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Why is "Vice" rising? Why are "First Man" and "Widows" struggling with awards bodies?

Before we get to the final "happy thoughts" Team Experience Globe Reaction finale, I thought I'd ask our contributors and friends of the site questions about the Golden Globe  fates of Vice (nomination leader), First Man (2 nominations, Score and Supporting Actress), and Widows (entirely shut out). It's easy to theorize about what's happening with all three of those movies, and theorizing is fun. So let's begin:

1. Why do you think Vice led the nominations?

DEBORAH LIPP: Hating Dick Cheney is a cathartic substitute for hating Donald Trump. I support this. 

GUY LODGE (VARIETY):  Because it's the newest thing out and, crucially, because it hasn't been reviewed yet -- its on-paper prestige is still undented...

CHRIS FEIL: A number of factors seem to be at play here: recency bias, comedy placement, movie stars. Or there is always the most obvious answer: they just actually liked it that much.

ALFRED SOTO (THE SINGLES JUKEBOX): Hollywood enjoys nothing so much as to laugh at goon show approximations of evil men and women, then defend their embrace of these approximations as an example of their liberalism, i.e. "These are complicated people." No, they're fucking not! Dick Cheney is an evil man who should be jailed. Perhaps if Vice had been an all-out farce like The Producers it would've conjured the proper distance. 

MATTHEW RETTENMUND (BOY CULTURE): I think it's a case of the uncanny-impersonation factor, but it's as galling as when that damned Margaret Thatcher movie won Streep an Oscar. I have no desire to see movies about these still-living creeps.

JORGE MOLINA: Plain and simple star-fuckery.

BEN MILLER:  People love to retroactively look at how we got to Trump, and nothing does that better than focusing on the shitshow that was the Bush-Cheney administration.  Plus, it's fun.

2. Why are First Man and Widows struggling to connect with awards voters?

NICK DAVIS: Because NASA has virtually no connection to the current American zeitgeist, and because Widows, which raises some issues almost too close for comfort to the current American zeitgeist, does so in such uneven and violent ways. That's why they're not hits with audiences or with awards groups, I think.

SPENCER COILE:  I wonder if “hype” built up expectations for mainstream audiences too much? Which really is a shame, considering how accessible the films are. 

LYNN LEE: First Man, like its subject, is a deeply introverted movie with a core of unexpressed sorrow that's only interrupted - not relieved - by periodic brushes with the sublime and the terrifying.  There's no pandering to to rah-rah patriotism, and no real catharsis, which is not what most audiences either expect or want from a space exploration movie.  (For the record, it's one of *my* favorite films of the year.)

BEN MILLER: Chazelle overload is my best bet for First Man struggles.  People don't want to crown him the best director of his generation too soon, so they want to knock him down a peg.

MATTHEW RETTENMUND: I think nominating forces are not really equipped to deal with action and thriller (and horror) movies with sensational dramatic performances, so that is hampering Viola and it hurt Toni. "First Man," I think, is because we've had these feel-good NASA stories forever and at this point we're all ready to plant a flag in them and fly home.


CHRIS FEIL:  It baffles me that Widows has been dubbed as "boring" by the public - First Man has as well, and I can't necessarily say I disagree. One imagines First Man will still do just fine once crafts guilds have their say, but I worry for Widows if it misses out on SAG noms next week...

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Reader Comments (36)

Nick Davis is correct, as always.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvangelina

I don't know about 'First Man', but most people IRL I talk to about 'Widows' haven't even heard of it - outside of the hundreds of times I've mentioned it since the first trailer dropped this summer.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

@Evangelina: Too kind! Literally. Since I was just logging on to say that I loved what Lynn said and how she said it so much more than my own comment. And I, too, adore First Man, somewhat to my surprise. I also like Widows on the whole, despite some misgivings throughout; I realized my comment could sound too much like a dig at one of these films, or at both.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Both "First Man" and "Widows" confound expectations of their genres. They take audacious, unusual aesthetic/narrative approaches to material that general audiences probably expected to be presented in more linear, more popcorn-digestible ways.

Why they're both struggling with critics' groups so far (and Top 10 lists), however, is another truly perplexing matter.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I'm a bit baffled honestly. I think both are legitimately great studio movies, entertaining and soulful and smart and humane, beautifully acted, written and directed. I know we're all 20/20 hindsight autopsying now but I really thought they would both break out after TIFF, and I'm saddened and disappointed that audiences shrugged and chose the mediocre rock anthem biopic by the child rapist instead.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel23

I know he's only 23 and he has already won, but the idea of Damien Chazelle missing a best director nomination for First Man just kills me. He turned a Ron Howard movie into a Malick.

