Oscar Watch: Critics, Academy, Men, Women: The Help vs. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

by Anne Thompson
August 15, 2011 3:56 AM
4 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
It's not surprising where @spikelee falls on The Help. He's retweeting the articles that support his views, from indieWIRE's Eric Kohn to Michael Phillips in The Chicago Tribune. UPDATE: And The Association of Black Women Historians also disapproves.

But much as I predicted, the movie did prove to be a mainstream crowd-pleaser--outperforming expectations by a good margin by playing nationally to both white and black women. This weekend's Academy screening was packed and members gave rousing applause to multiple actors at the end, most especially Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. (DreamWorks should put proven and nominated veteran Davis in lead and the other two in supporting. Ingenue Emma Stone hasn't a prayer in either category.)

I maintain that at year's end The Help (73% on Rotten Tomatoes) will NOT be on most critics' ten-best lists; it might wind up with acting nominations. Director Tate Taylor is a gifted actors' director and I look forward to what he does next. But the directors, cinematographers, writers, editors, art directors, costume designers, composers, and makeup artists will not be nominating this film at awards time. If the film winds up in the best picture category, it will be voted in by mainstream branches of the Academy--which outside the actors branch skews more male than female--such as publicists, executives and producers.

Another weekend Academy screening was the much better-reviewed movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is damned on several counts as an Oscar contender. Even with its stellar reviews (82% on Rotten Tomatoes) and male target demo, the screening was sparsely attended (many members might have already seen the movie, which was in its second weekend in theaters). But truth is, Academy members are snobs. Even though Rise of the Planet of the Apes will wind up on many ten-bests, Oscar voters tend to take genre films--and sequels--less seriously. Director Rupert Wyatt is a relative newcomer. Much-beloved actor John Lithgow has the best shot at supporting consideration, more than James Franco or the film's true lead, Andy Serkis. He told EW: "There were actually several screenings of the film with me up on the screen before the visual-effects shots had come in, to test the story. People either respond to the performance at that level or they don't, there's no way you can make that better with digital effects."

Serkis's Oscar bid is doomed. That's because the actors' branch that dominates Oscar voting (by far) is made up of people who work in live action movies, most of whom don't recognize performance capture as acting. They tend to be threatened by the rise of the digital universe. Most actors don't take animation seriously either. So Serkis's extraordinary achievement in humanizing sentient chimp Caesar will yield a deserved VFX nomination. It will take years for the rest of the older Academy to catch up with digital reality.

Thompson on Hollywood

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4 Comments

  • Ronnie D. | September 21, 2011 6:19 AMReply

    Last time I cheked, his name wasn't @spikelee, it was just Spike Lee, unless I'm out of the loop and he recently added a keyboard symbol to the beginning of his name.

  • Ryan Sartor | August 15, 2011 8:22 AMReply

    I do think that it would be a mistake to put Viola Davis in the Best Actress category. The past decade would remind us that you need to be a supermodel to win a Best Actress Oscar (Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Hilary Swank, Reese Witherspoon, Helen Mirren, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman).

    Dreamworks could certainly put Davis up for it and then wag their finger at the Academy when she doesn't win, but I'm sure she'd prefer a actual Oscar victory over a moral one. I don't think Jessica Chastain or Octavia Spencer's people have enough pull to force Davis into the Best Actress category, but who knows.

    Also, is it too P.C. to ask when they're going to change the category to Best Female Actor and Best Male Actor?

    Great points overall about The Help. I saw it last night and could definitely see it sneaking in as a Best Picture nominee. People kept comparing it to Julie & Julia and Eat, Pray, Love from a demo point of view, but it's got that whole inspirational/Blind Side thing locked up.

    My favorite performance in the film was definitely by Jessica Chastain. I had no idea it was her until two thirds into the movie. I kept saying, "Who's this actor?" She has that rare ability to completing transform herself and I couldn't believe it was the same person from "Tree of Life."

    Also, I thought Serkis easily gave one of the best performances I've seen in a while, and he won't get nominated, but I'm sure in 10 or 20 years, people will look back and find it hard to believe that he wasn't nominated. The kind of acting that he does is so new and he's dealing with all kinds of stigmas and expectations that I think it's amazing how he pulls it off.

    I can't wait for the next Oscar Talk podcast!

  • jack | August 15, 2011 6:29 AMReply

    cartoonish and paper thin? what movie were you watching? You are exactly the kind of snob she's talking about. What Serkis did was a phenomenal achievement. He takes caesar on an emotional journey and breathes life into what could have been an Avatar like mundane performance. And people are taking the ROLE into account. It's a different kind of role. Do us all a favor and get with the times because there will be many many more performances like this.
    Or you know you could find somebody to kill you now and we won't have to deal with your snobbish mentality.

  • Scott | August 15, 2011 5:53 AMReply

    Kill me now if we ever start awarding Oscars to people playing SENTIENT CHIMPS in comic-book movies! I can't BELIEVE the editor of Indiewire, of all sites, is telling us that this is some sort of horrible snobbishness on the part of older voters. Okay, Serkis did a good job with a technical challenge, but that doesn't change the fact that the role itself is cartoonish and paper-thin. I can't believe this even needs to be pointed out. Whatever happened to people taking the ROLE into account?

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