So where was I?
Ah yes, I was throwing my own little happy post-Oscar party and inviting you all to join. I was bummed that the season was over and invigorated for the next season to arrive. Yes, you read that right – I was bummed about the end of the season, in spite of the lengthy timeline, the repetitive results, the inevitable pundit hand-wringing, the constant Twitter scuffles, and the persistent media attempts to invent false drama for no other reason than to keep themselves awake for the remainder of the season. The Oscar Beat can be a grind, especially towards the end of the six-month “race” that sometimes feels more like a crawl. But anyone who can’t separate themselves from the grind to acknowledge the sheer awesomeness of this job has probably been doing it for too long.
Today starts Year Five of Projection: Oscar, and based on my outlook – admittedly more positive than usual, so maybe someone should take my temperature – I apparently haven’t been doing this for too long. So on we go…
The stated goal of Projection: Oscar was, from the very beginning, to provide you with a fresh, unique perspective on each Oscar season. So far this year, I think said perspective is still being formed. We are sort of waiting for the story to develop…or waiting for the gold nuggets to shine a light so we can start to form the story for ourselves, as too often becomes the case for Oscar punditry nowadays. The topic of Oscar pundits following the story versus shaping the story is an ongoing and ever-intriguing one, and it will likely be a continuing theme in this season of Projection: Oscar. There seems to be a thin line between journalism and lobbying, between spotting the trends and creating them. The role of the pundit is ever-evolving, and not always in encouraging directions. Reporting, analyzing, and prognosticating are the ever-present tenets of the job, though some outlets have taken on the roles of firestarter, or hype machine operator. And since the early fall onslaught of film festivals tends to be where the world first witnesses the forthcoming Best Picture winner, insta-reaction to those festival debuts – and how widely those insta-reactions are proliferated throughout movie media – often act as the spark that lights a film’s award season fire.
From what most of us have already seen, there are some legit Oscar prospects, some confirmed duds, and some unfortunate non-starters. Most everyone loved It Follows (I myself hold some of the same reservations as Quentin Tarantino), but it’s an early-year indie darling and not an Oscar movie. Ex Machina would likely sit atop most mid-year “best of” lists, but it’s another small film that is likely to get buried by the forthcoming fall torrent. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was a Sundance sensation, but unfortunately the movie is absolutely, excruciatingly awful in every way, so forget about that one – I’m still trying. Mad Max: Fury Road, on the other hand, has the juice to make it onto the Best Picture nominee slate. And based on the sensation of its critical reception and box-office performance, Straight Outta Compton has at least vaulted itself into the conversation. And while I like to avoid proclamations of certainty so early in the game, it seems like Inside Out is your Best Animated Feature winner going away, even though the Pixar film will have to tussle with one of its own, since The Good Dinosaur opens in November.
As we look ahead into the (very) near future, we see an awards landscape devoid of a Martin Scorsese picture, since Silence moved to 2016. We also don’t have a Terence Malick film – which wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary, if not for his more prolific recent output – since Knight of Cups is apparently being pushed to 2016 as well. We have a Woody Allen, but Irrational Man isn’t an awards player. I personally am thanking my lucky stars we don’t have a Clint Eastwood film this year, though rest assured he will be back next year with the Tom Hanks-led Sully, which should be a decidedly less controversial fact-based drama than was American Sniper. But we have a Spielberg. We have a Todd Haynes. We have Tarantino. Zemeckis is back in the game. David O. Russell has another gonzo film in the can. Ridley Scott. Danny Boyle. Stephen Frears. And we even have a new film from Paul Thomas Anderson, even though it’s a “secret documentary.”
With that in mind, it’s time to dig into the forthcoming festival slate, in an effort to, if not set the field, at least survey the possibilities. Quite frankly, the lineup for the Toronto International Film Festival alone is broad, varied, and daunting enough, and once you add the premieres and potential contenders from the likes of Venice, Telluride, New York, and others, it’s impossible to whittle a list down to only the “top contenders.” Frankly, the only thing that could define a “top contender” at this point is conjecture.
Bottom line: we need to see the movies. But we will jump into that tomorrow, in Part 2…