After all the conjecture that is proliferated during the early-season mentions and first batch of critics group awards, the first of the year is when we finally get a read on what the collective thought process of the industry at-large. The three major guilds reveal their nominations, and the result is generally that we get a stronger bead on what Phase Two will hold. This year, however, I think the opposite is true. With so many viable contenders from so many respected filmmakers and no hugely dominant force plowing through the season (save The Artist, but even that film has its vocal critics), each new set of nominations seems to put a slightly different spin on expectations. So rather than watching the contenders coalesce, it seems that the door has inched open a little further, with the possibility that expected frontrunners could fall out and films that once seemed dead-in-the-water could rise once again.
…it seems that the door has inched open a little further, with the possibility that expected frontrunners could fall out and films that once seemed dead-in-the-water could rise once again.
Look at the Producer’s Guild nominees. The PGA decided to stick with a fully-inclusive ten nominees this year, in spite of the AMPAS rule change that will make it nearly impossible to reach ten Best Picture Oscar nominees. As such, one would expect that the eventual list of seven or eight Best Picture nominees would likely be included in the PGA ten. A lot of the season’s usual suspects were indeed present — The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, War Horse — and, of course, a few curveballs. But the curveballs were a little curvier than usual. I expected to see one or two crowd-pleasing box-office hits represented on the PGA list but thought they might go for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (the kind of nomination that can happen when the group is working with ten nominees). Instead, they went with Bridesmaids, which is delightful (since I actually agree that it is one of the year’s ten best films) but still unexpected. On the other hand, I expected the PGA to also dole out accolades to a couple of the year’s most respected works of individual art, The Tree of Life and Drive. I thought that a PGA nomination would solidify Tree as an Oscar player and might also indicate that Drive had a serious shot at a Best Picture nomination. But as it turned out, neither was in the cards. Instead, the PGA went with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which we knew was in the mix) and…wait for it…The Ides of March! Talk about an awards season resurrection. George Clooney’s political tour de force seemed dead and buried — save that token Golden Globes mention — but it rose from the ashes, if only for a moment.
Talk about an awards season resurrection. George Clooney’s political tour de force seemed dead and buried — save that token Golden Globes mention — but it rose from the ashes, if only for a moment.
A few days later, the Writer’s Guild of America released their annual set of nominations, ushering in another unique set of contenders — but we have to remember the context in which they are determined. The WGA has a very strict, very hazy set of rules concerning signatories and production agreements that ultimately prohibit some of the top Oscar contenders from being included. What generally results is an eclectic group of quirky nominees, and the same holds true this year. In the Best Original Screenplay category, Bridesmaids once again finds itself in the mix, with Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo’s script leading a field made up of all comedies: Will Reiser’s 50/50, Tom McCarthy’s Win Win, Diablo Cody’s Young Adult, and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. On the Adapted side, some more conventional screenplays turned up: The Descendants (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Steven Zaillian), The Help (Tate Taylor), Hugo (John Logan), and Moneyball (Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin). What’s surprising about this list of nominees is that, in spite of all the disqualifications (among them Shame, Drive, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and many others), both categories sport likely Oscar contenders. Descendants, Moneyball, and Midnight in Paris have long been seen as Oscar locks, and films like Bridesmaids, 50/50, Win Win, and Dragon Tattoo have been surging in this late stage of Phase One. The WGA’s choices may, in the end, be less nebulous than we might’ve expected.
Finally there was the Director’s Guild of America, that most accurate of the annual Oscar precursors. Generally speaking, the winner of the DGA goes on to win the Oscar for Best Director. But in terms of nominations, they usually differ from the eventual Oscar slate by at least one, and this year is especially confounding, considering the wide open nature of the race. This year’s nominees include Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist, Alexander Payne for The Descendants, Martin Scorsese for Hugo, Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris…and David Fincher for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Clearly, the story here is Fincher’s inclusion, which — combined with the film’s WGA nomination and especially its PGA nod — puts the film in the thick of the Best Picture race. And for a movie as polarizing as Dragon Tattoo, I wonder if it has to do with residual respect for what many consider a Fincher snub last year for The Social Network. Then again, the very nature of being “polarizing” is having a very passionate group of supporters, and passion is what leads to nominations — especially under the Academy’s new Best Picture voting system.
While on the subject of “passion,” it seems to be dwindling for War Horse, which saw its director, Steven Spielberg, snubbed by the DGA, which is usually slavish to his prestigious works. The film did score a PGA nomination and is still among the likely Best Picture nominees, but its overt stylization and deliberate old-fashioned lugubriousness may be its ultimate undoing with the industry, especially in a year with very similar films like The Artist and Hugo. And The Tree of Life is quite tenuous at this point, after failing to score with any branch of the industry precursors (director Terrence Malick being the latest casualty with the DGA). It’s hard to say where the film stands, considering the Academy is its own group of selected industry professionals, and its combined membership (nearly 6,000) is far smaller than even one of the guilds by itself (the DGA, for example, is made up of about 14,000 peeps), there is enough crossover to indicate that a Best Picture nomination seems out of the cards at this point.
So where does that leave us? It seems fairly clear the eventual slate Best Picture nominees will be made up of seven or eight of the PGA nominees. That leaves films like The Tree of Life and Drive on the outside. And of the PGA nominees, it has always appeared that The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, and War Horse would be slotted as BP nominees. So which films will join them? The most likely candidates are Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I have always thought there would be eight BP nominees, and there we have our eight. As we inch closer to Nomination Day, many seem to be moving toward predicting a seven-film Best Picture category, and given how the new voting system places prominence on first-place votes, perhaps seven will indeed be the number. My guess is that passion for Woody’s work on Midnight in Paris will place it squarely in the sixth spot, with Moneyball and Dragon Tattoo duking it out for the seventh. Or maybe my initial guess will be right and we’ll have eight. Our answer is less than two weeks away.