With the halfway point of the year well past, it’s high time I check in with the Oscar world. Though it seems there are only a few slight contenders released thus far in the Best Picture category, the rest of the release schedule could hit or miss, depending on distribution, critical response and overall fallout/reward-reaping. I think the late releases show much more legitimate promise than last year’s lineup; then again, legitimate quality isn’t always paramount for voters. But complaining about Academy choices isn’t the point at all – it’s the unyielding fun that comes from predicting those choices. And since that feat has become increasingly easy with the onslaught of precursor awards, it’s best to get a jump on it. So let’s dive in!
First-Half Sleepers, Underdogs and Behemoths: Though the Academy looks to the November/December crowd for many of its nominees by February, the accidental connections that kick off the January through June period (although, let’s be real – we might as well toss the first two or three months of the year, outside Best Animated Feature) yield the occasional BP nominee. But who to represent that cause for 2012? There are a couple of obvious choices in the arthouse surprise hits (the Midnight in Paris, or to a lesser extent The Kids Are All Right, slot, if you will) in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The former of the two obviously carries more of the cache thanks to great box office sea legs and general mini-hysteria toward the oddball flick.
And then there are the massive blockbusters with the relatively strong reviews that seem to always incite the instant “will it or won’t it” attitude about its Oscar prospects. Though there’s something to it, the two highest grossing pictures of all time have managed a BP nod, it’s a fine line. And that line is The Dark Knight. So the chances for the likes of The Hunger Games, The Avengers, and The Dark Knight Rises are questionable at best, though I see the middle entry on that list having the most legitimate shot at a nomination. There will be plenty of technical nods to be had, to be sure, but could Avengers total 2012 dominance factor into the overall necessity of honoring “the best” by year’s end? And though critical reaction to DKR hasn’t been nearly as strong as for its predecessor, can it squeak by off of a guilt trip? I’m thinking not quite, but it will depend on the rest of the year’s crop.
Rounding out the early-year releases are the strong festival contenders, namely Beasts of the Southern Wild, which seems to have the seemingly best shot of any film thus far released at a BP nomination, and the moderately successful (both critically and financially) fan favorites, Magic Mike and Brave. The former is a huge overreach, I’m guessing, considering it’s stripperfied central focus, but it’s tough not to keep it in the conversation considering the cultural impact it seemed to have this year. And though Brave may not be a “fan favorite” it has fervent fans and decent receipts. But will the Cars 2 afterglow, or afterdulling as it were, dim its chances of making a top five to 10 of 2012?
Shoot ‘Em Ups and Dress ‘Em Ups: Trends can play a significant role in Hollywood’s ultimate decision, and recent years have taught us the Academy is feeling nostalgic. And not just for its own yesteryears but for royalty yesteryears. The King’s Speech and The Artist have taught us some habits are hard to shake. In the same vein, how will the plethora of gun-toting flicks play for voting audiences, which seem to be tentative toward the sub-genre of late (Gangster Squad is officially out of the conversation now…)? The likelihood that we’ll see Lawless, Killing Them Softly, and Argo on the final ballot could seem slim at this point, but pedigreed casts and production teams could change all that. My thought is that the first two land more by way of acting or sound categories, while Ben Affleck’s latest has strong buzz and more than likely the best shot at a Best Picture chance.
The much more likely prospects, arguably the most likely prospects of the whole group, are going to come out of the costume epics and literary adaptations. The two biggies are probably Les Miserables, which will battle the oft-struggling musical status that has been hit and miss in the past decade, and Hyde Park on Hudson, which in theory should have no trouble racking up a good 10 nods on its way to the eventual win. But a lot depends on momentum. And internal sub-genre competition could come from Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, and Mike Newell’s Great Expectations. All three scream “bait,” but elements of each seem like they could fail them in the end. Karenina and Gatsby give artistically liberal vibes from the trailers, which can put off voters, and Great Expectations hasn’t found a surefire release date in the States just yet.
And rounding out the costume epics are the Honest Abe biopic Lincoln, which is the very definition of Oscar bait – multiple honorees in the cast, large-scale time-spanning storytelling, biographical subject and beloved director… and the generic title doesn’t hurt. Though, we all know that J. Edgar and The Iron Lady struggled last year, so don’t get too hepped up on the Spielberg juice just yet – I have doubts this will deliver when it comes to Oscar. Speaking of high expectations, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey should have no trouble racking up the visual and aural nominations, but the lighter source text may not suit itself to the Best Picture lineup – particularly since voters know there will be three consecutive years of it to partake in. Finally, if royalty and costumes are what they’re after, there’s always foreign offering A Royal Affair, which will struggle with competition in Karenina and Hyde Park, but could find a devoted enough following.
