The 88th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 28, 67 days from today.


The final critics’ awards

Last week featured the two major remaining critics’ announcements of the year — the Critics Choice Awards nominations, handed out by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and the American Film Institute Top 10. (Of course, a number of other, minor critics’ awards also announced their wins and nominations, but no one really cares who won Best Picture with the Nevada Film Critics Society.) (It was Spotlight.) The BFCA and AFI are awards that you’ll see a lot on “For Your Consideration” ads and movie posters, but they are also awards that have a fair amount of predictive power when it comes to who makes the Academy Awards nominations cut.

Headlines exclaimed that the Critics Choice Awards were a big win for Mad Max, which led the group with 13 nominations. That’s not entirely fair. Four of the film’s nominations came from categories that other films are not eligible for, namely Action Movie, Actor in an Action Movie, Actress in an Action Movie and Sci-Fi/Horror Movie. When you factor those and similar categories out, you have Mad Max, Carol and The Revenant leading the field with nine nominations, Spotlight and The Martian with eight, The Hateful Eight with six and The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn and The Danish Girl with four. If you take away The Hateful Eight and The Danish Girl and add in Room and Sicario, you have the 10 nominees for Best Picture (and 10 of the likeliest contenders for the nomination at the Oscars as well).

A potentially more interesting way of looking at the Critics Choice Awards involves comparing the actors nominated. Often, the BFCA builds on previous picks by the Golden Globes or SAG, and individuals nominated by all three have a far better shot at hearing their name listed on the Oscar nominations list come January. (It is not a guarantee — Jake Gyllenhaal was snubbed by Oscar for Nightcrawler ever after picking up a BFCA, Golden Globe and SAG nomination — but it’s not a bad trio to be holding before nominations are announced.)

The 13 performances below earned mentions with all three groups:

  • Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
  • Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
  • Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl
  • Cate Blanchett – Carol
  • Brie Larson – Room
  • Rooney Mara – Carol 
  • Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
  • Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
  • Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
  • Michael Shannon – 99 Homes
  • Helen Mirren – Trumbo
  • Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Nine performances found their way on just two of the lists:

  • Christian Bale –The Big Short (no BFCA)
  • Idris Elba – Beasts of No Nation (no BFCA)
  • Matt Damon – The Martian (no SAG)
  • Jennifer Lawrence – Joy (no SAG)
  • Paul Dano – Love & Mercy (no SAG)
  • Sylvester Stallone – Creed (no SAG)
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight (no SAG)
  • Johnny Depp – Black Mass (no Golden Globe)
  • Rachel McAdams – Spotlight (no Golden Globe)

When you add up the two lists, you find that each acting category has six possibilities – except for Best Actress, where only four women are mentioned (Blanchett, Larson, Ronan and Lawrence). Who’s left? This is the spot that Maggie Smith, Lily Tomlin, Charlotte Rampling, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Sarah Silverman and Carey Mulligan are fighting over. (For the full list of cross-nominations, see AwardsWatch.)

The AFI Top 10 was next. The group pushed its awards announcement back one week so that its members could see Star Wars before choosing their favorites for the year. (Star Wars did not send out screeners because it did not really need to; do you know anyone that has not seen Star Wars already?) Unsurprisingly, the group loved it. Besides Star Wars, the Top 10 featured The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Carol, Inside Out, Mad Max, The Martian, Room, Spotlight and Straight Outta Compton. Compared to the BFCA nominations, the AFI excluded The Revenant, Sicario and Brooklyn and included Star Wars, Inside Out and Straight Outta Compton. Brooklyn should not be sweating – true to its name, the AFI only nominates American films – but this is not good news for The Revenant or Sicario.

In most years, the AFI Top 10 looks very similar to the Academy Awards nomination list, with slight preferences for American films or bigger films (or both). According to the Hollywood Reporter, “in 2013, AFI included Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis and Saving Mr. Banks, which the Academy replaced with Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena — in other words, two indies replaced two indies and the Academy passed on one studio film that AFI endorsed. In 2012, AFI included The Dark Knight Rises and Moonrise Kingdom, which the Academy replaced with Amour — a foreign indie that had been ineligible for AFI replaced an American indie and the Academy passed on one studio film that AFI endorsed. And in 2011, AFI included Bridesmaids, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and J. Edgar, which the Academy replaced with The Artist and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — the Academy replaced one studio film with an indie, another studio film with a different studio film and dropped a third studio film altogether.” While last year only five films made the cut (tough luck Foxcatcher, Interstellar, Into the Woods, Nightcrawler and Unbroken), it seems this year may be more forgiving to AFI honorees.

