We are nearly two months into the awards season and nearly four months away from the 88th Academy Awards ceremony. As I discussed in last week’s Projection: Oscar piece, the early-season onslaught of festivals and premieres has resulted in a bit of a lull in this interim period when the big festivals have ended, the last few major titles have yet to release, and the critics groups haven’t begun announcing their awards.
But it’s hard to stay in a rut with a news cycle that’s constantly churning. In fact, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. So in this week’s Projection: Oscar, I’m culling together the latest news items from this still-gestating awards race in an attempt to take stock of where we stand now, about a third of the way through the 2015-16 awards season.
Chris Rock Returning as Host
After speculation stirred for most of last week, AMPAS officially announced that Chris Rock will be hosting the 88th Academy Awards on February 28, 2016. This will mark Rock’s second stint as the Oscar emcee, having presided over the 2005 ceremony, the year of Million Dollar Baby toppling The Aviator, Jamie Foxx bulldozing the Best Actor competition, and Hilary Swank taking home her second Oscar. At the time of the ceremony, Rock had plenty of highly charged material to work with – the U.S. had just come off a tragic re-election of George W. Bush, film and politics converged over the cultural sensation of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, and there was a relatively high number of African-American nominees in the acting categories (four, to be exact, including wins for Foxx and Morgan Freeman), though Rock had plenty to say about four out of 20 being considered a “high” number.
This time around, the U.S. will be finishing eight years of an African-American president, Michael Moore will once again have a film in play, though not one as controversial, and if you can believe it, after 11 years of “progress,” there will be even fewer people of color represented among the year’s acting nominees – if any at all. The outspoken Rock will certainly offer his perspective on that ridiculous development…and I’ll bet he crafts a bit about Quentin Tarantino not seeing (or not liking) Selma.
Rock was brought in by new Oscar producers Reginald Hudlin and David Hill, and is tasked with reviving viewership numbers that dropped to 37.3 million last year. In the last decade, the peak year was 2014, the year of 12 Years a Slave and the Ellen DeGeneres selfie, which was watched by 43.7 million viewers. Second on the list? Rock’s first year of hosting, 2005, which drew 42.2 million. So in spite of Rock’s enormous talent, in spite of the perfect political atmosphere for his unmistakable comic voice, and in spite of his recent success as a filmmaker with Top Five, we see the main draw for his inclusion in the upcoming ceremony – he’s a guaranteed ratings boost.
Still, it’s a solid choice from every point of view. For my money, based on the brilliance of Rock’s gig directing Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo for HBO, I’d have Rock direct the Oscars and tap Schumer as host. But I imagine Ricky Gervais has a better shot at landing the Oscar hosting gig than Schumer at this point.
And speak of the devil…
Ricky Gervais Returning to Host 2016 Golden Globes
As we mourn the end of the Tina and Amy Era at the Golden Globes, there is no better consolation than the return of Ricky Gervais, whose fearless, incisive mockery became the highlight of the paper-thin, alcohol-soaked Globes ceremony in his three years as host. Honestly, if Ricky could alternate years with Tina and Amy going forward, the Globes telecast would become an absolutely essential institution…even if the awards themselves will never be.
Is Steve Jobs Really a “Bomb”?
That sound you hear is a fuzzy recording of “Taps” being played out of the offices of the Hollywood trades, many of which feverishly reported the box-office demise of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, which took in $7.2 million in its first weekend of wide release. Early estimates were tracking the latest scorching quasi-biopic from the pen of Aaron Sorkin to tally up to $20 million for the weekend, so naturally the film’s three-day haul would be viewed as a disappointment based on those elevated expectations. But the notion – propagated by more than a handful of headlines – that the film’s performance qualifies as a “bomb” is an exaggeration at best and self-serving hyperbole at worst.
