Judi Dench was a near-annual presence in the Oscar race for a time, though it's been seven years since she scored her last nomination (her sixth) for her remarkable work as an unhinged schoolteacher in "Notes on a Scandal." I maintain that she deserved the Oscar that year, but she had no chance against fellow British veteran Helen Mirren, who won Best Actress at Venice for her turn as QE2 in Stephen Frears' "The Queen" before bulldozing her way through the season. Which is funny, since that's pretty much the narrative Dench is seeking to emulate with her titular performance in Frears' latest, "Philomena."
As we steel ourselves for the season ahead with early lists of contenders and a harsh spotlight on unassuming films hoping to find an audience, let alone awards traction, it's worth remembering that the list of coulda-been players in a given Oscar season is long and considerable. And if I'm not making the point clear enough early on in that sentence, let me do so now: this is every bit the fault of analysts like me, as much as it is the films themselves, if not more.
Covering the awards season, we forecast, we look ahead, we see how things look on paper and we set sometimes unfortunate bars. Not every film is looking for that kind of exposure, and often enough, the inflated expectations of industry watchers get in the head of many a would-be player only to amplify the eventual disappointment of a dead end. That having been said, there are obviously many films that set their sights on the awards race with the right formula, or so they thought, only to come up empty-handed at the end of the day. We see them every year.
Showbiz 411's Roger Friedman -- who some might call a noted Harvey Weinstein shill -- bloviated about "Lee Daniels' The Butler" under the cover of "Oscar observation" a few weeks ago but apparently no one else could. The embargo is up today so let's get into it. The question on this one is, will it be an awards player or will it just fade out before the season even gets here? A few thoughts...
The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today that Spike Jonze's "Her" will close the 51st New York Film Festival on Sunday, Oct. 13. "Her" is Jonze's first film since 2009's "Where the Wild Things Are" and his first original screenplay.
Shortly after the Venice Film Festival announced its heavyweight lineup last month, fest director Alberto Barbera teased us with the promise of later additions to the programme: "There are at least a couple of films we're still working on, American films," he said, stirring much excitement and speculation over various high-profile titles. Today, at least some of those latecomers were announced, and even if they're not the breathlessly awaited A-list titles some pundits were improbably hoping for, they add further shading to an already eclectic selection.
How is George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" going to shape up this season? Frankly, this "movie" movie is starting to looking like another "Argo," potentially, a middle-ground choice that entertains with a slice of history but has a populist edge to it that will draw in audiences, not just the industry.
Many of you will remember the days when Chad Hartigan was our reliably astute and highly discriminating box office analyst back at the old In Contention site -- we miss him still. But that was then and this is now, and Chad's been making waves on the festival circuit this year with his thoughtful, penetrating second feature "This is Martin Bonner." "'Decency' isn't much of a buzzword in the current, irony-fuelled indie realm," I wrote in my Edinburgh Film Festival review of the two-hander character study, "but 'Martin Bonner' possesses a pure, palpable strain of it from first cleanly composed frame to last."
Looking over the past few months, you might think the summer surprise of 2013 was the critical and box office success of "The Conjuring." Not really. All corners of the industry knew that Warner Bros. release was a hit in the making after early screenings started the buzz in the spring. It wasn't the word of mouth success for "Fruitvale" either. That award-winning drama had a passionate following out of Sundance in January. And the disappointments of "Lone Ranger," "White House Down," "After Earth,""Turbo" or "R.I.P.D."? Um, yeah. Personally, I'm kicking myself for not going to Vegas to put money down on how those movies would perform months ago. No, the surprise this summer is, hands down, "Blue Jasmine."
For whatever reason, a lot of elements have combined lately to make me think of Terrence Malick's "Badlands." It's never an unwelcome thought, of course: Malick's debut feature, which somewhat unbelievably celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, remains his coolest and crispest work. That's not necessarily to say it's his best, but this portrait of a kid couple's Midwestern massacre retains a bare, bony lyricism that cuts as close today as it must have in 1973; it's at once his oldest and youngest film.
I was thinking recently about something that really agitates me when it comes to the awards season, which is this notion that certain accomplishments are instinctively relegated to the "indie" bin of the Independent Spirit Awards or the Gotham Awards, like some ghetto of would-be Oscar contenders.
Every season when I have conversations with publicists and journalists about what's in the mix for awards, I tend to mention things like, oh, Elizabeth Olsen in "Martha Marcy May Marlene," or Woody Harrelson in "Rampart," to name a couple of examples. "Yeah but that's just Indie Spirits," someone will reply. And it bugs the ever-loving crap out of me.
I don't want to come off foolishly idealistic because we all know what's what, but why does it HAVE to be? Why can't that spotlight be shone? Why instinctively compartmentalize the season like that and not allow it to breathe a bit? I think we've always tried to be inclusive in our coverage rather than exclusive. Even if it's clear something isn't going to happen for this or that hopeful, we make it clear when they deserve to be in the ring. But others are far too quick to marginalize.