The 88th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 28, 54 days from today, and nominations will be announced on Jan. 14, nine days from today.

Oscar voting is underway

Last Wednesday, members of the Academy began voting for their favorite films and filmmakers; they have until Friday to turn in their ballots. This week, therefore, is all about exposure. Any movies or actors on the cusp will have to be seen, and widely seen, in order to receive a nomination. And so each opportunity to be in the spotlight will be taken.

Every indication we have so far hints that this is a year with a lot up in the air. Last year at this point, for example, we knew that the Best Picture race would come down to Birdman vs. Boyhood and that Best Actor would be Keaton vs. Redmayne. And, with Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette winning all their respective awards, Best Picture and Best Actor were the more difficult races to call. This year, we think that Leonardo DiCaprio may win Best Actor and it is possible that Spotlight is the Best Picture favorite (though see the “Spotlight on ACE Eddie” to find out why people have decided in the last 24 hours that this may not be the case anymore). That is all. Meaning there are a lot of spots still open for films and actors with momentum.

This week also marks the beginning of most of the “industry awards,” or awards given to producers and editors and cinematographers by their peers, as opposed to by critics. Before this week, there was one main industry whose award nominations were already announced — the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). This week’s nominations will progress as follows:

Movies will try to play up any wins here, especially those lucky enough to earn PGA nominations. How movies fare this week will give us a much better indication of what actual Oscar voters support, rather than what critics and Oscar bloggers assume they do. Only a few industry groups (such as the Visual Effects Society, Makeup & Hairstyling Guild, Cinema Audio Society and, importantly, the Directors Guild), will release their nominations after Oscar voting has ended, so expect a deluge of news this week if you, hypothetically, follow a lot of Oscar blogs or get The Hollywood Reporter’s news updates.

Beyond industry awards, films will seek publicity in other ways, such as…

  • Unimportant critics’ awards: On Sunday night, the National Society of Film Critics named Spotlight Best Picture, Michael B. Jordan from Creed Best Actor, Charlotte Rampling from 45 Years Best Actress, Mark Rylance from Bridge of Spies Best Supporting Actor, Kristen Stewart from Clouds of Sils Maria Best Supporting Actress and Todd Haynes from Carol Best Director. This has people talking about Jordan as a dark-horse Best Actor possibility (and Rampling and Stewart as slightly-less-dark-horse possibilities themselves). That’s definitely possible, but let’s try to remember that last year’s Best Picture winner was Goodbye to Language, which I’m pretty sure is not a movie that exists. In fact, in the 50 years of NSFC, only five Best Pictures have repeated at the Oscars (Annie Hall, Unforgiven, Schindler’s List, Million Dollar Baby and The Hurt Locker). Also this weekend were the Palm Springs Awards, where basically everyone in the race either presented or accepted an award. Matt Damon got some publicity when he argued during his acceptance speech that Ridley Scott (who directed The Martian) deserves an Oscar; it was a nice reminder that no one at the Palm Springs Awards were there because of the Palm Springs Awards.
  • Important critics’ awards with ceremonies that happen to be this week: “Wait, Mason, weren’t the New York Film Critics Circle awards announced more than a month ago?” Yes, reader, they were, but for whatever reason (well, for publicity and impact), the awards were hosted last night. There were good accounts of the night (the NYFCC gave honorees “an opportunity to be talked up by a presenter and, if they are in attendance, deliver an acceptance speech in front of the many Oscar voters and influencers who pack the room”) and less good ones (“Kristen Stewart Wins Best Supporting Actress at New York Film Critics Circle Awards 2015!” screams a JustJared headline, featuring pictures of the dress she wore.) All news is good news, even if it’s old news.
  • Box office: According to Box Office Mojo as of last weekend, Star Wars has made $740 million domestically and over $1.5 billion internationally, placing it second and sixth on the all-time lists, respectively. That’s a pretty nice way of remaining in the public consciousness and proving people like your movie. It’s also worth mentioning that the movie has so far gotten a nomination for (I am pretty sure) every award it has been eligible for: AFI Top 10, Critics’ Choice, ACE Eddie and Artios. It is actually, seriously a threat.
  • Being adorable: Oh, Brie Larson, there you are … in the New York Times. Larson tells the story of making Room as well as anecdotes about the time she chewed out a traffic cop and how she attained the “pallor and dulled hair” necessary for playing Ma. (The answer is staying indoors and out of the sun; if that’s all it takes, I would easily have an Oscar by now.)
  • Celebrity support: Caitlyn Jenner made news before Christmas when she began to campaign for Tangerine, a trans drama focusing on “an L.A.-area sex worker whose best friend is released from prison, returns to their block and enlists her help in getting to the bottom of a scandalous rumor on Christmas Eve.” Jenner is hosting a screening and trying to drum up support for Best Supporting Actress possibility Mya Taylor.
  • White guilt: The LA Times published an article questioning whether this year will see a repeat of last year’s #OscarsSoWhite backlash. There are some glimmers of hope, such as Straight Outta Compton, Beasts of No Nation and Concussion, but the overwhelmingly white and old Academy membership will need to remember them when completing their ballots.

