There may still be a question mark over how well "The Master" goes over with the Academy, but there's little doubt that Joaquin Phoenix is primed for a nomination (at least) for his blazing performance in it. When he gets it, however, it'll be without any help from the actor himself, who has made it quite clear he has no interest in the whole ritual of awards season whatsoever. His interview with Elvis Mitchell touches on many interesting areas, but here are his thoughts on the Oscar-chasing business: "I think it's total, utter bullshit, and I don't want to be a part of it. I don't believe in it... Pitting people against each other . . . It's the stupidest thing in the whole world. It was one of the most uncomfortable periods of my life when 'Walk the Line' was going through all the awards stuff and all that. I never want to have that experience again." Guess he won't be coming to the ceremony, then. [Interview]
While Guy is shrewdly noting the potential for British voting contingents to rally behind this or that (particularly "Les Misérables") in this year's Oscar race, I've just emerged from what is undeniably one of the most quintessentially American efforts of the year: Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." Though the irony of the fact that the titular Commander-in-Chief and the leader of the Union army are portrayed by Brits in the film is not lost on me, I assure you.
Nevertheless, the film -- which has seen a staggered press screening roll-out since its "surprise" New York Film Festival bow last week -- pumps with the blood of a nation and one of its darkest chapters. It's Spielberg's most performance-heavy work to date, and indeed, features a cross-section of character actors and star-caliber players all spouting off dialogue thick with the drama of the moment. Every inch of the frame feels heavy with Importance (with a capital "I"), and for good reason. It's a crucial moment and the need to emboss that fact is never lost on Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner.
"I'm not going to be narrow enough to claim these fellows can't act,” wrote acidic industry columnist Hedda Hopper in 1964. “They've had plenty of practice. The weather's so foul on that tiny isle that, to get in out of the rain, they gather themselves in theaters and practice 'Hamlet' on each other.”
“These fellows” were, of course, the British – who, much to the chagrin of Hollywood loyalists like Hopper, enjoyed a golden streak at the Academy Awards consistent with the all-purpose ‘British Invasion’ of the mid-60s. When she wrote this, the UK had claimed back-to-back Best Picture wins with “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Tom Jones,” while victories for such British stars as Julie Christie, Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison and Paul Scofield lay ahead.
It’s a love affair the Academy has maintained over the decades, in some periods more passionately than in others: Colin Welland’s cry of “The British are coming!” as underdog “Chariots of Fire” claimed the 1981 Best Picture Oscar signalled another mini-surge. More recently, after a lengthy stretch of American domination, triumphs for “Slumdog Millionaire” in the 2008 race, and “The King’s Speech” two years later, suggested another invasion might be afoot.
Though he's still revered as one of his generation's finest, it's been an awfully long time since Robert De Niro's name came up in any kind of awards conversation. Over 20 years have passed since the actor's last Oscar nomination -- his sixth -- for "Cape Fear," and give or take some Golden Globe comedy attention, awards voters have shared in the general consensus that the great man has gone off the boil in his later years.
That dry spell, of course, looks to end this year, with probable Best Picture contender "Silver Linings Playbook" a likely bet to land De Niro his seventh nod -- and his first in supporting since he entered the Oscar fray nearly forty years ago in "The Godfather Part II." With the Weinsteins set to campaign hard for the Toronto fest favorite, De Niro's campaign is already picking up steam: he's getting the Supporting Actor honor at the Hollywood Film Awards (for whatever that's worth, but it's still a publicity opp), and is now set to receive the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Variety's Jon Weisman has fallen a little bit in love with "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." As have many people, including us here at In Contention. Yet the film isn't even being mentioned as a dark-horse Oscar player in most circles. Why so? Because, Weisman, argues, it wasn't tapped for awards glory sight-unseen. Referring to awards season as being run a bit like a high school clique: "[S]ome pics get a head start and others a hurdle based on little more than their loglines. This is true even though movies don't need to please everyone to reach the Dolby Theater in February." (He points to the recent Best Picture nomination for the poorly received "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" as an example of the latter.) What other gems are fighting to be considered awards material? [The Vote]
NEW YORK -- The first time actor John Hawkes heard about Mark O'Brien, the polio-afflicted author, journalist and poet he portrays in the new film "The Sessions," it was due to the Oscars. Documentary filmmaker Jessica Yu had just won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short for 1996's "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien." Hawkes read a quote from her in the newspaper basically noting that the dress loaned to her for the evening cost more than the budget for her film, and he enjoyed a chuckle over that.
