As with most works of high-reaching ambition that critics can't quite agree on -- even those that like it -- "The Master" continues to inspire some of the knottiest film writing of the year. For her part, Stephanie Zacharek admires the film, but suggests a lot of her colleagues feel it's entitled to more thought and attention than it really is. She spins that into an observation of lofty, anti-mainstream festival titles in general: "There’s a danger in erecting false walls around different corners of the culture, of claiming some movies deserve our respect by virtue of who made them and of how they’re made, regardless of whether they arouse any passion in us." [The AV Club]
On Monday, a colleague pointed out to me that the next Academy Awards were, to the day, five months away. Strangely, he said it in the panicked tone of someone on whom Christmas has too swiftly crept up, whereas all I could think of was how dauntingly far away it sounded. Five months is a long time to parse the possibility of a third consecutive Best Picture from the Weinstein stable, to debate Philip Seymour Hoffman’s category placement, and for Jeff Wells to denigrate Daniel Day-Lewis’s Abe Lincoln accent; this weekly column, meanwhile, will have mulled over more than enough unseen variables before the season is out. Welcome.
Apologies for the very late roundup today: I've been having substantial technical problems. We kick off with a look at an Oscar category that few pundits claim to have a bead on: the Best Animated Feature category. In the second consecutive year that Pixar doesn't have it all wrapped up, Glenn Whipp surveys a highly flexible field, and wonders if venerable parent company Disney couldn't reclaim its dominance of the medium and score a trio of nods: with Tim Burton's well-received "Frankenweenie" (the one to beat, from where I'm standing) and "Wreck-It Ralph" bracketing Pixar's generally liked-but-not-loved "Brave." Wouldn't it be fun to have a race in this category for a change? [LA Times]
The Oscar season is just warming up as the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals have gotten us started. The New York and London film fests around the corner will keep things humming and in the meantime, a survey of the field is in order. This year's crop of possibilities is as diverse as ever, genre and foreign film making their voices heard, while animation is curiously absent. Presidential biopics are represented, as are political thrillers. Comedy, as ever, barely shows up, while Hollywood gets a unique spotlight the year after industry nostalgia owned the season. There's something for western fans, comic book fans and literary fans, so click through to check out our cross-section of the players, from "A(mour)" to "Z(ero" Dark Thirty). And of course, keep track of the ups and downs of the category all season at In Contention's Best Picture Contenders page.
For films that don't have deep pockets or any number of other elements stacked up against them in an awards season -- genre bias, early-year release, etc. -- muscling into the conversation at the end of the year can be tough. You use what's at your disposal, of course, and you seize the moment when you can. And make no mistake, there's always a moment to be seized. Because an Oscar season isn't a preordained thing. It's constantly shifting, giving slack, taking it in, ebbing, flowing.
This year, for instance, there is softness in the lead actress category to be capitalized upon. Of course, it seems like there is always a fair share of complaints to be lodged against a minimal amount of Best Actress contenders in a given season, but often enough (in my opinion), we have a strong field. And nevertheless, I think that blame lies first and foremost with a dearth of quality female roles than it does a dearth of quality female performances. So you get something like "Hitchcock" showing up with Helen Mirren in tow, or the possibility of multiple foreign nominees (which means, thankfully, they're getting a look as a result of wanting elsewhere), or you see a campaign excited about the possibilities of a Sundancer like Mary Elizabeth Winstead in "Smashed." The doors crack a bit and whoever wedges in a foot gets the shot.
A flurry of new titles have been added to the pile of Best Foreign Language Film Oscars submissions -- which currently numbers 53 -- in the last day. Among them are films from such one-time nominees as Georgia and Vietnam, as well, hearteningly, the first ever entry from Kenya. I'm always pleased to see more African films in the mix.
Though I need to investigate the new additions further, only one of them immediately strikes me as newsworthy -- and it's a film I've been half-expecting and wholly hoping would show up here since its Cannes debut back in May. Given its combination of acclaim, awards and name appeal, you might have thought Pablo Larrain's superb political satire "No" a shoo-in to be Chile's submission, but there was always the realistic worry that the inscrutable politics of national selection would determine otherwise.
Well, it sure is nice to see Helen Mirren win an award for once. It was announced today that the Oscar-winning actress will receive this year's European Achievement in World Cinema Award at December's European Film Awards ceremony -- "a very meaningful honor," she said, while clearing some shelf space. Of course, there's the possibility that this won't be the high point of her awards season, with Fox Searchlight planning a Best Actress Oscar campaign for her turn as Alma Reville opposite Anthony Hopkins's "Hitchcock." In other Mirren news, she's reprising her role as Queen Elizabeth II on the West End in a new Peter Morgan play, to be directed by Stephen Daldry. Seats will no doubt be in high demand, so I'll graciously sit this one out. [European Film Academy]
The win for "A Separation" in the Best Foreign Language Film category at last February's Academy Awards marked a major breakthrough -- and not just because it marked the first time in donkey's years that the critics' favorite actually took home the prize. More significantly, Asghar Farhadi's searing marital drama made Iran the first Middle Eastern country the win this mostly Eurocentric award.
Not that all of Farhadi's compatriots appreciated the gesture. The Iranian government has been famously suppressive of its more outspoken artists -- notably in the case of filmmaker Jafar Panahi, placed under house arrest and banned from producing films for 20 years for "making propaganda against the system" -- and "A Separation" had its own share own hurdles to overcome. Initially banned while still in production due to Farhadi's past criticisms of the administration, the film was used by certain factions as a political pawn after its success: Javad Shamaghdari, head of the government's cinema agency, labelled the film's Oscar win an anti-Zionist victory, much to the dismay of its makers.
Someone asked me today what looks like a Best Picture winner in these early days, with many things seen, a few still to come. With so many having marks against them it's difficult to get a gauge on what could be "the one," and of course, it's silly to be mulling something like that over when the season has so many more secrets to tell. But my knee-jerk reaction was Tom Hooper's "Les Misérables."
Why? Well, it's in the enviable position of still being a bit of a mystery, for starters. Hooper, of course, is coming off his big win for "The King's Speech" in 2010, which made him a commodity in Hollywood. The campaign is taking flight, the early notes revolving around the live singing employed by the film (which, frankly, from a sound mixing standpoint, makes it immediately more interesting in the musical realm than most). But more to the point, there's a lot of tangible thematic resilience in the story that could find the right stride in today's world. Well, let's just say there's a case to be made on that score by a smart campaign, anyway.
I've been hearing more and more about John Lee Hancock's forthcoming "Saving Mr. Banks" ever since Tom Hanks was signed on to play Walt Disney in the film and, therefore, the screenplay review community gobbled it up and dissected it and word got out that it had a heck of a lot of potential. Apparently it's pretty damn good, and it presents a grand opportunity for Hanks, a five-time Oscar nominee who hasn't been recognized by the Academy since 2000's "Cast Away."
Hanks was on hand at the Emmys last night, to collect his trophy for Outstanding Mini-Series or Movie as a producer of HBO's "Game Change." (He's won five of those now, by the way, for "The Pacific," "John Adams," "Band of Brothers" and "From the Earth to the Moon," in addition.) He showed up sporting, it would appear, the mustache he's rocking out as Disney in the new film, and it got me thinking of a spit-ball sort of column we could throw up every once in a while to place unnecessary pressure on upcoming films and performances that, on paper, look like they could be awards contenders. This certainly seems like one of them.