Oscar History

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Box Office: American Sniper Towers Above Oscar Nominees

Amir here, back from my very long vacation to hit you with some box office news.  Did you know that this group of eight Best Pictures is the least popular set of nominees since the turn of the century, going by box office receipts? The average gross of about $39m is the lowest of the past fifteen years, though it will probably edge out 2005’s collective (standing at $49m) once the theatrical run of all these films ends. It is also the first time since that year that none of the nominees have hit the $100m mark, though American Sniper is about to change that. 

Chart via Box Office Mojo. Estimates as of Sunday January 18th

It is easy to forget sometimes what a small bubble we occupy in the film blogosphere, and how differently people in the real world perceive and consume these films. It feels like Whiplash has been around for ages, having first entered the conversation all the way back in January. It’s shocking to see what little impact this expertly directed film has made at the box office, barely edging out Amour and Winter’s Bone to avoid becoming the lowest grossing best picture nominee of the century.

Oscar wasn’t interested in what people liked this year, despite finally getting on the Wes Anderson bandwagon for his biggest hit – and a decade too late. Several of the year’s biggest hits either missed out on nominations entirely, or underperformed with the Academy. File Gone Girl, Noah, The LEGO Movie, Edge of Tomorrow and even Fury under that category, though only one of those had any hope of a best picture nomination. What has been surprising is that Eastwood’s late party-crasher performed as well as it did, breaking all sorts of records for January releases and R-rated films, grossing $90m on its first wide weekend.

American Sniper is going to be the savior of this collective, financially speaking. According to Box Office Mojo, the film has made more than Birdman, Boyhood, Whiplash and The Theory of Everything combined. Its gross this weekend is wildly beyond expectations, but the magical combination of Bradley Cooper, conservative material and Eastwood in his comfort zone have totally hit America’s sweet spot. This caps an outstanding year for Cooper, who just netted his third consecutive best actor nomination and starred in the year’s biggest box office hit, Guardians of the Galaxy. You’d have been called a lunatic if you predicted this as recently as three years ago and yet, here we are, witnessing Cooper’s reign. And for what it’s worth, he’s a better king for Hollywood than most of his contemporaries.  

Have you seen American Sniper? Which gaps do you still need to fill in your Oscar slate?


Fairy Tales, Witches, and Oscars. An 87 Year History

Over on Twitter Alex posed an interesting question to me and I thought I'd share it with you. Is Meryl Streep the first actor to be Oscar-nominated for playing a witch, or anyone in a fairy tale for that matter? As far as I can tell the answer is "in the way that you mean, yes" and "I believe so."

Though no witches in the fairy tale or broom-riding sense have been nominated before Streep, technically a witch star turn has won an Oscar and another spell-caster has been nominated. The first would be Ruth Gordon's diabolical coven leaderbusybody in Rosemary's Baby which we discussed in worshipful detail here.  And Sir Ian McKellen was nominated for playing "Gandalf the Grey" who, being a sorcerer, is basically the male equivalent of a witch. Otherwise, no witches. The famous witches we think of when we think of the movies weren't actually nominated. No, not even the greatest of them all, Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939). 

After the jump let's look back through cinema history and see how fairytale or witchy films like Into the Woods have fared at the Oscars shall we?  (This is an incomplete history. Feel free to share things I missed. Especially great witchiness.)

Click to read more ...


Lensing Black Faces: Why the Bradford Young Snub Stings

Manuel here taking the MLK holiday to discuss the cinematography category in terms of its aversion to honor black faces.

Young on the Selma set

Amidst all the outrage surrounding Selma’s near-shutout at the Academy Awards (nabbing only two nominations in Best Picture and Best Original Song), the focus has been on Ava DuVernay’s absence in the unsurprisingly male best director lineup and David Oyelowo’s absence in the unsurprisingly white best actor lineup. I want to focus today on Bradford Young’s absence in the best cinematography lineup. Had Young been nominated, he’d have been only the second African-American black D.P. [Ed. Note: thanks for correcting me on this crucial distinction, Ian & 3rtful] to be nominated for an Oscar (the first and only so far is Remi Adefarasin, nominated for his beautiful work on Elizabeth). Of course, this also reveals the systemic lack of diversity that TFE bestie Jessica Chastain brought up just last week at the Critic’s Choice Awards. Can you really focus on this type of statistic without addressing larger institutional issues? Not really. Or rather, not constructively. And so, rather than focus on this one snub which is already quite disappointing given Young’s rising profile, I wanted to know what it might tell us about the academy’s reticence to celebrate D.P.’s that lens black faces.

I’m never satisfied with the way I see my people photographed in movies. I think it comes from a lack of consciousness – if you grew up in a community where you don’t know black people, I wouldn’t suspect you would photograph them in a concerned way. - Young on the Politics of Lensing Black Films

The Academy, as it turns out, has been rather skittish about nominating directors of photography who have worked with the type of canvas Young so skillfully paints with in Selma. Indeed, several films with predominantly black casts have been on the hunt for a cinematography award before, sometimes coming quite close to landing that coveted distinction... 

Click to read more ...


Curio: The Babadook Book

Alexa here with your film curio of the week.  Like Nathaniel, Jennifer Kent's The Babadook was one of my favorite films of 2014.  I thought it a masterpiece on the horrors of isolation, a sibling to The Shining, but with a feminist spin, a modern horror version of "The Yellow Wallpaper."  And I think it criminal that Essie Davis's performance was not a major part of the Oscar discussion.

So I couldn't let today pass without mentioning the crowdfunding campaign that ends tomorrow Monday the 19th to print the pop-up book from the film. Although the minimum order of 2000 has been achieved, guaranteeing copies of the book will creep out legions of children in the future, if you pre-order a copy by midnight Monday PST your copy will be signed by Jennifer Kent!  And, according to this article in The Times, the book will "include much of what appears in the film version, with additional narrative to bring its story to a conclusion." 

