Projection: Oscar - Odds and Ends


So many stories have developed over the past few weeks that it’s hard to keep up. Thankfully, I’m here to parse the critical information from each of them. Here now are this week’s Oscar Odds and Ends…

More Critics Sound Off

The New Year has brought with it a slew of additional critics group awards, and they have added additional shape to a shifting race. The Online Film Critics Society announced on January 2nd, naming The Tree of Life the year’s best film. Terrence Malick was named Best Director, Michael Fassbender won Best Actor, and Tilda Swinton won Best Actress. This week, the Denver Film Critics Society named its winners, and Tree of Life again won big, winning Best Picture and tying for Best Director. Malick shared the directing prize with The Artist‘s Hazanavicius. Brad Pitt won Best Actor for Moneyball while Meryl Streep was named Best Actress for The Iron Lady.

Two niche critic organizations made announcements this week, and while one group illustrated pride, the other seemed to veer entirely off course. The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association announced its nominees, highlighting films with strong gay themes — among them Weekend, Beginners, Albert Nobbs, and Pariah. However, of those films, only Weekend garnered a Best Picture nomination, though Pedro Almodovar’s wonderful The Skin I Live In, whose themes speak clearly to Almodovar’s gay identity, was also tapped as a Best Picture nominee. Rounding out the Best Picture nominees are The Artist, The Descendants, Midnight in Paris, and The Tree of Life. On the other hand, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists seemed reticent to award any females outside of the traditional Actress and Supporting Actress categories. They toed a very boring line, awarding The Artist Best Picture and Michel Hazanavicius Best Director. Even the female acting categories were unimaginative, with Best Actress going to Viola Davis and Supporting Actress going to both Octavia Spencer and Janet McTeer. The organization bent over backwards to give some love to woman filmmakers — Lynne Ramsay won Best Woman Director for We Need to Talk About Kevin and Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo won the Best Woman Screenwriter award for Bridesmaids. But it strikes me odd that an organization dedicated to promoting women in this very male-dominated industry wouldn’t look to the brilliant work of women this year and award it accordingly…outside of the very boxed-in “Best Woman ____” awards.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Next Projection Awards, which highlighted an eclectic year in cinema with an eclectic group of winners. The Tree of Life was named best film of the year, with Terrence Malick winning Best Director. And look at this diverse group of winners that followed — Michael Shannon for Best Actor in Take Shelter (yes!)…Tilda Swinton for Best Actress in We Need to Talk About Kevin (yes!)…Jessica Chastain for Best Supporting Actress in Take Shelter (yes!)…Nick Nolte for Best Supporting Actor in Warrior (yes!). Finally, a level-headed group of superlatives from a well-informed group of cineastes. Proud, I am.

Kim Novak v. The Artist

“I want to report a rape,” begins the full-page Variety ad taken out against The Artist by Kim Novak. “I feel as if my body — or, at least my body of work — has been violated by the movie, The Artist.” Um…

I needn’t spend too much time on this ridiculousness, but it seems that this is the de facto hurdle of “controversy” every Best Picture frontrunner must leap over in its quest for the Oscar. In this case, it is The Artist‘s co-opting of Bernard Herrmann’s famous 1958 score for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which offends Novak since…well, it is her biggest claim to fame, and she hasn’t appeared in a movie in over 20 years. The use of the word “rape” is particularly offensive, since it trivializes the tragic and damaging emotions that are triggered by actual rape. Lynn Blanco, CEO of the Rape Crisis Center in San Antonio, Texas, spoke out on the issue, saying: “When rape is used in a way that overdramatizes a situation that did not include an actual rape it diminishes the suffering of the thousands of men, women and children who have suffered from the crime.”

We can debate the merits of sampling Herrmann’s score (which was done legally, with permission, and is explicitly mentioned in the film’s credits). For that matter, we can debate the virtues and flaws of The Artist’s co-opting of not merely a famous score, but an entire genre, in its homage of the Silent Era. But to suggest that the use of Herrmann’s Vertigo score is some sort of abomination is egregious. It is hardly an affront against Hitchcock’s film — and is absolutely isn’t an affront against Novak. If anything, this is the sort of trumped-up non-issue that will only help the film as it progresses through the season.

Brad Pitt: Best Actor Frontrunner?

I’ve been a bit curmudgeonly on Twitter lately…mainly because, as an arrogant, know-it-all Oscar pundit, I have started to spot a few trends I find to be a little overstated. The most notable of late is the notion that Brad Pitt has now ascended to the front of the Best Actor race. To that argument, I would counter that, as one who tries to keep his finger on the pulse of the Oscar race, I have seen nothing that has explicitly indicated a move in that direction.

Then I step back and look at the context of the race, and I will say: yeah, it could happen.

