Who is Oscar Season really for?
Is it for the person who loves the perverse (or worse) (or better) thrill of seeing good art turned to sport? Is it for the person who loves the WTF pageantry and modern celebrity and frankly really great clothes of it all? Is it for Harvey Weinstein’s accountant? Is it for Harvey Weinstein’s accountant’s accountant? Is it for Harvey Weinstein’s accountant’s accountant’s accountant, who is actually just the first accountant, it’s a pretty funny story? Is it for the guy that Leonardo DiCaprio buys his condoms from? Is it for the anthropomorphized URL of the YouTube “Kate Winslet: ‘Celine Dion’s Titanic Theme Song Makes Me Want to Throw Up” (no audio)? Is it for Bradley Cooper? Is it for the anonymous middle schooler whose “Kids in Tuxedos” Tumblr gets way more traffic than my “Kids in Tuxedos” Tumblr, even though we’re essentially doing the same thing, I don’t get it? Is it for Jennifer Lawrence? OK, yeah, it’s for Jennifer Lawrence.
But to us, the truth is, Oscar Season is for any of those people — and sometimes all of them at once.
This is our new column, The Statue Monger, in which — from now until February — we’ll try to keep up with the comings and goings of the 2017 Oscar race. We’ll see some good movies; we’ll see some bad ones. We’ll laugh. We’ll cry. We’ll invent a new category for Shia LaBeouf’s rattail*, and then make him the winner of that category, I know it doesn’t sound fair, but that’s what we’ll do. We’ll learn.
To start, these are the landmarks — the nominations races, the occasions to mention Meryl Streep twice an hour in polite company, the published interviews about celebrities having sex with other celebrities while man was walking on the moon — that have us most excited about Oscar Season 2016.
Best Actress Is Loaded
Generally speaking, you can count on Best Actor to be the most competitive of the major categories at the Oscars. This isn’t a designation of inherent quality — obviously — so much as it is one of dumb math: The vast majority of Hollywood films have male leads, so there are a lot of Best Actor candidates to choose from. And while the Best Actress field is often just as strong on a squint-and-look-at-the-names level, seemingly every year the category ends up following a formula similar to the last: “one great role … a couple of good roles … someone pretty famous … and Meryl Streep.”
And though it’s hardly an indication of Hollywood’s systemic gender imbalances curing themselves magically overnight … this year it happens to be the Best Actor field that looks thin. There’s Denzel Washington for Fences, and Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea — those are your two probable front-runners, according to the prognosticators at Gold Derby. But beyond that? [Gently consoles Miles Teller, compliments him on something innocuous, distracts him with homemade Oscar, it’s not much, it’s a bottle of Smartwater covered in gold wrapping paper, don’t even worry about it, yeah, seriously just throw it away, it only took me five hours] It isn’t great.
Per AwardsCircuit, there’s Ryan Gosling for La La Land, though he feels like more of a “rising Best Picture winner lifts all boats” token than a challenger, and there’s Tom Hanks for Sully, though he feels like — wait, holy shit, we’re already “Tom Hanks for Sully”–far down the list?
What I’m trying to say is: This year’s Best Actor field might not just be thin.
It might be “Matthew McConaughey is getting nominated for Gold” thin.
Meanwhile, this is shaping up to be one of the strongest Best Actress fields in recent memory. Three major stars, each without an Oscar, one of them starred in Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Help and The Amazing Spider-Man and Gangster Squad and Magic in the Moonlight and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Aloha, it doesn’t matter who, I don’t want to say, are in front-running contention, per Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan: Viola Davis for Fences; Emma Stone for La La Land; and Annette Bening for 20th Century Women.
Of course, and just their luck: 2011 Best Actress winner Natalie Portman has also tossed her definitely unnecessary closet of pillbox hats into the ring. Portman is getting raves on raves (like this one, from Hollywood Reporter Oscars expert Scott Feinberg) for her role as [IS THE ACCENT BALLS-OUT?] Jacqueline Kennedy in [THE ACCENT IS BALLS-OUT] Pablo Larraín’s Jackie. And while a tie at the Oscars will usually just go to the nominee whom the Academy deems “most due,” Natalie Portman ripping a line of American iconography the size of Southhampton may prove hard to resist.
