Celluloid Atrocities December 2015: Some Thoughts on the 2015 Awards Season

awardseason sqThis year’s tendency of sticking actors in inappropriate categories is annoying me more than usual.

 thedanish 500

Mid-November through mid-December is the busiest period of the year for most film critics, particularly those belonging to critics’ groups (I’m a member of the St. Louis Film Critics Association, and PLAYBACK:stl writer Sarah Boslaugh is a member of the Online Film Critics Society), as that’s when we’re inundated with press screenings for all of the (many) releases that come out at the end of the year, in the hopes that we’ll think of them come awards time. Awards from organizations of film critics are seen as a major predictor and precursor of the Oscars, both in terms of nominees and winners, and as such, studios court these otherwise-invisible critics’ awards much more so than one might expect. What this means is that, as I write this column, I’m completely immersed in the films of 2015. To give you an idea of where I stand as of this writing, and to admittedly put something of a shelf life on this article, here is an idea of what my life is like around this time:

  • Last three movies seen in the theater: The Big Short, Carol, and Legend, all watched within a 24-hour period.
  • Last three movies watched via DVD or online screener (specifically sent to critics for awards consideration purposes): 45 Years, I Smile Back, Entertainer (again, all watched within one 24-hour period; this is how I spent my Thanksgiving).
  • Next three movies I’m going to see in the theater: Chi-Raq, The Revenant, and Joy.
  • Some key titles I haven’t heard when and where I’ll get to see yet: The Hateful 8 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

As you can expect, this is all a lot of fun; I’m a film critic because I love watching films, after all. There is an element of school or work to the endeavor, though: It’s like being an English Lit major, and while you may love the books you’re forced to read for class, you also long for the summer when you can read whatever the hell you want, whenever you want, without required reading soaking up all of your time (well, if said Lit major were forced to read potentially major works before much of anyone else was able to read them, anyway).

Generally, studios and publicists frown on writing anything that resembles a review of a movie before it opens locally, so I’m not in a position to say much of substance about any of these films within the context of this article. That’s fine, though, as most of what’s on my mind is theoretical/speculative anyway.

But before I get to that stuff, there is one thing bugging me more than usual this awards season: the disparity, or lack thereof, between lead and supporting categories. See, studios will specifically tell awards-givers in which category they want any given film/filmmaker to be considered, and as one might expect, there are a lot of politics involved. Sometimes it’s related to the stature of the actor in question (assuming it’s an acting award we’re talking about); other times it’s about slotting them in the category where they seem most likely to win; and sometimes it’s in an attempt not to compete with oneself, be it actors in the same film, or one studio film against another film from the same studio, etc.

It isn’t unusual for this to bother me. In 2013, Sony wanted Before Midnight in the Adapted Screenplay category when it wasn’t an adaptation, only a continuation; the same goes for Disney with Toy Story 3 in 2010. Hailee Steinfeld was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for 2010’s True Grit when she was clearly the lead of that film, and 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford secured Casey Affleck a nomination for Best Supporting Actor where Brad Pitt was put forth as the lead, for which he was not nominated. (While I don’t agree with the category, at least Affleck got a richly deserved, and semi-unexpected, nomination for his work on that film.) Many are of the opinion that Ellen Burstyn would have (and should have) won Best Supporting Actress in her role in 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, had she not been nominated against the juggernaut Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich in the lead category; it was all but a foregone conclusion that she (Roberts) would win. (Besides, Burstyn really was more of a supporting role than a lead in Requiem.) I could go on.

So while it isn’t anything new, this year’s tendency of sticking people in inappropriate categories is annoying me more than usual. Case in point: Focus Features wants Alicia Vikander in the supporting category for her work in The Danish Girl, and the Weinstein Company wants Rooney Mara in supporting for Carol. Not only are these both clearly lead roles, I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks that these two deserve to be the frontrunners in the leading category (with the caveat that I still haven’t seen a few key potential contenders), so it shouldn’t be a matter of what they might actually be able to win. So why stick them in supporting?

Similarly, but less glaring, is Jacob Tremblay as supporting for his work in Room: He’s clearly a lead, alongside Brie Larson (who plays his mother), and the fact that he’s a child shouldn’t change that. Besides, the lead actor category this year isn’t super strong; it doesn’t seem like it would be all that hard to sneak him in there. And elsewhere, the excellent Spotlight is wisely putting forth its ensemble cast in the supporting category, which is perfectly appropriate. It does mean, though, that that film may soak up as many as three nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category (though two is much more likely, for Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton; I’d argue that Stanley Tucci should be the third)—whatever that means in terms of Tremblay’s chances.

Back to Vikander and Mara: Note that the Independent Spirit Awards ignored Weinstein and (rightly) nominated both Cate Blanchett and Mara in the lead category for the same film, Carol. (If Carol were a straight love story rather than a gay one, there’d be no question that both of those characters were leads.) Elsewhere, while their nominations haven’t been announced as of this writing, it has been in the news that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has rejected Mara and Vikander as being supporting, instead placing them in lead; hopefully this is logic that sticks when the Academy announces their nominees come January 14.

Moving on, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing about the announcement that Disney’s not going to be screening the new Star Wars for awards consideration. This sounds lose-lose to me: If we’re not considering all of any given year’s releases, and especially one as anticipated as The Force Awakens is, what exactly are we doing, anyway? (Note: Even if they wind up giving it no St. Louis press screening whatsoever, Force will open a few days before the StLFCA have to vote, so while it will be a pain in the ass, we will at least be able to quickly consider it.) But then, you really don’t want me to get started on all these motherfuckers who have long since decided that The Force Awakens is a good movie and will be a deserved awards contender, without ever having actually seen it, and really knowing very little about it. Don’t get me wrong: I want to like it, and I very much hope I like it, but my hopes aren’t really very high at this point. Are there really that many Felicity fans out there to produce as many J.J. Abrams fanboys as there are? I’m sorry, but Lost sucks, Alias sucks, Super 8 sucks… The only thing he’s ever done that I like is the 2009 Star Trek movie, but even that had a really bad first half-hour or so.

As you can guess, my most-anticipated 2015 release that I haven’t already seen is The Hateful 8, and I am anxiously awaiting the announcement whether St. Louis will get one of the 100 +/- 70mm prints of the film that will be circulating (which, aside from being inherently awesome, are opening sooner than the DCP prints of the film are—theaters with a 70mm print open 12/25, and theaters getting the DCP open 1/8). Much has been made of the cost of restoring and installing the 70mm projectors for this film, reportedly about $80,000 per screen (so $8 million in total for those 100 prints)—try and tell me that this isn’t a good thing. The film has been getting positive PR for this (and “free” advertising besides), it’s creating an infrastructure that future 70mm releases can use (remember that, for example, St. Louis did not get a 70mm print of either The Master or Interstellar—this assuming we do get one of The Hateful 8, that is), and, it really isn’t all that expensive. Compare that $8 million to The Force Awakens’ reported $200 million budget. So while it’s true that at this point I don’t know any more about The Hateful 8 than the rest of the world knows about The Force Awakens, even if 8 is bad, at least it is capable of leaving something positive behind. Try saying the same for The Force Awakens. | Pete Timmermann

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply