In which a new Film Experience tradition begins. A pre-nomination mini-symposium about fifth spot battles...
NATHANIEL R: Things that are awesome that come in sets of five: fingers, boy bands, the filmography of John Cazale, golden rings to be used for Olympics or in song, toes, Oscar nominees... It always comes back to the Oscars here at The Film Experience, don't you know?
I never thought of myself as any more averse to change than the average person but when the Academy changed the Best Picture system in 2009 and 2010 to a top ten and then to anything between 5 and 10, the magic number suddenly becoming 9 in both 2011 and 2012, it felt like a direct attack on my sanity. But Oscar categories come in fives!!! I've never stopped internally protesting and whenever anyone suggests that the acting categories should widen as well, a little part of me dies inside or reaches for smelling salts. I've taken solace in recent rule changes that bring Original Song and Visual Effects to a clean five-wide system as well and I pray that Hair and Makeup eventually goes there, too. I need the clarity of that organizing number.
This year we're starting a new mini-symposium tradition at the Film Experience in which we gather to discuss the fifth spot. There's no point in debating the locks but usually at least one spot is up for grabs. Please welcome our panel of five: Kurt Osenlund (The House Next Door), Nathaniel R (The Film Experience, c'est moi), Christopher Rosen (Huffington Post), Sasha Stone (Awards Daily) and You (in the comments). These "what ifs" we're discussing become moot on January 16th when the nominations are announced but they're fun while they last (10 more days!). Eventually each year's acting shortlists take on a feeling of inevitability in retrospect... even the "surprise" nominees that didn't have much support in the precursors.
Are any of you feeling bullish about a surprise nominee that you think will seem inevitable once their name is read on Nomination Morning? [Supporting Categories after the jump...]
KURT: Hey everyone. First of all, Nat, AMEN to the rule change of five Original Song contenders, and to your lovely hat tip to John Cazale. So you want to know who's going to pull a Jacki-Weaver-in-Silver Linings Playbook this year? If there were more support for August: Osage County, I'd say Chris Cooper in Supporting Actor, but love for that movie just doesn't seem to be there beyond Meryl, Julia, and perhaps Letts's screenplay. But you never know. Cooper's so subtly wonderful in that role, and at the NY press conference, Meryl wouldn't stop singing his praises, which could be telling (for what it's worth, she also gushed over Margo Martindale). I think Will Forte in Nebraska would kind of fall into the surprise-but-duh category. He's not quite out of the blue (NBR win), but definitely not a frontrunner by any stretch. There's a helluva a lot of support for that film, and I could definitely see Forte being a coattail-rider if we wind up with nods for Pic, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay, and Cinematography (because it's in black and white! *shoots self*). If I wanted to be really brave, I wouldn't count out Matthew McConnaughey in Mud either. Perhaps he, and not Tom Hanks, will be the one popping up in two categories this year. And I don't know--could Weinstein drum up enough support to squeeze in Steve Coogan? It's such an Oscar safe-zone movie, and Coogan gets to truly support a major contender with Oscar-clip outbursts to boot.
CHRISTOPHER: Hello, everyone! Thanks for having me participate in the symposium. (I can only assume I was invited because my last name has five letters?) Piggybacking off Kurt, I, too, think Will Forte is a possibility in Supporting Actor. Like Weaver last year, Forte's candidacy consists of a rising tide lifting his boat. In a similar fashion, Jennifer Garner feels like a legitimate option for Best Supporting Actress. No one is really talking about her, but maybe that's a mistake. As support for Lee Daniels' The Butler all but disappears (no nods from either the Producers Guild or Writers Guild), and Dallas Buyers Club ascends to near locked-down Best Picture nominee status, Garner could grab away Oprah Winfrey's presumed nomination.
Other "surprises" I could see happening: Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper for American Hustle, Amy Adams for Her and -- gasp! -- Jean-Marc Valle for Best Director.
SASHA: Thanks so much for inviting me to join in the fun. I agree with Chris that it's evident Dallas Buyers Club is a player. It is one of the few movies that offers a true dramatic experience - hero who rises, does some good, changes, redemption, etc. It is also James Schamus' last hurrah at Focus - thus I expect the industry to rally around it for that reason as well, though they certainly wouldn't if it wasn't a good film. More than either of those things, though, is that McConaughey is a hero at a time when the industry seems to favor those stories. The surprise I expect to see in the supporting actor category is Jonah Hill for Wolf of Wall Street. That is one of the stronger films, despite the bluster and so-called controversy around it. There are many who need heroes - but there are also those who want to keep the rebellious spirit alive.
I'm still not sure I would count The Butler out, however. I figure The Weinstein Co is going to get one of their movies into the Best Picture race and it might just be that one. What a shame if both Fruitvale Station and The Butler are squeezed out.