The rest of the contenders are strong: Amy Adams for Arrival; Ruth Negga for Loving; Meryl Streep — how long did you think I could go without saying “Meryl Streep”? — for Florence Foster Jenkins; Jessica Chastain for Miss Sloane. But if I had to handicap the competition for that fifth spot, at this moment, I think I would probably go with: (1) Don’t care, (2) Don’t care, (3) Don’t care, (4) Don’t care.
That’s the Death Lineup. Fear and respect it. The Best Actress Big Four is the best part of this year’s Oscars — and it’s not even close.
The Warren Beatty World Tour Is Just Getting Started
Warren Beatty’s passion project, having sex with people, and Warren Beatty’s Passion Project, his Howard Hughes movie, finally, after all of these years, appear to have found their point of narrative intersection. Advance word on Rules Don’t Apply, Beatty’s long-gestating (he’s playing a mid-50s Hughes … at 79) romance about a pair of Hughes employees who fall in love, seems mixed; a Best Picture run is probably out of the cards. But unless the final shot of Rules Don’t Apply is Howard Hughes dipping a feather in ink and writing “TV is really good right now” on Alden Ehrenreich’s forehead, you can rest assured that Warren Goddamn Beatty is getting a Best Supporting Goddamn Actor nomination.
And thank god. Because Warren Beatty is on the verge of putting together the greatest press tour of all time … and I don’t want it to end anytime soon. Here are the gifts that just one Warren Beatty press stop, “his first in-depth interview in 25 years,” has already showered us with:
- Warren Beatty at California Pizza Kitchen.
- Warren Beatty texting.
- The Page Six headline, “Warren Beatty Was Having Sex During the Moon Landing.”
- An anecdote that includes, in a span of five sentences, the fragments, “I left Northwestern,” “a redneck football player from Virginia,” “in New York playing piano in a little bar on 58th Street,” and “she was Marlon Brando’s teacher.”
The First Warren Beatty Press Tour in 25 Years must never, ever, ever be allowed to end. It just … can’t, and I won’t let it — I really won’t. I won’t be satisfied until I’ve heard every on-set story, every dating rumor, every piece of “he turned down the Jack Horner part in Boogie Nights because he doesn’t like the word ‘boogie’” gossip acknowledged, and annotated, and [I already 100 percent believe everything so confirmation isn’t very important] confirmed by Beatty himself. I need Warren Beatty to go on The View and talk about the time he and Madonna [redacted] on the [redacted] with [redacted] [redacted]. I need Warren Beatty to do Howard Stern, and clear up once and for all whether Vanessa Redgrave [redacted]. I need Warren Beatty to SPECIAL-GUEST ON AN EPISODE OF JAM SESSION (Warren, if you’re reading this — it’s like the radio except sometimes it stops and it’s every week and you’d like it).
I’m never greedy with celebrities … but I have to be, now, just this one time. This is CLYDE, FROM BONNIE AND CLYDE, spearheading an Oscar campaign, in 2016. This is Bulworth from Bulworth walking up to you at California Pizza Kitchen and politely tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “Lily Collins first impressed me when I saw her in the 2012 film Mirror Mirror.” This is Pavement doing that bad minitour from a few years ago — only not bad, and very good, and if the subtext of every Pavement song was that Stephen Malkmus’s dick is perfect.
Anyway: I promise, after this Oscar season, I won’t ask for anything — not ever again. But I really, really need this. I need Warren Beatty, promoting his movie, as a living, breathing, active celebrity. I need wisdom, and meaning, and science, and truth. I need beauty. I need courage. I need to know if Barbra Streisand [redacted] [redacted]; it was honestly pretty [redacted] but everyone was just, like, “Ehhh, it’s fine … [redacted].” And I need closure — on this chapter in American cinema, and on this chapter of myself.
Eventually even the Oscars will end. Warren Beatty’s Anecdote Oldchella will outlive us all.
Best Director Might Finally Be Post-dad
The average age of the Best Director Oscar winner over the past 15 years? 53. That’s a range from 107 (Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech in 2011) to 74 (Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby in 2005). But more than age, even, it seems like there’s a vibe: Best Director in the 2000s just feels extraordinarily dad. It feels … “establishment.” And whether that’s old establishment, like Eastwood, Roman Polanski (2003), and Martin Scorsese (2007); or new establishment, like Ang Lee (2006, 2013), the Coen brothers (2008), and Alejandro Iñárritu (2015, 2016), the Best Director Oscar rarely — here is an aside about how Kathryn Bigelow (2010) is a cool genius — strays from this conservatism.
