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[Author’s note: With the goal of making our happy little show more of the community it was intended to be in the first place, THIS! will begin bringing you semi-regular blogs like this one to keep you informed of the stuff we’re passionate about. Hope you enjoy, share, and leave some comments! – Christian]
Undoubtedly one of the most exciting times of my year every time it rolls around is awards season. Good or bad, when the Academy or the Globes or the Critics Association or whoever starts doling out statues to the year’s best in film and television, I eat it up. Every year I say it’ll be different. “This is the year I don’t care!” I say. “They’ve gotten it wrong too many times, and I won’t be let down again!”
But it’s like heroin. Or catnip. No amount of it makes me not want it, until I get so much of it I overdose and die (true story).
It’s September now, the unofficial starting point of the major Hollywood Gold Rush. Like every fall and winter before it, we’re gonna see the world’s best film artists, auteurs, rich kids with cameras, spoiled producers, and random unknown crazy people who wander on screen long enough to grab our attention bringing their A-game material to cinemas near you while secretly trying to buy as many award show voters as they can.
But to say this is just like any other year ignores a simple fact: Never before, in the history of the end-of-the-year Oscar Season, have we seen a field so completely packed with potential winners.
Sure, some of these movies don’t even have trailers yet. But if you follow the trades and blogs enough, you’ll know that Oscar buzz can build even before a script is written. Sometimes, a good enough story behind a given production is enough to boost it to the big stage. Put the right name on the right project description, suddenly you’ve got a picture for the ages.
There are always a few guaranteed big fish in every Oscar pool. This year? It’s too full to swim.
Every kind of award-happy picture is on display:
The Indie Dark Horse
The fact that people are already losing steam talking about a movie as incredible and surprising as Beasts of the Southern Wild is a sign that 2012 is not a normal year. Put that movie in 2008, you’ve got more than a winner, you’ve got an instant classic. But from the art-house crowd, Beasts will be jostling for position with Moonrise Kingdom. Award shows’ on-again-off-again love affair with Wes Anderson that peaked at The Royal Tenenbaums but has waned over his last two pictures seems to have been re-ignited by a sleeper hit that has all the makings of this year’s Midnight in Paris. But don’t count out a real come-from-behind winner like Sleepwalk With Me. Mike Birbiglia’s affecting and personal production has gotten significant word of mouth and been distributed largely by the requests of eager viewers. The grassroots approach combined with a surprisingly sincere story and a tremendous critical reception puts the film in play for at least a screenplay nod come February.
Ben Affleck used to be the butt of every Hollywood joke. But after two successful and very well-received directing efforts, Affleck’s worked his way into critics’ and fans’ good graces. With his latest, Argo, he aims closer than ever to Oscar territory. The story has everything the Academy is digging lately: A gritty but sometimes funny true story about Americans trapped by fate whose escape rests on the shoulders of a very risky, very odd, and Hollywood-based scheme. Early word is very positive. Could Ben Affleck be the first of the Ben and Matt duo to get an Oscar since Good Will Hunting?
The (Hopefully) Faithful Adaptation
Book movies are gonna be everywhere this fall, and many of the adaptations are years in the making. The two most hotly anticipated come from previous Oscar favorites. First is Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, the classic Tolstoy novel come to life. Many have questioned his casting of Jude Law and the director’s muse Keira Knightley (who worked with Wright on Pride and Prejudice and Atonement), but with his eye for historical dramas and a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, not to mention the Academy’s recent love of classical European theater (see: The King’s Speech), this could be one to contend with. And who could discount Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? True, it’s frustrating that such a simple book was split into three films. And yes, it’s weird that many names in the cast list played characters that don’t appear in or belong near the story of Bilbo Baggins. But the magical love that Jackson has for Tolkien brought him success with one trilogy, why not with another?
There might be a third, surprise contender for this category: For a generation of readers, there are few works more formative than The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Seeing it adapted to film will surely be jarring for some fans. But could its nostalgic and youthful promise strike a chord with the older Oscar voters? You never know. If it’s as good as the book, it’d be hard for it not to.