Director Obsessions, Visual Beauties and the Borderline Date Shifters: Some of the most fanatical entries on the release schedule for the year include those courtesy of critical darling directors who’ve assembled notable enough casts to create buzz that will likely come to fruition in the fall and holiday seasons. The arguable frontrunner in this category is The Master, which is bringing in Oscar favorite Paul Thomas Anderson and relative comeback kid Joaquin Phoenix in what looks to be a harrowing achievement. And courting controversy can often help with more liberal voters. Rounding out the director-lover’s crowd are Clint Eastwood (Trouble with the Curve), David O. Russell (Silver-Linings Playbook), Michael Haneke (Amour), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), and Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained). It’s feasible to think that many of these contenders will end up in the lineup, but Eastwood will have to contend with recent ambivalence toward his work, Russell’s film is looking awfully romantic comedy/Jerry Maguire – doesn’t seem very on trend these days, and Bigelow could struggle to finish up in time for release.
Perhaps it’ll be time to go for the spectacle. Voters did embrace The Tree of Life and Hugo, so it’s feasible that something like Cloud Atlas or Life of Pi could be a serious threat to reach the final seven… or eight… or nine. Ang Lee’s adaptation looks to be an impressive visual effort, and the Wachowskis seem to have gone all out, from the looks of the trippy yet captivating Cloud Atlas trailer. All this could be threatened by a few releases that have found dates just yet but could go either way – 2012 or 2013. Terrence Malick might back-to-back it with To the Wonder, Dustin Hoffman has assembled an awards magnet cast for Quartet, and the Coen Brothers must always be taken seriously, thus the inclusion of Inside Llewyn Davis.
But what of the final list? At this point, with so many options to choose from, I’m feeling another lineup of nine this time around. Unless lines are clearly drawn between which ones are surefire all-arounds and which ones have smaller followings, I’m guessing the love will be spread again. Here’s where I’m at right now, in order of the likelihood they’ll be nominated:
(1) The Master (2) Life of Pi (3) Hyde Park on Hudson (4) Beasts of the Southern Wild (5) Moonrise Kingdom (6) Lincoln (7) Quartet (8) Argo (9) Amour
Where are you at? Am I missing any major possibilities? And how close do you think the blockbusters will get in the long run? (I’m guessing not nearly as close as the web would have you believe.)
By now, you film buffs out there have likely already heard the news. The delectable, devilish classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is getting the remake treatment. And while I’m generally against touching the classics – this one oddly enough being a childhood favorite of mine – I must say: It’s a fun notion to think about which two screen divas could potentially get cast in this. I’m told the director in question is hoping to get “high-pedigree” actresses to fill the shoes of legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and I certainly hope he makes good on it. I also hope that they don’t cast some late-30s, early-40s “hot for now” actresses to take on the parts. But who could take on these distinctive roles – the bitter former child star whose penchant for drinking led to her downfall and the now-wheelchair-bound actress sister who becomes Baby Jane’s object of torture… hopefully the fates will be kind.
My brother John was quick to insert his ideal casting choice – with Glenn Close in the Bette Davis role and Meryl Streep in the Joan Crawford role, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Then again, half the fun of the original was that the real-life stars hated each other with a passion – too bad everyone’s so nice in Hollywood these days… (I kid, of course.) I’d like to step out and nominate Close (is there any more Bette Davis-like personality than Close a la 101 Dalmatians and Stepford Wives?), but I’m thinking the Crawford role could be played nicely by Anne Archer… I mean, how much perfection would it be if that infamous parakeet scene was tweaked to involve a certain pet rabbit? What are your thoughts on the matter?
With Friend Pamela staying at the casa for a bit, it’s only fitting that, particularly with Wimbledon happening, ESPN suddenly gets a workout where once it did not. If I could personify channels, I would say the surprise of its sudden use has rendered ESPN virtually exhausted. But with all this tennis extravaganza, it got me thinking. How is it that such a popular and age-old sport hasn’t been put to film more often? From my searching, it seems there have been only two mainstream flicks to do with the court sport – Wimbledon and Match Point. Sure, there have been some obscure, probably beloved-by-tennis-philes movies, but how have we not had a biopic or two out of the great potential. John McEnroe’s fiery temper, Arthur Ashe’s groundbreaking star status, the phenomenon that is the Williams sisters – they all lend themselves to this big-screen treatment. And with the death of the network telefilms, will we ever see another When Billie Beat Bobby? Or perhaps I’m not deep enough in the tennis world to know of all the niche films. Educate me – and perhaps inform, if you’re a tennis fan yourself.