Hawkes knows a little something about low-budget filmmaking, too. After working consistently for years as a character actor on screen and TV, he's become something of an indie darling. "The Sessions" in fact marked his third-straight trip to the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year (at which point the film was titled "The Surrogate"). And 16 years after the Oscars managed to put O'Brien on his radar, he looks entirely likely to pop up on Oscars' radar for his performance of the man.
You have to hand it to the Golden Globes. Barely had the chatter died down about the Academy's surprising choice of Oscar host than the HFPA chimed in with their own... and grabbed bigger headlines than Seth Macfarlane ever did. While the "Ted" man's appointment was welcomed in some quarters, others expressed concern that most viewers out in the real world don't know who he is -- a weak spot the Globes have cunningly zeroed in on by snapping up star comedy duo Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to continue the work done by Ricky Gervais in the last two years. With Fey a name many have suggested for the Oscar gig (she's presented at the big show twice), this likely ratings coup must really smart for AMPAS. I know which show I'm looking forward to more now. You? [HitFix]
This weekend's viewing at the London Film Festival brought me to a pleasingly round, if short-lived, statistic: I've now seen 20 of the 71 films entered for consideration in this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race. That's a pretty small proportion still, yet even this sample pool feels thick with artistic virtue and contender potential alike. From this single score of films, I feel, it'd be quite easy to draw up five-nominee slate for the ages, with several worthy alternatives left over as change – and Australia's entry, the lyrical-yet-bloodied “Lore” (A-) deserves to be near the top of the heap.
Whether for arthouse or Academy targeting purposes, “Lore” seems destined to be handed the 'Holocaust film' label – a tag that, however impartially descriptive, has lately called to mind a subgenre marked by earnest moral reinscription and grayscale suffering. Neither is a convention to which this crisp, cruel, often recklessly beautiful survival story, set against the dying breaths of Nazism, feels duty-bound. It's as much a tale of an individual's selfish spurts of guilt and rapture as one of any larger communal redemption or destruction, and as such feels very much of a piece with director Cate Shortland's woozily desirous 2004 debut “Somersault” – to which “Lore” is a too-long-awaited follow-up.
I haven't started to look at the 2012 awards season in terms of "the year of" because it's a fool's errand. That kind of thing just bubbles up and hits you one day and it becomes clear that, however inadvertently, the season's awards product hovers around similar ideas and notions, or at least that they can be molded around same.
However, after taking in Robert Zemeckis's "Flight" for a second time last night as the 50th annual New York Film Festival drew to a close, I started to note some things. The spirituality of the film, which I was aware of initially but which really began to stand out a second time, remained intriguing. And it struck me as somewhat poignant that it served as a bookend to the fest with opening night presentation "Life of Pi," a film very much about the search for faith and its power when it takes hold, whatever one might put one's faith in.
"Flight" screenwriter John Gatins was quick to go into all of that at the Stone Rose Lounge closing night party overlooking Columbus Circle. He was working through a few things when he wrote the script and the notion of "there are no atheists in foxholes" led to "there are no atheists on crashing airplanes" and that took him on a whole other journey of reflecting his flawed protagonist's faith through a variety of prisms throughout the script.
With the greatest of respect to a beautiful country, Spain's box office doesn't usually rate much of a mention -- but it seem worth mentioning when it addresses at least one question mark hovering over one of this year's Oscar hopefuls. Juan Antonio Bayona's tsunami drama "The Impossible" didn't get quite the level of buzz some expected out of Toronto: many reviews were strong, but others took issue with the filmmakers' decision to turn the true-life story of a Spanish family, the Belons, into one about a fictional British brood, allowing for more Hollywood-friendly casting. As it turns out, Spanish audiences couldn't care less: the film has been a domestic smash, shattering local records with its opening four-day gross. Will it connect with audiences Stateside in a tough holiday release slot? [Variety]