Movies - The Oscars postsThursday December 11, 2008
Oscar Watch: NY Critics Pick “Milk”
Now it’s the New York Film Critics Circle’s turn. “Milk” for best picture, actor (Penn), supporting actor (Brolin). “Happy-Go-Lucky,” which opened quietly in October, and whose widest release has been 202 theaters, won for best director (Mike Leigh) and actress (Sally Hawkins). Cruz won again. “Man on Wire” again. Momentum for these two.
BTW: I may preface these awards with the title “Oscar Watch,” but it really doesn’t mean much in terms of the Academy. Critics are critics, and, for best picture, the NY version has only agreed with the Academy twice this decade: 2007 and 2003:
2007: No Country for Old Men
2006: United 93
2005: Brokeback Mountain
2003: The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
2002: Far From Heaven
2001: Mulholland Drive
More importantly, they’ve only agreed with me... a couple of times. I guess it only counts if you make a pick, and I don’t remember picking much earlier in the decade, but, if I had, I wouldn’t have picked what they picked. “Traffic” was a huge disappointment. Same with “Mulholland.” Can’t fathom “Far From Heaven” over “The Pianist.” Was never a big “Lord of the Rings” guy. Despite what I wrote yesterday, I chose “Munich” in ’05 but liked “Brokeback” well enough (OK, a lot). But for the last two years? Yes. “United 93” is a great, underrated movie that didn’t even get nom’ed by the Academy, did it? Don’t know if it’ll last but it’s truly powerful. And “No Country” definitely over “There Will Be Blood.”
There’s an article on the NYFCC site, from Stephen Garrett at Time Out New York, that touts this organization the way that I touted the National Society of Film Critics a few years ago, but either he, or they, left off some of the misses. Sure, they picked “Citizen Kane” over “How Green Was My Valley.” They also ignored both “Godfather” movies in place of foreign films. The valley isn’t always greener.
All of which is to say: It’s a tough biz saying within a year — really, within a month — what the best pics are, and Lord knows I’ve changed my own mind enough times. The last two years of the ‘90s, my original pics were “Saving Private Ryan” and “American Beauty” but now I’d go, in a second, and with full force, for “The Thin Red Line” and “The Insider.”
But it’s nice to have an opinion; it's nice to care. Most years I just shrug.
Oscar Watch: L.A. Critics Pick "WALL-E"
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced their annual awards yesterday and not only did they go popular ("WALL-E"), they went popular twice (runner-up for best pic was "The Dark Knight"). This is in direct contrast to their recent history. Throughout the decade, L.A. critics have awarded best picture to character studies or quiet, somber films, drained of color, in which something horrific happens and is then resolved ambiguously or painstakingly:
2007: There Will Be Blood
2006: Letters from Iwo Jima
2005: Brokeback Mountain
2003: American Splendor
2002: About Schmidt
2001: In the Bedroom
2000: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Not a lot of laughs there. I guess not a lot of laughs in "WALL-E" or "Dark Knight," either. This is not criticism, by the way. My best pics this decade, which would include "Crouching Tiger" and "Brokeback Mountain," were mostly somber films: "The Pianist" in 2002, for example.
So a break from their recent history but not from their history. The Association, which has obviously differed over the years (you can see their current membership here), has often awarded bold, popular movies. I'm thinking "Star Wars" in 1977, "E.T." in 1982 and "Pulp Fiction" in 1994. I'd add "L.A. Confidential" and "The Insider," two Russell Crowe movies from the late '90s, but, as good as these movies were, I don't think they were ever popular at the box office.
Here are their picks over the years:
1999: The Insider
1998: Saving Private Ryan
1997: L.A. Confidential
1996: Secrets & Lies
1995: Leaving Las Vegas
1994: Pulp Fiction
1993: Schindler’s List
1989: Do the Right Thing
1988: Little Dorrit
1987: Hope & Glory
1986: Hannah and Her Sisters
1983: Terms of Endearment
1981: Atlantic City
1980: Raging Bull
1979: Kramer vs. Kramer
1978: Coming Home
1977: Star Wars
1976: Network & Rocky
1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest & Dog Day Afternoon
Not a bad list. I'd also recommend checking out the LAFCA Web site, which is clean and well-designed for this kind of research.
The rest of their picks for this year, including Best Actor (Sean Penn) and Best Supporting Actor (Heath Ledger) can be found here.
Oscar Watch: FOJ-Dub
On the Hollywood Elsewhere site, Jeffrey Wells, who always seems to misspell my name (“Eric”) whenever he reacts to one of my articles, posts an Academy insider's picks for Best Pic:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The supposed shocker is Dark Knight, but I wouldn't be surprised and might even be happy to see it nom'ed . Either way, I get the feeling we're getting down to it. This is beginning to feel right — particularly with Doubt garnering tepid reviews. It would also mean that both Kate Winslet movies (The Reader, which I'm reading now, and Revolutionary Road) would be shut out. Again, not a surprise. Best pics tend to be male- rather than female-oriented, and have been for quite a while.
