OSCARS: Dark Horses Kicking at the Gate

Jennifer Lawrence Norma Jean Roy Vogue

Ahhh.  The presidential race is finally over.  It’s a personal revelation that I called it pretty much right for the past eighteen months, right down to the soul-searching and repositioning the GOP will have to undergo to vie for a future in this increasingly liberal New America.  My only regret is I forgot to call it more precisely: That Obama would trounce Romney.  It’s not that I was demurring.  I simply forgot that detail in every post I wrote about the race.

It’s no wonder a former employer used to call me “fog.”  And then she fired me.

In what has to be the dumbest, most tortured headline Deadline has ever come up with, just before the election Pete Hammond declared, “With One Race Almost Over, Is A New Presidential Race Gearing Up For Oscars?”  If they weren’t so relevant and scoopy, I would have stopped reading Deadline long ago for the atrocious writing and occasional ninny-brained posts.

Hammond’s is a perfect example of the delusion Hollywood suffers about itself, a primary symptom of our mass narcissistic personality disorder.  Regardless, given PFC’s focus on entertainment and fashion, I’m going to have to cover the awards season as carefully as I did the presidential race.  The major difference is my approach won’t be as practical as it is with politics; rather, it will be far more ideological, for film is my vocation.  (I didn’t really write that, did I? Okay, I did.)

I’ve examined the pick of contenders from the major studios in another post, so now it’s time to focus on the remainder, which are not as marginal as that sounds, for this is where we bring to the forefront that P.T. Barnum-esque ringmaster of the Academy, that Karl Rove-in-2000 of the Great Race: Harvey “Large Pie with Extra Cheese, Spicy Sausage and Pepperoni” Weinstein.

At this juncture, Harvey not only knows most Academy members by name, he knows whether they dress to the left or the right, if they sleep with a teddy bear, whether they brush their teeth once or twice a day.  The Oscar race is part and parcel of the marketing strategy for his slate.  It’s his tool, his bitch.

Other than The Master, which I don’t think will do well at all at the actual awards because it doesn’t deserve to, let’s see what else Feral Fat Boy has to offer:

[heading]SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK[/heading]

As my long-time readers know, I’m a sucker for mental illness.  An old adage is that the two greatest themes in literature are sex and death, but I would add insanity to that brief list.  “Everyone’s crazy except for you and me. And I’m not so sure about you,” goes another saying, which makes personality disorders great fuel for compelling drama told from different angles.

But it has to be handled carefully; kooky overdose can trip a piece up.  To wit, The Master: P.T. Anderson lost my vote with that scene of Joaquin Phoenix alternately touching a wall and a window over and over, performing insane rather than being insane, which should never be a stretch for Phoenix.

David O. Russell has evolved to become a less flashy, earthier director than Anderson.  His sleeper hit The Fighter was one of my favorite films of ’10. Not just solid filmmaking and superlative acting, it perfectly summed up where we were as a country in the depths of the Recession: a dysfunctional family of loutish loudmouths and junkies, who still have a fighting chance, just not the way we always did it.

Silver Linings is apparently very good, and I suspect the trailer has been cut to lessen the intensity and darkness; otherwise, it looks like another quirky chatty indie Sundance flick, and I can’t stand them for the most part.  But ever since Spanking the Monkey, Russell has set himself apart from that genre, while still being related to it tangentially.

Bradley Cooper is consistently enjoyable to watch on a superficial hunny-I-would-hump-in-a-flash level, but I’m getting a much harder hardon for Jennifer Lawrence’s evolution as an actor.

[heading]DJANGO UNCHAINED[/heading]

This looks as audacious as it looks ridiculous, which for me is the hallmark of any Tarantino film, and why I hope this does zilch at the awards.  It has no place there.  QT is entertaining in an amusement park sort of way, and that’s too unclassy for my vision of what Oscar contenders should be.

Call me fuddy-duddy.  Call me intractable.  I take my glamour seriously.  The Oscars should be the Royal Ascot of races, and Tarantino doesn’t even run greyhounds, much less horses.  His films are cockfights.

I’m sure Leonardo Di Caprio is grateful they pushed Gatsby to next summer so he doesn’t have two camp performances coming out back to back, or those gay rumors might spark up again.  And if there’s one thing most Gheys have no patience for it’s an aging twink.

Yeah, I’ll still see this, just so I can argue with Christopher Cramer.


If, like me, you got this momentarily confused with another Academy hopeful, A Late Quartet, you do not have early Alzheimer’s—or I don’t, at least.  It’s totally normal.  Both focus on classical music, the former about opera singers in a retirement home, the other about a string quartet coming apart because Christopher Walken is getting old, which isn’t news to me; he was getting old back when I was a kid.

Feral Fat Boy’s Quartet is directed by multi-award-winner Dustin Hoffman, but from the trailer it stands no more chance at the awards than Hyde Park on Hudson.  It’s vaguely interesting that Hoffman would make his directorial debut doing That Delightful British Romp, but also vaguely pretentious; I would like to have seen him do more of a Mike Nichols/The Graduate/Little Big Man, or anything I liked him in, as opposed to an Anglo-American version of something I hated him in, Tootsie.

