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The Hype Cycle Week 6: The Long Road Ahead

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This week at the end of October is the point in the Oscar race where pundits begin spinning their wheels. The festivals are over, the critics’ awards haven’t started yet, and no new movies are arriving, leaving little to actually go on in terms of new predictions.

Keep in mind, when an Oscar pundit talks about movies that haven’t arrived yet, they’re referring to movies they haven’t seen, and in fact no one has seen (Selma, Big Eyes, American Sniper, A Most Violent Year, Unbroken), not movies you haven’t seen (just about everything, save Boyhood, Birdman, Whiplash and St. Vincent and The Judge if they stood a chance).

For instance, Peter Knegt opened his column with the stat that “At this point last year, all but one film that would go on to win an Academy Award had screened in some capacity.” What he’s saying is not that Interstellar doesn’t have a chance because it hasn’t played at your local multiplex yet, but that all those latecomers to the party may find the Best Picture field is as big as its going to get, historically speaking.

This ebb and flow of the Oscar season has gotten so predictable that Mark Harris has stepped up to the plate just today with a helpful precursor, “The Curse of Crash: The Narratives That Doom Oscar Movies.” Harris is the best writer in the Oscar game (or just about in any game), and it’s a fantastic read I’ll be alluding to in full throughout this column.

He talks about X and Y movies as defined by the Internet age and “The Balls Argument.” “If Academy voters had any balls, they would give the Best Picture Oscar to “X.” However, Academy voters have no balls. Therefore, they will give Best Picture to “Y.”

One of this year’s frontrunners, Boyhood, is arguably not an X or Y, and it’s exactly the reason it might win. Here though are the other movies making buzz this week.

1. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar has finally arrived, and better to weigh its Oscar chances now before the world sees it and starts consuming the Internet with speculative theories and think pieces. So is it good? Yes, seems to be the case. Is it an awards homerun? Maybe.

Harris groups Nolan into the “X” films category, and keep in mind that The Dark Knight is presumably the reason why The Academy switched to a 10-movie field in the first place. But Harris also acknowledges that Interstellar is not quite as dark as the narrative needs, saying it’s “not only not dark, it’s about feelings and dads and spirituality and hopefulness and stuff.”

Sasha Stone says the film will walk away with Visual Effects, and that it could land a Best Picture nomination because it will play as a love it/hate it contender on a preferential ballot. And Anne Thompson feels its not a critics’ picture, the Academy won’t nominate another sci-fi after going for Gravity and its chances will depend on how well it does in acting, screenplay or the directing categories.

2. Jennifer Aniston

At the start of the Oscar season we talked about the surprise hit Cake and the potential Oscar chances for Jennifer Aniston. Now the studio that owns the film, Cinelou Films, so wants to earn Aniston a nomination, that it has expanded to form its own distribution arm to put the film out for an Oscar qualifying run prior to a January release. Whether or not she still has a chance to get in is anyone’s guess.

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3. The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game

In one corner, both The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game seem like the on-paper winners and frontrunners for Best Picture. They’ve checked all the boxes of the “Oscar movie” whereas Gone Girl, Boyhood and Birdman seem like oddballs. On the other hand, neither has yet lit a real fire, and whether the films have liked it or not, the Internet has taken to pairing them as though they were one type of movie.

Here’s why Harris says that plan of attack for campaigning may backfire for both films, not least of which being that critics haven’t been head over heels for either:

The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are both swiftly categorizable as King’s Speech offshoots, and that is, in some ways, the playbook its distributors have chosen… The awards cases these new films make are almost too identically pitched to voters: They’re both efficient, well-made, fact-based British imports that announce their tragic and/or inspirational themes explicitly and repeatedly while relying on compelling central performances by London-born leading men in their thirties whom you’ve liked in other stuff and who seem about due for their first nominations. But unlike The King’s Speech — in fact, because of The King’s Speech — these movies will have to overcome a perception that the genre they represent has recently been over-rewarded. And in addition to that hurdle, each film has to wrench itself apart from the other; if they’re treated as conjoined twins in the campaign conversation, it could be fatal to their chances… I’ve already heard private grumbling about how “safe” they are, and I can’t imagine it won’t get louder.

4. Citizenfour

The International Documentary Association, or IDA Awards, revealed their nominations Thursday, including a nod for the surprise contender Citizenfour, a documentary about Edward Snowden. The film has quickly become a frontrunner in the documentary category alongside films like Life Itself and Red Army. Harris even speculates that it’s a potential “X” movie if it can work its way into the Best Picture race. I didn’t realize it was THAT good.

5. Best Original Song Category

Hitfix is reporting that Coldplay, John Legend and Common are all entering into the Best Original Song race with songs that will close Unbroken and Selma respectively. The two songs are “Miracles” by Coldplay, which will play during the ending scene of Unbroken, and “Glory” by Legend and Common, which may just be in the end credits (never a favorite spot for Academy voters). They join Tegan and Sara, The New Radicals and Patti Smith as other high profile performers from this year.


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