Going into the season, George Clooney appeared to this year’s insurmountable acting juggernaut — not unlike Colin Firth last year or Jeff Bridges the year before. But as I have written before, this year’s race has simply taken a different shape than years past. Typically, at this point we have a clear bead on the Best Picture frontrunner and we can predict without blinking the eventual Best Actor and Best Actress winners. But everything about this season — front the on-going murky state of the Best Picture race to the incredibly muddy acting races — seems to be in a perpetual state of flux. It is starting to become easier to determine the eventual nominees, but more than ever it seems that the Phase Two campaigning will have incredible influence on which nominee rises to the win. We just can’t say yet.

At this point, the path to the win still seems clearest for Clooney; the film has been widely embraced not only from the critics, but by all of the major industry guilds, and Clooney’s performance is widely recognized as the modern Hollywood legend’s career-best. And as The Artist continues to tentatively cling to the Best Picture lead, Jean Dujardin’s charming silent performance seems like it could easily be swept up in the wave of love. But Clooney could suffer from attempting to be the wire-to-wire frontrunner…plus, The Descendants does have its vocal critics (of which I am a proud member). And in a season so wide open, the Academy will likely spread the wealth among several films, rather than focus on an Artist sweep that would include Dujardin. So that does leave the door open…and Pitt is ready to come in. Moneyball continues to be one of the most respected films in the race and it has only seen its stock rise since scoring with PGA and WGA nominations. Pitt is the face of the film and his performance is widely respected — plus there is the matter of his brilliant supporting work in Malick’s The Tree of Life, the lingering respect for which might actually strengthen his chances in the Best Actor category.

I’m not ready to leap onto the Brad Pitt Is Frontrunner train yet. But the notion is not out of the question. As Oscar nominations are announced, the guilds hand out their awards, and the Phase Two campaign begins in earnest, the race could very well shift in his favor. Time will tell…I’m willing to wait.

CCMAs: Slight and Airy

The Critics Choice Movie Awards were held Thursday night, that annual goof-off put on by the Broadcast Film Critics Association that doesn’t so much literally represent the “critics choice” but rather the mild majority opinion of one prominent critic organization. The awards were presented in a setting that seemed to combine the brash looseness of the Indie Spirit Awards with the attitudinal head-banging of the MTV Movie Awards — which was fitting, considering the ceremony, as always, was televised on VH1, otherwise known as “MTVLite.” Nonetheless, the movies were legitimate (there was no Best Kiss award, and the Twilight movies were nowhere to be found among the nominees) and the ceremony moved along at an affably brisk pace — especially if you were sitting on the bed tweeting for the entire two hours.

The winners…unsurprising. The Artist added another Best Picture prize to its overflowing coffer, and Michel Hazanavicius won Best Director. The screenplay awards went to Midnight in Paris (Original) and Moneyball (Adapted), in what could easily be another Oscar preview (though The Descendants still has to be a slight Oscar favorite in the Adapted category). Supporting Actor went to Christopher Plummer (duh). Supporting Actress went to Octavia Spencer (duh-er). Lead Actress went to Viola Davis in another non-shocker, though the earnestness of her acceptance speech was enough to make even the grumpiest pundit root for her. Lead Actor was awarded to George Clooney. Consistent with the rumors circling the Oscar race, some were murmuring about the possibilities of a Brad Pitt win at the CCMAs, but Clooney walked away with the prize.

On a related note, I was somewhat surprised to read over Twitter that the CCMA Best Actor winner has coincided with the Oscar Best Actor winner every year since 2003 (thanks, @dialmformovies). Just as I was about to write about how much of a non-influence the CCMAs were, along comes an undeniable stat like that one. Granted, it could just be indicative of what I mentioned earlier - that the Best Actor race is generally one-sided and drama-free year after year. So along those lines, this year could be different. But for now, a small but significant feather of history in Clooney’s cap.

Predicting the Globes

Dare I? It’s just so ridiculous. The selections are so calculated that making accurate predictions is almost more difficult than picking the Oscars. It’s all about star-gazing. But I guess I’ll throw out a few guesses prior to Sunday’s ceremony.

Best Picture, Comedy or Musical - The Artist

Best Picture, Drama - The Descendants

Best Director - Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Best Actor, Comedy or Musical - Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Best Actress, Comedy or Musical - Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Best Actor, Drama - George Clooney, The Descendants

Best Actress, Drama - Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Best Supporting Actor - Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Best Supporting Actress - Berenice Bejo, The Artist

Best Screenplay - The Descendants

Best Foreign Language Film - In the Land of Blood and Honey

Best Animated Feature - The Adventures of TinTin

Jason McKiernan

Awards Pundit & Senior Film Critic. I married into the cult of cinema at a very young age - I wasn't of legal marriage age, but I didn't care. It has taken advantage of me and abused me many times. Yet I stay in this marriage because I'm obsessed and consumed. Don't try to save me -- I'm too far gone.