KURT: That's some bold stuff there, Chris. I do think Garner is a possibility worth considering, and one I really didn't consider, but I genuinely don't think anyone's taking Oprah's nod away, least of all Garner, no matter how much The Butler's support deflates. And while I do think it's time to start worrying for Inside Llewyn Davis, I don't think it's time to be going whole-hog for Dallas; Pic and Screenplay, okay, but Director? I surely hope not. I'm trying to be objective and voter-minded here, but my god, there are so many films (contenders, no less) that are better directed than that. Though I definitely wasn't Team Amour, let's hope last year's nods for Haneke and Zeitlin were good signs for the Directors branch. Nat knows I openly hate Dallas, but that aside, I think the SAG ensemble nod is a shame. This is a two-man showcase, not an impressive ensemble piece. It's the whole problem of ensemble nominees "needing" to be Best Picture hopefuls. What about the extraordinary cast of Out of the Furnace? That's a stunning ensemble, and since we're talking Supporting Actor, Casey Affleck is on my personal list for the best performance of his career. I'm still on topic right?
NATHANIEL: I still don't understand the politicking against Dallas Buyers Club (AIDS is not a gay disease and the gay community fought for so many years to make sure people understood that that it strikes me as really problematic that gay people are suddenly angry that one AIDS narrative marginalizes them) but now we're really off topic! Veering back... veering back...
Sasha, I hadn't considered the inside Hollywood push for Schamus but you're right that that could totally be a contributing factor given the tough year for Focus. Chris's idea of a surprise Garner shot is... "interesting". (I use the word in the way it's used in the vernacular when you have no idea what else to say about a friend / acquaintance / strangers' latest anything but you have to make small talk). See, my test of how annoying an Oscar nomination would be is, here me out, how baby Oscar geeks decades from now might feel about it when they're watching the movies with little understanding of that year's context. Moving through the field they're all like "sure sure sure..." from Lupita to Lawrence to Squibb and then "'huhwhazzat'? Why did they nominate that limp thing" Some nominations and wins only work in the context of a given year or career but when you come to them later, it can be so head-scratching. I feel like a Garner nomination would be just that. B
ut here I am jumping to the actresses, and since we're already throwing down with both supporting categories let's wrap both up with something concrete? Can we agree that it's like so...
SUPPORTING ACTRESS Lawrence | Nyong'o | Squibb | Winfrey
THE FIFTH SPOT: Sally Hawkins vs. Roberts/Winfrey (if people feel they've been amply rewarded)
SUPPORTING ACTOR Abdi | Brühl | Fassbender | Leto
THE FIFTH SPOT: Bradley Cooper vs. Jonah Hill vs. James Gandolfini?
CHRISTOPHER: I can agree with that. But Daniel Brühl? (I'm not complaining since he was so good in "Rush") To me, Cooper should get that last slot, but I wouldn't be surprised if Gandolfini gets in on sentimentality. The fact that he's also wonderful in Enough Said doesn't hurt much either. As for Supporting Actress, the arguments for Garner could also apply to Hawkins. There's some big, late-breaking support for Blue Jasmine, and that could mean an additional nomination here or there. (Hawkins, like Gandolfini, is also really great in the film; despite my Garner Hail Mary plea, even I won't vouch for her performance level.)
That written, my guess would be Roberts taking the final slot. She's the best part of that film, and -- unlike Streep -- she hasn't been nominated three times in five years. There's no voter fatigue with Roberts, and I think that could be a factor.
SASHA: Usually the results end up being far less surprising than they are surprising. Jennifer Garner is not strong enough to get in. She could have gotten in if she'd had a bit more to do in the part except look concerned and hammer a wall. The one possible Oscar scene she has is when she says, "he was my friend too." And it's ... awkward. That doesn't mean she won't get in, like Maggie Gyllenhaal in the Crazy Heart year. But usually when an Oscar nominee replaces a SAG nominee it is less for their star power and more for a buzzed performance that word of mouth is helping to boost. Both actress categories feel locked to me. Julia Roberts and Oprah Winfrey are so popular within the Academy it would be among the biggest shocks ever if they were omitted. Lupita Nyong'o is as locked as you can be. Ditto Lawrence. That leaves June Squibb - and hers is among the years best. So to me, it's as locked as Best Actress.
And just to pipe in on Dallas Buyers Club - I think the complaints, as far as I know, come from the idea that only this redneck homophobe was in charge of the fight to cure AIDS from the FDA blocking the meds and information. The only reason this sort of rang true to me was after having watched How to Survive a Plague and to see the gay community become such an unstoppable force during that time. So yeah, the film is Ron Woodruff's story. It does not tell the whole story by a long shot. On the other hand, it occurs to me that the Oscar race is like a political election now. These kinds of attacks seem pointless to me, ultimately. They matter in the moment but then the hysteria fades away faster than Paul Ryan's gym photos (always good for a laugh).
NATHANIEL: So it sounds like none of us think there's any real movement in Supporting Actress. That kills me since I am the web's most tireless crusader against Category Fraud and even Tracy Letts refers to Julia Roberts as "the protagonist" of August: Osage County.
KURT: Oh, that wretched category fraud. I've honestly made my peace with it at this stage as it's clearly going nowhere, but whenever something like Julia in August happens, I immediately think, "Poor Nathaniel is pulling his hair out." Wait, you don't have hair. Well, whatever. You have to admit it was an absolutely essential move on Weinstein's part to retract Meryl's Supporting campaign effort and position both actresses where they currently are. Before, things were precarious, and Julia would not have landed a Best Actress bid. As is, I don't think either actress can lose (the nomination, that is).
