If you haven't yet noticed, I updated all the Oscar charts yesterday to reflect the latest shifts in buzz. As ever I am not totally enslaved by immediate buzz but try to project forward from it. I don't believe, and past experience backs me up here, that the first word from festivals is the last word on consensus. Festival audiences have, in many cases, different needs than Academy voters and the general public and even mainstream-leaning film critics. These differing needs range from subject matter to tone to emotional and intellectual content. So there is much we still don't know about the new films winning raves. To win Oscar's heart you generally have to first master or at least make peace with three other audiences (all of which can or do overlap with each other and with Oscar but let's not complicate the matter): Critics (i.e. reviews/perceptions of quality), public (box office), media (are they interested? are their editorial angles or movie stars to keep them engaged). Festivals are the gun going off but never the finish line. So here are some questions I'm pondering.
Won't you join me in answering them?
Michael Fassbender OR Ryan Gosling? I've already pitted them against each other publically/mentally as "The Future of the Movies: Male Division" (do they have any competition?) and perhaps it's a natural evolution from that question but aren't they in direct conflict for an Oscar nod this year? Both have had amazing years with multiple films, some artistically minded, some for commerce but all of which they've been excellent in. Ryan has the more Oscar-friendly fare (Ides of March/Drive) compared to Fassy's kink (Shame/A Dangerous Method) but Fassy may have the more Oscar-friendly personality in terms of his ease with self-promotion (supposedly Gosling is unburdened by the typical Oscar dream).
I don't think there's room for both given the Best Actor field... do you?
What of Alexander Desplat?
His score for The Tree of Life seems likely to be axed for eligibility given all the other music in the film. His score for Carnage is supposedly only heard for a few minutes. His scores for the new Harry Potter and Twilight are both within long running franchises which generally don't show up in the score category since such scores tend to mix old and new themes and there's a been there/done that feeling even if the score is entirely new. Will they stiff their new favorite composer or will it be enough for them to have their all time favorite back? 79 year old John Williams has two Spielberg scores this year (Tin Tin and War Horse) after a long absence and if there was ever a time they wanted to hand him a sixth Oscar, it's probably now.
Captain America or Thor?
I've been asking this question all summer and I suspect very few people care. But hear me out: Isn't one of them going to win multiple Oscar nods? The technical fields are often hugely competitive but they're also friendlier to genre fare than the big eight. Captain America:The First Avenger has the distinct advantage in that it takes place during World War II and thus gets to show off period piece beauty in costuming (for Jeffrey Kurland and Anna B Sheppard who have both been nominated previously but never won) and art direction (Rick Heinrichs has 3 noms / 1 win to his name) ... but Thor has a more Oscary team in costume designer Alexandra Byrne (4 nods, 1 win) and production designer Bo Welch (4 nominations) and whether or not you think that the ice planet or the mythical realm of Asgard are way too bombastically gaudy in design... Oscar loves overkill in just about any category. See last year's results for Eyesore in Wonderland and every time any pundit ever joked about "Best" being code word for "Most".
Aren't "Restrained" and "Chill" Four Letter Words?
One review called Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy "marvelously chill" and the word "restrained" gets tossed around a lot for both that film and Glenn Close's Oscar bid Albert Nobbs. It's not without precedent that Oscar would embrace the chilly or the restrained but it's also not exactly the wormiest hook for AMPAS to swim towards as history indicates. What does all this mean for Gary Oldman (who our Venice correspondent claimed only raises his voice once in his film) or for Glenn Close both of whom will be waging campaigns based half on these new performances and half on their reputations as important thespians who've endured inexplicable golden snubbings.
Category Placement. To Fraud or Not To Fraud?
This question will never die and is ever a concern since modern cinema doesn't have the same clear divisions of labor as classic Hollywood in terms of "star vs. character actor". What's more many pundits, fans and agents now regularly and actively promote fraud to insure better golden opportunities for their beloved star or meal ticket. The feeling of demotion is largely a thing of the past, an Oscar being an Oscar. The unfortunate and long lasting side effect of this trend (more a tradition than trend now actually) are that real supporting players and character actors have less and less opportunities as genuine stars now rob them of their already scant opportunities for the spotlight on a very regular basis. It's almost impossible to imagine that we'll ever see another Thelma Ritter for example (sniffle). So we'll just have to wait and see how Viola Davis (The Help), Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method), the entire Carnage cast and any of the young male leads (War Horse, Hugo, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) play it this year since all of them could theoretically opt for either lead or supporting categorization.
What the hell with the Best Animated Film category this year?
The (relative) failure of Cars 2 has left a gaping Pixar sized hole in the category that was arguably specifically designed just to honor Pixar. Rango, an early visually stunning hit, seems to have no real competition whatsoever. It's hard to see any of its competition as nominees, isn't it? There are sequels no one seems particularly excited about yet (Happy Feet 2, Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda 2), films that were hits that no one seems particularly excited about (Rio). Arthur Christmas is a question mark but is anyone excited about it? What's more the only event movie that's still to come (The Adventures of TinTin: The Secret of the Unicorn) should theoretically be disqualified given past AMPAS decisions declaring motion capture ineligible. Is it time to shutter this category or do they just have to hope that it's exciting again next year and the year after?
The Nomination Is Theirs To Lose. Will They?
Just about every pundit worth his/her salt agrees that The Tree of Life, The Help and Midnight in Paris are the three biggies with Best Picture potential to have already hit theaters. Then there are those stubbornly holding on to hopes for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two (I readily admit bias that I don't think it's deserving even as a cumulative honor) or The Rise of the Planet of the Apes though history suggests that it won't happen since sequels are only ever nominated when their predecessors were. Though I adamantly doubt that either has a good shot at the most coveted of all nominations, there is a first time for everything and it's true that modern franchise culture is a relatively new ubiquitous Hollywood reality and thus Oscar history might not be the best indication of how the Academy will view or soon view franchise efforts.
Should all of these films or even just three of them be nominated... well, that doesn't leave much room at all for the Christmas time films that are still withheld from eager eyeballs or the films that are on everyone's lips having just debuted at this festival or that one.
Which leads us to the final question...
Which of the unseen films will tank?
J Edgar, War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Iron Lady, Hugo? That's a lot of unseen fare still that even long lead festival audiences haven't gazed upon. Which do you suspect will deliver and which won't?