The big news on Saturday was that the film didn’t even earn as much as the infamous Ashton Kutcher starrer Jobs on its opening day in 2013. What did not get reported on Sunday was that Steve Jobs did, in fact, earn more than its predecessor over the course of the full weekend. Further, the film is already sitting at nearly $10 million in its initial weeks of platform release, which guarantees the film will far outgross the Kutcher-fronted stinker. No, it’s not going to earn Social Network-level money (which itself is fairly modest by most standards, at $96 million domestic), but it’s also smaller-scale, less flashy, and more experimental than that film.
What worries me most about the proliferation of these “box-office disaster” stories is the perception it will now attach to the film, which is a thematic dynamo and a deserving Best Picture contender (for more info on that, read my review of the film). The developing theme of Projection: Oscar this year seems to be “Perception Becomes Reality,” and here is yet another episode in that series, whereby the media seeks out a sensational story about a high-profile film, not realizing (or, perhaps, in some cases fully realizing) that said story may derail the film’s Oscar chances, or at very least create a side narrative that will hang on the film’s reputation like an albatross. Perhaps, as the film lingers in theaters – and maybe returns at the beginning of the year once Oscar nominations are released – the box-office will smooth out and the conversation will shift back to where it belongs…the film itself. But there is a possibility that every time Steve Jobs gets mentioned henceforth, it will be tainted with discussion of limp financial returns…and that doesn’t bode well for its Best Picture chances.
Gotham Awards Nominations Announced
We got our first inkling of what films might be poised for awards season success late last week, when the nominations for the 25th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards were announced. As one of the earliest of the season’s precursor awards, the IFP-backed Gothams present an opportunity to honor strong, American-made independent films, a handful of which will go on to become major Oscar players. This year’s crop of nominees is no different, with Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight and Todd Haynes’ Carol among the five films nominated in the Best Feature category. The Oscar Best Picture potential seems to end there, however, as joining them in the Best Feature category are The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Heaven Knows What, and Tangerine (wonderful films all, to be sure, but likely too small and too quirky for Oscar voters). Spotlight and Carol also garnered Best Screenplay nominations, while Cate Blanchett is a Best Actress nominee and the entire Spotlight cast is being awarded a special jury prize for its ensemble acting.
The most notable exclusion from the Best Feature lineup is obviously Room, which would seem to fit the mold for a nominating committee seeking bold independent visions. Problem is, part of the hazy qualification criteria at the Gothams is that films must be produced and/or directed by American-born filmmakers. Since Room is directed and largely produced by Brits, it apparently didn’t qualify…though American-born Brie Larson did land a Best Actress nomination, so there you have a valid example of the Gothams’ inherent quirks.
The Gothams are handed out at a November 30 ceremony, at which point we will begin theorizing whether the Best Feature winner can follow in Birdman’s footsteps by starting its awards season run with a win at the Gothams and capping it with a Best Picture win at the Oscars.
124 films Submitted for Best Documentary Consideration
Even though at this stage is sometimes feels like movement surrounding the Oscars proper has slowed to a crawl, there are, in fact, wheels in motion. A couple weeks ago we reached the deadline for submitting entries for Best Foreign Language Film consideration. Now, as of last Friday, we reached the submission deadline for the Best Documentary Feature category. A total of 124 films were submitted for consideration, an expansive list that will eventually be reduced exponentially, to a shortlist of 15, via preferential balloting. Among the high-profile entries is Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, the companion piece to his Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing, which would seem sure to be shortlisted, though one can never quite predict which way the Documentary Branch will go in terms of shortlisting and nominating. Another notable entry is the critically dismissed He Named Me Malala, which still can’t be dismissed, since it comes from former Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim. Also among the submissions are Amy, the heralded Amy Winehouse doc, Frederick Wiseman’s In Jackson Heights, Amy Berg’s Janis: Little Girl Blue, Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land, Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack, and two from Alex Gibney, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (yep, another Steve Jobs movie). Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next is, indeed, included among the 124 entries, having officially landed a December 23 Oscar qualifying run in NY/LA before expanding in January.
The 15-film shortlist will be determined in December. For now, have a look at the full list of 124 potential nominees.
So that’s where we are. Inching ever-closer to the goal, the carrot still dangling out in front of us. It’s fuzzy but it’s not a mirage. We are on our way.