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 


Tabloid (Errol Morris, 2010)

The reality of a film like Tabloid is that there aren’t easy answers. It’s all about perspective, and given Errol Morris’ inclination to use talking head segments and archival footage to push his narrative along, one has to pass judgment based on what we see and hear. It’s Morris’ method that makes Tabloid work, largely because he refuses to compromise or take a side – he allows those on camera to construct their identities. What makes Tabloid such a riot is how, more often than not, those same individuals are deconstructing the identity that they served to create.

Tabloid zeros in on the exploits of Joyce McKinney. A former Miss Wyoming beauty queen, the blonde bombshell, now in her fifties, discusses her rather lurid young adult life. Having been accused of abducting her Mormon boyfriend, McKinney caused a bit of a stir among British tabloids during the late 70s.  The abduction is less eye-brow raising than what happens afterward - McKinney apparently imprisons her young Mormon lover for several days, exposing him to a variety of sexual acts: most of which are done while he’s chained to a bed. Two publications in particular, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Express, competed against each other to best rake in the muck. This competition amongst publications served to denounce McKinney and paint her as a bit of a sex nymph. Such muckraking was grounded on, at best, dubious facts.

Tabloid’s effectiveness stems from Morris allowing his subject, McKinney, free reign to say and do just about anything in front of the camera. It gives the audience the opportunity to take what she says, analyze the way in which she says it, and allows us to shape our own perception on the matter. Of course, we’re basing this entirely from one perspective (McKinney’s love interest refused to be interviewed for the film),  but Morris is very clever in the way he ties the film together – while one can’t gather what side Morris is on, he does take some light jabs at both sides.

But what Tabloid does best is that it allows Morris to shed light on a phenomenon that plagues our own society. Before Lindsay Lohan, before Charlie Sheen, McKinney’s exploits garnered attention. Her actions were the same sort of thing that captures the headlines these days – little has changed when it comes to using sex and deviance as a method of capturing the public’s collective attention. But what Morris doesn’t do, and what I really had hoped he would do, is bring to question the gender politics of the entire situation. Had the roles been reversed, had McKinney been the subject of sexual exploitation, I suspect the public wouldn’t take too kindly to it. But the luridness, the idea that women could engage in sexually deviant behavior (the audacity!) was enough to cloud public perception and reject fact for giddy fiction.

Rating: 7/10