ICYMI we are starting a new tradition here at The Film Experience. Though we usually gather a handful of prominent film bloggers to discuss the Oscar nominations in great detail (once they've had time to sink in), this year we're doing a mini-symposium before the nominations to discuss the always competitive situations surrounding the "just glad to be nominated" spot. Yesterday, 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) began with the supporting categories and who might rise should one of the expected five in each category falter at the finish line. (Though if you really think it over, isn't Nomination Morning really the starting gate?)
Where we left off yesterday: Sasha thought Robert Redford's All is Lost nomination would still be nominated, despite worries that the campaign faded too quickly and that if anyone fell for DiCaprio or Whitaker it'd be Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips. Christopher thought Leo wasn't happening due to Wolf of Wall Street being "Zero-Dark-Thirty'd". We had spent a lot of time agreeing but that ends, now.
CHRIS: I had always thought Whitaker would get in, simply because he's really great and Lee Daniels' The Butler seemed like a perfect Oscar movie, but that one just has not seemed to take. If Harvey gets The Butler a Best Picture nod, I wouldn't be surprised to see Whitaker in there, probably at the expense of Hanks. But that's just crazy talk, since Captain Phillips is lined up as one of the strongest films in major categories. The Redford SAG snub was shocking, he hasn't really campaigned, and Bruce Dern has stolen away Redford's slam-dunk narrative for a win ... but I would still be stunned if Redford doesn't get a nomination. That said: Sasha's theory about Bale getting nominated as proof of the strength of American Hustle is a good one, but a more likely scenario for me is an Adams nomination for Best Actress. Either way, I think one of those lead performances gets a nod for that film, so if Bale winds up in, maybe he steals Redford's slot?
KURT: Hey all. Sorry for the silence on my end. I was out pretty late last night, braving the bitter streets of SoHo tucked into my coat, like a latter day Llewyn Davis. On that note, I think it's absolutely criminal that Oscar Isaac won't be making it into our Best Actor five this year, but I've pretty much accepted that reality, and I guess it's appropriate given the character's non-trajectory.
Leonardo of Wall Street, 30 Years a Butler, and Best Actress after the jump...
Despite the SAG snub, I would be shocked if Redford didn't make the final five, even if "performance of the year" quotes from folks like Richard Corliss are wildly hyperbolic. Despite about 8 minutes of the best acting to be seen this year (I'm talking about Captain Phillips's climax and resolution, natch), Hanks suddenly seems like the vulnerable one. I actually don't think I'd be saying this if I didn't walk away from The Wolf of Wall Street thinking, like Chris, that Leonardo DiCaprio gave the best-goddamned performance of his career. And given the fact that we're seeing late-game support from guilds suggesting people are not, thankfully, turned off by Wolf's pitch-black satire, Leo seems like a very real possibility to me. I don't see Whitaker going all the way, though it hurts to see Sasha write, definitively, that The Butler doesn't invoke passionate support from people. Again, I'm just speaking for myself, but The Butler invoked such a more intense passionate response from me than 12 Years a Slave, as Lee Daniels has true directorial personality and soul whereas Steve McQueen has only formal showboating and intellectualization. But let's just leave that where it is.
Re: Supporting Actor, I'm feeling especially frustrated at this moment that I still haven't seen Rush, and though I knew Brühl had buzz, I clearly underestimated his long-game potential. That said, given Nathaniel's foot-planting narrowing down to seven contenders, I'm kind of surprised we're not still talking about Hanks being a possibility for Saving Mr. Banks. Isn't it conceivable that if he doesn't get in for Phillips (as unlikely as that seems), that he could end up here? This film has its problems, for sure, but Hanks ultimately does some heavy lifting to cap off his best year in, well, years. And I can't help but envision old-time voters being charmed by this movie. It's ultra-manipulative, yet pretty freakin' disarming. Finally, I have to say, while I agree with everyone that Gandolfini seems to have a real shot, I think it would be so shameless on the Academy's part to nominate him. I think he's perfectly fine in Enough Said, but no--I do not think he would have a conceivable shot if her were still living. No way. This is not Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight or Peter Finch in Network. This is a modest turn in a better-than-average indie that would not have gotten the amount of attention it did had Fox Searchlight not put all there might behind a posthumous sympathy plea. Sorry to be cynical, but it's pretty clear that them's the facts.
