Now that my ten minute cycling commute has changed to a two hour bus/Metra/bus ride, I’ve been afforded the absolute luxury of listening in on people’s conversations. Attempting to make the best out of a new (i.e, lousy) situation, I figure that time spent on the train could be best used toward my writing. And as a plus, my various eavesdropping might actually serve as blogger fodder. So when I heard a couple of business analysts converse on my work shuttle about Argo, my ears perked.
Maybe it’s because I spend most of my time cycling with my earbuds in, I rarely ever hear about Oscar-y type movies outside of specific film circles. It’s to be expected that a film like Argo would generate some discussion – it satiates a casual viewer’s visceral appetites while being formally proficient enough to appeal to a cinephile. But it has already been in theaters for well over a month. In the meantime, adult-oriented films like Skyfall and Flight have come with force. But to still hear about it, to see that the picture continues to maintain a presence in the top five weekly box office with small declines, is something of a wonder. Considered a front-runner for Best Picture and Best Director, I’d have to wonder how long it can maintain such a prolonged presence before Warner Bros. intervenes.
The problem with awards campaigns is that there is a delicacy to how much effort a studio puts behind a film. Argo, as far as I can tell, has legitimately been carried based on its word-of-mouth. But eventually, Warner Bros. will have to mount a campaign, particularly facing the releases of Silver Linings Playbook (backed by the Weinstein Company, who with the successes of The King’s Speech and The Artist, will be looking for three-for-three) and Life of Pi. And then there are the total unknowns, with Les Misérables, Zero Dark Thirty, and Django Unchained beginning their campaigns.
The concept of blowing your wad, of essentially exhausting one’s profile, is somewhat of a mystery to me. Many attribute the rise and fall of Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air to having this problem – in 2009 it was a picture that looked to be a definite Best Picture winner only to flounder when the buzz it generated could not be maintained by Paramount, essentially becoming a nonfactor in the Oscar race. Perhaps a better example may be Sony’s campaign for The Social Network. Following critical approval and solid box office returns, the film eventually succumbed to a far more elegant campaign from the Weinstein’s The King’s Speech. It was all a matter of finesse: would voters respond to sweeping claims of cinematic perfection (in The Social Network’s claim that it was a film dedicated to the “here and now”) or would voters take to The King’s Speech with its life-affirming “make your voice heard” pandering. The Social Network - the better film, lost. The King’s Speech with the better campaign, won.
So what’s a studio to do? Toss money and make sweeping claims on the excellence of their pictures? Or simply let their film sit and hope the public takes to it? Cries of mishandling a film (something like Drive or even, perhaps, The Master) ultimately position studios in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. A middle ground needs to be reached. Perhaps that’s where I was going with this whole Cinema Chatter - it’s to let things take their course. Argo will continue to dominate the conversation as it maintains its healthy box office intake. I doubt a single executive is going to be hurting that it’s making money. Nor will casual viewers really be bothered one way or another if it gets awards recognition. It’ll all come down to those who bother to care and vote. Take any kind of broad voting procedure, from a national to a community setting, and it all boils down to those who are most committed. Like any pundit, it's the guesswork that's so intriguing.
My updated Oscar predictions can be found on the sidebar. For analysis on individual categories, check out the Oscar Predictions page.