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Oscar Talk: Little Movies That Can't, Michael Douglas, Animated Top Three, Alice in Wonderland

by Sophia Savage
October 27, 2010 8:29 AM
11 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

In this week's Oscar Talk, for those of you who haven't listened to the podcast, Anne Thompson and Kris Tapley discuss films that may deserve Oscar consideration for performances, but likely won't get any. Welcome To The Rileys, for example, would in another world get attention for James Gandolfini, perhaps even Kristen Stewart. Thompson thought that it could have a chance when she first saw it at Sundance, but now "in the sober light of day," believes it "has no chance in hell." Many movies are in that category because their distributors can't give them the push that they need.

Let Me In's Richard Jenkins is another case: one of the best and most "heartbreaking" performances of the year, says Thompson. While Tapley didn't like the film at all, he agrees that Jenkins was great, as always. Struggling at the box office, Never Let Me Go might have earned Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan Oscar nods, but they likely won't get them. Tapley notes his favorite of Garfield's performances: the first installment of the Red Riding trilogy. However, Thompson believes his first Oscar nomination could come from his Social Network performance.

Thompson on Hollywood

Thompson noted two other stand-out performances: Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike in Venice/Toronto entry Barney's Version (SPC). Tapley couldn't swallow Giamatti's "deplorable" character and found the first forty minutes of the film "disposable." He prefers Pike in Made in Dagenham more. The problem there is that co-star Miranda Richardson is also a strong supporting candidate, so it's a question of who Sony will push. Thompson added that Barney's Version, like Welcome to the Rileys (and Ryan Gosling in All Good Things) is well-acted and written, but not well-directed, and that doesn't help the performers' cause.

Buzz has also been swarming about a possible nomination for Michael Douglas in Solitary Man (best actor) or Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. Tapley and Thompson agree that this falls into the same no-chance-in-hell category. Neither film did well or is getting enough positive attentive to propel into the race. Were Douglas not fighting throat cancer, he probably wouldn't be mentioned at all for awards consideration, and both find the chatter morbid: he's fighting cancer, looks terrible from the chemo, and may get people's sympathy. But sympathy voting aside, with Solitary Man, Douglas (Tapley thinks he nailed it) is still playing an unlikeable character in a nearly forgotten film. To earn a nomination for Wall Street 2 he'd have to outperform his own performance in the original, which he did not (though they agree it was no fault of his, rather the script, timing and reception of the film). While Douglas is well-liked, they agreed that talking about awards consideration seems opportunistic.

In the Best Animated Feature race, they considered How to Train Your Dragon, which Paramount wants to push for best picture. Thompson and Tapley both attended the film's party last week and spoke with producer Bonnie Arnold who credits the film's directors with making it such a huge success, as they convinced DreamWorks' Katzenberg to go ahead with the unconventional project. Dragon will likely join Toy Story 3 but the third slot is unknown. (So far there aren't enough submissions,16, for five slots--November 1 is the deadline). It could go to The Illusionist, thinks Tapley, or even Despicable Me, thinks Thompson, who found The Illusionist stunning but too quiet and refined, while Tapley found Despicable Me Nickelodeon-esque, and mentioned that while he enjoyed the Disney fairy tale Tangled he had a sense of been-there-done-that. And when it comes to animated films, both agreed that it's difficult to get the Academy to consider actors' voice performances and the artistry that goes into creating these characters. Thompson thinks the Academy should have a voice category, since those actors will never be considered along with live-action contenders.

Alice in Wonderland's producers are pushing it for best picture consideration on the grounds that it made over a billion dollars. Thompson, however, hated the 3-D (though she loves Tim Burton's aesthetic) and thinks it did so well because it came out at the beginning of the Avatar-induced 3-D hype. Neither think it will get serious consideration outside technical categories such as costume, art direction, cinematography, etc.

Fair Game, which Thompson noted has been overhauled since she first saw it in Cannes, also has great performances, both agreed. Tapley found Sean Penn to be the strongest link. Thompson agreed that both Penn and Naomi Watts were excellent in their portrayal of a working marriage within a horrifying portrait of Washington politics gone wrong. She also thought that director Doug Liman did a great job: he's idiosyncratic, smart and articulate yet boyish and in touch with his imagination. With Fair Game, he channels his upbringing and his father, Beltway player Arthur Liman---and it serves him well. Both agreed it was a wild card for Oscar - and that it's going more for a commercial run than performance awards. Tapley feels similarly about Fair Game as he does about The Town; good commercial movies that he'll watch again but doesn't consider serious awards contenders. Thompson called Fair Game a real world take on Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Addressing reader questions, Tapley and Thompson tackled the chances of a director landing a nomination for a film that doesn't make the cut for best picture. Both agreed that with this being only the second year the Academy has honored ten films, there is no precedence to go on. Tapley pointed out that David Lynch was nominated for Best Director in 2002 but Mulholland Drive did not get a Best Picture nod. Thompson pointed out that with 366 voting in the director's category, it's a relatively small club (compared to more than 1200 in the actors category). It takes a known and respected director to break in with a lone nomination. Mike Leigh, for example, has a chance for Another Year, both agreed. Darren Aronofsky also has a chance at a nomination for Black Swan, even though the film itself may be too intense for the Academy, thinks Thompson. Both agreed that if 127 Hours fails to get a Best Picture nomination, Danny Boyle will very likely still get a Best Director nom. Tapley believes that a lone director nom would have to be for a foreign director, such as Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu for unlikely Best Picture contender Biutiful (both he and Babel were nominated in 2007).

