The 88th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 28, 115 days from today.


Top rung sort of solidifies
No one knows anything, but as weeks fly by and new movies open to the public, the Oscar world is reaching an almost-consensus regarding the most likely Best Picture nominees. We won’t have any real sense of what the world beyond this bubble thinks until the critics start announcing their awards in early December. (Yes, there have been some awards and nominations already, but don’t consider them too highly: The Hollywood Film Awards took place last weekend to general apathy, the Gotham Awards reportedly “offer no real clues about Oscar potential” and the British Film Award Nominations boasted more enthusiasm for Ex Machina, Macbeth and 45 Years than supposed “favorites” Danish Girl or Suffragette.)

That doesn’t stop bloggers from listing their predictions. I looked at five that I consider at least reasonably interesting: The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg, AwardsDaily’s Sasha Stone, Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan, Indiewire’s Anne Thompson and Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeff Wells. We see that 10 films are currently on at least three lists:

Films on all five: Joy (not yet seen), The Martian (93% RT), The Revenant (not yet seen), Room (95% RT) and Spotlight (94% RT)
Films on four: Bridge of Spies (92% RT) and Steve Jobs (85% RT)
Films on three: Brooklyn (100% RT), Carol (97% RT) and Inside Out (98% RT)
Films on two: The Big Short (not yet seen) and Mad Max (97% RT)

Films on one: The Danish Girl (81% RT), Love and Mercy (89% RT), Straight Outta Compton (89% RT) and Youth (84% RT)

(Interestingly, we don’t see The Hateful Eight, Suffragette, The Walk, By The Sea or Black Mass on any of them.)

Right now, all of the top films are flying somewhat under the radar or have some sort of chip on their shoulder, which is very helpful. You don’t want to be the frontrunner, because that’s when the backlash starts. (Look at Lincoln or Boyhood or The Social Network, frontrunners that could not make it all the way.) Once there is a film to beat, people will judge it more critically and find reasons not to like it. Here’s my take on a few of these not-really-frontrunners:
  • Spotlight was a hit coming out of Telluride that people have sort of forgotten about. (It will open in theaters on Friday and probably regain momentum soon.) It recently nabbed a nomination at the Gotham Independent Film Awards and won the Middleburg Film Festival, but it’s not really considered a threat. (Maybe it’s because of the “curse” where no film about journalists has won Best Picture despite many attempts in the past.)
  • Room centers on a kid and a woman, which is never really a good sign Oscar-wise. (The last winner focused on a woman was arguably Million Dollar Baby in 2005. The last winner focused on a kid was Oliver! which won back in a time when you could unironically have an exclamation point in the name of your movie.) Like Spotlight, it recently won a minor award (wow, the Hamptons Film Festival) and received a host of Gotham nominations. But there are still signs that it could take the big prize.
  • The Martian struggles against its genre, but you can’t really feel bad for it as it is wrecking the box office. With $184 million domestically (and another $245 internationally), The Martian will be Ridley Scott’s highest-grossing film. It just topped the box office for the fourth weekend out of the five it has been in theaters. If you ignore the genre (and voters could ignore genre for fantasy Lord of the Rings), The Martian has one main thing going for it — almost-universal popularity, meaning very little hate. The way the ballots work, your movie cannot win if it is hated. Birdman had only 21 negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes last year; The Martian has 19 out of 242 total.
  • Joy struggles with being another female-centered film, and one directed by an “actor’s director.” (Read about him getting grumpy about the phrase in this New York Times interview.) David O. Russell has led many actors to nominations and wins at the Academy Awards but has never won himself (for either directing or screenwriting).
  • Brooklyn is another female-centered film trying to break through. It won the top prize at the Vancouver Festival (and was very well liked back at Cannes), but it is still struggling with getting full-on recognition for the film and star Saoirse Ronan.
Spotlight on Steve Jobs box office woes

This has been a bad month for movies. Last weekend was the worst domestic box office weekend of 2015. Beyond that, practically every box office hopeful has tanked whether it’s fantasy (Pan), horror (Crimson Peak), French tightrope (The Walk), political dramedy (Our Brand Is Crisis), cooking (Burnt), journalistic (Truth) or Bill Murray (Rock the Kasbah). This massacre has buoyed The Martian, which is continuing to make bank, and tanked several Oscar hopefuls (bye bye Sandra Bullock). But perhaps none has been as hurt, or at least as gleefully taken down, as Steve Jobs.