Nick Davis, where have you been?!! I feel seduced and abandoned.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLa Peggy Sue

Just wanted to chime in and say any Nick Davis commentary, in digital print or podcast version, is greatly appreciated.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Why do you think Vice led the nominations?
"GUY LODGE (VARIETY): Because it's the newest thing out and, ***crucially, because it hasn't been reviewed yet -- its on-paper prestige is still undented..."***

In all my years of Oscar-watching, I don't think I've ever seen anyone give this excuse for why the Globes favor so much new stuff, but now that Guy has mentioned it - seems totally apt.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I think the Globes have a longstanding disdain for Viola Davis and was grateful to be done with her after Fences. Instead of looking racist by denying her a slot they shutout the movie to appear neutral on the matter.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

First Man is bit too cerebral and detached. I was bored. Widows is a flop and also, boring and unsatisfactory.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTruth Fairy

The Widows trailers falsely promised more of a caper film
First man is just too insular for audience tastes

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDO

(@Rebecca and @Peggy Sue: Thank you both so much! I've been off trying to help my students be Great, but that does cut into my allotted time for public actressexuality. Xx to you both!)

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Nick, Lynn, Matthew and Dan all make great points about why First Man wasn't a box office hit. I'm going to offer up another reason: certain power-wielding Republicans said it wasn't American enough. Remember that stupid controversy? Well, I can verify that it really did dissuade people from seeing it.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCash

First Man is a masterpiece - doesn't matter if it doesn't get the award recognition it deserves now - time will look kind upon it, I'm sure.
At 88 percent on RT it's not like it's an underdog or anything!

I'm not a patriotic American, I'm a Dane and I don't know the first thing about space-stuff, have no big interest in it either.
I'm not even sure if I believe they went to the moon in 1969!

I just know that First Man is brilliantly directed and photographed and has a fantastic score.
And Claire Foy is a marvel in it.

Widows is nothing special as far as I'm concerned - so I don't mourn its zero nominations.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

I’m not a fan of either film.

FIRST MAN is way too boring for a space movie. Foy is not good.

WIDOWS was mismarketed as a prestige film. They should’ve focused on it making money. Also, it should’ve spent way more time on the women of the film. It should’ve been a mini-series. The heist component and the political aspect feel like two completely removed elements. Great performance by Viola, though.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

I loved First man and thought the direction was sublime.

To /3rtful. he comes up with the black card ( really tiresome ). ... the movie was nothing to write home about!

A lot of other black actors deservedly won nominations!!!

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Off-topic: have you seen the Grammy nominations? It seems Cooper may win half of his EGOT in the same awards season!

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Like many have said, Widows was pretty ordinary. Don't get me wrong - Viola was good but in a roster of wonderful performances by actresses throughout the year, she's no way in the top 5, not even the top 10. I would have nominated Theron (Tully) or Collete (Hereditary) over her anytime, any day.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJans

“Widows” reminded me of “A Simple Favour” in that both directors are so in command of their medium that they don’t have to wade through the habitual narrative sludge. That captures my attention and I find it very entertaining. But it’s not to everyone’s taste.

December 7, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Nick, as stated plenty, is on the money. Widows is packed with greatness: the car one shot, the opening thrill ride, the kiss, the hot dog, KALUUYA!!!! However, it’s story is just not well-told. The motivations for the 3 women are touched on but not fleshed out enough to drive the narrative. A narrative, which underwhelms at every turn (that heist is just a mess and uninteresting). In truth... it’s a bit sloppy, and the ending is really terrible. If this is directed by a solid genre director like Doug Liman, or Antoine Fuqua, it’s treated a LOT differently by critics (91% on RT?).

And /3rtful... just stop. It’s enough.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJake

Widows is a solid B+ movie, but not so great that it commands attention when deciding on awards.

First Man? Well, it's proof that critics are just as hive-mindish as Academy voters. Essentially, they're casting it aside due to its perceived failure at the box office, which is even more egregious considering they're just critics.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commentertr

Widows’ plot was all over the place & made no sense. It’s another one of those ‘feel bad about yourself though it wasn’t your fault’ films. It’s ‘hyped heist’ was so idiotic it was like watching a C level network crime show. Must we ‘automatically’ reserve an acting slot for Viola Davis or should we push for longshot underdogs more deserving ( E. Fisher/Eughth Grade, Toni Colette/Hereditary, R. Pike/A Private War etc.)?

