Last night at Los Angeles's AFI Fest the veil was finally lifted on one of the last big question marks of the Oscar season, David O. Russell's boxing drama The Fighter. An ecstatic response or total dead silence would have helped a lot in figuring out the shape of the Best Picture race, but of course, it's not that easy at all. We're looking at everything from flat-out raves that "erase all doubt" about its Best Picture prospects to a more cautious "it's possible." Either way nobody seems to be talking about The Fighter as a winner of anything beyond Christian Bale, whose supporting performance as a crack addict and former boxer is reportedly committed and moving.
So with The Fighter out there-- I'm seeing it next Monday-- it's really just True Grit playing keepaway as a possible surprise to turn over the apple cart. It's hard not to feel a little disappointed at this stage in the season, when you've unwrapped all your Christmas presents and feel that tiny twinge of despair that there's no longer something mysterious to look forward to. Sure, the fall movie seas still has plenty more to offer, from next week's Harry Potter to the looming mystery of Tron: Legacy, but when it comes to the Oscar race, what we see right now is for the most part what we get.
There have been a few stories and mini-scandals with ties to the Oscar race, and for lack of a more overarching narrative this week, let's go over a few of them:
The King's Speech, a presumed Best Picture frontrunner and a genuinely terrific film, has been slapped with both a godawful poster and an R-rating on a film that is very tame and demure beyond a scene that, as described in the British rating, "uses profanity in the context of speech therapy." At this Sunday's junket for the film both star Colin Firth and Tom Hooper railed against the rating, but like fellow awards contenders Made in Dagenham and Blue Valentine, it's probably stuck with the MPAA's fair judgment. Honestly, I doubt it will have too much impact on the movie one way or another-- The King's Speech is a movie for grown-ups, and not something teenagers are likely to see unless dragged-- but it's just another example of the ridiculous standards set up by the MPAA to "protect" America's children.
I finally saw Love and Other Drugs, and while it's a smooth and sometimes very affecting dramedy, it doesn't feel like Oscar stuff in the slightest, especially with the fluffy The Kids Are All Right more solidly in the picture. Anne Hathaway's Best Actress chances are also pretty much nil given the competition. I like the movie OK but it's kind of nice to have one less thing to worry about.
127 Hours opened in limited release last weekend amid a flurry of publicity and scored a strong $66,213 per-theater average, as well as continued buzz thanks to more stories of people fainting. No, you don't usually think of Academy members flocking to movies so hardcore that people faint, but as we've discussed 127 Hours is part of the conversation no matter what, and any buzz is good buzz right now.
In the next round of Fox Searchlight publicity efforts, they've set up a killer viral site for Black Swan. The movie comes out December 1, so expect the conversation to start ramping up soon.
Unlike 127 Hours, though, For Colored Girls did not fair so well upon its release, bringing in just $20 million so far, which is good but not great by Tyler Perry standards. Added to the fact that not that many critics stepped wholeheartedly behind Perry's brash, singular, deeply flawed film and the Supporting Actress race may have just lost a few contenders, though I can't quite admit it yet. Truthfully, the writing is on the wall-- Lionsgate also has Rabbit Hole to get out there, and a strong Supporting Actress contender in Dianne Wiest, who they won't want to compete against. Sigh. Anika Noni Rose will get her due someday.
OK, on to the charts. I'm trying to pare down a lot of the more outsidery contenders, and account for the impact of The Fighter's success as well, particularly in the acting categories.
Between the Mortal Lock and Likely Contender categories we have 11 films, and of the bunch Another Year is starting to feel wobbly, just a little too low-key and English. It's almost time to start picking my predicted nominees in the bunch, and when that happens Another Year may be the one to go. Elsewhere I've tried to start relentlessly pruning the actual contenders, because no, nobody actually thinks Wall Street 2 or Never Let Me Go can get a Best Picture nod. Onward and upward.
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
The Kids Are All Right
Made in Dagenham
The Way Back
The Ghost Writer
How Do You Know?
