The Long Shot: Out but not down
Still, it was awfully hard to keep track of those early shifts in the race, so frequently and vehemently were they noted. "12 Years a Slave" was in across the board. "August: Osage County" was out -- except for its performances, where questions of who was in, and who was out, and in the correct or incorrect category, were thrashed out on Twitter in far greater detail, and with far more enthusiasm, than the more fundamental question of whether the film was any cop. Idris Elba was out. Matthew McConaughey was so in. Directors with the audacity not to go to Toronto at all -- oh, those incorrigible Coens -- were on hold.
Most, if not all, of these declarations may be proven correct by January, though it's hard to absorb them as gospel when you're still waiting to see the film with your own eyes. "12 Years a Slave" may well enter the backlash stage before I join the chorus of even the first wave of euphoria/skepticism; by October 18, the date of its UK premiere, the counter-backlash may even be under way. (The film will be glad of it; after being declared a Best Picture-in-waiting at Toronto last year, "Argo" did itself an enormous favor by dimming its lights for a couple of weeks while more restlessly declarative pundits imagined "Lincoln" a done deal.)
The fall festivals are nearly a month-old memory, the field already leaner and more steeply raked than it was in early September, and I'm only now offering my first nomination predictions. If I've been a little slower than usual to join the prognostication parade, it's because I've been a little slower than usual to see the films -- and I'd prefer to enjoy them as films first, before analyzing what factors -- only one of which tends to be the film's own merit -- went right or wrong for its Oscar campaign. "12 Years a Slave," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "August: Osage County," even summer releases like "Lee Daniels' The Butler": all titles whose variable awards potential I know more intimately than the films themselves.
Some films may even be out of the running altogether by the time some of us get round to them, and that's no bad thing. There's a noble fascination to fine, Oscar-tailored films that never found the awards momentum they were seeking: Ramin Bahrani's "At Any Price" generated awards talk for all of a second on the festival circuit last year, and I'll still tell my fellow Brits to see it when it crawls onto UK screens this winter. (Just the other day, I caught a segment of "The Soloist" on TV, and was surprised by how entirely-okay it seemed. Also, you know what's a pretty good film that no one tells you is pretty good? "Won't Back Down." But I'm straying off course here.)
Good films needn't even be great to avoid evaporating when Oscar season does. They're in a different category to genuinely remarkable early releases that probably never had Oscar on the cards anyway -- let's say "Stoker" or, at a marginally more Oscar-friendly push, "Frances Ha." (Lest we forget, Noah Baumbach's lovely film skipped away from Toronto last year with a modicum of Oscar buzz for its leading lady, before selflessly scuppering its own momentum to give the springtime at least one great movie.) And those are in a different category still to recent festival premieres that we know, sight unseen, aren't getting Oscars, but are looking forward to seeing away. (I'm pretty sure I know why nobody at Toronto was talking about, oh, "The Railway Man,"but I still want to see it.)
We're already past that nice point of knowingly blind optimism where virtually everything and everyone, we like to say, has a shot. Still, there's room in my mind for all these films, even if there's no room in the race: have-nots that still have (or might have) something, out but not down.