OSCAR: First Academy Screeners Arrived

And we’re off…  I received emails and calls from a couple of recently inducted Academy Award voters who reported that the first two screeners of the season arrived in their mailboxes Wednesday from Sony Pictures Classics. The studio beat the competition by sending out  the Australian crime thriller Animal Kingdom and the multi-story drama Mother And Child to all of the nearly 6,000 members. It’s a repeat of a familiar strategy employed by SPC in the past when they were first out in 2008 with Frozen River and in 2005 with Junebug. These small earlier-in-the-year releases clearly benefitted from separating themselves from the glut of November/December arrivals – and in the case of Frozen River landed Best Actress (Melissa Leo) and Best Original Screenplay nominations while the little-heralded Junebug pulled off a supporting actress nod for Amy Adams.

With Animal Kingdom trying to stay alive at the box office since its August 13th release, SPC co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard recently told me they plan to aggressively go after a supporting actress nomination for the acclaimed performance of Jacki Weaver, whose dynamic turn in the film would probably be a slam dunk if it could generate any Oscar heat. It’s exactly the kind of gritty character role that actors love to reward. The early screener gambit is a way to start.

As for Rodrigo Garcia’s heartfelt SPC film Mother And Child, which seemed to open and close rather quickly in May, its lower profile makes it a long shot for any nominations, but at the very least the screener’s Academy exposure certainly can’t hurt Annette Bening who is terrific in a supporting role that will only help her gain added traction among the actors’ peer group for her more likely nomination as lead actress in Focus Features’ The Kids Are All Right.

Bening, with husband Warren Beatty sat at the Academy’s table at Monday’s 36th annual Southern California Chapter MS Society Dinner of Champions held at the Hyatt Century Plaza and chaired for the 18th consecutive year by Academy President Tom Sherak, whose daughter Melissa suffers from the disease. He has been a tireless crusader in trying to find a cure by helping to raise $40+ million through this event over the years. Universal Co-Chairman Adam Fogelson was honored with the Dinner Of Champions award this time and the entire studio seemingly turned out to support him from Ron Meyer on down. If you’re wondering about Bening’s Academy connection, she serves on the Board Of Governors representing the actors branch and was also recently elected Secretary. With The Kids Are All Right in contention, it’s probably safe to say she will be hitting this same hotel ballroom and others a few times before the season is finished.

This week, both Disney and Fox trotted out special presentations of their holiday season 3D visual effects extravaganzas (and Oscar hopefuls in that category) with selected footage from the Mouse House’s Tron: Legacy shown on Wednesday in Burbank (along with the work-in-progress animation entry, Tangled) accompanied by an intro from Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross. On Tuesday on the other side of town, Twentieth Century Fox threw a press cocktail party to  unveil 30 minutes of its December 10th release, The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader with commentary in-between scenes from  director Michael Apted. The studio had done the same dog and pony show in New York the night before. Of course, this is the franchise Disney let go after releasing the first two Narnias: The big hit The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe and the not-a-big-hit Prince Caspian. Elizabeth Gabler told the crowd she tried to get rights to Narnia 7 years ago but lost them to Walden Media. So Fox is pretty hyped about finally getting a chance to team with Walden and release this one. Producer Mark Johnson told me he thinks people are “really going to be surprised” by this edition and praised his new director who took over from Andrew Adamson, helmer of the first two chapters. Apted says the 2D version will be ready in about 3 weeks with the 3D’er in about a month and a half.

  1. I have a hunch Bening will get a lead nod for ‘Mother and Child’. She IS the lead in the film (she has the most screentime) and the Academy loves to nominate actors and actresses for their less obvious films (DiCaprio’s Blood Diamond instead of The Departed, Winslet’s The Reader instead of Revolutionary Road, Kidman’s Moulin Rouge instead of The Others etc.) Not to mention it would make it possible to nominate Moore for ‘The Kids are all right’.

    I think the Best Actress race will look like this :

    THE YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL FRONTRUNNER-SLOT
    Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
    Runner-ups : Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams

    Portman is the frontrunner right now, although bp-bd-bs nods (wins?) would definitely cement her status even more, but what seems certain at the moment, that nobody will take her slot in the top5. She is in.
    Lawrence and Williams could suprise, but for now they seem like this year’s Cornish. Williams is facing split votes with herself (supporting turn in Shutter Island, although she COULD get her nod in that category) and Lawrence’s film was way too early, she is too unknown and too young. Their buzz is fading quickly, they’ll need strong precursors to stay in the race, but that won’t happen without decent campaigns….hopefully it won’t be Cornish all over again.
    Hathaway has what it takes to pull off an Oscar-win for sure , but at the moment, she isn’t even in the top5, let alone Number 1. Then again, neither was Bullock last September. Although with Manville and Moore out of the supporting race, she might consider a category change…she could RULE the supporting category.

    THE VETERAN OVERDUE-SLOT
    Annette Bening (Mother and Child)
    Runner-ups : Julianne Moore, Diane Lane

    I would love to see Bening finally win, but honestly I’m beginning to have doubts about her nomination, let alone her win. Early limited release date, split votes with herself AND her co-stars, understated performances against meaty, baity, flashy ones, her better shot at a nod is a comedy etc.
    Moore could rule the supporting category, but in the lead race she will be probably snubbed. Although if Bening gets her nod for ‘Mother and Child’, it will be a whole new story for Moore.
    Lane COULD pull a Bullock, but it’s still too early to talk about her in this context. Although the stunning BFCA-score is a good early sign.

    THE COMEBACK-SLOT
    Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
    Runner-ups : Gwyneth Paltrow

    I’m fairly certain Kidman has this nod in the bag.
    Paltrow could surprise but she won’t get in instead of Kidman.

    THE HEART-SLOT
    Diane Lane (Secretariat)
    Runner-ups : Gwyneth Paltrow, Hilary Swank, Sally Hawkins,Anne Hathaway

    Everything screams ‘Blind Side meets Seabicuit’ about Secreteriat and if the success will be similar, Lane could very well be this year’s Bullock.
    In my opinion, this is the slot Paltrow could take, if she will be considered seriously , but this is the most crowded slot, as well, so it will be tough.
    Swank has the ‘Bening-factor’, but she is facing serious backlash AND she is overshadowed by Rockwell.
    Hawkins has the British-factor and make no mistake, that IS a factor, 8 out of the last 10 years there was a British nominee in the best actress race.
    Hathaway is the big question mark in the best actress race. She could be lead, she could be supporting, she could be decent, she could be phenomenal, she could be the unfortunate 6th, she could emerge as an instant frontrunner. We need reviews ASAP.

    THE BRITISH SLOT
    Carey Mulligan (Never let me go)
    Runner ups : Sally Hawkins, Lesley Manville

    Mulligan has the ‘An Education’-love and the dramatic role meanwhile Hawkins has the ‘Happy Go-Lucky’-snub and the feel-good-factor. Manville has the ‘Leigh’ factor, he has a solid track record with relatively unknown, middle-aged actresses and the Oscar (Brenda Blethyn, Imelda Staunton), so that’s a plus, but the category is remarkably strong and it will be tough to break in in a year when a lot of Hollywood-heavyweights are bringing their A-game.
    It’s a tough one, but based on precedent, at least one of the British-ladies will get in, the question is which one or could more than of them make it ? We had 9 British-Best Actress nominees in the last 5 years, 2 of them went all the way, so more than one British ladies in the best actress category is definitely a possibility (in the last 5 years it happened three times).