Love and Other Drugs
The ecstatic response to The Fighter may make Russell more of a Best Director contender than previously assumed, knocking out weaker competition like Mike Leigh or--sob!-- Darren Aronofsky. But if the praise continues to be just for the performers, that may not pan out. In other considerations, I interviewed The King's Speech director, and though he's young--38-- and looks even younger (he's pictured above), he's got the kind of poise and affability that will serve him well on the Oscar party circuit. Not quite at Mortal Lock yet, but almost there.
Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
David Fincher, The Social Network
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Mike Leigh, Another Year
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russell, The Fighter
Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
Sofia Coppola, Somewhere
Clint Eastwood, Hereafter
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Tourist
Peter Weir, The Way Back
Ben Affleck, The Town
Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Biuitiful
John Cameron Mitchell, Rabbit Hole
Tyler Perry, For Colored Girls
Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer
Mark Romanek, Never Let Me Go
Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island
Oliver Stone, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps
Edward Zwick, Love and Other Drugs
Early word on The Fighter says Wahlberg is the least impressive of the lineup, and since I wasn't expecting him to be that strong anyway, down he goes to Still In The Running. Otherwise there's not much change, as Franco and Firth continue to be the only performers anyone is really talking about. Oh, and Jake Gyllenhaal is outta there-- I had entirely forgotten I had him listed as a contender to begin with.
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Robert Duvall, Get Low
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Paul Giamatti, Barney's Version
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Johnny Depp, The Tourist
Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception
Stephen Dorff, Somewhere
Aaron Eckhart, Rabbit Hole
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter
Jim Broadbent, Another Year
Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack
Ben Stiller, Greenberg
I really hope Sally Hawkins stays in there for Made in Dagenham, since it's a really enjoyable movie that she's great in, but I feel a lot of silence surrounding that performance. Coming back up over and over again, though, is Jennifer Lawrence, who is most certainly this year's ingenue and could take it all if Focus and Searchlight aren't careful to keep their ladies (Bening and Portman) in the spotlight.
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs
Sally Hawkins, Made in Dagenham
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Lesley Manville, Another Year
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Diane Lane, Secretariat
Hilary Swank, Conviction
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Reese Witherspoon, How Do You Know?
Gwyneth Paltrow, Country Strong
Tilda Swinton, I Am Love
Naomi Watts, Fair Game
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Bale seems to be the major takeaway from The Fighter, and though I can't move him up to Mortal Lock until I've seen the movie, I can only assume he's safe for a nomination there. I'm also hearing a lot about Colin Farrell's performance in The Way Back being the real takeaway, and it's possible to see him getting in even if the movie doesn't hit as hard-- that Best Actor in a Comedy win for In Bruges at the Globes a few years back proves they still like him.
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Sam Rockwell, Conviction
Justin Timberlake, The Social Network
Michael Douglas, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps
Colin Farrell, The Way Back
Ed Harris, The Way Back
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Dustin Hoffman, Barney's Version
Bob Hoskins, Made in Dagenham
Sean Penn, Fair Game
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Josh Brolin, True Grit
Vincent Cassel, Black Swan
Matt Damon, True Grit
Armie Hammer, The Social Network
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
I'm perfectly happy to bump Amy Adams and Melissa Leo up to Likely Contenders, because the buzz for them in The Fighter is that strong and the category is still so tricky. I'll probably have to take out the For Colored Girls candidates at some point, but only if it becomes clear that Lionsgate really, really isn't going to attempt an Oscar campaign for any of them.
Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Barbara Hershey, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Rosamund Pike, Barney's Version
Miranda Richardson, Made in Dagenham
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole
Kimberly Elise, For Colored Girls
Thandie Newton, For Colored Girls
Rosamund Pike, Made in Dagenham
Phylicia Rashad, For Colored Girls
Anika Noni Rose, For Colored Girls
Kristin Scott Thomas, Nowhere Boy
Marion Cotillard, Inception
Elle Fanning, Somewhere
Saoirse Ronan, The Way Back
Sissy Spacek, Get Low
Mia Wasikowska, The Kids Are All Right