However, this will also get undue attention from the Academy just because it is Hoffman’s picture, and it stars everyone else in Blighty who is fading faster than the shine on his or her statuette, and if they don’t give it the requisite attention, Harvey will be huffing pepperoni breath at them after a screening: “What’s there not to like? It’s Dustin Hoffman!  It’s Maggie Smith!  It’s Michael Fuckin’ Gambon, for fuck’s sake!”

The fact that Hoffman is seventy-five should be an inspiration to me for late-life directorial careers, but it isn’t.  It’s more like a cautionary tale and I should get my ass moving with that F. Scott Fitzgerald project.

I’ll ask Mum what she thinks of Quartet.  Not seeing it myself.

Believe it or not, there are a few indies not being released by the Weinsteins that stand a slim chance.  Or maybe I’m scraping the barrel.  Here are a few to keep an eye on:

[heading]TAKE THIS WALTZ[/heading]

Ordinarily, just based on the trailer I would say, “Fuck you, no way, I don’t care if Sarah Silverman is in it.  Keep your chatty quirky indie Sundance kombucha Portlandia shit to yourself.”  Then I’d stop myself and say, “Wait, Sarah Silverman is in it?”

And then I’d realize it’s also Seth Rogen being romantic and serious, and he is one of those odd attractions I have that nobody else can understand.  For example, here’s me at a dinner about four years ago with a bunch of his friends:

Me (somewhat high… okay, very high):  “I love Seth Rogen!  I think he’s smokin’ hot.”

The Rogen Friends stop eating in unison mid-mouthful, as if told the food is laced with arsenic.  After a beat:

Hostess (politely):  “We’ll be sure to tell him.”

And then I’d realize it’s a Sarah Pollen film, and I thought her debut Away With Her was a gem. Pollen has a perniciously delicate touch that locks you into her hypnotic vision.  No trailer for a film of hers could possibly express what the film itself is in its full scope; she uses every minute of a feature’s length to weave her web.  She learned the best of Atom Egoyan’s technique, discarded his pretentiousness and kept it humble.

This might surprise in the above-the-line categories, i.e., the important ones to non-film folk like acting and directing.

[heading]THE IMPOSSIBLE[/heading]

I don’t know whose idea it was to use an unplugged version of “One Love” for the trailer, but it had better not have been the director’s; that is the sort of on-the-nose decision that can kill a film like this with an overdose of pathos.  I’m going to assume it was some lunkhead at Summit Entertainment.

Based on a true story about a family separated by the South East Asian Tsunami of 2004, The Impossible stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, whom I had originally wrote “is a living testimony that Botox works if administered correctly,” but I have been assured by a commenter (whom I believe to be a publicist given the plug for the campaign in the comment, and certain phrasing) that she doesn’t and “has denounced its use in preference of aging naturally,” which I guess  makes up my mind never to use it either. (Tuttle’s boyfriend is selling Nerium, and it’s done pretty well for both their skins, and well as Mum’s.)

That correction kinda tripped up the next sentence: “Indeed, the trailer make this entire enterprise look Botoxed, like an updated throwback to a post-Vietnam War film like the Academy Award-winning The Killing Fields.”  But I standby that sentiment, even though Watts is no longer using Botox and simply has fantastic British skin, which to be honest was my original assumption—I just needed a witchy intro to the to the post-Vietnam War thought.

Based on the trailer, I would say “Dunno about this…” But word is it’s really intense, focused, edge-of-your-seat kinda stuff, which I have to admit I like.  And I loved director Juan Antonio Bayona’s debut feature, The Orphanage.  When I say loved, I mean I LOVED it.  Had I been reviewing back in ’07 when it came out, I would’ve given it a Bravo, which I can only say the same about The Shining in terms of films in the horror genre.

This is one dark horse to watch.  Might upset the race.

“But, James,” you say, squirming in your saddle.  “You’ve completely ignored the foreigners.”  I know, but I shall talk about them next week.

All in all, I’m not seeing the Slumdog or The Artist, i.e., the standout film that gets everyone’s attention, although it could be Anna Karenina.  If I were closer to the film acquisitions and marketing world, I would have a better feel for what’s coming up—even when I go to the major festivals, I’m usually too up my own ass with anxiety over my projects to catch many films—rather than just watching trailers on YouTube like the rest of the plebiscite.  However, I have to admit that is the fun part of doing this, in a blind-betting sort of way that Tarantino might appreciate.  Already it seems that I’m going to have to reverse myself on Lincoln; it’s apparently a must-see and among the best Spielberg has done.  But, really, Steven, do you blame me?  Ya coulda done better with that trailer.


Comments: 2

  • chumsley November 9, 20123:54 am

    “The Impossible” stars Naomi Watts, and Ewan Mcgregor. And Lionsgate/Summit have just announced campaigning Watts for Best Actress ,young actor Tom Holland as Best Actor, and Ewan Mcgregor as Best “supporting” actor.
    Ms Watts has never used Botox. She has openly denounced its use inplace of preference for aging naturally.

    • jkillough November 9, 20129:31 am

      @chumsley Thanks.  I’ve altered the article.  See above.

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