Read the whole post here.
Oscar Watch: NBR Picks "Slumdog"
Best film: “Slumdog Millionaire”
Best director: David Fincher for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Best actor: Clint Eastwood for “Gran Torino”
Best actress: Anne Hathaway for “Rachel Getting Married”
Best adapted screenplay: Eric Roth for “Benjamin”; Simon Beaufoy for “Slumdog”
Best original screenplay: Nick Schenk for “Gran Torino”
Best supporting actor: Josh Brolin for “Milk”
Best supporting actress: Penelope Cruz for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Best documentary: “Man on Wire”
Best animated film: “WALL-E”
Quick thoughts. Glad to see “Man on Wire” win. Cruz killed in “Vicky.” Brolin was great but wasn’t his role in “Milk” a bit small? Maybe not. Happy for my friend Deb whose friend Nick won for best screenplay and who wrote the screenplay that is garnering a legend like Eastwood acting accolades so late in his career. That's impressive. Have yet to see “Slumdog.” This weekend, I hope.
Most articles mention that NBR’s pick last year, “No Country for Old Men,” went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. So a good indicator, right? Well, let’s pretend life goes back a little further:
2007: “No Country for Old Men”
2006: “Letters from Iwo Jima”
2005: “Good Night, and Good Luck”
2004: “Finding Neverland”
2003: “Mystic River”
2002: “The Hours”
2001: “Moulin Rouge”
Last year was the anomaly. Only once this decade has the Board’s pick gone on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. In fact, in general, NBR is one of the awards bodies I agree with the least. Their picks are rarely surprising — the way that The National Society of Film Critics can surprise (“Babe”; “Out of Sight”) — and often feel safe and soft. Critics’ favorites that don’t have much staying power.
Oh, and among their top 10 movies for the year? This one. WTF?
Dark Knight + Oscar
I missed this article about the Academy Awards and box office when it came out two days ago — distracted, as ever, by the presidential campaign and the World Series — but it’s certainly in my wheelhouse. Last January I wrote an article (or articles) on the subject for HuffPost, and throughout the year I’ve certainly blogged enough about Times’ writers Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes, and the two tag-team on this one.
Here's the point: In the past, popular but lightweight movies were nominated best picture (Three Coins in a Fountain; Love Story; Raiders of the Lost Ark), while weighty Oscar nominees could be huge box office hits (Bridge Over the River Kwai; The Graduate; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). But for the past 30 years, and particularly this decade, we've seen a split: Box office hits rarely get nom’ed and weighty best picture nominees rarely become box office hits. Last January I wrote:
How rare is it when at least one of the best picture nominees isn't among the year's top 10 box office hits? Since 1944, it's happened only five times: 1947, 1984...and the last three years in a row: 2004, 2005, 2006. What was once a rarity has now become routine.
Make that the last four years in a row. The biggest box office hit among last year's best picture nominees, Juno, topped out at 15th for 2007, $25 million behind Wild Hogs.
Now, according to Cieply and Barnes, the studios, who have been busy closing their prestige divisions, are hyping their box office hits, including The Dark Knight and Wall-E, for best picture. Good for them. Unfortunately, Cieply’s and Barnes’ article is also filled with the conventional wisdom of Hollywood insiders. No sentence screamed at me more than this one:
However, several [Oscar campaigners] noted a belief that audiences — weary of economic crisis and political strife — are ready for a dose of fun from the entertainment industry.
It screamed because last May, in Cieply’s article about how Hollywood insiders were worried about their gloomy, sequel-shy summer box office, we got this graf:
The [summer movie] mix may not perfectly match the mood of an audience looking for refuge from election campaigns and high-priced gas, said Peter Sealey, a former Columbia Pictures marketing executive who is now an adjunct professor…
What movies, included in this “mix,” did Cieply specifically mention that the audience might not be in the mood for? The comedy Tropic Thunder, which quietly made $110M, and, of course, The Dark Knight, which noisily grossed $527M. Internationally, it's approaching $1 billion.
You’d think a journalist might be shy about quoting Hollywood insiders in the exact same way after dropping a bomb like that. Not here. Seriously, I encourage everyone to read Cieply’s May article. It’s instructive. Hell, it’s downright Goldmanesque. Nobody may know anything but some of us really don’t know anything.
In the end, and depending on what gets released in the next few months, I wouldn’t mind seeing Dark Knight get nom’ed. It shouldn’t win, of course (Three Coins, Love Story and Raiders didn’t win either), but it was a hugely popular, critically acclaimed film and in the past that’s been enough for the Academy.
But that’s only one part of the equation: a box-office hit will have gotten nom’ed. The other part — a weighty best picture nominee that becomes a box-office hit — will take more work. Work, I should add, the studios don’t appear interested in doing.