of high-quality screening rooms will create a new side race this awards season to secure event space.” 
  • Caitlyn Jenner: Eddie Redmayne, who is playing transgender woman Lili Elbe in the upcoming The Danish Girl, talked about transgender awareness and Caitlyn Jenner in a Hollywood Reporter interview.
  • Christmas: Two highly anticipated films — The Revenant and The Hateful Eight — are opening on Christmas. Its a showdown.
  • Future Oscars: Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer are writing a screenplay together. I would very much like to see this movie.
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