 Order your copy here, if you are willing to accept the consequences.


If you fused two Hulks together could they smash J.K. Simmons?

That's the question I keep asking myself about Best Supporting Actor. My Oscar-clogged brain works like that, taking flights of fancy when it finds true facts too boring to contemplate any further. J.K. Simmons could only lose the Oscar if he suddenly became a different person before ballots were due and was unmasked as a terrorist or a serial killer or what not. He's going to win because in addition to giving a big beloved performance, he is also very well liked. As with Patricia Arquette, it's churlish and unbecoming to root against a long time actor finally getting the role people will remember them by. 

In any other year, though, this particular Oscar race would be a weird superhero collision between two very fine famous actors who both happen to get green when they're angry. Former Hulk Edward Norton vs. Present Hulk Mark Ruffalo. Both would have tremendously strong narratives for a win in that "They haven't won yet? But they're always great!" kind of way. But they'll both lose.

Silver lining: Perhaps if you tally the final votes in a month's time, their combined totals would beat Simmons? No never mind. He's too far ahead even for that.

See the Best Supporting Actor chart here! Find out how they got nominated*, how many films they've made, and vote on the poll for who "should" win - it's Reader's Choice.

*theorizing for entertainment purposes only - we can't read voter minds


The Links

The Wrap Emily Blunt is joining Charlize Theron to double the evil sorceress perfection that terrorizes Chris Hemsworth in The Huntsman. Now I suddenly want to see it.
MNPP Whatever happened to Sean Maher (Firefly). Jason has the answer 
Vulture John Travolta without his hairpiece. Ditch it permanently, John. Bald is beautiful. Or at least more beautiful than pretending you have hair (you did have a great head of it) when you no longer do. 
THR Michael Keaton in talks to star in a "gritty" drama from John Lee Hancock (who, tbh, we don't associate with "gritty" since he made The Rookie and The Blind Side*) called The Founder about the rise of McDonalds and behind the scenes shady business. It sounds like there are three good male roles so I wonder who will join Keaton? Can I put in a request for Edward Norton. I want them to become a new movie duo - so great together!
THR Good idea, Tom Cruise. Reuniting with your Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman. That was your best movie in ages 
The Stake on the 10 most profitable movies of 2014: horror, comedy, YA and even two heavily CG movies  


Oscar Oscar
Wired fact-checking Oscar morning outrage tweets 
The Dissolve the "Critics Choice" Awards righting Oscar wrongs. (But, in fairness, true fact: we voted before the nominations so these achievements are entirely accidental) 
Cinesnark is angry about the Selma snubbings -- a feeling which is going around and which will definitely in the future, no fuck that, RIGHT NOW make the Academy look bad -- though I would actually disagree on one point: I don't actually think the Screenplay deserved a nomination in that, I think there were five better. The movies power is in its direction, staging, cast, and feelings of immediacy despite being from the past. I think the screenplay actually has a few clunky bits.
Interview Jennifer Lawrence interviews Eddie Redmayne. I love this bit:

REDMAYNE: Do you ever watch dailies? 

LAWRENCE: No. Unless I keep getting the same note and I'm obviously not getting it, then I'll watch it again on the monitor. But, oh my God, did you watch rushes of this? 

REDMAYNE: We sort of had to, because we were jumping in and out of all these different time periods and trying to track the illness and the physical decline. I had an iPad with all the documentary footage of Stephen and then we had the dailies. I kept hoping that the two things were going to meet, but obviously they never did. [laughs]

It's fun to remember occasionally that big stars are actually directed and get 'ur doing it wrong' notes, isn't it? 

Old But Not Stale!
Slate details how a bad Jennifer Aniston movie turned into an Oscar Cinderella story. Really interesting piece except for that this Cinderella got stuck living with the stepmother Prince Oscar never found her with that one shoe. 
Nick's Flick Picks I never read Nick's annual liveblog until I've fully moved on from my Globe coverage because it's just too intimidatingly funny. It's my dessert that I have to force myself to wait to devour. This is my favorite part at the moment:

8:56: I feel like it's brutal to transition immediately from the Affair producer's advocacy for "how important our marriages are" to Catherine Zeta-Jones's entrance. But CZJ does brutal plenty well herself. "They're having a well-deserved party" is unmistakably a Welsh phrase meaning, "These bitches need to get out of my light!"

*This is not meant as snark. I liked The Rookie a lot. It's just meant as "he's not a gritty director"


Punk In The Suburbs

JA from MNPP here taking a look at some very exciting breaking news for those of us who've worn out our copies of Beginners -- director Mike Mills has finally announced his next project! I guess he couldn't let his wife Miranda July hog all the press this week (her book The First Bad Man just came out on Tuesday). Mills' new movie will be called 20th Century Women and he says...

"The film is an ode to the women who raised me; my mom, my sisters, the girls I was in love with or looked up to at school and in the punk rock scene where I really learned about the world."

It's set in Santa Barbara in the year 1979, and it sounds like there are leading(ish) roles for three actresses; the three women who form the young boy at the film's center - well who doesn't love a good actress triptych? The Hours! The Witches of Eastwick! And Three Women, of course.

You can get a few more details about the plot at the link -- there aren't really enough specifics about the roles to dream-cast this thing but seeing as how I could come up with a thousand answers to the question "What three current actresses would you want to see play off each other in a movie?" and I'm sure you guys could too... what three current actresses would you want to see play off each other in a movie? Just have at it.

Related from the Archives: An interview with Mike Mills about Beginners