The “Unfilmable” Epics
You think filming three movies about hobbits is ambitious? Try adapting a book that people have been saying is impossible to film since the day it was published. But that’s exactly what a few filmmakers are doing, and, if they can pull it off, the effort alone may be enough. Perhaps most complicated, and potentially risky, is Cloud Atlas. The very definition of “epic,” the story of the film takes place across several centuries, with six major interconnecting plotlines of totally distinct tone and locations. So grand and complex is the story that even the Wachowskis, they the masters of taking huge ideas and making them compact enough for a two-and-a-half hour action film, couldn’t do it alone; they enlisted the help of Tom Tykwer, of Run Lola Run and the vastly underrated Perfume, to direct half of the production. It’s got an all-star cast, headed by Tom Hanks and Halle Barry among many others, but one has to wonder if it’s not all just too much for one movie to contain.
Ang Lee was (let’s face it) totally robbed in 2005 when Brokeback Mountain lost to the vastly inferior Crash at the Academy Awards. Since then, he’s been laying low and not really gathering much awards attention. But he’s come back in a major way with The Life of Pi. A stunning trailer has revealed what many had hoped for when Lee was attached to the broad and grandiose project: Lee’s got the visual style down in a way that is totally unique to the rest of the films you’ll see this year, maybe ever before. It remains to be seen whether the rest of the film can match the book’s inspirational majesty. But early looks have been extremely impressive.
The Tarantino Movie
Tarantino makes a movie. People talk about it for awards. He usually gets a nomination or two. But until 2009’s Inglorious Basterds, it had been over a decade since one of his films made a real splash with voters. Now he’s hoping to capitalize on that success with Django Unchained. For me, it’ll be interesting on three levels: 1) See if the film is used as a referendum by critics to explain Basterds as either what it was (a complex and nuanced critique of propaganda and heroism in war movies) vs. what it wasn’t (just some Jewish revenge action flick). Some people are already saying that Django is the same idea but with slaves instead of Jews. Those people are missing the point. 2) Why Tarantino picked Jamie Foxx over Idris Elba (a question in need of addressing). And 3) Can I buy Leo as a villain? My gut says yes, but my brain says no.
But don’t think Tarantino is the only Tarantino this year. Martin McDonagh made one of the best and least-seen gangster flicks of the last decade, In Bruges, and he’s finally back with the follow-up, Seven Psychopaths. It’s not being touted as a heavy awards contender, but with the director’s wit and a cast including Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Tom (fucking) Waits, there’s always an outside chance it’ll blow the competition away.
The Oscar Bait Done Right
There is no more textbook definition of an Oscar movie than Lincoln. Directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Tony Kushner, and starring Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln is a sweeping historical biopic about one of America’s greatest men in a time that saw civil war, slavery, and marital unrest. Use any one of those things, you’re getting Oscar buzz. Put all those together, and you’re almost a lock to win Best Picture. The question isn’t whether Lincoln lives up to the hype; the question is whether it needs to. If nothing else can unseat the idea of this film, the Academy will vote for it on principle.
While nowhere near as magically stitched together for the eyes and ears of Academy voters as Lincoln, Katheryn Bigelow and Mark Boal are bringing back all the things we loved about The Hurt Locker and throwing in a true life story and another kick-ass cast for Zero Dark Thirty, aka the story of the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. Rumor is that Bigelow got her hands on classified documents when making the movie and the government is pissed. Even if that just turns out to be marketing, good story + good movie = awards.
