An accidental blessing it may be -- and one that has only come into effect since the Academy moved its calendar forward a few years ago -- but situating the Sundance Film Festival in the middle of Oscar season is a blessing nonetheless. A week of conversation about freshly unveiled, critically malleable films is a necessary tonic at a stage when the same small selection of Academy-approved contenders has been discussed, debated and designated for anything from two months to an entire year.
(The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy's 24 categories awarding excellence in film. New installments will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Friday, February 22.)
This year's Oscar nominees in the Best Documentary, Short Subject category are, as ever, a varied an eye-opening bunch. But emotion reigns throughout, always a key to capturing voters' hearts and securing support.
The doc shorts were not, however, part of the three categories newly opened to the entire membership. It will go at least one more year of providing select screenings of the contenders and therefore all voters will have to prove that they attended the screening in order to vote. Recent winners in the category have included "Saving Face," "Strangers No More," "Music by Prudence" and "Smile Pinki," and there's really no connective tissue there. Sometimes you have to just go with your gut on what might win the day.
The nominees are...
As strongly as "Lincoln" has been performing throughout the season, Steven Spielberg has yet to receive much in the way of individual recognition for the film. That could change on Oscar night, of course. Until then, however, the American Cinema Editors have taken it upon themselves to reward the director, naming him the recipient of their annual Golden Eddie Award for Filmmaker of the Year.
Harvey Weinstein has had enough success in the Oscar campaigning game -- including twin Best Picture bids this year for "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Django Unchained" -- that it can't pain him too much to admit to the odd miscalculation. Still, it's interesting to see him do so in an interview with Deadline's Mike Fleming. Weinstein blames Quentin Tarantino's absence from the Best Director category (hardly an easy race to crack this year, as Ben Affleck can tell you) on his own tardiness in sending out DVD screeners. He also claims he mismarketed Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master": "I think the audience had trouble with the movie and needed to be guided and eased into it ... My attachment to 'The Master' was not the Scientology or religion; it was that in WWII, people like my dad and other combat veterans came back and were just lost after the war. Maybe if I’d explained the movie in those terms, that it was more of a spiritual quest for a veteran who had seen action and got lost, people might have responded differently." [Deadline]
For the second year, the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts -- which hands out their own local industry awards on their home turf -- held a separate ceremony in LA to honor their top international choices. And it turns out the Aussies like "Silver Linings Playbook." A lot.
The romantic dramedy, which led the AACTA nominee list with five mentions, won Best Picture, Director and Actress for Jennifer Lawrence, while the Board of Governors handed it two extra awards for the supporting performances of Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. (You might detect some national favoritism in the award for Weaver, as well as in a couple of nominations -- notably Ben Lewin for Best Director.) "Lincoln" and "Django Unchained" were the only two other films to get a look-in at last Friday's ceremony, which was hosted by Russell Crowe. Full list of nominees and winners after the jump, and at The Circuit.
Amid the Sundance rush, it slipped my mind to list the nominations for the International Cinephile Society's awards -- for which I had a hand in voting. The ICS is a diverse group of over 80 film journalists, academics and the like, so their picks tend to veer a little off the beaten track. Here, for example, you'll find no mention of "Argo," "Les Mis" (no, not even for Anne Hathaway), "Life of Pi" or "Silver Linings Playbook," but plenty for foreign standouts like "Tabu" and "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia." "The Master" leads with 10 bids; "Holy Motors" follows with nine. Winners will be announced on February 9; check out the full list of nominees after the jump, and at The Circuit.
Guild favorite "Argo" may be closing in on "Lincoln" in the Best Adapted Screenplay race, but even if it continues its sweep, the WGA has ensured Tony Kushner won't go home empty-handed on February 17. The "Lincoln" scribe will be presented with the group's Paul Selvin Award for the script that "best embodies the spirit of the constitutional and civil rights and liberties, which are indispensable to the survival of free writers everywhere." If that award sounds pretty much tailor-made for "Lincoln" (hey, it wasn't going to go to "Django Unchained") it isn't: last year's winner was Tate Taylor for "The Help." [Deadline]
I confess it's news to me that the costume designers of the Academy didn't already have their own separate voting branch -- instead, they've always been lumped into a single Designers' Branch with the production designers, art directors and set decorators. Yet nominees in the Best Costume Design category are often so distinctive -- several of them scoring in no other Oscar field, even Best Art Direction -- that I'd assumed they were the result of a smaller branch of peers voting.
I have to say, it was nice to spend a week or so away from the Oscar fray, and for its part, the Oscar fray seemed to be very content with putting things on hold while the Sundance Film Festival did its thing in the mountains of Utah. I guess maybe that's one good thing about this season's scheduling change: room to breathe in January.
But the festival is over and now it's back to our regularly scheduled programming, with the deep dive happening this weekend as the guild awards got going. And the question rises once again: What's going to win Best Picture? Though that would seem to have been answered by the events of the last two days, it's still a question for some.
But I'll leave that for now. Lately I've been curious about the Best Director race. With an "Argo" win would obviously come a split director decision (unless that write-in stuff finds traction). My instinct has been Steven Spielberg, because "Lincoln" is a hell of an accomplishment and even if I'm betting "Argo" will reap the benefits of the preferential ballot system (born out by its victory Saturday), it still makes sense for Spielberg to get some love.
With the exhausting thrill of Sundance still in my bones, I'm not quite ready yet to think about diving into the Berlin Film Festival -- but there it is, less than two weeks away. The programme has been revealed in drips and drabs, and today we learned who'll serve alongside present Wong Kar-wai on the competition jury. As usual, it's an interesting group, and one that includes two Oscar winners: Tim Robbins and Danish writer-director Susanne Bier. Meanwhile, the addition presence of the superb cinematographer Ellen Kuras ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"). Iranian video artist turned filmmaker Shirin Neshat and Greek New Wave talent Athina Rachel Tsangrai (director of "Attenberg," but also a producer on Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight") makes for a mostly female jury this year. [Berlinale]