Next up are BAFTA nominations (January 8), the Golden Globes (January 10) and Oscar nominations (January 14), as well as a host of industry awards, most notably the Producers Guild of America Award (with nominations out January 5) and the Directors Guild of America Award (with nominations out January 12). There are easily a dozen films with credible Academy Award possibilities, which makes everything all the more exciting. We are moving onto the next phase of Oscar season and will soon have some of the answers that will, in time, look obvious in retrospect.

Spotlight on Star Wars

At every turn, Star Wars has shattered the competition. The film had advance ticket sales of over $100 million. (The next closest was The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 with $25 million.) Its opening weekend was $238 million domestically (edging out Jurassic World’s $208 million opening for the record) and $529 internationally (edging out Jurassic World‘s $525 million opening for the record). To give you a sense of how giant this is, there are only six movies in 2015 that have beat this domestic total (Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Inside Out, Furious 7, Minions and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2) — and Star Wars has been out for just three days. Reports put its total expected gross at over $2 billion.

But the AT-AT Walker in the room is whether this will be enough to drive the film into the Oscar race. The only Star Wars to earn a Best Picture nomination was the first one; Star Wars sequels were often resigned to more below-the-line nominations. There are a few favorable signs to Star Wars hopefuls: The only group to have seen the film before voting, the AFI, gave Star Wars one of the organization’s top 10 spots, and the BFCA looks increasingly likely to add Star Wars as an 11th nominee. (There was, apparently, an “unprecedented cry out” from BFCA voters, who will be voting this week to determine whether to add Star Wars to the list.) Vulture considers its chances for all of the potential categories, where noms for Best Picture are possibilities, but visual effects, sound and score are more likely.

Holding Star Wars back are the other highly successful sci-fi/fantasy films in the race (such as Mad Max and The Martian) and other highly successful blockbuster movies (such as Inside Out, Creed and Straight Outta Compton). As they need to earn 5% of the Academy’s number one vote, it is likely that several of these will get edged out of the way. More of a problem, though, is the attitude that Star Wars is not something to be taken seriously. Look at this exchange cited in the Los Angeles Times:

“I loved it!” an Oscar-nominated producer told me after the Saturday screening. “It’s everything a Star Wars movie should be!”That means you’re voting for it?

His answer: “No! It’s a Star Wars movie.”

Other News

  • SAG and Golden Globe nominees by the numbers: The Hollywood Reporter published an infographic with a lot of interesting info about this year’s nominees, including the split between U.S. nominees in each (62% for Golden Globe, 37% for SAG) and common nominees (I see you Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren).
  • Blast from the past: Remember when the NYTimes accidentally called Helen Mirren “Melen”? (See the correction here.) Good times.
  • Jacob Tremblay is the coolest: The nine-year-old Best Supporting Actor possibility talked to the New York Times and said the best things, like his thoughts about a film awards ceremony (“They talked about a bunch of movies that I had never heard of,” he said. “I didn’t stay for the whole thing. It was nighttime, and I couldn’t stay awake any longer.”), his athletic abilities (“I don’t have any trophies at home,” he told me. “I’m not good at sports is why.”) and his thoughts about Room, the movie he starred in (“It’s good. But it’s no Avengers.”).
  • Best Makeup shocker: Seven films are now up for the nomination: Black Mass, Concussion, Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road, Mr. Holmes, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared and The Revenant. People were surprised by this list, as many expected to see The Danish Girl or Star Wars or Carol
  • Matt Damon wins an award: Your weekly Palm Springs Film Fest news: Damon is receiving the Chairman’s Award. 
  • Zeitgeist: Scott Feinberg talks about the importance of films that speak to the spirit of the age, which I totally already talked about earlier this year. Still, if you want an expert’s take on what is zeitgeisty, check out the article.

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