Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Oscar Speculation - Last but not least - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close wants to be the Million Dollar Baby (or the John Kerry) of the 2011 Oscar race.

There was much speculation over the last couple of days over Warner Bros' decision not to make sure that Stephen Daldry's 9/11 drama Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in time for the first batch of critics' awards.  The first official screening will be December 2nd (no, I probably won't be attending that early), which means that the Tom Hanks/Sandra Bullock drama won't be eligible for consideration for the National Board of Review or the New York Film Critics Circle, both of which are so consumed with being 'the first' to announce their year-end plaudits that they aren't even waiting until the last month of the year.  The rumblings run the gamut from 'it won't be done in time' to 'it's not that good' to 'we want to capitalize on positive audience word of mouth'.  All or none of those could be true.  But I think that Warner Bros. is playing a slightly different game.

It's late November and nearly every major awards contender has screened for press.  The only other big ones left are The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (which will screen by the end of Thanksgiving weekend and no, I'm waiting until December) and Steven Spielberg's War Horse (which has screened for regional 'word of mouth' showings, but not officially for press).  With a month to go, there is no clear front-runner.  None.  Sure, some speculate that The Descendants is building momentum, while others swear that the allegedly crowd-pleasing The Artist can sneak in, and others still are sure that War Horse is such a prototypical Best Picture-type movie that it's a shoe-in.  But as of this pre-Thanksgiving Tuesday, the door is wide-open for a steal the momentum and ride away with the big prize.  And that movie is Million Dollar Baby, err, I mean Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

We had the same situation in 2004, if you recall.  The field was so lacking a pure frontrunner that David Poland famously stated that Joel Schumacher's yet unscreened) Phantom of the Opera had a good shot at taking the prize.  Of course, once everyone saw the film, it was an absurd notion, but without any real consensus about which of the various year-end critical darlings (Sideways, Kinsey, The Aviator, Ray, Finding Neverland, The Incredibles, Hotel Rwanda, etc) would actually take the top prize.  But then, right over Thanksgiving weekend, Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros. dropped a bombshell on the Oscar race.  Written off my many as 'that Clint Eastwood movie about girl-fighting', Million Dollar Baby debuted to rapturous reviews, immediately becoming the presumptive front runner and never looking back.  While there was some possibility that Martin Scorsese's The Aviator might take home the two big prizes as a 'career award' for Scorsese, it was never really a contest.  Just like John Kerry unexpectedly winning the Iowa primary in January 2004, the critics and pundits who were so desperate for a front-runner clung to Eastwood's unexpectedly fantastic drama and kept the momentum going for the next four months.

That, I believe, is the game that Warner Bros. is playing.  Right or wrong, I think they believe that have the lightning in a bottle film that will both impress critics and win over audiences and Oscar voters.  And for the moment, while the film is finishing up post-production, Warner has the advantage of confusion amongst the pundits.  If the film is very good or even great (one hopes it is less cloying than the trailer), then it can easily rise to the top of the Oscar Watch lists and keep that momentum going for a mere three months.  The very 'oh, but it's about 9/11!' sentiment that personally annoys me is just the sort of thing that will only help the picture both with general audiences and with Oscar voters who generally want to give the award to the 'most important picture' among those nominated.  Not only is there no front runner at the moment, there is also no probable spoiler, ala The King's Speech.  Come what may, the Oscar race right now is arguably down to War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  And, right or wrong, I think Warner Bros. knows they have the goods and see no need to prematurely get the punditocracy excited.  Obviously this is all speculation.  But when you're chasing Oscar gold and you think you have a winning hand, there is no need to show off the goods just to win a spot on the National Board of Review list.

Scott Mendelson

1 comment:

CJ said...

Except that word from test screenings hasn't been good. http://awardsdailyforums.com/showthread.php?t=27978&page=23


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