In Contention


OFF THE CARPET: Carpe diem

Posted by Kristopher Tapley · 10:57 am · October 4th, 2010

Two weeks ago in this space I discussed the precariousness of “frontrunner” status in an Oscar race. At the time, coming off of a big surge in Toronto, “The King’s Speech” was the big dog on the porch. But be warned, I said. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Now that “The Social Network” has released, accompanied by glowing review after glowing review, not to mention a media blitz to make the head spin, that film is looking like an alpha in the year’s awards season. And, inevitably, the race is already being reduced to a generational battle between the two…yet it’s barely October.

Here’s the thing. If you’re a studio still priming your pony, you have to be watching all of this unfold with giddy delight, licking your chops, ravenous. This is the kind of situation easily devoured by savvy marketing in Oscar land, and if I’m a rival contender, I’m remembering my Horace: “Seize the day.”

But it’s a delicate balance. One doesn’t want to charge out and shoehorn into the discussion, lest you be tossed aside as mere garnish to the main course of these two films. However, playing it too cool and quiet isn’t the safest bet either, as an Oscar win is the culmination of built steam and sustained speed (which be in the form of a long drag or a quick burst of energy at the right during the right frame).

There is something to be said for dropping suddenly at the end of the year. Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” is the poster child for that. This year “True Grit” will be last out of the gate. The footage we’re seeing this week and last is enough to think it could be something special, but there are built-in caveats.

Stirring the conversation early and often is just as effective a strategy. Last year’s winner, “The Hurt Locker,” is obviously a key example. Nothing really fits that bill this year. Plenty of contenders have been released, of course, but none has sustained the chatter like “The Hurt Locker” or “Crash” or “Gladiator.” So let’s look to the festivals.

“127 Hours,” “Another Year,” “Rabbit Hole,” “Black Swan,” “Conviction,” “Made in Dagenham” and, of course, “The King’s Speech” are all products of this year’s festival circuit. But it’s interesting to note that only two Best Picture winners from the past decade — “No Country for Old Men” and “Slumdog Millionaire” — were true festival plays. (“The Hurt Locker” debuted at Toronto the year before release but didn’t kick up much discussion. Ditto “Crash.”)

What I’m trying to do here is illuminate the various tracks available to a contender looking to curry favor with the Academy. Much of it has to do with subject matter, what is inherent in the material and how that should be utilized. Something like “Million Dollar Baby,” for instance, was a weeper, so it was smart to strike while the emotional iron was hot. “The Hurt Locker” was an intellectual lingerer.

It’s been interesting to watch the media frenzy on “The Social Network.” It was a necessary play because the film needed to open well (and I’d say it did respectful business). But I would have expected a lot of these pieces (and truly, there have been some cracker-jack features built around this movie, probably because of the media’s obsession with its own) to be scattered throughout the season, keeping the coals burning. Maybe there is more to come, but with the intensity so far, the danger is overstaying your welcome — poison for an Oscar contender.

The conversation on “The King’s Speech,” by the way, will circle back around for its November 26 release date (close to the November 12 and November 21 wide releases of fellow festival players “No Country for Old Men” and “Slumdog Millionaire”).

And there is always the potential of a last minute bloomer. The aforementioned “True Grit” will screen for press sometime in late November and release around the holidays, prime turf. “The Way Back” could still be yanked into the season and get the opportunity it deserves. That’s pretty much it, though.  And after the nominations, it’s a whole different ball game.  Or at least it can be.

But for now, the opportunity is substantial.  There’s a lot of buzz out there.  A lot of logs being tossed onto the blaze.  But who saved for the winter?  And more importantly, who’s going to run out of firewood first?

The Contenders section has been updated throughout the weekend.  I’ve added little thought bubbles to each category, kind of a wandering stream of thoughts on this or that.  The sidebar predictions have also been updated.

[Photos: Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Wrekin Hill Entertainment]




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→ 31 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

31 responses so far

  • 1 10-04-2010 at 11:09 am

    amanda said...

    Kris do you think Blue Valentine and actors might rebound after it gets released or is the release date to far out?

  • 2 10-04-2010 at 11:11 am

    JFK said...

    Kris, if Benning is being considered Supporting, why do you have her listed in your Best Actress list?

  • 3 10-04-2010 at 11:15 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    She’s not being considered supporting.

  • 4 10-04-2010 at 11:16 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    I like how the Blue Valentine actors have to “rebound” even though the film has not been released yet! Crazy how this works.

    Also you liked Giacchino’s work in Let Me In? I found it to be annoying and borderline obnoxious. There was brooding, thumping music playing at the most random scenes.

  • 5 10-04-2010 at 11:42 am

    JJ1 said...

    I think ther big ones will be TSN, TKS, True Grit, and The Way Back (if it’s released). The wild card is TS3. Inception may be in for a play, but as a far outside chance.

    Kris, curious, what if anything did you not care for about TSN? Or did I miss a place where you discussed it thoroughly?

  • 6 10-04-2010 at 11:49 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    This is what I wrote after seeing it:

    http://incontention.com/2010/09/13/finchers-social-network-nails-human-frailty/

  • 7 10-04-2010 at 11:55 am

    JFK said...