It feels wrong to call it “Oscar bait” because of the director’s well-deserved reputation as one of America’s best and most innovative living filmmakers, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is the movie everyone who’s in the know is watching this year. The film is shrouded in secrecy because it’s rumored to be an unofficial account of the rise of Scientology and the studio doesn’t want to face a lawsuit. But if it can be anywhere near as transcendent as There Will Be Blood, The Master could be a game-changer. Paul Thomas Anderson is considered by some to be a filmmaker’s filmmaker, too heady and complex for mainstream audiences. But there’s no denying that his work has impacted and influenced many others in the field already in his short career; every shot he chooses seems destined to appear in another film by someone with half the skill and care Anderson has, because while everyone wants to make a film as brilliant as Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, no one can but him. Plus, friends of mine will note that my boy Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose entire filmography I’ve sworn to see before I die, is the lead. So I’m all but required to see this on opening night.
The Oscar Bait Done Wrong
Typically, when I use the middle name “fucking” for a celebrity, it’s because they’re awesome (see: Tom Fucking Waits, Cee-Lo Fucking Green, Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson). But for one particular director, it’s always meant as a bitter insult. In 2009, the Best Director category at the Oscars was a who’s-who of the world’s best and brightest screen auteurs, with names like Fincher and Coen and Aronofsky and Russell, all of whom had created what might have been the finest works of their careers and who were testaments to the progress of the American cinema. And who won the award that year? The one director nominated with the blandest, weakest, most vanilla eye, who seemed to direct in the same way one conducts a paint-by-numbers, only without the ability to make something colorful come to life on the screen: Tom Fucking Hooper.
The bore responsible for The King’s Speech (which would have been worthless without Colin Firth) and HBO’s John Adams (which made me actively hate America’s second president and HBO for producing such a boring miniseries) returns to pour more cream in our coffee with Les Miserables. What’s that? Oh, you like musical theater? Well enjoy it coming from a proven songsmith cast that includes Helena Bonham-Carter, Russel Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Sasha Baron Cohen, and Anne Hathaway. Do I enjoy many of those people as actors? Oh yes. Do I want to hear any of them sing? Not especially. Do I want to hear any of them sing about the French Revolution through a lens manned by one of the world’s most cookie-cutter directors? Oh god no.
As if ALL THOSE MOVIES weren’t enough, there are still a few gaining attention that don’t fit the above categories enough and might just stand out from the pack if they can manage to be unique and well-made.
David O. Russell’s last movie, The Fighter, earned a ton of nominations and netted two long-deserving supporting cast members Oscar statues. By default, his latest, Silver Linings Playbook, winds up on the radar, even if its premise doesn’t sound especially groundbreaking. Add to that a crap-shoot of a cast (Jennifer Lawrence! Jackie Weaver! Robert De Niro! Bradley Cooper. Julia Stiles. Chris Tucker?!), and this is such a toss-up it hardly belongs on this list. But Russell knows how to take something that sounds simple (a man in a philosophical crisis) and make it into something totally original (I Heart Huckabees).
One which I’m much more excited for is Looper. If you don’t understand why Looper could be amazing, here’s a brief rundown: Rian Johnson directed two of the last decade’s best cult classics, Brick and The Brothers Bloom. Now he’s tackling sci-fi action, but losing none of his intense grasp of mystery and story structure. He’s working again with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who’s having a stellar year all around. Oh yeah, and Bruce Fucking Willis (see above, everyone but Tom Hooper). A sci-fi gangster action mystery with a time travel twist and two excellent lead actors, all helmed by a director with a proven history of making memorable and stylistically satisfying cinema. That’s Looper.
Finally, there’s the big question mark of the year: The Dark Knight Rises. It could be argued with little difficulty that The Dark Knight was the main reason that the Academy switched to ten nominees for Best Picture in 2009. The outcry when the film was snubbed for the honor the year before was so vehement it actually changed the format of the awards and their voting processes. If that doesn’t get Christopher Nolan a lifetime of Oscar attention, well, Inception does. It’s not unreasonable to expect TDKR to get a nomination based on principle alone, sort of the way the final Lord of the Rings film was a stand-in for the trilogy as a whole. But the film divided many viewers, and while critics initially lauded it, the film has seen a harsh (I would say undeserving) backlash. Maybe it’s too speculative to consider its prospects until after the rest of these films get shuffled through the door. But hey; that’s how the game is played.