If I were feeling less generous and more cynical on this holiest of all Oscar-calendar mornings, I might say that to decipher this year’s Academy Awards contest, we need only look for inspiration to the GOP presidential race. The Artist is Mitt Romney — desperate to please, doesn’t stand for anything in particular, not especially popular with the general public, will eventually keep most of its money offshore, and, though dinged up and trash-talked, will probably cross the finish line first by default. The Descendants is Newt Gingrich (emotionally unsteady, hard on wives, doing better than expected, but probably can’t go all the way). Hugo is Rick Santorum (a little slow, doesn’t really like anything that changed in the culture in the last 80 years). And The Tree of Life is Jon Huntsman (believes in evolution, probably a little too classy for this field).
What a frenetically busy weekend it was in the handing out of shinies and sparklies and mantel-trinkets to chronically underappreciated movie people, who at other times of the year often have to survive for weeks without winning anything. Critics’ groups in Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco announced their honorees, as did online critics in New York; conclaves in Detroit and Houston revealed their lists; and the American Film Institute named its 10 best movies. That’s a lot of noise! All of these simultaneously live-tweeted prizelets are microtwitches in the Oscar race, and it’s true that come ballot time, no Oscar voter is going to find himself frozen in indecision, his pen hovering above his ballot as he frets, “But dare I go against Detroit?” However, it’s still possible to pull some larger trendlines from this surge of hyperbolic over-celebration of film achievement. And if it’s not, let’s pretend it is.
Silver: I’m a little disappointed in Jason Segel. He should know better than to reveal the age-old secret of “The Jewish Drawer". Every Jewish boy has one, and to reveal its contents … well … let’s just say things take a turn akin to the one at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Regardless, in spite of Five Year Engagement’s lackluster trailer, seeing Segel strap on his sad-sack character is pretty welcome. Working with his frequent collaborator Nicholas Stoller (director and co-writer here), Segel gets to play with some extremely talented comedy folk — specifically NBC’s Thursday stars Alison Brie (Community) and Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation). From the trailer, Five Year Engagement might not be the Bridesmaids-size cultural phenomenon Apatow and Universal are hoping for, but if it comes close to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, we all win.
Browne: Silver, I can't believe they discussed "The Jewish Drawer" either. I mean, is nothing sacred? Despite that rude slip up, Emily Blunt is perfect so I will see this 8 times.
In thinking about the race for Best Picture this week I found myself drifting unhappily back to the 1980s, specifically to a stretch during which the Oscars reacted to an uncertain (i.e., post-Raging Bull) period in high-end American moviemaking by retreating to a safer, more virtuous and conservative definition of "prestige" films. In a period of just seven years, Best Picture Oscars were won by Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, Amadeus, Out of Africa, and The Last Emperor. Some of those movies were good, and all of them had their virtues. But collectively, all they told us about the world and times in which they were made is that apparently nobody in 1980s Hollywood wanted to think about 1980s America.
This year’s Best Picture contest is starting to feel afflicted by a similar sense of what I would call belligerent nostalgia. The two movies to win high-profile prizes so far, The Artist and Hugo, are both being hailed as odes to the early days of cinema. But really, they’re not. The Artist tells you everything it knows about the painful transition from silents to talkies in its first 10 minutes: It’s an undeniably charming but extremely slight comedy-drama that mimics the most basic elements of silents (They were black-and-white! The screen wasn’t wide!), but seems more engaged by their poignant quaintness than by the visual language, wit, beauty, complexity, or psychological richness of the movies it purports to honor. And as enchanting as it can be to enter the glittering, hermetically sealed but vividly three-dimensional toy chest/train station universe that Martin Scorsese has created in Hugo, there is something slightly self-adoring about the story it tells. Hugo is not a valentine to the dawn of movies — it’s a valentine to people who send those valentines, a halo placed lovingly atop the heads of cinephiles and film preservationists. (And, not incidentally, film critics and Oscar voters.)
Welcome to December, RazzieWatchers! We’re in the home stretch. We have to say, this is the most exciting Razzie season in years — every time we think a movie’s a shoo-in, something elsecomes along that’s even worse! Last week saw the bloody, violent birth of Razzie heavyweight Breaking Dawn, Part 1 — seemingly a lock with a 26% Tomatometer, but possibly hampered by a sort-of rave by mysterious New York Times soothsayer Manohla Dargis.
In covering the Oscar race so far, I’ve tried to focus on movies that have already opened. But this week, I’m tossing that approach, because effective immediately, the attention of the Oscar-punditry universe swivels decisively forward. The last eight weekends of 2011 will bring more than two dozen movies with aspirations as modest as a single acting nomination and as grandiose as sweeping the slate from Best Picture to Best Makeup.
So from now until year’s end, the goal of every contender that opened before November 1 is simply survival. Think of the next two months as a tidal wave, and of early hopefuls like Midnight in Paris, The Help, and Moneyball as trees along the shore line. Some of those trees will topple — and a couple of months from now, those still standing may look that much taller. Same goes for the movies in the big wave; some will arrive with obliterating force while others will weaken the closer they get. (Please take the above tortured analogy as my tribute to Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter.) With that in mind, this Oscarmetrics installment is a cheat sheet — a map of the parallel tracks of reality and hype along which the race will now proceed.
It’s been ten years since 9/11 and thus the time is ripe for Hollywood to step in and remind us how to feel about it. The mechanism? An adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s earnest and thinky 2005 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which, judging from the just-released trailer, maintains the importance of being earnest but drops the thinkiness down a few pegs. To sum up: Tom Hanks is a perfectly Tom Hanks-ian father to a moon-faced, inquisitive, tambourine-playing son. Sandra Bullock, having finally gained industry permission to play the sort of toothless, maternal roles as the rest of the over-40 actresses in town, plays the boy’s mom. Then the planes start hitting buildings, U2 starts chiming on the soundtrack, and we appear to be on a one-way journey to schmaltzville, replete with a magical-realist quest (Hanks leaves a mysterious key from beyond the grave), fast flashes grief-stricken ethnic faces, and exactly the sort of stolid supporting performers you want to invest in if you hope to strike Academy gold in the motion picture postseason (Jeffrey Wright, Viola Davis, John Goodman).