NATHANIEL: But that's just it. If someone is not strong enough to compete in their correct category, they shouldn't be competing at all! I wish, again and again, that I wasn't the only one who truly cared about it. I'd rather people NOT think of it as my pet peeve and be outraged themselves. I remain perplexed that actors themselves don't mind since the vast majority of them are not "lead" players and don't seem to understand that they're voting against their own kind.
Anyway... it will kill me to see Sally Hawkins get so close again only to finish in sixth place again as she presumably did in 2008 for Happy-Go-Lucky. Please to understand: This should in no way be misconstrued as me wanting the categories expanded to include the also rans. It's only to reiterate that I would just like to see the supporting categories used as they were intended: to honor MVPs in supporting roles. This is why I'm no fan of the impending Brühl nomination even though I've been quite fond of him ever since Good Bye Berlin! (2003) but it's funny what degrees of stardom due to perception. Captain Phillips may be named for Tom Hanks but both he and Barkhad Abdi get long buildup parallel scenes with coworkers / family / home to prep for their oncoming collision so to me it's a two lead mano-a-mano thing just like Rush. I think this category is even weaker than usual so I understand the need to shove all these leading roles into it but it still pisses me off when we could have James Franco in Spring Breakers in there if the voters had balls.
But I digress: Cooper, Hill or Gandolfini?
SASHA: I agree with you, Nat, on category fraud. But there is no putting that genie back in the bottle. American Hustle seems to be an unstoppable force in the awards race. Part of me thinks the culture of celebrity - watching the famous people play dress-up - is driving that. But be that as it may, it’s a star-driven industry and a star-driven race. I think all three of those you mentioned have a shot for supporting. If I had to pick a surprise choice it would be Hill. If I had to pick the one most likely it would be Bradley Cooper. But I would not be that surprised if Gandolfini got in. Gun to my head I would probably go with Cooper. Too bad that Cooper wasn’t Chris Cooper from August: Osage County but it ain’t.
NATHANIEL: I think both Coopers are great this year :dons "peacekeeper" sash: but I agree that Bradley is in the best position. Though at least one celebrity on twitter is so gung ho for Jonah Hill that...
... I wonder.
And while we're speaking of those wolves of Wall Street... let's move to Best Actor. It's not that people haven't missed an Oscar nomination after the magic trifecta of Globes, BFCA and SAG but it's not a common occurrence in any way so we can probably lock up four men (McConaughey, Hanks, Ejiofor, Dern). That leaves Robert Redford, who I once thought would win, wondering if all is truly lost (sorry) for his Oscar campaign though he never seemed all that into anyway, given the preternatural stoicism of his star persona. So Redford vs... a whole slew of men for the fifth spot.
The votes will be (presumably) all over the place but a lot of people have picked up at least one key pre-nomination honor. Thoughts? Frustrations? Predictions?
BEST ACTOR Dern | Ejiofor | Hanks | McConaughey
THE FIFTH SPOT: Robert Redford vs. Leonardo DiCaprio vs. Christian Bale vs. Forest Whitaker vs. Oscar Isaac
SASHA: I do think Redford will get in ultimately. He’s just too big for the Academy to ignore. It’s one thing for the SAG voter assemblage, a randomly selected group, to ignore him. It’s a whole other thing for Academy members, many of whom have either worked with Redford either in front of or behind the camera, not to mention filmmakers who benefited from having their films show at Sundance, etc. Reverence must be paid. So to me he isn’t the weak fifth, although I could be totally off base here. The heart wants what it wants, dammit.
To me it’s Tom Hanks - although I think Captain Phillips is SO beloved by all that he’s probably solid. Nonetheless, if there is one who could squeeze in I would either go with Leonardo DiCaprio and a last minute push by people who recognize how he gets shafted time and time again, or Forest Whitaker - as part of the powerhouse team that is The Butler. What The Butler needs is enthusiasm, which is doesn’t have. It doesn’t invoke passionate support from people, which hurts Whitaker, and the film, ultimately (I realize that’s putting it mildly - but I’m speaking outside the snooty critics bubble). You will know if American Hustle is headed for a Best Picture win if Christian Bale bumps out any of the Best Actor five. I think I’m sticking with the five you’ve mentioned, though, Nat.
CHRISTOPHER: We're doing an awfully lot of agreeing here, but I have to agree as well. Try as I might to come up with a reason to sneak DiCaprio in for giving his best performance ever, I just don't see it happening. As The Wolf of Wall Street has gotten "Zero Dark Thirty'd," it seems like a nomination for DiCaprio gets further and further away from reality. Even if the film-critic debates about "Wolf" are isolated to film critics, some voters are still probably noticing. At least Jessica Chastain herself wasn't a producer on Zero Dark Thirty; she wasn't as front and center as DiCaprio has been throughout this controversy. So, with regrets, he's out.
TO BE CONTINUED
In part two, the agreements end: The Butler, 12 Years, and Wolf divide us as we wrap up