Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
Fall Film Season is upon us. And with it the 0 to 60 Oscar buzz. Even if you're blessed enough to have the means to jetset from Telluride to Venice to Toronto to New York, chances are you can't keep up with it all. I know I haven't been able to while juggling other demands. Before I fly up to Toronto on Wednesday for the last heady days of TIFF, I should do my best to catch up on the buzz and update those dusty Oscar charts. They're not yet a month old but.... 0 to 60, you know. The movies are upon us!
BUT FIRST LET ME VENT...
So, they announced the winners of the honorary Oscars this week and as per usual, they've demonstrated their complete lack of respect for Actresses. There are so many fine actresses who never won Oscars who are still alive and yet year after year they ignore all of them to honor various men. I don't mean to take anything away from this year's talented recipients who all deserve a congratulatory round of applause (mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, stuntman Hal Needham, documentarian D. A. Pennebaker, arts advocate George Stevens, Jr.) it's just that the pattern is obvious and concerning.
Worse yet, when AMPAS does honor a woman, it's someone without a rich acting background (Hi, Oprah Winfrey). By the time this year's Oscars have wrapped, for a twenty year stretch from 1993 through 2012, thirty-eight people will have been given honorary Oscars or Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Awards and there are only three women among them (Deborah Kerr, Lauren Bacall, Oprah Winfrey). Oscar has a very real problem with women so if living screen giants like Maureen O'Hara, Doris Day, Catherine Deneuve, Mia Farrow, Eleanor Parker, Angela Lansbury, Gena Rowlands and other classic actresses ever want an Honorary prize, they might want to look into sex change operations or at least a tuxedo rental. Exasperating!
I'm still wondering how The Soloist ever happened given director Joe Wright's preference for lead actresses and risk-taking. I'm fairly confident that if his creativity didn't lean so far into flamboyant theatricality and if it weren't so feminine in narrative and concern, that he'd be a major critical darling. Reviews of Anna Karenina are such (pros, mixed, cons) that I'm confident that we don't know the Oscar outcome as of yet. This one will take some time to settle though it's surely already cast its sharp gleaming eyes on the Moulin Rouge! eye candy trophies (Art Direction & Costume Design)
Telluride told the first tale here, which is this: We have a major Oscar contender on our hands. As I've said many times, Ben Affleck has been slowly amassing a deserved reputation as a quality director that will lead him to Best Director nominations in 1...2...3.... If he keeps this up he'll become as wildly overpraised as all A List actors who acquit themselves as directors (Redford, Gibson, Costner, Eastwood, etcetera)! Critics and audience members think they're above star worship when it comes to such things but the fever pitch of praise, Oscar favor, and "AUTEUR! AUTEUR!" mania whenever an actor succeeds behind the camera says otherwise. There's something about actors, the famous ones anyway, that makes people breathless. But I'm getting ahead of it. At this point, none of this has happened. Whether or not Argo will hit big with audiences once it's breathing air at lower altitudes (Movies which are about movie-making don't tend to become big hits) is another story that's not yet told. But if festival enthusiasm continues unabated into multiplexes, you're talking trophies and not just nominations. Audience Award for TIFF ???
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
Speaking of Actors turned Directors... Robert Redford can generally create Oscar buzz just by announcing a film, not just for his reputation but for his taste in projects. He's definitely a traditional artist that fits easily into Oscar's wheelhouse. But his last three features have underperformed and received a total of 0 nominations among them (Lions for Lambs, The Conspirator, The Legend of Bagger Vance). He hasn't been a major player since Quiz Show (1994) but maybe it's just been a matter of execution?
Julian made a case that we've all been underestimating this one a month ago and he might be right. The project sounded too ridiculous -- how do you adapt that book without a 9 hour movie? -- and the trailer, which we previously discussed, makes it look like an impossibly incoherent sentimental extravaganza, with no visual throughline and only the faces of Tom Hanks and Halle Berry to thread through its visual shifting. (Maybe I'm just allergic to Tom Hanks' pedantic staccato narration, emphasizing each. and. every. word. like. it's. holy. scrit.) But it's TIFF premiere fanned the flames of fanboyish fanaticism on Twitter. If the mainstream critics go just as gaga, Oscar traction seems likely... if not, maybe a few technical nods? Critical reaction is all over the place. Maybe I'm just allergic to Tom Hanks' pedantic staccato narration, emphasizing each. and. every. word. like. it's. scripture. But for what it's worth, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was impressed.
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
When the festival reactions started a lot of people began crossing this one off the list on the grounds of "nothing special" and "stuffy" and the like. It's important to remember in these cases that certain films are natural fits for cinephile crowds (i.e. festivals) and other films are natural fits for Oscar voters. Some films overlap, some don't. There are plenty of "square" movies that do well with Oscar each and every year to count this one out just yet. Speaking very generally: Oscar likes British royalty porn, Oscar likes period pieces, Oscar likes bios, Oscar likes light easy-to-digest treatment of stories with "important" elements like world history, real people, etcetera. Why wouldn't they like this ? Unless of course the execution is way off or it just never catches fire in any way.
I've barely mentioned this family survival / tsunami drama (apologies) but early word is strong, especially for the acting. Word has it that Ewan McGregor will aim for Supporting Actor and that the mother and son in the story (Naomi Watts & Tom Holland) will be looking for lead citations. Does this mean Ewan dies early? Noooooo. Regardless of Oscar traction, which may or may not come -- it's worth noting that no one involved is really an automatic draw with AMPAS voters -- I'm just pleased that Ewan McGregor's career is going so strong again. Someone give his manager a cookie. Hell, I'll bake them myself because we need this fine actor in our cinema. There's no one else quite like him.
Did The Venice wins mark Paul Thomas Anderson's latest creation as Oscar bound or is this simply the inevitable: a master director now so embedded in the critical consciousness that each new film is an Event and treated with reverence? Auteur reverence isn't completely foreign to Oscar voters, but it just happens with different directors or in different degrees than it does with critics. Until I see the thing I'm cautiously assuming a few nods, no wins. It's hard to win Oscars strictly on genius.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Just when I had let this sink a bit in my Oscar prediction charts audiences go wild for it at TIFF. Bonafide crowd pleaser (Please to note: Oscar is a crowd).
So apparently The Fighter was no fluke and David O. Russell is less of an acquired taste than he used to be and now a mainstream filmmaker who knows how to work an ensemble for maximum effect. FWIW since it's only one voice, I also heard from a friend who works in the industry who'd seen it and he was disappointed in how commercial it was, and that Our Jacki Weaver has virtually nothing to do.
What do you make of all the festival buzz flying about? Do you take it seriously or are you waiting until opening weekend when consensus finally forms?