Two contenders coming from recent winners are late entries for Oscar consideration: True Grit from the Coens who won both Best Director and Picture in 2008 with No Country for Old Men and 127 Hours from Boyle who won the same in 2009 with Slumdog Millionaire. They will have to outdo themselves to attract similar recognition. Tapley says that the issue is less "but they just won" and more about whether a film falls into a common follow-up slump. (The Coens' A Serious Man made it into the top ten last year.) Thompson thinks True Grit's western-genre status won't help its box office performance but may not be an issue with the older Academy, while 127 Hours simply lacks the joy that Slumdog won with and may play "very young." And while The Social Network is destined to fade, it could make a comeback: Thompson expects an "up and down trajectory." Both agreed that The King's Speech is still poised for front-runner status.

Both wondered if Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer has a chance at resurfacing, and if so, in which category? Thompson puts it into the same category as The Town - too much a genre film for the Academy's highbrow taste--even with Ewan McGregor in top form and Pierce Brosnan's supporting role "juicy and wonderful." The film, she says is "formally beautiful," and "really tight" but doesn't rise to the level of high art. Tapley thinks its chances are best for a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination.

As for how the Oscar top ten may evolve, Tapley thinks it comes down to what is on offer each year more than a particular thought-process behind nominations. Thompson doesn't think the Academy will ever favor talking head documentaries or animated films, but with seasons of stunning and abundant independent offerings, anything is possible. Last year's winner for Best Picture, The Hurt Locker, for example, had a decent indie box office performance but never did compete with the larger money makers. The top ten will likely always embrace the bigger films, such as last year's nominees The Blind Side and District 9.

Neither have seen , Ed Zwick's Love and Other Drugs or David O. Russell's The Fighter, and Tapley remains one of very few who have seen Peter Weir's The Way Back.

Tapley just finished a Weir-A-Thon, and concludes that his top three films from the director are:
1. Fearless - which Tapley admits, with its amazing opening and closing scenes, "emotionally reduces me to a baby."
2. The Truman Show - great concept and script
3. A tie between Master and Commander ("Crowe at his best") and Witness ("a perfectly structured film").

11 Comments

  • Ready2Go | November 3, 2010 10:47 AMReply

    Anne is right now about WTTR not having a chance at the Oscars. They must have put something in the water at Sundance, because now critics are saying things like this:
    Stewart's idea of inhabiting this part seems to be to scowl a lot and let her hair go unwashed. The Twilight star doesn't have the depth or emotional agility to go toe-to-toe with Gandolfini and Leo.

    Really, Kristen is just cementing her place as Queen of the Indy Bombs. It will be interesting to see if WTTR can even pull in the 3 mil The Runaways did.

  • louise | October 28, 2010 10:05 AMReply

    I have read a lot of reviews about WTTR and nearly all of them emphasized Leo's (and James') performance.

    What I missed in your article is the mentioning of Please Give.

  • JasonTrenton | October 28, 2010 1:53 AMReply

    Anne, I was lucky to see
    Love & Other Drugs last night with
    A packed crowd, every demo.
    It played through the roof.
    It was not pitch perfect film
    But the magic was there & the
    Emotions between Jake and Anne
    Was electric.
    I predict a smash hit plus
    Oscar noms galore.
    It was very affecting and played
    It non cliche nor safe..
    Lots of tears mixed in with
    Sex, clever hard R and
    Anne is no longer
    In princess diaries mode.
    She shines as well as Jake
    Cant wait for you to see it!

  • Kurt Bainer | October 27, 2010 12:37 PMReply

    As for Douglas and Solitary Man... it's one of the better lead male performances of the year, critically well received too. The Academy can be a quirky bunch, and he's going to be in the news up until the time nominations are announced. He's also a popular veteran. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if they nominated him. You also have top take into consideration they may feel he may not get another chance at it. Who knows about the future. It's also arguable he had a career year being best in show in 2 movies in 2010 too. It really was a very good performance in Solitary Man. One that after you see it you can only picture Michael as Ben. That's really putting a stamp on a role when that happens. I remember in October the year Julie Christie got nominated for Away From Her, not a whole lot of people were talking about a nomination for her at that time. Look ...she gets an Oscar nod.

  • Abby | October 27, 2010 11:32 AMReply

    Melissa Leo was brilliant in Frozen River but I have to agree with the comment about her performance in Welcome to the Rileys. It was either the script or director that kept her character stiff.

  • Abby | October 27, 2010 11:28 AMReply

    Kristen Stewart's performance is nowhere near Oscar level. It should not even be considered. I saw it at Sundance and her performance was wooden with no depth. She plays all her characters the same way and that isn't a good thing. It was very unnatural and calculated. James Gandolfini, on the other hand, gave a great performance.

    Wall Street 2 had good performances but was lacking as a movie.

  • dAns | October 27, 2010 10:43 AMReply

    So unfortunately because Michael Douglas was discovered with cancer can not be advertising for a nomination for his performance in solitary man I consider one of their best performance that becomes "opportunism".
    and as he wall street II and the best thing in the film must then be taken into account or not because this patient.

  • Anne Thompson | October 27, 2010 10:02 AMReply

    I'd beg to differ with you on Melissa Leo, who of the three, gives a rather stiff and mannered performance. Given how strong she usually is--and I adored Frozen River-- I blame the director for this.

  • Anne Thompson | October 27, 2010 10:00 AMReply

    A movie's performance has nothing to do with how good it is. But it does have an impact on whether or not enough Academy voters will see it. Unfortunately, that is the bottom line with Oscar voting.

  • louise | October 27, 2010 9:36 AMReply

    Stewart is mentioned but Melissa Leo is completely forgotten. If someone is going to get a nomination for that movie then it should be Leo.

  • Thomas | October 27, 2010 9:15 AMReply

    Anne, what does a movie's financial performance have to do with how good it is?

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