Oscar Circuit – The Final Stretch and End of the Year Honors Begin!

Leonardo-DiCaprio-Django_Unchained_Quentin_Tarantino
Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”

We are in the final stretch of Phase 1 of awards season. Oscar ballots are due this coming Thursday, January 3rd, with nominations being announced exactly one week later. If there’s any time to pay attention to the “buzz” and “word on the street,” this past week was that time. Trying to keep the pulse on the season is always challenging, but this year the Golden Globes, SAG, Critics’ Choice, and a slew of the upper-tier critics’ awards were announced in such close proximity that it can be argued those groups captured the films and performances with the buzz at that particular moment. Which films and performances have the buzz now?

Over our Christmas break, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables opened with many audience members either defending or trashing it, either for poor directorial choices or offensive, cheap, revenge porn tactics. What’s interesting about the two is that they were both the talk of the town the past week, whether you liked it or not. Right when voters were checking off their ballots. Could 5% of the Academy come to the rescue for either film?  

If you ask me, Django Unchained was always going to be the harder sell to the Academy. Tarantino’s style has not always been an Academy favorite. From Jackie Brown to his brilliant Kill Bill films, Tarantino doesn’t always hit the right chord. Inglourious Basterds was a film and story that captured the zeitgeist and was something that made the Academy swoon. Hitler being pulverized by angry, military Jews?  Who could resist?

hugh jackman in les miserables
Too close?

As for Hooper’s Les Miserables, many individuals, I believe, are still stinging from his win over David Fincher in 2010, and those people are nearly crucifying his aesthetic choices in the musical adaptation. While I’m not insinuating that these quarrels and problems are not valid to some, I didn’t experience this passion to string up Rob Marshall when he presented a same-stylistic approach on his ill-attempted Nine back in 2009.

Marshall recalculated his same formula on the Oscar-winning Chicago (2002) and applied it to an Italian musical where the shining moment of a star-studded cast that includes Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, and Nicole Kidman, comes from Fergie of the Black-Eyed Peas. As John Foote pointed out in a recent piece, many didn’t find solace in Hooper’s approach with close-ups, which seems to be the main accusation on the Internet. There are arguments that you have to be familiar with the source material to “truly appreciate” Hooper’s film. I had never seen a lick of any Les Miserables performance, musical, or film before watching the new adaptation, and I absolutely loved it.

So what are some audience members’ and critics’ real problem with Les Miserables?  I honestly feel there are some directors’ styles that jive with some and some that make people’s skin crawl. Tom Hooper might be one of those directors, probably for all-time, that will have some love him and some who will be ready to burn him at the stake.

That same quality is what makes Quentin Tarantino so iconic. There are many out there who CANNOT stand Tarantino’s shtick, choices in telling a story, or–something I can agree with–his decision to make cameo appearances in many of his films that often stop the film dead, like in Django Unchained. I have always admired Tarantino, but as time settles in with Django, I’m starting to feel it’s probably the weakest film of his career, next to Grindhouse. Is it a bad film?  I don’t think so. It’s in the middle-tier of every film I saw this year. Solid–some exceptional–performances with a musical accompaniment that is definitely the best use of music this year.

Longshot or Frontrunner?
Longshot or Frontrunner?

From an Oscar prognosticating perspective, Tarantino doesn’t really have anything–besides a Golden Globe nomination– to suggest that Oscar will come to his aid in a Director lineup. I do believe that a Screenplay nomination may come his way, but as sci-fi “fanboy” films like Looper or small, independent juggernauts like Middle of Nowhere and Arbitrage pick up steam, Tarantino may find himself on the outskirts. I’m still not entirely convinced that Leonardo DiCaprio will make a Supporting Actor lineup with co-star Christoph Waltz breathing down his neck. SAG nominee Javier Bardem could still find his way in there and mirror SAG’s lineup.

Supporting Actress, with three locks–Sally Field, Anne Hathaway, and Helen Hunt–is a category that could present a shock or two on Oscar nomination morning. After missing SAG, Amy Adams (and The Master, in general) is barely staying afloat in these last days. Nicole Kidman, nominated for Golden Globe and SAG, had the pleasure of having voters actually sit down and watch Lee Daniels’s The Paperboy over the holidays–something I imagine didn’t go over well around a holiday table. I wonder if Kidman falls in line like Mila Kunis and Maria Bello–two Supporting Actress hopefuls who had the same nominations but ultimately missed in the end.

Maggie Smith is likely safer than people want her to be. Four nominations, in total, from the Screen Actors Guild and two nominations from the Golden Globes keep her in conversation, despite her decision to not campaign. That leaves an opportunity for someone to breakthrough. NBR winner Ann Dowd is still in conversation. She’s hit the circuit in a big way, and with a recent story breaking about her taking out a loan to send screeners to voters, they may feel inclined to throw her a bone.

With Denzel Washington on the bubble for Flight, could some love have shifted towards co-star Kelly Reilly?  How about the voters that really love Les Mis and want to throw Samantha Barks in the ring with co-star Hathaway?  There seems to be a huge spike in people loving Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook. With Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert DeNiro seemingly locked in their respective categories, this would be the first time since Reds (1981) that all four principal actors would be nominated in all four acting categories. Not sure if SLP has that kind of popularity, given Weaver’s undeveloped character.

DAVISAWARDS_LOGOIn other news, the End of the Year honors begins today. The Davis Awards (or Editor’s Picks of the Year) will be announced a few categories at a time over the next week or so. If you look under EDITORIALS in the menu bar, you will find the first set of nominations for Best Picture and Best Director with commentary or click HERE.. Please make sure to include your picks. Staff Top Tens will be announced January 18.

Check out the full Oscar Predictions update!