The Los Angeles Times may say it best:

“Variety called it a “bomb.” The Wall Street Journal chalked it up as a casualty of a brutal “box office bloodbath.” The hyperbole surrounding “Steve Jobs'” very bad weekend at the multiplex has been so wild that you might imagine the movie standing with a certain someone on top of that zombie-surrounded trash Dumpster on Sunday night’s “The Walking Dead,” only the Dumpster is also in the middle of Hurricane Patricia. On Black Friday. At the mall. … A quick recap: “Steve Jobs,” the ambitious, impressionistic look at the late Apple co-founder’s life opened on Oct. 9 in four theaters in Los Angeles and New York. The reviews were (mostly) great, and so was the box office, with the film taking in just over $500,000 in those four theaters. It added another 56 theaters the following weekend, adding $2.23 million to its take. And then came this past weekend’s mushroom-cloud-laying disaster in which “Jobs” expanded wide to 2,493 theaters to the sounds of silence. Its per-screen average of $2,916 was roughly the same as “Hotel Transylvania 2’s” fifth weekend. Not good.”

In short, the $30 million film has made back about $15 million at the box office, leading to articles pouncing on it as a movie that played well to the “intelligentsia” but not general audiences and claiming that Michael Fassbender was not famous enough to star in it. (For reference, Aaron Sorkin’s Social Network made $225 worldwide on a $40 million budget.) The prized narrative involves the Sony hack, where execs warned against producing the movie. (“Steve Jobs’ Doesn’t Click: Why Sony Was Right to Pass,” reads the Hollywood Reporter.) Most critics believe Steve Jobs’ best hopes will come from the awards circuit, though some think that its box office woes may decrease its chances. No one wants to give awards to flops, the theory goes. Scott Feinberg has updated his predictions to take Steve Jobs and Fassbenders out of their respective category frontrunners.

Two parting thoughts. First, Sasha Stone looks at the different backlashes popular movies face. Second, consider how a weak opening for Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation may affect its chances in the Oscar race ahead.
Spotlight on Chris Rock

Chris Rock, who last hosted the Academy Awards in 2005, was tapped once again to lead this year’s show. This runs counter to what the Oscar producers had been hinting (“There will be multiple hosts for sure – there will be two,” David Hill told EW in September), which just goes to show that you shouldn’t trust everything you read at the Kroll Reel. (The rumor is that Amy Schumer reportedly declined an invite.) When Rock last hosted, Million Dollar Baby won the big prize, 42.2 million viewers in the United States tuned in (a very large audience by today’s standards) and Rock earned “mixed-leaning-poor reviews.”

After the year of #oscarssowhite, some hope that Rock will “bolster the show among African-American viewers, who historically have watched the broadcast in large numbers, significantly raising overall ratings, when the black presence is strong among nominees and performers on the stage.” This doesn’t seem like the most effective strategy as it’s likely that this year will be almost as white as last year, with the possible exceptions of Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation or Will Smith in Concussion.

From what I’ve read, most people are tentatively excited (here‘s his 2005 opening monologue), but Scott Feinberg wishes it were Kevin Hart.
Spotlight on Maureen O’Hara

Maureen O’Hara, the so-called “Queen of Technicolor,” died last week at age 95. Born in Ireland, she starred in the Best Picture winner How Green Was My Valley, which is famous only because it beat Citizen Kane. O’Hara won an Honorary Oscar just last year, and she is one of only two people to do so after never receiving an Academy Award nomination. In a statement, her family said, “Her characters were feisty and fearless, just as she was in real life. She was also proudly Irish and spent her entire lifetime sharing her heritage and the wonderful culture of the Emerald Isle with the world … For those who may ask what they can do to honour Maureen, we have a simple request: visit Ireland one day and think of her.”

Other News

  • The “Steve Jobs treatment”: An interesting New York Times piece posits how our CEOs would act if they thought that more movies would come out judging their legacies: “If more C.E.O.s were subject to this sort of retrospective assessment, they might manage differently.”
  • Straight Outta Lawsuit: The bad guy in Compton is sad that he’s the bad guy in Compton and sued.
  • Love and Mercy: The summer film may be on a resurgence, especially in the supporting races.
  • Dynamic duo: FiveThirtyEight thinks that Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg may be the best collaboration in Hollywood, as “Spielberg is the top director of all time, and Hanks is the top actor when he’s in a leading role.” The author makes pretty graphs about their respective careers, more of which (like analyses on Will Ferrell and Anne Hathaway) can be found here.
  • Mason, what if The Martian was about Astronaut Sloth: OK, hear me out. Last week, the Washington Post announced that the meme Astronaut Sloth would be taken to space. Imagine what would happen if a real sloth dressed like an astronaut got lost in space. The public would freak out. Sorry, Matt Damon.
  • Mrs. Ocean’s 11: They are remaking Ocean’s 11 with an all female cast, led by Sandra Bullock. My dream casting would include Maggie Smith.
  • Amy Adams also wants to be friends with JLaw: And what’s sadder is that they were already in American Hustle together. Poor five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams.

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