In fact, not since Steven Soderbergh (at 38) won for Traffic, all the way back in 2001, has there been a Best Director winner whom one might dare to describe as (I wouldn’t dare to describe Tom Hooper as cool and young and ascendant) cool and young and ascendant. That is: a filmmaker who could be expected to have more great work in front of them than behind them.
Which is one of the reasons (the others: possible Denzel Washington win; no Coens, Hail, Caesar! annoyed me — “Coen Brothers Channing Tatum” doesn’t make any sense after Magic Mike XXL, it’s like telling me the punch line to a joke that already saved my life; no Iñárritu) why this year’s race is so exciting. It seems likely that, when the dust settles, two of the best bets to win 2017’s Best Director Oscar will be Damien Chazelle, 31, for La La Land, and Barry Jenkins, 36, for Moonlight. This is Jenkins’s second feature (“the kind of film directors often dream of pulling off,” per Variety’s awards editor Kristopher Tapley), and Chazelle’s second feature not about the drums (a favorite, according to Deadline’s Pete Hammond). One gets the sense that this is only the start of something for both of them — that to fall in love with their work now is to hop aboard a bandwagon that still has room. (Even if one of the drivers of the bandwagon will make you practice riding the bandwagon until you break up with your girlfriend, who was really nice.)
And this is how being a movie lover works: Your favorites, your tastes, your personal “establishments” … they change and shift all the time. They’re constantly moving and discovering. And a win for Jenkins — who would be the first black Best Director winner ever — or for Chazelle would be a move in the long overdue right direction: forward.
‘Silence’ Could Make History
Below is a representative sample of movies that have won the Oscar for Best Picture — sorted by the boringness of their titles. Think of “boringness” here to mean: If you knew nothing else about this movie — no stars, no director, no writer, no poster art, no logo font, no genre, no studio, no release date, no word of mouth — how excited would you be to watch it?
The category of boring-sounding-ness has traditionally* been graded (*by me) on the following scale: “Not Boring,” “Not That Boring,” “Pretty Boring,” “Boring,” and “Super Boring.” Here are your grades:
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance); Million Dollar Baby; Titanic; Chariots of Fire; Midnight Cowboy; Around the World in Eighty Days; The Greatest Show on Earth.
Not That Boring
The Hurt Locker; Gladiator; Dances With Wolves; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; The Godfather: Part II; On the Waterfront; The Best Years of Our Lives; The Lost Weekend; Casablanca; Rebecca.
The King’s Speech; Chicago; A Beautiful Mind; The Deer Hunter; West Side Story; An American in Paris; All About Eve; It Happened One Night; All Quiet on the Western Front; The Apartment; How Green Was My Valley.
Spotlight; The English Patient; Terms of Endearment; Ordinary People; The Sound of Music; From Here to Eternity; Tom Jones.
Did you notice anything? Yeah, of course you did: You noticed that there’s never been a Best Picture winner with a title that’s graded out as “Super Boring” before. In all of the 88 years of the Oscars, it’s literally never happened.
And while I don’t want to jump the gun in early October … I also don’t want to turn a blind eye. Because there’s a chance — a real chance, I think — that this year’s Oscars could make history.
I’m calling it right now: If Silence wins Best Picture, then it will become the first movie ever to win Best Picture with a Super Boring title.
And trust me* (*I don’t what I’m talking about) on this one: Titles matter.
Just think about how many Oscar votes, each year, are decided by the relatively passive act of “Academy member watches screener.” Passive in the sense that: Most voters aren’t actively going to be seeking out a movie. They aren’t going to be searching online for a showtime … and driving to a theater … and buying a ticket. Rather: They’re sitting at home, having a drink (or getting their shoes shined or having their blood cycled out for a baby shark’s or whatever), and saying, “Let’s watch a movie.” And then their spouse (or date or friend or pre-rebellious child or post-rebellious adult child or robot butler or whatever) is reaching over to a big pile of screeners, and grabbing a couple at random, and saying, “Boyhood … or … BIRDMAN?”
Now reenact that same scene, only with: “LA LA LAND … or … Silence?”
I’m shorting Silence this year for Best Picture. And I’m all in on La La Land.