With the Gold Derby gang having begun to pull award-season predictions out of their ass, we might as well have fun by asking ourselves (with almost no firm knowledge about anything and with the b.s. factor piled higher than an elephant’s eye) a subversive question of sorts: Which of the presumably Oscar-friendly headliners may experience the hype-and-crash syndrome that befell Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken, Ava DuVernay‘s Selma and Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood last year?
This is a fool’s errand as every film has its own path to follow and no two Oscar-season experiences are the same, but let’s play this stupid game anyway. For those who were living in caves in Northern India during last year’s Oscar season with no wifi access, here’s a recap of what happened with these three.
Starting in late summer and all through September, October and November, several Oscar handicappers had Unbroken at the top of their list of likely Best Picture candidates. Grit and survival in a Japanese POW camp, Coen brothers‘ script, Roger Deakins‘ cinematography…can’t be denied! And then Jolie’s film screened on Sunday, 11.30 at the WGA theatre on Doheny and it fucking collapsed. The air just whooshed out. High levels of craft but too labored, too Christian, too torture-porny. It was respectably reviewed and made $115 million domestic, but the Oscar game was stillborn when everyone realized it was more or less The Passion of the Christ revisited — a stealth Christian film.
Expectations weren’t as high for Selma as they were for Unbroken, but the politically-correct crowd was primed and ready to applaud its aspirations (i.e., dramatizing the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March and the passing of the Voting Rights Act later that year) and boy, did they leap to their feet when DuVernay’s film screened at the Egyptian theatre on 11.11.14! Whoo-whoo, Selma!…all the way to the Kodak theatre…up, up and away! Actually, no. Cooler heads prevailed. The day after the screening I called Selma “slow and stately and ponderous…a bit too convinced of its righteousness, a little more self-regarding than it needs to be, and not just taken with the historic importance of the voting-rights struggle but also the fact that DuVernay directed it for the right reasons and that Oprah Winfrey and Plan B produced it.” And then complaints about the negative fictionalizing of Lyndon Johnson’s attitude about voting rights erupted and it was all over. Selma was nominated for Best Picture but it never had a chance. DuVernay wasn’t nominated for Best Director. The only Oscar Selma won was for Best Song, i.e., “Glory.”
We all know what happened with Boyhood — the Oscar-blogging mafia fell for this warm, humanistic, hugely ambitious family film and kept predicting it would take the Best Picture Oscar. Meanwhile I, a genuine fan but skeptical nonetheless and in any case an immovable ally of Birdman, kept sharing doubts. The critics groups adored it. It won the Golden Globe for Best Film. But when the guilds starting handing out their trophies Boyhood kept getting aced by Birdman. (Boyhood winning the BAFTA Best Picture award was the only thing that gave Birdman supporters pause.) But the Boyhood loyalists held firm. And at the end it even lost out at the Spirit Awards, and the following night it took only one Oscar — costar Patricia Arquette for Best Supporting Actress. The bottom line is that industry types never really warmed up to Boyhood‘s Austin family vibes — they saw it essentially as a dressed-up Sundance film that wouldn’t have gotten much attention if not for the fact that it took all those years to film — but the elites loved it the way people like me love Bernie Sanders.
The bottom line is that sometimes I can smell a non-starter a mile away. I said “no” to Unbroken and Selma and they both folded, and I said “yeah but probably no Oscars” with Boyhood and that turned out to be true as well. I am the guy sometimes. I can sense cultural stirrings. I contain multitudes. Sometimes my insect antennae will deliver remarkable perceptions. But I’m also fallible, of course. I felt hurt and disappointed when Argo won the Best Picture Oscar (especially with the concurrent takedown of Zero Dark Thirty), and I was tucked into fetal positions of agony when The Kings’ Speech and The Artist did the same.
You know what? I’m not going to attempt to draw any specific parallels between Unbroken, Selma and Boyhood and any 2015 award-season film. To hell with that. Each movie awaits its own fate.
But the films that seem to have the greatest chance of encountering a hype-and-crash reception (or at least ones that may conceivably disappoint after generating above-average expectations) are Steven Spielberg‘s Bridge of Spies, Quentin Tarantino‘s The Hateful Eight, Jay Roach‘s Trumbo, Sarah Garvon‘s Suffragette, Scott Cooper‘s Black Mass, James Vanderbilt‘s Truth and David Gordon Green‘s Our Brand Is Crisis.