Sunday, November 18, 2007

recalibrating the oscar buzz radar

I don't really have a strong position, per se, on "oscar buzz", except that I find it ridiculous when it seems unwarranted. I'm even guilty of getting wrapped up in it from time to time (well, maybe a little more than that), especially when I feel passionately about a specific performance or director or writer.... but "buzz" is something that is generated before a movie is even released, a term anointed on films that are conceived with the awards it intends to win before it is even made. Last year, Christopher Guest's movie For Your Consideration was a great little romp that skewered the concept of oscar buzz by letting it hit a fever pitch on the set of a movie currently in production (just watch it for Jane Lynch, a comedic genius, who in this movie steals every frame of film she's in).... this is a great example of what gets to me the most about "oscar buzz".

But then there are movies that seem to have buzz and then lose it very quickly, especially once the movie hits the big screen. I remember a couple of years ago, film blog websites had Diane Keaton as an undeniable lock for a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the holiday dramedy The Family Stone (which I haven't seen, but have been told it's quite enjoyable).... but then the movie came out and her name dropped from lists with such a lack of fanfare that perhaps those people generating oscar buzz were afraid to admit they were wrong.

This year I am troubled by the lugubrious amount of oscar buzz attributed to the yet-to-be-released oscar-bait Atonement.... the novel, written by Ian McEwan, arguably Great Britain's most prolific living writer, was just okay (in my opinion) and it seems only inevitable that it would make the leap to film. The trailers and ads make it seem like Keira Knightley is the star (which is not the case, unless the screenplay has taken a good amount of liberty with her character from the novel), and already film blogs are signing her up for an oscar nomination. But wait.... not just her, but three other actresses who play the novel's/film's main character (three actresses, including Vanessa Redgrave, for the three stages of the character's life), each of whom are also being sprinkled with oscar fairy dust. I see these rumors everywhere.... film bloggers and other generators of oscar buzz seem pretty sure that this film will clean up in the acting nomination department.

Isn't that pushing it, though? Throwing so much weight behind acting nominations for just one movie.... that hasn't even been released yet? Atonement, judging by its trailer, is one of those movies made to win awards, and it disheartens me with all the hype it's generating. It probably doesn't help that the novel itself didn't blow me away, so I don't have particularly high hopes for the movie. It's not unheard of for a single movie to jeopardize all the acting oscar nominations (Network, a great film, won three acting oscars of five (!) across the four categories in 1977), but in every instance I do think it's awfully narrow-minded and not exactly inclusive of other great performances in countless other films released in a year. But, I'm not dumb enough to really think that the oscars are the be-all end-all of truly great filmmaking each year.... it all comes down to marketing every year and what studio has enough clout to get the Academy buzzing about, unfortunately enough.

So, why does this pique my interest today? I just saw Margot at the Wedding, written and directed by Noam Baumbach (whose previous film was The Squid and the Whale), and I thought it was a fantastic film. Lately I've noticed I'm starting to quite favor realist dramas about rotten people, and this movie doesn't disappoint. It's a dark movie that hits a chord about family interplay that a lot of movies try but many don't quite succeed, especially when making loved ones seem as terrible as they sometimes can actually be. Where did this film's oscar buzz go? The Squid and the Whale was an underdog favorite two years ago (and was even oscar nominated for Best Original Screenplay), but this new effort seemed to make a blip awhile back and now has been virtually swallowed whole. In an age where it seems original screenplays are a dying art (take a look at the movies and you'll find everything is based on something else), Margot at the Wedding is a beautiful work of storytelling.

Part of me thinks that oscar buzz was squashed for Margot by the fact that Nicole Kidman is in the film. I don't know when people decided that she wasn't great anymore.... she was riding high just a few years ago. But after her oscar win for Best Actress in The Hours (an indelible performance that was actually a supporting role), it seems that she's not worthy of oscar attention. Why the hell not? She's great in this movie, playing a character so loathsome of herself but inarticulate of it and ultimately terrible to those she loves most.... and she wholeheartedly deserves a nomination for this work. Kidman's been dabbling in glitzier Hollywood movies as of late, so to turn in such a mannered performance in a quiet independent film is a breath of fresh air. There something about the information she transmits in her facial expressions that says it all, and makes her (likely) one of the greatest actresses of her generation.... She and Jennifer Jason Leigh (a great surprise and a warm performance here) both deserve some oscar attention for this movie, but I'm afraid they won't get it because of whatever kind of unjustly-appointed celebrity overkill Kidman brings with her. It's too bad. But I'm crossing my fingers for her, and silently hoping Atonement turns out to be an overwrought piece of crap.


Anonymous said...

I am keeping my fingers tightly crossed for MATW.

SGE said...

As an upstanding gay man in our society, I lost faith…hmm Faith isn’t the right word I never had any inkling of faith in the Oscars. So let us rephrase, I lost interest in the Oscars during the Brokeback Mountain period. I had never really had a personal interest in awards show before. I watched as BM won award after award, I listened as the story was praised and the screenwriters commended. The director and the actors all given credit for an incredible work of art and possible for helping to change the world.

I deviate, on the night of the Oscars a large segment of society watch as the awards were given out. I think most of you know the rest.

Little can be said for a group of “Good Old Boys” who blatantly gay bash, maybe not physically but words and intentions are just as painful as a bat.

It is sad when an award stops standing for excellence and rather popularity.

Dale said...

The Oscar race has gotten increasingly ridiculous over the years with the campaigning and errors in voter judgment. I prefer the Spirit Awards where everyone at least has fun.

j said...

I am genuinely terrified for Atonement. Like you, I am suspicious of a trailer that places Keira Knightly at the forefront, when she is neither the main character, nor that point in time is the main part of the novel. I'm worried that they will do it what they did to The English Patient.

SGE - I'm with you on that one. I couldn't believe it. Then I thought about it and decided I was an idiot for not believing it. Geez. Let's be honest: the oscars are only good for one thing anyway: the clothes, and the drunk oscar-viewing parties with your friends.

J.J. said...

Agreed on Kidman. Great actor, great performance. I'm lukewarm on MATW as a whole, though.

Christina said...

I just saw Margot at the Wedding, written and directed by Noam Baumbach (whose previous film was The Squid and the Whale), and I thought it was a fantastic film. Lately I've noticed I'm starting to quite favor realist dramas about rotten people, and this movie doesn't disappoint.

You and me both! I'm so happy to hear that you liked it. Squid is one of my favorite screenplays of recent years - I've read it 3-4 times. I will put Margot at the top of my list. Did you know Mr. Baumbach is married to Ms. Leigh?

Family Stone - you'd like it. I liked it, but it didn't come together 100%. See it and we'll talk.