    Oh, my mistake. I thought that when I read this: http://incontention.com/2010/09/20/as-reported-moore-will-go-lead-in-kids/#comments you were implying the inverse as well. So they are both leads?

  • 8 10-04-2010 at 12:10 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Kris, do you think that the critics play more of a factor now than they did before? It seems that critical darlings stand a much better chance at Oscar glory than they did, say, ten or twenty years ago.

  • 9 10-04-2010 at 12:11 pm

    Hans said...

    Kris, I agree with your thoughts on Despicable Me. It was a decent effort for the disaster it could have been, and it certainly made money, but I didn’t find anything too particularly special about it.

  • 10 10-04-2010 at 12:19 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Robert: If only because they have wider publicity now.

  • 11 10-04-2010 at 12:44 pm

    Fitz said...

    At this point I can only assume all good will for Inception garnering Nolan a director nod is gone.

  • 12 10-04-2010 at 12:55 pm

    billybil said...

    Thanks Sasha – this is just the sort of insight and perspective I was hoping for.

  • 13 10-04-2010 at 12:57 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Pardon?

  • 14 10-04-2010 at 12:57 pm

    billybil said...

    Oh my – isn’tthis embarrassing. I called Kris, Sasha. I guess this eliminates me from this site forever more. My apologies.

    Thanks Kris – this is just the sort of insight and perspective I was hoping for from Sasha. :-)

  • 15 10-04-2010 at 1:23 pm

    caleb roth said...

    I don’t agree with The King’s Speech in Film Editing. It’s very good example of movie that gets snubbed there. Why not True Grit?

    And after you saw Conviction, I was really expecting to see Swank in your predictions.

  • 16 10-04-2010 at 1:33 pm

    PJ said...

    I have two questions:
    a.Is it realistic to think that the academy will keep ignoring aronofsky? I have to say I’m not a fan but the guy never had a falure and his actors are constantly gathering award buzz and noms (which can work positively with the academy branch). I understand that the film is too dark for the academy’s taste but so were No Country and TWBB. Is it a campaning unwillingness that holds it back?
    2.When was the last time we saw 3 brits in for directing ? Is it possible that all three will wind up nominated? I thought they award one once in a decade.

  • 17 10-04-2010 at 1:46 pm

    jack said...

    take wahlbergs picture down

  • 18 10-04-2010 at 1:56 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Good call.

  • 19 10-04-2010 at 2:08 pm

    jack said...

    happy to help

  • 20 10-04-2010 at 2:09 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “I thought they award one once in a decade.”

    You’re thinking too hard. Breaking the Oscars down into stats like that is tempting, but not that useful — every year is different, with its own quirks and exceptions.

    Plus, that stat isn’t even true — two British directors won in the 1990s, four in the 1960s, and so on.

  • 21 10-04-2010 at 2:22 pm

    a-mad said...

    Its interesting that as well received and successful Inception and TS3 were, they’ve all but been dropped from the current Oscar scuttlebutt…. do we see a late-year rebound as the marketing campaigns kick in, or is it an example of an earlier release getting overshadowed by the fall and holiday releases(yet again… THL notwithstanding…)?

    I can see the sheen of Inception being somewhat dimmer than it was a few months ago… but TS3 has it all – the reviews, the metascore, the box office. Is it going to be content with a nomination and go away quietly? I sure hope not.

  • 22 10-04-2010 at 2:56 pm

    tim said...

    Any thoughts on “The Town” being nominated? Everyone seems to love the movie and it’s doing gangbusters at the box office.

  • 23 10-04-2010 at 3:17 pm

    cineJAB said...

    I still think Leo, Nolan, and Marion will be nominated.

  • 24 10-04-2010 at 3:45 pm

    PJ said...

    I get your point Guy every year is unique, and every year it seems to be enough room for non american nominees in various categories but three british director nominees is a bit far fetched. After all it’s the oscars not the baftas.

  • 25 10-04-2010 at 4:14 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Plenty of years have seen three (or more) non-American directors nominated — just recently, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2006. So why not three Brits — one of them for an American co-production? It just doesn’t seem that far-fetched to me.

  • 26 10-04-2010 at 9:18 pm

    Wheel said...

    I think there’s a slight mistake on the Contenders page, and I’m really curious about where you see Cecile de France. You mention her in the supporting actress blurb, but rank her in the actress chart.

  • 27 10-04-2010 at 9:53 pm

    Patriotsfan said...

    Kris, two questions: 1). What do you think of Justin Timberlake’s chances and is it and either/or situation between Garfield and Timberlake or could both be nominated? 2). How confident are you about Robert Duvall getting nominated? I found the film pretty underwhelming and thought Duvall’s performance was fine, but pretty typical Duvall stuff. Is the performance that well regarded, or is it a combination of a decent performance along with a lot of love and respect for an old Hollywood veteran?

  • 28 10-05-2010 at 8:57 am

    Michael said...

    I think it could be something kind of special if The Way Back gets released and causes a stir in the Oscar race. I hope it happens.

  • 29 10-05-2010 at 9:24 am

    JJ1 said...

    Weir, epic, Harris, Ronan, campaign … salivating at the thought.