NATHANIEL: And here I was about to apologize for lack of readers for the lack of drama in this mini-symposium but you've saved me Kurt. I basically disagree with ... wait for it... almost every single word of this. I don’t subscribe to the idea that Wolf is Leonardo's best. I still think he's never topped What's Eating Gilbert Grape and, as an important related note, I am not the regular audience for easy praise of performances that require some sort of transformative gimmick like that one did; I almost always prefer organic character building with no easy hooks. I have to admit that the critical hallelujah chorus for Wolf has really rubbed me the wrong way. This was already discussed at length in the podcast so I'll spare you the repetition except to say that despite all my problems with the film, I am super proud of Leo for pushing himself. While I know Sasha doesn't share this feeling about his recent work - I don't know about Chris & Kurt -- I think his work had gotten really stale post The Departed, with too many tragic man-boy widowers / extravagant millionaires (it's inarguable: he repeats himself) so this star turn felt ice-water bracing to me in a way he hasn't managed since maybe Catch Me if You Can.
But, NEW TOPICS (Wolf of sure does suck up internet time), I never thought I'd see the day where I bristled at compliments paid to director Lee Daniels (who is sorely underappreciated probably because he lacks discipline and because his films thrive on vivid divisive performances from actresses) but why must they always be paired with digs at Steve McQueen? 12 Years a Slave is a monumental picture... and Chiwetel Ejiofor's somewhat blank slate is realized in such a deep, thrilling, and artful way (those eyes!) that it just buries Whitaker's also blank slate (such a cipher role, played with so little punch). I'd be furious if Whitaker was nominated, actually, even though I like about half of his film a lot (the half that deals with his home life if you're wondering).
And the Gandolfini thing... sooo wrong. It wasn't Fox doing that shamelessly but journalists! And his performance DOES merit the attention (again I’m a sucker for actors who can build whole three dimensional characterizations with literally no help from baity hooks) though I will agree he wouldn't be in the running without his untimely passing. But not because it isn't worthy work!
KURT: Nat, quick brief points: 1) I wholeheartedly agree that the neck-up/neck-down Wolf review to which you've been referring is odd, reprehensible, and borderline nuts. 2.) I am sorry to repeatedly compare Butler/Daniels to 12 Years/McQueen, as the last thing I want to do is narrow-mindedly lump the "big black movies" together, but how can you not relate them? They are two of the strongest films to ever emerge about black history, from black artists, and I don't know if I'll ever get over the fact that 12 Years stole almost all accolade hope away from the earlier release. Otherwise, I agree with everything you said about Ejiofor vs. Whitaker, but are you not comparing the two performances in kind of the same way I compared the pictures and directors? 3.) Fine, Gandolfini's attention can definitely be accredited to journalists too, but I distinctly recall Fox Searchlight doing some sort of release-date shifting and sending out a lot of Enough Said press releases shortly after Gandolfini's death, and we've been seeing the ripple effects ever since. (Again, people, I think he's perfectly lovely in the movie, but still...) Ack! That was not so brief! I'm officially the house troublemaker.
CHRIS: Nat and Kurt, I'm going to separate you two for the moment, even though you both bring up enough points to carry this discussion over into The Sixth Spot. (For the record: I'm on Kurt's side with regard to "Wolf," and Nat's with regard to "The Butler" and Gandolfini. That means you're ... both right?)
SASHA: What I love about Scorsese’s work of late, and throughout his career actually, is how he isn’t afraid to just dive into something inexplicable. Hugo, for instance, and its use of 3D. That magical world seems to exist in direct opposition to Scorsese’s nature. Except that it doesn’t. He brought to it his own childlike love for escapism into the movies. Shutter Island will be uncovered and dusted off in the future as being something akin to Vertigo once the whiff of “failure” is off of it. But he’s in his “wheelhouse” as it were with The Wolf of Wall Street. At 71, Scorsese is a highflying bird in film, one of the most daring directors working today. I can’t think of a single other director who dips so fearlessly into different genres — and keeps coming back for more even when he “fails” at them.
