Golden Globes! Stars! Jennifer Lawrence! Leonardo DiCaprio, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks!
Now that I’ve got your attention…
If movie stars are similar to the stars we see in the night sky – hence the name “stars” – perhaps movies are comparable to the satellites we also see. They are launched with fanfare, they burn bright for a time, they sustain (or don’t), the good ones give us something to marvel at or talk about, and then (unlike stars) they move ineluctably toward one of three fates: burning up into obscurity, falling to earth like Dr. Ryan Stone, or remaining in our orbit seemingly forever.
Every Oscar race has its own set of satellites, and this is gravity week for half of them. It’s funny to compare these films to the “tentpoles” of the breathless summer blockbusterpalooza. It’s common folk wisdom, repeated by everyone that matters, that the studios’ fates are determined, above all, by the performances of the action-oriented films that are released between the months of May and August. The summer smashup films are to Hollywood what ketchup is to Heinz – sure, they have other products, but they don’t really matter, do they?
Well, not so fast. Take another look at the calendar. If you google “Oscar race begins” your results will, ah, gravitate to September to October. The Oscars are in March. That’s 5-6 months of trending tweets and reddit threads about 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Captain Phillips, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Even if we start the Oscar race yesterday with the Golden Globes – the first time much of America sees who and what this year’s Oscars is about – that’s 7 weeks of Hey, Oscar Race. Was anyone tweeting about Iron Man 3 (the #1 film of the summer) 4 weeks after it opened? To push the satellite metaphor, folk wisdom favors fireworks (and explosions) over the nice steady burning of a comet like last year’s Lincoln. Sure, those Man of Steels and Pacific Rims generate some pleasantly overwhelming light and heat, but the “quality” films don’t get enough credit for maintaining a modest amount of warmth and luminescence throughout fall and winter. To switch metaphors, if the summer films are the dog of Hollywood and the Oscar bait is the dog’s tail, this tail keeps that dog wagged for half the year.
Welcome to the week of gravity, the Oscar nominations announcement on Thursday. Up until now, all of these satellites in the sky had beautiful chances to spin there forever. Films that people have consistently counted out, like Short Term 12, All is Lost, The Butler, Fruitvale Station, Mud, Before Midnight, Blue is the Warmest Color, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club…who knows? Any or all of them could have major Oscar nominations. Today, the sky stretches in all directions. Thursday, gravity. Today is Before. Nomination day marks the period of After, which we might also call During…the big fall to earth which will burn up many of our satellites. After After is after Oscar night, when we realize who will remain in our galactic firmament forever.
So, how was Before? What did you miss? Eh, not much. It’s been a year – not bad, not great. Lucky you, I’ve been reading everyone – EW, the Carpetbagger, Mark Harris, Anne Thompson, Kris Tapley, Tom O’Neil, Sasha Stone, Scott Feinberg, and the various comments – and am prepared to summarize the ten major points of the literati, chatterati, and twitterati. They are:
1) 12 Years a Slave is the frontrunner to win Best Picture, but Gravity could pull it down if it isn’t American Hustled. You’re racist if you say “you’re racist if you don’t vote for 12 Years a Slave.” Racist says what? Could we just change “racist” to “racy” so everyone could relax?
2) Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis and The Wolf of Wall Street deserve Best Picture nominations because they were directed by auteurs who won multiple Oscars in the last 10 years. If these films had been directed by Jane from Jasper or John from Jehosaphat, exactly zero of the articles written in these films’ defense would have been written the same way.
3) Gravity is often called “too sci-fi” to win Best Picture, but Her isn’t considered a possible Best Picture winner, and thus no one calls it “too” anything. Result: Gravity is repeatedly called sci-fi, and Her isn’t. This is the opposite of reality.
4) Sandra Bul, despite driving her art film to $700 million in profits worldwide, gave a performance in said film that is considered “boring” and “ordinary” by some. Though she’s still likely to get a Best Actress nomination, Sandra Bul does not have a lock.
5) Paul Greengrass is highly esteemed throughout Hollywood for being the best of the “cinema verite” directors, the best of the unsteady-camera operators. However, he has only about a 50/50 chance for a nomination for Captain Phillips. In sum: Paul Greengrass is shaky.
6) On nomination day, whatever happens with Saving Mr. Banks, the Oscar writers will say “I told you so.” Like Kane in Citizen Kane, who had two post-election headlines ready (“Kane Wins!” or “Fraud at Polls!”), these industry wags have two articles in the hopper, one about how Banks’ director John (The Blind Side) Hancock used a spoonful of sugar to Blind-Side the Academy again, another about how Disney dropped the flying umbrella and – as they always said – should have promoted Frozen instead.
7) Leo DiCaprio keeps coming up…as the Academy’s most-snubbed actor. Trending theory: white good-looking males experience favoritism in all areas (including the Golden Globes!) except the Best Actor Oscar (e.g. Depp, Pitt, Damon, Affleck, Jackman, etc). Irrevocable conclusion: Daniel Day-Lewis is hideously ugly.
8) The Golden Globes’ Best Comedy category has now officially become the Best Dramedy category. In the past, the Globes made room for the odd Enough Said-like comedy; at this point, if you don’t have a major Oscar campaign planned, don’t bother applying.
9) In the same year that the three biggest surprise $250m-plus-domestic-earning films were female-led – Gravity, Frozen, and The Hunger Games sequel – the Best Picture lineup is almost certain to have zero films that pass the Bechdel test (bechdeltest.com), namely have a scene where two named women talk to each other about something besides a man. You go, girlfriend. Go away from the Oscar race, apparently.
10)…on the other hand, the Best Actress lineup has a decent chance of featuring five women over the age of 43. After all the grousing last year that Jennifer Lawrence won because she was the hot young thing, this year’s hot youngest BA nominee may well be…Cate Blanchett! You go, immortal elf girlfriend.
Last night, you looked at the stars. This week, keep looking. Many of them will disappear from view, but a few others are about to give you a heckuva show.