Craig Kennedy of Living in Cinema along with my staff and other followers joined in a conversation with me about some films we are not expecting. It happens every year. We think we have nailed down the categories to about five, six, or seven films and/or performances that could fill the potential lineup. Oscar nomination morning rolls around and the President of the Academy along with Forest Whitaker or Anne Hathaway or Jennifer Lawrence come out and say it:
“The Reader, nominees to be determined.” – Whitaker
“The Blind Side, nominees to be determined.” – Hathaway
“and…Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Scott Rudin, producer.”
I call these the “WTF?! Nominations” that come time and time again. With so many presumed locks in so many categories, especially in Best Picture, I think this year, we are due for one. The wildcard in all of this is the voting deadline that was implemented this year. We have no idea how this is going to affect the race. We either could have voters going the default, boring and predictable route for their choices or we could get some inventive and bizarre nominations. As AMPAS has evolved in these later years, past films that have peaked their heads out on Oscar nomination morning in Best Picture have been some of the following:
- When everything and everyone was saying Dreamgirls, and what looked like it was down for the count, Clint Eastwood proved his magic over the Academy when his Japanese interpretation of the battle of Iwo Jima during World War II made its mark with not only a Best Picture nomination but a matching director bid to boot. Letters from Iwo Jima was much better received than its American predecessor Flags of our Fathers but the Dreamgirls snub was more of the surprise.
- During his directorial hiccups in the mid-2000′s, Steven Spielberg’s Munich wasn’t universally praised by all the top critics. While not having reviews that were exponentially better, many assumed that James Mangold’s Walk the Line had the fire power to go the distance especially since co-leads Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were making their strong marks during awards season.
- The Weinsteins have never proven to be more influential than when they were able to convince critics and voters that Lasse Hallstrom’s Chocolat was a superior film then both Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous and Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). Capturing the lone director spot, Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot was more up their alley for Picture recognition. And since we’re on the subject, they were also able to push Juliette Binoche in a Best Actress lineup over the impeccable Bjork in Dancer in the Dark.
- Another Weinstein caused casualty, and ironic enough, another Lasse Hallstrom picture, The Cider House Rules pulled into the station at the last-minute over Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, and Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. I just don’t know how they do it.
The criteria for a film to be considered “WTF?” can have one or many of the following traits:
- The film usually has a pre-November release date.
- The film in question has to have an aura of “come and gone” reaction from the majority of pundits and audiences. You can’t be surprised if it was on your radar.
- On all the major pundit websites, there should be only at most one pundit who could foresee this nomination coming.
- The film usually has a lackluster score on Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and other review gathering outlets.
- Fanboys usually hate the film. They’re vocal about it and they constantly comment on anything that has to do with the film just to say how bad the film is.
- When the film makes it, something that seems FAR more deserving often misses. (Examples: The Dark Knight)
- The films often have some type of historical significance, are a “true” story, or is a great literary adaptation.
And here we are. A few days from the unveiling of the Oscar nominations and we’re trying to see what we missed. What film has a mute power over the Academy that’s going to make our jaws drop? The phenomenon does skip a few years as we’ve seen in the 2000′s and something like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master making the Best Picture lineup doesn’t really qualify though many would be surprised. Attempting to compile projections I had to turn to my own Oscar Predictions page for Best Motion Picture and look at the far right column called “Also In Contention,” a section for the low-buzzed films that are ranked numbers 21 through 40.
The film is barely certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and even the ones that like, some would agree, its not THAT good to be a Best Picture nominee. Many have praised the ambition of Joe Wright in developing the film on a stage but in the same vein, pan the director for leaving the scenery. While a mention of Keira Knightley would certainly surprise many viewers, like Joseph Braverman wrote in a recent article about the power of the British voting bloc, they do tend to stick together, even though its a Russian novelist. Guess it’s more of a Europe thing than British. Consequently many think that group will gravitate towards Sam Mendes’ Skyfall or John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, don’t be surprised if a period piece walks across that screen.
When it was announced as a late entry during the summer, many assumed Gus Van Sant and the writing trio of Matt Damon, John Krasinski, and Dave Eggers were ones to watch out for a la Clint Eastwood when he entered Million Dollar Baby (2004) into the fray. While the picture sits at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, Van Sant is a well-liked director and very respected among his peers. It also helps that Promised Land was one of the last films to hit theaters before their ballots were due. That’s one reason why the 47% driven film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close made it.
Another late entry in the race this year, no film left more critics and audiences wanting more than Gervasi’s Hitchcock. While leading lady Helen Mirren remains a strong possibility in Lead Actress, there’s no reason those same fans that put her at #1 won’t feel inclined to go with Britain’s Golden God of Directors Alfred Hitchcock and reward the film adaptation of the making of his masterpiece. Of all the characteristics listed for a “WTF?” moment, Hitchcock meets most of those traits especially if it was at the expense of fanboy-loving Django Unchained and/or Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Warner Bros. worked exceedingly hard on all their campaigns this year. A lot of money was put into their lead pony Argo from Ben Affleck and found room in their pockets to give Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and the Matthew McConaughey hopeful Magic Mike a proper push. Besides Cloud Atlas which was box office disappointment, the entire Lord of the Rings world and Peter Jackson love fest are very familiar to Oscar voters. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is tied as the most rewarded film in Oscar history, they’ve gone for all the films in Best Picture, and the film “elevated” filmmaking with 48 frames per second and some pretty intense action scenes. If those Lord of the Rings fans, also known as Mark Johnson minions, are still alive and well and loving every minute of Middle Earth, 5% to be exact, we could in for some unexpected love for the prequel.
What’s an Oscar year without the Weinsteins manipulating the system and brainwashing voters into thinking that a certain film is the best film of the year. Outside of Django Unchained, The Master, and their pony Silver Linings Playbook, the company has also been giving some attention to France’s foreign language film entry The Intouchables which received positive reviews from critics and has the potential to show up in areas like Original Screenplay. The Brits could come to the aid of Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet which is penned by Oscar-winning writer Ronald Harwood and a two-time Oscar-winning actor turned director. Don’t ever count them out especially in the Oscar game.
We’re almost there folks! Many are thinking we are going to have a year of ten, which seems sound since the year was so exceptional but it’s felt near impossible to feel the pulse of the season. Many would throw a film like J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible as a Best Picture surprise but I don’t share that surprise if it happens. From the moment I saw the film, it’s felt like something an emotional Academy member that saw the film over Christmas break could easily throw love towards.
Include some of your theories in the comment section and some of your favorite (or hated) “WTF?” moments from Oscar morning!