Lumping the three “black movies” in together is, I find, almost impossible to avoid. The reason being, we’ve had so many “black stories” told by white filmmakers over the years — at the same time, black directors have not been given the same myth-making status white directors have. Much of that, I believe, has to do with the majority of critics and bloggers being white and thus, only really wanting to celebrate stories they can relate to, film styles that they believe are most vivid. That has excluded the majority of black directors over the last thirty years, save a Spike Lee or two. Steve McQueen has utterly shattered that ceiling without even realizing it. As a British black man he has likely experienced a different world than African American directors over here, which makes it all the more remarkable that Fruitvale Station kind of, sort of, passed the critics test. Lee Daniels The Butler has been mostly written off as being like The Help, the key difference between the two being virtually ignored. Finally, these three films represent key moments in the history of Civil Rights for African Americans in the US. 12 Years a Slaves about a free black man being forced into slavery — who can’t get free because the color of his skin condemns him. The Butler dives right into the 1960s and the Civil Rights era itself - the two divergent generations of African Americans on each side of the issue. Finally, Fruitvale Station brings us up to today - the racial profiling young black men are still confronted with every day of their lives. All three ought to be in the Best Picture race and yet because they are tied together that means people will likely choose BETWEEN them, opting for the ultimate winner, 12 Years a Slave. Whether 12 Years a Slave is beaten by American Hustle (please god no) or not, that won’t change what a landmark year it’s been for black filmmakers shattering that barrier that has long prevented them from being in the Oscar race at all.
CHRIS: The four of us have done a good job (pats self on back) tearing apart Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, but what of Best Actress? The conventional wisdom is that it's done, locked up, all over but the shouting: Five past Oscar winners. Five of the best actresses from the last 50 years. Except I don't buy it. As I written here, I think Amy Adams is getting one of those five spots. She's on an all-time run of performances here, not just with American Hustle, but also Her and, hell, even Man of Steel. This on the heels of The Master and The Fighter. Apologies to Sandra Bullock, but I actually don't think there's another major actress in Hollywood with skills as flexible as Adams. Put her in any genre, in any situation, and she'll figure out a way to make it work. She's quite good in American Hustle, doing a lot of subtle character work underneath the over-the-top-ness of her character. (That hair, that accent, that décolletage!)
BEST ACTRESS Blanchett | Bullock | Dench | Thompson
THE FIFTH SPOT: Doubt reunion - Amy Adams vs. Meryl Streep
So! If she's in, who gets bumped out? To me, it's Streep. That movie, like The Butler, hasn't been accepted by the awards world. I thought it was a lot of messy fun with great performances throughout, but therein lies the rub: there are so many great performances, including but not limited to Roberts, Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson, Chris Cooper and Sam Shepard, that Streep's seems less significant by comparison. (I guess you could make the same argument about American Hustle, but that film doesn't feel as suffocated by acting.) Streep's been nominated so many times, and so many times recently, that maybe she just gets left behind. Her performance is great, but not great. That could be the reason she gets bumped. Am I insane?
NATHANIEL: Chris, I think you're exactly right on why Streep is vulnerable... though she's such a reflexive choice for Academy members (and the precursor voting bodies are way too enamored of predicting to look beyond her) that she may coast in anyway. But will it really be Adams if Streep falls? Yes, American Hustle has some obvious momentum (the box office, guild notices and strong reviews don't hurt) but her performance is also divisive to some extent, like the weird complaints about her accent which is, um, supposed to sound fake! Plus, as with August, opinions on the MVP of the movie are varying wildly from one person to the next. I know it's wishful thinking to keep hoping for a shock nod to Brie Larson in Short Term 12, but if any young actress deserves that kind of career boost, isn't it her? The things that an Oscar nomination could do for her and the things it won't do for Meryl... (sigh).
If we were still living in the 1970s when Amy Adam's Lady Edith hustles, wouldn't it obviously be Adele Exarchopoulous whose name was called out?
KURT: I certainly agree with the consensus that Streep is by far the weakest of the all-but-solidified five. We all know there's no way in hell Blanchett, Bullock, or Thompson will be unseated, and Dench is so sublime in Philomena that a snub seems crazy. Streep, on the other hand, as folks here and friends I know have said, has produced a kind of fatigue among all viewers of her work, and I'm genuinely sorry to say that Violet Weston is the least impressive I've seen her in the 29 years I've been alive. Am I just suffering from the fatigue too? If I had my way, Amy Adams, who I agree is a viable threat, would absolutely be in for the best performance she's ever given (and no, I'm not forgetting Junebug or The Fighter). She gets to plumb such a wide variety of emotional territory in American Hustle, from vengeful assertiveness to laid-bare vulnerability, without ever stepping out of key in regard to Russell's madcap tone. And my prayer is that the absolutely astonishing Adele Exarchopoulous will, by some miracle, sneak in thanks to her film being one of the year's most talked about, and--as I'll assume Sasha has likely covered at some point--being the star of a, to put it crudely, T&A must-see that caught the attention of plenty of male voters.