    1. Also, re Portman. I saw Black Swan. It was ridiculous, and her performance was WEAK. When Mila Kunis wipes the floor with you – it either means you are mediocre or Mila is a genius…Mila was good, but she wasn’t THAT good – so that should tell you all you need to know about Portman. Audience laughed at all the wrong places, and Portman seems to not realize that you don’t have to BE boring, to play a boring introvert. Seriously, she is without charisma. But I understand, people have been wanting to annoint her for some time, she’s 30 now, no spring chicken, given that people wish it for her so bad, my guess is she’ll be in. Think of her as Paltrow 2010. Major campaign, and PR hype for an okay performance (back in Shakespeare in love circa 99-00), but highly connected/supported so considered a shoe-in. There are actresses who give raw gripping performances who because of…whatever, seem to not have an easy time getting a nomination…people seem to want to not give them their due, so you know if and when they ‘get there,’ and are slotted in, it was because their performances were such they could not be ignored without the Academy looking like total biased douches…so they get in, and you know they’re there for one reason, they left their soul on the screen. Portman is not such an actress. She’ll probably get a slot because people really really WANT her too, irrespective of her film role. See what I mean.

    2. Pretty safe to say that Mulligan and Lane are out. And as for less obvious choices, Kidman got nominated for Moulin Rouge! because that is the film that got all of the awards traction, not to mention it the movie that single-handedly resurrected the musical genre. The Reader was the baitier role, as there was an accent, and Revolutionary Road failed to meet expectations, The Reader also got all of the awards traction. But, I agree that Blood Diamond was the less obvious choice, even though he did have an accent, The Departed had all the traction. No one saw “Mother and Child.” Although they got the screeners out early, it gross only $1.1M domestic. It’s not only the less obvious choice, it’s not even an option for lead.

  2. Great news about Jacki, but what about Ben Mendelsohn as leading actor? He was terrifying and electric as Pope in Animal Kingdom…easily one of, if not THE, best performance of the year…I hope SPC gets behind Animal Kingdom in a BIG way, it deserves everything it gets nominated for…

    1. Mendlesohn is not the lead actor, he’s supporting, but you’re right, he should be recognized for his great performance.

  3. Here’s hoping for a well deserved nomination for Jacki Weaver, who is marvelous as the terrifying, memorable character in ANIMAL KINGDOM.

  4. YEs, YES, YES. The performance by Jacki Weaver is spellbinding. She is brilliant. I hope voters pay attention.

  5. ANIMAL KINGDOM isn’t all that. There are some nice tense scenes here and there, but it’s quite slow. And it’s very difficult to get emotionally involved with any of the characters – the kid is just too dull and he’s who we’re supposed to identify with, who’s supposed to bring us into this world.

    A PROPHET was a much better gangster film this year, and that one is worth the hype and should be getting nominations!!!

  6. ANIMAL KINGDOM was the best movie I’ve seen in 2 years. I hope people watch their screeners because I have to agree Jackie Weaver’s a shoo-in for Supporting Actress is people watch the film. Though I have to also agree that I was disappointed Ben Mendelsohn’s name wasn’t on the back of the case promoting him as Best Actor. He wouldn’t have had a shot to win, but Pope is one of the most terrifying characters I’ve ever seen in a film. He deserved the name on the box at very least…

    1. @Torgoman – “best movie I’ve seen in 2 years” Really? To each his own but you obviously haven’t see A PROPHET or MOTHER (the Korean film by Joon-ho Bong). As far as Moms go, Hye-ja Kim in MOTHER blows Jackie Weaver out of the water, and if she doesn’t get a nomination for Best Actress, it will be a sad day (obviously she wouldn’t be competing with Weaver because Kim is a lead role).

      Mendelsohn was good, but nothing like the transformation of Tahar Rahim in A PROPHET. Pope (Mendelsohn) was a badass, don’t get me wrong, but there was no arc to Pope. He was bad when we met him, and he was bad at the end.

      To each his own, but if ANIMAL KINGDOM is the best you’ve seen in 2 years, you seriously gotta get out more, or hit Netflix more (both PROPHET and MOTHER are on DVD now).

  7. I AGREEE
    JACKIE WEAVER NEEDS SOME CRED
    CAUSE SHE WAS THE SCARIEST MOTHER
    SINCE FAYE BROKE OUT WIRE HANGERS IN
    MOMMIE DEAREST

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