Thursday July 10, 2014




Handicapping the Oscar race

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This week my Cairns on Cinema column is devoted to awards season and the Oscar race.

Trying to figure out who is actually winning the Oscar race, though, is a mug’s game. One moment, one movie is ahead; the next moment it’s something else.

We saw similar momentum swings last year. You had some early awards momentum for The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin’s chronicle of the founding of Facebook. But by the time the Academy Awards were actually handed out, the winner was The King’s Speech.

So just because a movie scoops up some awards early on doesn’t always mean it will win the Oscar for Best Picture in the end.

The nominations are out now and nine movies were nominated in the Best Picture category. Those nine contenders are:

The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse.

I know sports fans are really behind Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, about the struggles of the cash-strapped Oakland Athletics and their efforts to put a winning team together. But it doesn’t look like it has much momentum behind it at the moment as far as Best Picture is concerned. I also don’t like the chances of Midnight in Paris, although it did manage to win a Golden Globe for Woody Allen’s screenplay, which surprises people because they were all writing about how Allen is all washed up.

Based on what I’ve been reading on these awards websites that are in abundance, the Oscar race for Best Picture seems to have boiled down to four: The Artist, the Descendants, Hugo and The Help.

Earlier this month, everyone thought The Artist was the leading contender for Best Picture. This is a French-made effort set in the Silent movie era with the story revolving around an actor attempting to make the transition to talking pictures. The movie itself is silent for much of the picture.

In any event, it ended up winning at the Golden Globe awards handed out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for Best Comedy Picture.

However, also winning at that ceremony in the category of Best Drama was The Descendants, a drama starring George Clooney in a story about a woman about to be taken off of life support and the impact of that, and other revelations, on the rest of the family. So after the Golden Globes you basically had two movies that seemed to be in the lead in the awards season race.

Then you had the actual announcement of the Oscar nominations themselves on Jan. 24 . That’s usually another good indicator because usually the movie that leads the number of nominations ends up winning Best Picture.

To no one’s shock, The Artist cleaned up in the nominations department. They received ten nominations, including Best Picture.

What was interesting was that while The Descendants also received nominations for Best Picture and for Clooney as Best Actor, it only received five nominations – not a promising sign for that movie. Also interesting, too, was how well Hugo did. The Martin Scorsese-directed adventure movie about a boy who lived in a Paris railway station received eleven nominations – the most of any in contention at the Oscars. (It’s also notable because it is the first Scorsese film to be shot in 3D.)

After those nominations came down the general feeling was that the Best Picture prospects for The Descendants had gone down, while the chances for The Artist and Hugo had gone up.

Then came the Director’s Guild awards, voted on by the directors, which only heightened the prospects for The Artist. It grabbed Best Picture honors there, so its Best Picture hopes have brightened considerably.

But then came the Screen Actors Guild awards just recently. These awards are voted on by the actors, and their results seemingly have thrown the Oscar race for a loop. They gave The Help three awards including the grand prize, Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture – a big endorsement for that movie about African-American maids working in white households in the segregated deep South during the civil rights era.

That raised some eyebrows and has raised hopes among people that maybe The Help can pull off an upset at the Oscars. It only received four nominations, though, so I think The Help is still a longshot for Best Picture. Its best shot appears to be in the acting categories, where it might pull off some Oscars for Viola Davis (Best Actress), Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain (Best Supporting Actress).

For Davis to win the Oscar, though, she’ll have to knock off Meryl Streep and her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. That will be tough, but Davis did pull off the upset at the SAG Awards. As for George Clooney and The Descendants, he ended up losing in SAG’s Best Actor category to Jean Dujardin of The Artist, so that’s another seeming blow to that movie’s chances.

Looking at the Oscar race as it stands, I think The Artist is the runaway frontrunner, though The Help could surprise in some acting categories. It will take a major upset to dislodge it from Best Picture, though.

As for Hugo, I suspect this movie will do better in categories like Art Direction or Best Visual Effects. If it loses for Cinematography, they can probably pack it in as far as Best Picture hopes are concerned.

On a completely different subject – many people are complaining that the Oscar show is sure to get a record-low viewership given this unassuming list of Best Picture nominees. They say nobody is going to watch the Oscar show because, ahem, nobody went to these movies. A few people may have seen Moneyball or The Help, but not only has hardly anyone seen these other flicks, but you have to bet most people haven’t even heard of some of them.

This has been an ongoing problem for the Academy voters for some time – continually nominating motion pictures that seem to be made with the idea of getting votes from Oscar members instead of paying customers at theatres.

(Nobody bothered to see The Hurt Locker, either, when it won Best Picture, but everyone went to see its competition in the category, Avatar.)

Having said all that, I was watching Entertainment Tonight and other shows, and they were all playing up the competing nominations for good buddies George Clooney and Brad Pitt in several categories, including Best Actor.

So the hype machine was going full blast on these entertainment shows. “Clooney versus Pitt! Who will come out ahead on Oscar night?”

As far as getting audiences interested in tuning in to Oscar night, folks at the Academy have nothing to worry about.


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