Cinema Chatter – Guesswork

Part of what enamors me about the whole concept of Oscar prognostication is the mystery of it all. It’s trying to separate between your own taste and those of a larger voting body. It’s attempting to understand the perspective of studios in terms of pushing one actor over another. There’s nothing artistic about the process; if anything, it strips the artistry of filmmaking to a science. The science can become repetitive and mind-numbing; at my recent prescreening of Young Adult, director Jason Reitman expressed fatigue when dealing with the press and pundits. After the disappointing performance of Up in the Air following a long festival campaign to push the film, it’s no wonder he has opted to pursue smaller individual venues to get the word out. It works for me; Young Adult is one of the year’s best films, and the whole experience of having him, writer Diablo Cody, and actor Patton Oswalt to do Q&A was terrific.

Just a year after Reitman’s Up in the Air fiasco, director David Fincher went all out on a press campaign for The Social Network. The film was critically lauded and looked to have had its Best Picture and Best Director wins sealed; that is until the Producers Guild of America awarded The King’s Speech instead. Things went south fast for The Social Network, so it’s no wonder Fincher has opted against any sort of awards campaign on his part for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

But as you can see on the updated sidebar, I’m thinking the film is going to play big. Like the Coens’ True Grit, I’m getting a sense that it’ll be the sort of late player that doesn’t have a wider buzz circulating around it until after its release. And perhaps this is a bold statement, but I’m thinking the film will be a larger commercial player than any of Spielberg’s films in the December timeframe.

Part of what makes this whole prognosticating thing a snap is that I’m working with historical data. When you have someone like Meryl Streep, who’s been nominated 16 times since 1979, it’s going to be likely that she’ll be nominated again given the weight of her role in The Iron Lady. Sight unseen, you’re taking a logical bet. Similarly, Steven Spielberg’s one-two punch with War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin lead me to believe that he’ll secure a nomination (for the former, though it’s not out of the question for the latter) for either Best Picture and/or Best Director. Numbers are on your side.

There are plenty of curveballs to throw you off though; there are typically one or two first-time nominees who enter the field. From there, you’re basing your information on others expectations, adding up praise and subtracting dismissals. One can attempt to create a formula to the whole affair, but then, there are those odd-ball nominations that simply come out of nowhere and can’t be justified (Tommy Lee Jones for In The Valley of Elah for one).

But as we wait for the upcoming New York Film Critics Circle to outline what will certainly alleviate confusion as to who are “contenders” (which will be followed by the National Board of Review’s top films), it’s all guesswork. And well, it’s the best time for this sort of thing; it’s probably the closest any Oscar pundit gets to actually implementing their own cinematic taste into the proceedings.

So for now, here’s my first stab at predicting the 2012 Academy Awards. It’ll be lots of fun to see how off I am come February 26.

Best Picture: The Artist

Best Director: Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Best Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants

Best Actress: Viola Davis, The Help

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life

Best Supporting Actress: Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus

Best Writing (Adapted): The Descendants (Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, Jim Rash)

Best Writing (Original): The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Best Art Direction: Hugo

Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life

Best Costume Design: The Artist

Best Film Editing: The Artist

Best Makeup: The Iron Lady

Best Music (Original Score): War Horse

Best Music (Original Song): The Muppets 

Best Sound Editing: War Horse

Best Sound Mixing: The Adventures of Tintin

Best Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Animated Feature: The Adventures of Tintin

Best Documentary Feature: Tabloid

Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation 

 

Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011)

In a rare, packed house at the Music Box Theater, cinephiles were greeted with a “secret” screening of Young Adult. It wasn’t much of a secret; the film’s co-star, Patton Oswalt, spilled the beans over his Twitter. But the buzz for the film was electric, and as management started teasing of what the film would be (the announcement of Happy Feet 2 was met with faux-storming out by several audience members), we were greeted by not only Patton Oswalt, but director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. They’d stay for a Q&A session that was marked by Oswalt’s impeccable comic timing and a remarkably thoughtful and detailed outline of the writing/directorial process from Cody and Reitman. I’ve been to my fair share of prescreenings and Q&A sessions, but this easily takes the cake as my favorite.

As for the film, for those who admired Cody and Reitman’s previous effort in Juno, it’s a bit surprising to see how much a departure Young Adult is in terms of tone. It bares more similarities with Reitman’s previous outing, Up in the Air, at least in terms of achieving a darker comic tone while shifting the material to a more mature setting (though if Young Adult is about anything, it’s about immaturity).

Young Adult focuses on the sense of loss that comes with adulthood, particularly on those who emphasize a great deal of importance on a specific time in their life; such is the case for Mavis (Charlize Theron). She’s a young adult fiction ghost writer who has left her tiny, fictional town of Mercury, Minnesota for the “Mini-Apple”. But as her life falls into a routine, she is greeted by the news that her high school flame has just had a child. The news prompts her to leave the cityscape and retrieve something that was lost decades ago.

The film balances an astutely dark comic tone with individual scenes of poignancy that made for an experience similar to Up in the Air. Comparisons  to Billy Wilder’s work was a topic often touched upon during Up in the Air’s press campaign, and I doubt Reitman is going to dodge those same comparisons when Young Adult screens for critics. But what I admire most about Young Adult is its sense of time and place; Cody understands a specific type of character in Mavis, and creates a grand sense of time while containing her to what is essentially a weekend. We get a very in-depth history of Mavis’ depression, alcoholism, and anxieties that is realized in a very organic and believable way. And the town in which Reitman and Cody operate under only serves to accentuate why Mavis is the way she is.

Cody makes a rather risky decision in the film’s final act that will likely turn off some viewers, but frankly, I thought it kind of makes the film. There’s a scene where Theron’s character is forced to decide between paths and what motivates her to choose is incredibly rich as both a dark comedic moment and telling as a commentary on those enamored by a different place in time.

Rating: 8/10

As an aside: Young Adult’s awards prospects. Reitman’s been nominated twice in a row, and both Cody and Theron have an Academy Award to their name.  Young Adult’s darker tone will make it a tough commercial sell, though with (kinda) similar films like Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher breaking $100 million, it might not be quite so tough. I’m betting Theron will get a Best Actress nomination and Cody will be up for Best Original Screenplay. Beyond that, it depends on its success critically and commercially; the field could potentially expand to Best Picture and Best Director, though I doubt it. What’s really on the fence is Patton Oswalt’s Supporting Actor performance; he’s good, though Young Adult has to really play well for me to believe he’s in the fray. But with an unseen performance from Max Von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and a still-in-question performance from Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn, it’ll need support.