Eva Marie Saint, 88, hasn’t been an Oscar nominee in ages. In fact, her first and only nomination was in 1954 for On the Waterfront, but the iconic actress has stayed active through the decades, most notably North by Northwest in the ’50s, Exodus in the ’60s, Moonlighting in the ’80s and, most recently, Superman Returns in 2006, playing Superman mother figure Martha Kent. Heck she even voiced a couple of episodes of Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra earlier this year. Who’s feeling a career-capping nod soon? Let’s get her in back in theaters!
Neil Simon, 85, one of theaters’ most noted playwrights, has racked up Tonys, Emmys, Globes and, most recently, the Mark Twain Prize for Humor, and he still keeps busy with work. Amongst his 17 Tony-nominated plays, Lost in Yonkers nabbed the Pulitzer, and countless ones were adapted into films. In fact, he wrote one-time muse and wife Marsha Mason to three of her four Oscar nominations, landing four nods himself.
Becki Newton, 34, rose to fame, though not nearly enough, by playing self-centered but lovable Amanda Tanner on Ugly Betty, and has been a pilot season darling ever since. Though she’s yet to find another role as memorable as Mode assistant Amanda, she headlined the short-lived Love Bites and is currently recurring on How I Met Your Mother as stripper Quinn.
Gloria Stuart, (1910-2010), became well-known to the world thanks to playing “Old Rose” in the mega-hit Titanic. And the Oscar nomination certainly didn’t hurt. But Stuart eked out a lengthy (clearly) career in her 100 years on earth. Perhaps most notably starring in the 1933 flick The Invisible Man, Stuart additionally headlined Gold Diggers of 1935, The Three Musketeers and My Favorite Year, among nearly 100 credits.
Bill Withers, 74, though many have tried to recreate the magic and heartbreak of his most noted hit, has cornered the market on expressing the torture of loneliness in the all-time great “Ain’t No Sunshine.” He got his recording start later than the norm, nabbing a Best New Artist Grammy nomination in 1972 at the age of 33, and his work has been featured on many a soundtrack ever since.
Tahar Rahim, 31, dazzled critics (though unfortunately not many awards bodies) with his work in foreign fave A Prophet, and has enjoyed a heightened profile ever since. Those his most notable credit since was playing a prince in the historical action movie The Eagle, he’s got a drama opposite Marion Cotillard in the works.
Tracy Letts, 47, got his start on stage acting, but has since become a well-regarded playwright, penning the eerie paranoia drama Bug and the sensational dark comedy August: Osage County. His film credits now include adapting both, as well as his play Killer Joe, with August poised for a much-buzzed-about 2013 premiere.
David Kross, 22, had some credits to his name before the showy 2008 role that made him recognizable, but the German actor’s role as Kate Winslet’s much-younger paramour in The Reader gave him an international audience. Since, he’s had a small role in War Horse and has a few German films coming up in the next few years.
First thing’s first – no, I don’t think so highly of myself that I liken my return to that of a king. It was just the first “return” film I thought of when searching for pictorial representation. And though I haven’t been away from my throne and journeying and toiling and whatnot quite as much as Aragorn of Arathorn, I would like to express my excitement at the prospect of a return… to the blogging world.
March honestly doesn’t seem that long ago, but in internet terms, it might as well be the amount of time it takes to cross the Shire, Rohan and Mordor – round trip. So I’m guessing all you loyal buddy-readers of mine from eons ago have moved on to bigger and better things since then. But for the sake of putting my movie thoughts to print (and more than likely talking to myself) I proceed nonetheless!
Much like many a film character before me, I’ve become something of a workaholic (ah yes, perhaps Top 25 Movie Workaholics would be a fitting near-future post) and my blogging has fell by the wayside, but it’s far too joyful to take part in to give up completely, so I’m, well… returning. With high hopes of getting back to some form of regularity in posting forthwith.
I can’t wait to get caught up on the goings-on of the past three months of film and television banter!