A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
This crazy season is starting to heat up.
The National Board of Review, usually first up in a “normal” season, settled for bringing up the rear this time since the Oscars were moved so late to April 25, and same goes for the Indie Spirit Awards which also offered up its nominations this week. Titles like Nomadland, One Night In Miami, Sound off Metal, Da 5 Bloods and Minari are all happy campers because most of these movies have scored repeatedly during the critics-list phase of Oscar season. Pundits looking to forecast the race based on these early precursors beware: a lot of these groups follow each other like sheep and generally prefer minimalist filmmaking, not necessarily the taste of those voters who toil in the industry itself, particularly from the various crafts. And, in this extended season, we are now at the point where things can take a sharp turn.
Next week we will hear from the Golden Globes and SAG, two bellwethers with track records much closer to what Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members tend to choose. They will be followed in turn by the Critics Choice Association, which also has an enviable track record of thinking just like Oscar. However, with the pandemic still in full force, and the way movies are being consumed by the industry and the public, all bets are off in predicting how closely the previously announced insular critics organizations and “committees” will influence the more mainstream-ish Hollywood-based groups with big TV broadcast deals like the Globes, SAG and the Critics Choice Awards; their voters are well aware of delivering nominees that might also have some viewer appeal (gotta keep those networks happy, folks).
If at the end of the next 10 days or so we are still talking about the same few movies, many of them quiet little dramas guaranteed to make your average Joe Popcorn’s eyes glaze over, then expect trouble in River City. First Cow is not likely to be ratings gold at the Oscars, if you know what I mean.
ARMOND VS AFI
The American Film Institute also chimed in this week releasing its prestigious AFI Top Movies of the Year list that featured many of the same titles critics have warmed to so far, an impressively diverse list that included no less than half featuring predominantly Black casts. You might think with all the talk about lack of diversity in Hollywood’s awards-giving rituals that this would be welcome news, and it was in most circles, a sign of “it’s about time.”
But instead of cheering from the sidelines, and sounding more like an extremist right-wing Republican congressperson who carries guns into the Capitol, contrarian Armond White, an African American film critic, managed to incredibly trash all 10 AFI selections and called the entire list “woke.” Here is how he, writing for the conservative National Review, put it:
“Da 5 Bloods is scatterbrained and unpleasant. Judas and the Black Messiah: actually a 2021 systemic-racism-legend film that AFI couldn’t wait to promote. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: misinformed and grim. Mank: cruel, fake, and shallow. Minari: sappy and banal. Nomadland: uninteresting social alienation. One Night in Miami: overly contrived fake history. Soul: child-numbing cultural indoctrination. Sound of Metal: dark yet sappy. Trial of the Chicago 7: anti-American nostalgia.” Oh, and “Honorable mention: the forgettable Hamilton.”
Ouch, ouch Armond. What rock did this “critic” crawl out under from? In case you are one to take this guy seriously, consider his favorites on his best of the decade list include Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a 2018 Nicolas Cage movie called Mom and Dad, and Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain. Contrarian, indeed.
MANK’S RAINBOW CONNECTION
One of those movies that made the AFI Top 10 list (a film I loved, Armond), was David Fincher’s Mank, which tells the story of the creation of the 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane not through the eyes of its genius director Orson Welles, but instead its relatively unsung screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Before finally gaining respect and sharing Kane’s only Oscar for Best Screenplay, Mankiewicz was a hardworking (and hard drinking) writer of numerous scripts since the start of talkies in the mid-1920s including Dinner at Eight. He did a lot of uncredited work as well (and as Mank shows almost didn’t even get credit for Kane), and chief among those films was a movie that has lived on into eternity called The Wizard of Oz.
So what was his contribution to that classic? He suggested that once Dorothy travels over the rainbow, the film should transition from black and white to glorious technicolor. And so it did. “He walked away from that [project] saying, ‘This is all I can come up with,’ ” director David Fincher said, laughing. “It might be the greatest special effect in the history of the movies.”
Fincher’s terrific film, now permanently giving the credit this often uncredited writer deserves, is deceptively full of great special effects itself, something that in a sane awards race this year that lacks a lot of the blockbuster-style tentpole movies that usually dominate the visual effects category, should be recognized. For starters, Charles Foster Kane’s lavish castle is largely the work of CGI wizards hiding behind their own curtain of movie magic. Also arriving from Netflix this week was a lavish coffee table book with one stunning scene after another in glorious black and white. Netflix is fond of sending out these kinds of books tied to their contenders, but with this one they have topped themselves.
‘NOMADLAND’, ‘MANK’, ‘MINARI’ AWOL AT WGA AWARDS
The guilds are all starting their voting processes for their own awards now so we will soon be getting the industry weighing in on the year’s best, and as aforementioned getting a clearer picture of where this Oscar race is really headed. Today, as a long-standing member of the Writers Guild, I got the preliminary list of eligible movies for the Best Original and Best Adapted Screenplay categories and, even more than usual, a large number of movies, including some high-profile frontrunners, are not eligible for one reason or another.
Unlike other guilds, the WGA has stringent requirements and the script must have been written under the WGA MBA or a bona fide agreement with sister guilds in various countries. Among those higher profile Oscar contending movies not on the WGA ballot of eligible screenplays this year are Minari, Mank (written by Fincher’s father, Jack, who died in 2003), Nomadland, The Father, Pieces of a Woman, Ammonite, Soul (and any other animated film), Emma, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Let Them All Talk and several others.
Missing as well from contention for Original Screenplay are Herself, Supernova, The Climb, The Assistant, I Carry You With Me, Farewell Amor and Ordinary Love. In Adapted Screenplay, those also missing the cut are Hope Gap, Penguin Bloom, Martin Eden, Radioactive and Blithe Spirit. Meanwhile, Oscar campaigners have been sending many of the aforementioned screenplays to various voting groups anyway, since beyond WGA they are still eligible for other contests, and that of course includes the Academy Awards which doesn’t discriminate against films not in line with WGA agreements or other conditions.
KRISTEN WIIG GOES FOR OSCAR WITH “BOOBIES”
On the surface, Lionsgate’s upcoming comedy Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (opening February 12) does not exactly scream Oscar, but those behind the new comedy starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo are dreaming of the golden statuette anyway, not necessarily for its screenplay written by Wiig and Mumolo (even though it is on the WGA eligibility list), who were previously nominated for Bridesmaids, but for the original song the two stars wrote for the movie with Mark Jonathan Davis, aka Richard Cheese. It is called “I Love Boobies” and lyrically contains every variation of slang for a woman’s breast.
Whether this is just a clever publicity hook to bring attention to the film, or a genuine bid for an Academy Award is an open question, but one source close to the action tells me, “Since this is such an unique awards season, and we love the song, we’re rolling the dice.” I hear there is actually another big musical number from the film they are weighing for possible Oscar attention, but they better hurry as the shortlist for Best Original Song comes out February 9.
No matter what you think of the tongue-in-cheek tune, it might be best to remind the filmmakers that it wouldn’t be the first time something as scatalogical as this landed on the Oscar stage. Anyone remember the uproar when Seth MacFarlane hosted the show in 2013 and sang “We Saw Your Boobs”? It didn’t exactly go over too well judging from outraged online reactions the next day, and that was in the pre-#MeToo era.
As for Barb and Star itself, the movie was initially supposed to be released in July but now opens on Valentine’s Day weekend, although I am not sure if “I Love Boobies” is destined to be a classic associated with that most romantic of holidays in years to come. An Oscar wouldn’t hurt though — you go girls!