Where do we stand? I’ll go through all of the major races next week, but it currently seems that there are up to 17 films with legitimate Best Picture potential: Spotlight, The Big Short, The Martian, Carol, The Revenant, Room, Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Inside Out, Trumbo, Beasts of No Nation, Straight Outta Compton, Sicario, Creed and The Hateful Eight. (Vulture recently published an article called “So, What the Hell Is Going on in Best Picture?” that explains these a bit more.) Somewhere between five and 10 of that group will make it into the final Best Picture list, with the past four years boasting three eight-film lists and one nine-film list. (One analysis proved that 10 is a very real possibility this year.) The PGA nominations (out today!) will give a good sense about which may go the distance, because it is still anybody’s game.

Spotlight on ACE Eddie
I wrote a lot of this Reel on Sunday night, hoping to wrap it up yesterday before work but largely nonplussed about the possibility it would take me an extra day to finish. “What could change the race so drastically on a Monday morning,” I thought. And then Spotlight failed to get an ACE Eddie nomination.

I know that this does not sound like a big deal. But the editing race is important and almost always tied to Best Picture. Some statistics to cite: Birdman was the first film in 34 years to win Best Picture at the Oscars without a Best Editing nomination and, aside from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, every film nominated for Best Editing since 2009 has been a Best Picture nominee. The ACE Eddie is awarded by the editors’ guild (American Cinema Editors), and is our first indication to what this vital editing category will look like. It’s divided into Dramatic/Comedic, doubling the number of films entering the Oscar race with  this important precursor award.

Nominees for best dramatic editing were Mad Max, The Martian, The Revenant, Sicario and Star Wars. Nominees for best comedic editing were Ant-Man, The Big Short, Joy, Me and Early and the Dying Girl and Trainwreck. That means no Spotlight, no Room, no Carol, no Bridge of Spies and no Brooklyn. Since the current Best Picture voting system started four years ago, there have been two to three Best Picture nominees who get their nomination without an accompanying ACE Eddie nod (last year’s were Selma and The Theory of Everything), but it has been 26 years since the Best Picture winner didn’t get a nomination. (That was 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy.)

Maybe we are overthinking this. All five dramatic films that beat Spotlight were loud, actiony films, with explosions and fast cuts and large audiences. But, according to Sasha Stone, this is the biggest block of voters Spotlight has faced thus far, and it’s not good news that voters were not impressed. It’s enough for some people to now consider The Big Short the movie to beat, though I think it may be a bit early to switch horses now.

Other News

  • Critics’ Choice Star Wars fallout: When the Broadcast Film Critics Association decided to make Star Wars: The Force Awakens its 11th Critics’ Choice Best Picture nominee (the first time they did this since Cast Away in 2000), many Star Wars fans cheered. But there were a number of BFCA members who were not happy about it. The main critique was not against Star Wars necessarily but against a growing movement to add superfluous categories to the awards in order to draw in more viewers. It’s also worth noting that voters were only allowed to nominate the film in the Best Picture category rather than having all categories opened up for re-voting. Here is an article about the issue, here is a BFCA member’s resignation letter and here is an unrelated negative review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens from a Vatican newspaper (choice quotes include, “Without revealing anything about [Kylo Ren], all we will say is that it is the clumsiest and tackiest result you can obtain from computer graphics”).
  • Spotlight support from the editor: Occasionally, when movies centered on historical events come out, there is a backlash against the film’s accuracy, often led by people in the movie itself. (Remember when the subject of Foxcatcher Tweeted: “Everything I’ve ever said positive about the movie I take back. I hate it. i hate it. i hate it. I hate it. i hate it. i hate it. I hate it”? Good times.) That’s why it was refreshing to hear that ex-Boston Globe editor Marty Baron (a) actually liked the movie and (b) understands that it is not a documentary. ” “It’s very faithful to the broad outlines of how the investigation unfolded and it does a very good job of capturing the themes that emerged over the course of that investigation, and I think it’s a very nuanced and a very powerful film and I’m very grateful for that,” he said. “Of course there’s creative license — it’s a movie, not a documentary, and I think everybody understands that or should understand that. You’re trying to compress an investigation that lasted about seven months and then went on for another year or year-and-a-half after that, and you’re trying to bring to the surface a variety of themes and introduce a lot of different characters, and you’re trying to do that in two hours. That’s not an easy feat.”
  • Is he worth it? Vulture estimates that it would have cost nearly a trillion dollars to rescue Matt Damon in all of his movies, with the main expenses coming from The Martian, Interstellar and Titan AE.
  • But Mason, how should Leonardo DiCaprio have survived the bear attack: If you are in 1823 and attacked by a bear, Vulture recommends making noise, avoiding eye contact, lying still and not fighting back. Thanks, Vulture!
  • Nyet: Oscar-winning director Nikita Mikhalkov called for the creation of an “alternative Oscars” for BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). It may be a nice idea, but Kroll Reel fans will be disappointed to know that I do not plan on covering it.
  • “Russell Crowe Slams Airline for Banning Hoverboards”: This is a headline.
  • “Did Leonardo DiCaprio Dump His Girlfriend to Get That Oscar?”: This is another headline.
  • Ser-sha: Back in November, Ryan Gosling told an audience how to pronounce Saoirse Ronan’s name (“it’s Ser-sha, like inertia”). Ronan mentioned the incident at the Palm Springs Fest, saying, “Someone sent me a photo two weeks later of a cinema in Minnesota, and on the sign in the front it said Brooklyn and then underneath it said, ‘Ser-sha, Like Inertia. I couldn’t believe it! They actually put it on the front of the cinema, so the power of Ryan Gosling is stronger than anything else.”

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