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

/3rtful, nobody is nominating Viola for anything, not just the globes. Stop acting like a frustrating fan.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMaster

All the internet hate for FIRST MAN makes me feel crazy for liking it, but I did! I think Nick's analysis is pretty A+, coupled with Chazelle fatigue like others said.

We had six people walk out of our WIDOWS screening, so I'm not surprised that people didn't take to it. I personally really enjoyed it, but alas.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

George -- i really like FIRST MAN too. Not in my top ten but it's very good. I have no idea why people got so pressed about it.

Jake - I understand, to a degree, your feelings about WIDOWS -- even though i like it it's hard to argue that it's a bit of a jumble (there's just too much going on for one movie). On the other hand, how on earth is that ending "terrible". I thought it one of the best endings of the year.

December 8, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

First Man for me was always going to rack up the sound nominations. After watching it, I don't think it was a huge contender for any of the other categories, save Foy in Supporting maybe. Chazelle's direction was really horrid. He knocked himself down that peg.

Widows....I have no idea. Do they care about box office all of a sudden? There's no reason to snub them.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrittani

I'm with you, Nathaniel.

I haven't seen VICE, but it's starting to feel like that drunk and slightly unstable friend you're afraid to invite to your dinner party -- just don't do it! It'll save everyone the trouble.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

So “star-fuck” is one word but hyphenated!

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterzig

Nathaniel - I wasn’t clear there... I actually like the very last shot and it’s implications. What I had difficulty with was the end of the narrative, I guess. Viola’s conversation in the restaurant was a bit cringe-inducing, and the lack of consequences for what happened post-heist (trying not to spoil, it’s still relatable new), seems rather ridiculous, based on the character choices made earlier in the film. I’m OK with a film like this not answering all my questions, but when I walk out as unsure of the plot as I did here, it’s a big problem. Too bad, because, like said, the movie starts out on fire and has some of the best scenes of the year.

Also, did Kaluuya remind anyone else of Robert Mitchum, here? So good. The only nomination I’m pulling for here (though Debicki was great, and Viola is never not good).

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJake

Lynn here - thanks, Nick D, and others! Coincidentally, I just saw WIDOWS last night (which I liked, although still pondering) and have to agree Nick's assessment is spot-on. And to continue my own point, just like FIRST MAN doesn't offer the kind of "they made it!" catharsis we tend to expect of space exploration movies, WIDOWS denies us the fun, almost smug sense of accomplishment we tend to expect of heist movies. Both suffer from being genre movies that subvert the desires we bring to their genres.

Of course, you'd think awards bodies would be more discerning in this respect than audiences, they're only human. I also think there's some truth to tr's diagnosis: once a movie flops, even the critics or at least the awards arbiters tend to abandon it unless they really love it *that much*, and both of these movies are the kind that inspire admiration rather than passion.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

In 70s neo-noir terms, people wanted "Widows" to be "Chinatown" and it's really more "Night Moves." It's subtle where a mainstream audience would want it to be explicit, and explicit where a mainstream audience would want it to be more subtle. There are some big narrative moments that are underplayed and other moments that are a bit to raw for people. I think it will age really well. Let's face it, it's also a little too smart for the Globes and maybe even the Oscars.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDan H

I agree with Ben Miller. That and First Man just isn’t that good. The hand held shaky cinematography during Foy and Goslings arguments was a jarring and a poor choice on Chazelle’s part.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJT

FIRST MAN was audacious filmmaking and pity for those who didn't think so. I'm shocked WIDOWS didn't do better.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Could it just be about money? Both movies didn't make a lot of money. If not, First Man was not the rah rah patriot movie about space exploration at Apollo 13 or even The Martian was. It was about a family coping with a tragedy and the dad just happened to work for NASA. As for Widows, was it marketed wrong? Perhaps they should have focused more on the thriller heist part? It could have made The Town money maybe.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom G.

I still hold out hope for Widows in the SAG and Critics Choice Awards. Viola Davis and the ensemble cast are cutting edge, emotionally resonant and just right. I will even be appeased come Oscar nomination day if only Viola gets the film’s sole nod.

December 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBlueMoon02

Widows and First Man:
It just boils down to the fact that they both underperformed at the box office. Everybody wants to be on the winning team. And they just don’t feel like winners because they didn’t meet their potential with the audiences. Just look at “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It’s only there BECAUSE of the money.

December 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterThe Great Dane

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