Off the Carpet: Shapeshift
What a difference a week makes...
This time seven days ago we were telling you about a delayed "Wolf of Wall Street" from Martin Scorsese (tipping off trades to sniff it out on their end and write a version without crediting the original story, natch). Within days, "Foxcatcher" would take its leave, joining "Grace of Monaco" on that score. The season, as it always does, is changing shape.
Many are waiting for the other shoe to drop on the Scorsese while others are ready to go ahead and just call it "officially" out of the season, but the fact is, that's not the case…yet. Christmas is the aim. Red Granite, the film's financiers, would certainly like it out sooner rather than later but the studio is happy to let it come when it comes: they aren't going to sour the relationship with this filmmaker.
So whatever version Scorsese and his producers settle on, whatever length and for whatever reason, I think we can all agree we'd like him to have the time to find it and that he's earned the right to decide when that time is up; it goes without saying. But all of this uncertainty is probably making some longer-lead coverage interesting at a few outlets. The revolving door on talent roundtables must be dizzying, but this is way inside baseball. It doesn't matter.
I'm bummed that I'll have to wait for "Foxcatcher" because that leaked teaser trailer promised something complex and layered, not so easily boiled down to a common denominator. It certainly was a threat to an already crowded field, so I imagine many campaigns, including some happening under the same Sony roof, are relieved it's out of the way. "Grace of Monaco" would seemingly have afforded some breathing room in a pretty tight Best Actress race, but was Nicole Kidman ever really going to figure in there? We won't know this year.
None of this is game-changing for this particular race, though. Pieces are always moving in and out of place for any number of reasons. But the media, again, is paying extra close attention this season. After all, they're collectively invested now. Oh, didn't you hear? "12 Years a Slave" won the Best Picture Oscar four weeks ago.
But yes, the shifting and sliding provides hope for other films that would have a legitimate bead on Best Picture. "Dallas Buyers Club" is a film near the top of that list for me, an emotional portrait that is also of the zeitgeist in a very big way. It should be required viewing for clowns like Ted Cruz. While the film is very much a snapshot of an era, a deadly epidemic and the culture to which it laid siege, it is also about empathy and the health care debate. "People are dying" should be the campaign's rally cry. It's good enough to be a Best Picture nominee and may generate the kind of passion votes necessary to get it there.
The "Foxcatcher" move leaves Sony Classics with a pair of summer indies that can enjoy a more focused campaign now: "Before Midnight" and "Blue Jasmine." Michael Barker and Tom Bernard appear to be higher on the prospects for the latter, the widest release a Woody Allen movie has seen with a stunning Cate Blanchett performance that will help lead the way. I just wish we were talking about the former in those terms, a landmark in American cinema with a stunning Julie Delpy performance leading the way. I'd also like to see Jeff Nichols' "Mud" from Roadside Attractions re-insinuated in the conversation as these things fall away.
But in the meantime, I myself have gotten my first look at a few other pieces of the puzzle, both of them Weinstein entries that have an angle on the Best Picture race. Neither is a solid gold prospect, and that's certainly been a "story" to those interested. "Harvey just doesn't have anything this year" is something I hear a lot, sometimes doused in schadenfreude, sometimes in mere curiosity and surprise. Moving out "Grace of Monaco" (and, through the RADiUS-TWC shingle, "The Immigrant") may or may not have tipped that it wasn't awards material, but what's qualifiable is it provided the opportunity to focus within Weinstein's slate.
In "August: Osage County," we certainly have a contender. But first, my take, to get it out of the way: Meryl Streep devours the screenplay, the set decoration and her co-stars, and that wasn't, to me, the best choice here. Yes, Violet Weston is a character given to flair, but the process of popping a pill and swallowing it has never been so histrionic. I came away more appreciative of deeper choices from character actors like Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale than I did Streep's grandstanding (and Julia Roberts' desperation to register next to Streep when not otherwise more evenly feeling her way through her role). That and some other broad choices made the film a bit of a sledgehammer, unable to linger.
That said, actors, I think, will answer the call to worship here. Writers will appreciate that even the boldest of interpretations can't smother what's masterful on the page. And the campaign will look to those branches to help carry the way. But I don't see the exclusive directors branch speaking up and I don't expect to see much attention paid below the line (even if the photography and particularly the editing are deceptive in their modesty).
Stephen Frears' "Philomena," meanwhile, perplexes with its Venice screenplay win because on the page is where it feels most lost. Structurally, tonally, it's a bit unsure of itself. It connects here and there along a spectrum but really finds emotion and thematic grace when it drills down. It's the kind of film that will play well on a screener (as will "August") and it could show up big enough in the major races to be a Best Picture player -- or it could be just a vehicle for a Judi Dench nod. Or, frankly, the softer elements could make the whole thing feel a trifle, with the Golden Globes as its last hurrah. I'll be interested to hear further reactions from guilds, etc., because (and I don't mind saying) I'm not entirely sure yet how it will land.
Meanwhile, the New York Film Festival forges ahead. "Captain Phillips" couldn't have landed better, particularly after the strategy to screen for press at the start of Toronto was met with more muted reaction than I imagine Scott Rudin and company would have liked. (Note: I wasn't muted. I loved it.) It has seen its official launch in the Big Apple, will see its premiere tonight at the Academy and is very much a major player in this race now.
Elsewhere, "Inside Llewyn Davis" continues the long play, bringing more critics to its cause (I expect it to do well along their awards circuit). It's another film that certainly benefits from some breathing room in the season. We'll know within the next two weeks how films like "The Book Thief," "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and "Her" (which you'll soon learn received a helping hand from an Oscar-winning director) fit into all of this.
On a personal note, you may have read about that humbling honor I received from the International Cinematographers Guild last week. I just want to say something that didn't make it into my speech Friday afternoon, which is that it could not have meant more coming from anyone else. We've always made it a mandate to educate and illuminate, certainly to celebrate, below the line contributions to cinema here at In Contention, and to be recognized along those lines was a huge thrill. I share the honor unequivocally with the two gentlemen who have shared in that passion these last five or six years and done plenty to help establish that profile: Gerard Kennedy and Guy Lodge.
Alright, enough about us. The Contenders section has been tweaked.