Saturday, 28 November 2009

Some Thoughts On The Big 4.

I just finished listening to a podcast from where they touched on the 'Big 4' yet to drop in a serious way on the world, which have been variously considered possibilities of major Oscar news. They are, in no particular order, Nine, Invictus, The Lovely Bones and Avatar.

First, Nine. There have been some press screenings, with various elements of embargo in place, but people are talking about it. They're saying kind of what I anticipated, which I didn't really go into earlier, probably because I was tired. I think it will look incredible - just see the trailer and I'm sure everyone would agree. Rob Marshall knows what he's doing here - he was responsible for Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha after all. But, like Chicago, I don't expect it to be a film that I'm head over heels in love with. I'm sure it will be entertaining to an extent, and the line up of talent means that surely it can't really go wrong (apparently Kate Hudson is the weakest link here - who would have thought?) But I just don't think it's going to hold up to some of the more powerful films of the year. I think it will be flashy, pretty, and fairly well irrelevant. That kind of seems to be what people are saying after these screenings. Its craft representation will be strong and in a pool of ten Best Picture nominees that might see it pull through, but I don't think it's going to pull of the heights that Chicago did with 6 of the pretty gold men including the big one.

Invictus. That's Clint Eastwood's new film. As I mentioned it only needs to be good to show here, I think. Early word on the film (embargo, embargo, embargo) seems a little mixed. Though generally what I've heard is that it is kind of flat, not Eastwood's best, not quite what it could have been. And that Matt Damon is out at a Supporting Actor shot, and Morgan Freeman is fine and perfectly cast - but will that be enough. Generally, it seems that the expanded Best Picture slot will be the film's saving grace, as it doesn't actually have a great deal else going for it. I think it will be a hit (and with the rugby setting, it could play bigger overseas than at home in the States), I think the reviews will generally be at worst kind of lukewarm, especially from the influential players, and I think it could be happy with a couple of noms. Whether it can play into the major category I just don't know. I wouldn't be surprised though. I mean, it's Clint Eastwood. Everyone loves him. Even if he does leave you a bit... cold.

The Lovely Bones dropped in London with a Royal Gala screening earlier this week, and has been doing some other press screenings (embargo again!) I personally think the trailer looks stunning, but it also looks like a whole film of that could be a bit over the top. Word is, again, mixed. Quite decisively mixed. And it seems to be lacking a major rave anywhere. People are saying Stanley Tucci and Saorise Ronan are very good, and apparently they put more Susan Sarandon in because the test screenings liked her character. People are also having different reactions based on whether or not they have read the book - I have not. This is Peter Jackson, and I think he has a fair bit of respect, so I think ultimately if the film plays well it could be in the picture. I think if the public like it it could just sneak in there. I definitely don't think it will win the majors (in fact, from what I'm hearing I don't think either of the three mentioned so far have a shot of upsetting the current favourites) but it may just sneak through with more than people anticipate IF the public get behind it.

Lastly, Avatar. No one has seen it yet. Except, apparently, for about forty people who James Cameron invited to see it because he wanted their opinions, because the film has not been tested at all. Word of one of these (this is coming from Anne Thompson on IndiWire) is the the film is fantastic. It's a really tough one to call. There are a few elements at play here. Firstly, let's not forget that Cameron's last feature film won eleven Oscars and is the highest grossing film ever (when not adjusted for inflation.) Obviously, the man can do that right. Secondly, the anticipation on this film from the filmmaking community is running white hot. How revolutionary is it? Can Cameron pull it off? Just what the fuck is it all about? Thirdly, will it make money, or at least pull in enough to not bankrupt people along the way. This is the toughest call. Apparently the tracking for it isn't great. I really want to see the film, but I haven't booked tickets yet. I figure I'll see it when I see it. I can't imagine the anticipation levels of my parents are particularly high - they're going to need people to say 'oh my god it's incredible you have to see it' before it registers enough for them to go out to it, I think. Younger people, sure, they'll see it. Families? Maybe. How dark is it looking? Too dark to take your kid to? Cameron said they can't afford to have a target audience (remember, word on the street is putting total costs for the creation and marketing of the film, including ancillary events, at close to half a billion dollars) and that they're banking on it playing to eight year olds and eighty year olds. Really? You really think an eighty year old is going to put this high on their list of things to do for this week? It'll open big (I don't think it'll open Twilight II big, but inflated Imax and 3D screening ticket prices might push it up there - though I still don't think so), so ultimately it comes down to word of mouth. If it holds around (as Titanic did, though that was in a very different box office era) then it'll be in for a shot. If this gets people talking it could be a formidable contender. I think the only shot this film has at being anywhere near as big in the Oscars as Titanic was is if it is spectacular. Groundbreaking in the truest sense of the word. Just merely being very good is not good enough. In fact, it'll hurt it. This film literally needs to lock its lips around yours and suck the air out of your lungs for the three hours I expect it will play for. You need to leave the cinema feeling like you have just witnessed the birth of christ. Without that, I think you can count it out of majors, though not the craft categories. Anything beneath leaving you in a state of hysteria will mean that the film, the buzz, the hype, everything Cameron has been telling you will fall short of expectation, and no film can survive that. Even if expectation is so damned high that it could still be an excellent film.

That was a bit of an Avatar rant, really. But they're my thoughts on the matter. Other things that could affect any of these films showing in the big ten are whether the voters take this opportunity to reward lesser known indy films because they feel the widening gives them that duty. They may think putting precious at the top of their list is enough, but they may also start to go with films like Crazy Heart, The Last Station etc. Basically, these films that could have been locks if they had lived up to anticipation are now maybes like everything else. When the embargoes are lifted and the public starts to get a feel for the films we'll know for sure, but at the moment... it's all get set for the last one to hit next month.

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