That said, I'm still betting on Streep...because she's Streep. She will thus round out a commendable, but rather boring, Best Actress lineup
The Wrap Up
NATHANIEL: so... there you have it. We're mostly not, as a collective, expecting true surprises for the fifth spot though we have varying degrees of faith that some obvious "currently in sixth place" candidates will make it happen in the end... which is really the beginning.
Thanks for playing along!
EXIT QUESTION! is there any below the line category where you genuinely feel it's a free-for-all for nominations or where you think we will see a specific awesome/terrible surprise happen? I keep thinking Short Term 12 is going to get a single nomination (actress, screenplay or song?) because people like me haven't been able to shut up about it and surely the voters have at least considered "considering" it by now, if you get me.
SASHA: I love that idea, Nat. Short Term 12 sneaking in anywhere would be awesome. I keep thinking we’ll see some upsets in the Best Director category. I know it isn’t below the line but that’s where I think the surprises might happen. As for below the line, I’d love to see Alex Ebert get in for Original Score. It seems like the longest of shots but you just never know. Thanks so much for inviting me to join in!
CHRIS: Count me in for "Team Short Term 12". Maybe a screenplay or song nomination isn't that crazy. After all, as Nat said, almost everyone seems to love that film without reservation. Another Best Song candidate I could see getting a surprise nod: "100$ Bill." Lana Del Rey had gotten most of The Great Gatsby attention thus far, but given the chance to have Jay Z and, more important, Beyonce at the Oscars, will voters really ignore this one? Probably, but I'm still holding out hope. Thanks for inviting me to chat about all this! Enjoy watching the Globes!
KURT: Hey again, folks. Looks like I'm the one wrapping things up here. I was just in a car cruising from NY to Phila., and listening, as it happens, to The Great Gatsby soundtrack (fingers firmly crossed that "Young and Beautiful" and/or "Over the Love" get included on 1/16). As for Short Term 12 and Brie Larson, given the surprising amount of attention they've received, I wouldn't be shocked but, sadly, I don't find them deserving. While I admire the accuracy and shrewdness with which Destin Cretton depicts formerly troubled, semi-reformed individuals working with younger versions of themselves, and think Keith Stanfield should absolutely be in the Supporting Actor lineup, I do not love that film without reservation. I know this is the wrong place to diss the movie (I love you, Nat!), but I think there are way too many contrivances that bog down its better intentions. That said, I think an Original Song nod for Stanfield's wrenching rap would be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Forget the rest of the movie. That moment, followed by the traumatic haircut, reduced me to shambles, and it's up there with my favorite scenes of 2013.
It would be so cool if the music branch had the cojones/savvy to go for it (though they shouldn't forget about Gatsby stuff, Frozen's "Let it Go," and Pharrell's "Happy" from Despicable Me 2!) As for below the line picks , I, too, will go with Director for potential shake-ups and holy-shit surprises. Though Blue Jasmine feels like it's being directed by Cate Blanchett, the film's late support, which Chris acknowledged, prompts me to say there's a teeny glimmer of hope for Woody here. And while I totally get why a lot of critics hate it, I don't know why more people aren't talking about Saving Mr. Banks as an actual Academy heavyweight (no one here acknowledged my Hanks-in-Supporting comment!). It's got a PGA nod, true hopes in major categories, aural categories, and visual categories, and industry back patting to boot. I think it may wind up being the film with the most nods that doesn't win anything, and if I had to put my money on one out-of-the-blue surprise, it'd be a nomination for director and Blind Side veteran John Lee Hancock. Thanks folks! And thanks for the patience. Great to hear everyone's thoughts.
It's all over but the commenting! Have at it.
- Who are your "out of the blue" suspicions?
- Do you think Amy Adams or Brie Larson will topple La Streep?
- Are you okay with the way Lee Daniels The Butler, Fruitvale, and 12 Years a Slave have been lumped together or discussed this year?
- What about Best Director... could we have a shocker shortlist like last year?