Ten months ago, before the dust of the last Oscar ceremony had completely settled, pundits were already calling Atonement this year’s best in show. It didn’t seem to matter that the film was still in post-production, only that it was set to open in December and starred an actress who could (easily) squeeze into a size zero. But something happened on the way to the forum: The film opens in the States and audiences more or less react to it the way professional Oscar pundits have told them to, only it gets the cold shoulder from critics groups and industry guilds alike, leaving the same pundits scrambling to figure out why it may now be shut out of the Best Picture race.
Almost all irrationally blame the December opening (as if this were hurting Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and Julian Schnabel’s Diving Bell and the Butterfly), never considering the effects their histrionic, year-long prognosticating may have had on voters. In short: tell someone enough times they’ll enjoy tossing your salad, and they will; tell them too many times and they’ll feel like they’re being forced to like this.
Which is not to say that Atonement is exactly shiteous. In fact, if this thoroughly mediocre period drama were to be nominated and win Best Picture, it would still count as one of the better ones to take the prize in Oscar’s 80 years. This sad reality is itself another reason for the potential snub: As a prestige picture, Atonement is too frosty, and the Academy has shown that it prefers its swoony romances to be of a more vulgar vintage (Titanic, The English Patient).
It may have been easy to rejoice an Atonement snub if there weren’t more inane films in the running: Michael Clayton, Tony Gilroy’s middlebrow homage to the middlebrow legacy of his three producers (Steven Soderbergh, Anthony Minghella, and Syndney Pollock), and Juno, the story of a quirky, pregnant 16-year-old played by a quirky 19-year-old who sounds like a 29-year-old fan of Death Proof. My roommate tells me Michael Clayton is a lock because his parents lurved it, and Juno is one too because—to loosely quote Jack Bauer from the first season of 24—it hasn’t been shoved so far down our collective throats that it has yet to be digested by the acids in our stomachs and cling to our intestinal linings.
One thing no one could have told you a year ago was that not one, but two darlings of the critical establishment, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, would be frontrunners in this category. Perhaps the WGA strike has forced AMPAS voters to take their work a little more seriously, or maybe the formalist gumption of these films is just too ginormous even for Olivia de Havilland and Mickey Rooney to ignore. And if you doubt that There Will Be Blood isn’t a lock, take a look at its IMDB rating, then read this and tell me that the film isn’t, like, City of God times one million.
That leaves one spot. Sweeney Todd, like Atonement, was a big winner at the Golden Globes, but those awards didn’t exactly happen. American Gangster appears to have lost its groove, and Hairspray has found it a little too late in the game. The same could be said for Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Into the Wild, but the latter has the edge by virtue of being a homegrown product. Besides, all those SAG nominations don’t lie.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.
Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.
Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: A Star Is Born
Should Win: First Man
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing
If it were biologically possible to do so, both Ed and I would happily switch places with A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt.
If it were biologically possible to do so, both Ed and I would happily switch places with A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt, because we’d much rather give birth in a tub while surrounded by murderous blind creatures than have to once again write our predictions for the sound categories. As adamant as we’ve been that the Academy owes it to the nominees to air every category, which they agreed to after an extended “just kidding,” it might have given us pause had the sound categories been among the four demoted by Oscar. But no, we must now endure our annual bout of penance, aware of the fact that actually knowing what the difference is between sound editing and sound mixing is almost a liability. In other words, we’ve talked ourselves out of correct guesses too many times, doubled down on the same movie taking both categories to hedge our bets too many times, and watched as the two categories split in the opposite way we expected too many times. So, as in A Quiet Place, the less said, the better. And while that film’s soundscapes are as unique and noisy as this category seems to prefer, First Man’s real-word gravitas and cacophonous Agena spin sequence should prevail.
Will Win: First Man
Could Win: A Quiet Place
Should Win: First Man
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Actress
Sometimes it’s important to just step back and pay your respects to a remarkable actress.
Sometimes it’s important to just step back and pay your respects to a remarkable actress for having given a performance that, while not your, um, favourite nominated one, is still deserving of an Oscar victory lap. Now, if only others felt the same. Very early on in the awards season, there was already a sense that this award could become a career-achievement coronation for the six-time losing Glenn Close—and that people were going to have a problem squaring that with the fact that her Oscar would be tied to a film perceived to be a piffle. That’s not an inaccurate perception, but it’s difficult to remember a time when critics have used that as an excuse to not do their homework.
In short, have you seen The Wife? Indeed, until the awards-media system’s attention shifted full time into covering AMPAS’s A Series of Unfortunate Oscar Decisions, it seemed as if every day brought us a new article by some pundit about the Oscar race in which it strangely sounded as if the The Wife was still a blind spot for the writer. Which is shame, because Close gives good face throughout the film. Certainly, few Oscar-nominated films this year are as absurd as The Wife, but I’ll do battle with anyone who thinks Close is getting by on her legend alone. Close’s triumph is recognizing The Wife’s inherent ludicrousness and elevating it, and without condescension, with a kabuki-like verve that seeks to speak to the experiences of all women who’ve been oppressed by their men. It’s a turn worthy of Norma Desmond.
Today, the most reliable Oscar narrative is the overdue performer. And if you take stock in that narrative, then you’ll understand why I texted Eric, my fellow Oscar guru, the following on the morning of November 29: “I think Close is going to Still Alice at the Oscars.” After that morning, when the New York Film Critics Circle officially kick-started the Oscar season (and gave their award for best actress to Regina Hall in Support the Girls), no actress ran the table with the critics and guilds, but most of the cards that matter did fall into place for Close, and much as they did for Julianne Moore ahead of her winning the Oscar for Still Alice.
This was a done deal when Close won the Golden Globe, received a standing ovation, and gave the night’s most impassioned speech, immediately after which Eric conceded that my instincts had been right. Of course, that was no doubt easy for him to admit given that, by that point, the oxygen had already seeped out of A Star Is Born’s awards campaign, leaving only Olivia Colman in Close’s way. Colman has worked the campaign trail in spectacular ways, giving speeches that have been every bit as droll as this, but in the end, she doesn’t have the SAG, and as bold and subversive as her performance certainly is, it isn’t sufficiently big enough to convince enough AMPAS members that Close should continue waiting for Oscar.
Will Win: Glenn Close, The Wife
Could Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Should Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite