Oscar Preview: Precursor & Oscar Season Wrap-Up, Part 3

We are now in our final week of Oscar Season wrap-up for the Oscar Preview series. 18 articles started out or Oscar Preview series, each covering one of several individuals whose Oscar prospects are historically impressive or whose chances were strong from early in the season. Below, I have categorized them into Big Winners, Big Losers and Big Winners & Losers. The Winners/Losers list is those who won, but ultimately lost in the Oscar race for various reasons. You can also click on each of the individuals names at the beginning of the snippet to go back to my original commentary on each person.

Big Winners

The Ultimate Campaigner – Harvey Weinstein: In the end, there proved only one undisputed champion of the 84th Academy Awards. Harvey Weinstein managed to hang on through Oscar season and deliver a powerful punch that sent most of his rivals scrambling and generated his company’s second Oscar Best Picture victory in a row. Once thought to be out of the competition after a series of missteps, Weinstein has not only surged, but come back stronger than ever. The Artist managed to pull along Best Actor Jean Dujardin who wasn’t much of a blip in early discussion, but slowly became a force near the end. The film pulled five Oscars including relative unknown Michel Hazanavicius as director. In addition, he pulled out a victory for his documentary Undefeated, which caught some by surprise (though, not I). Not only that, but of the three films that won multiple Oscars, two were Weinstein’s. The second was The Iron Lady which won an expected award for Best Makeup, but then stunned a sleepy audience with a victory for Meryl Streep in Best Actress.

The Accent Chameleon – Meryl Streep: There was never a point in this Oscar season where Streep was the nominal frontrunner. Frequently, she was cited as a sure bet for a nomination and towards the end, she became a runner-up of sorts to Viola Davis, but when her name was read off on Oscar night, the crowd was astounded and stood to support her long-awaited third Oscar. I had thought an upset possible and held out hope until the end (only because I wasn’t really wanting Viola Davis to win) and knowing that Michelle Williams, the better of the three, wouldn’t win. Still, the combination of surprise and historical result led towards one of the most exciting portions of the night.

The New Yorker Abroad – Woody Allen: A new nomination for Woody Allen seemed all but certain, but a victory didn’t start coming into our minds until the latter half of awards season as the film kept picking up screenwriting prizes that many of us thought would go to Best Picture frontrunner The Artist, but celebration of a man whose history with the Oscars has been tense at best (he’s only once shown up for an Oscar ceremony and that was the year following the 9/11 attacks where he presented a special tribute to New York City) seemed uncertain. His Best Picture nomination likely sealed the deal and after being ignored for Vicky Cristina Barcelona when everyone thought he’d be nominated, a victory seemed farther fetched. But everything started turning in his favor and he picked up his third screenwriting award.

The Everyman – George Clooney: He may not have won an Oscar this year when many thought he might, but there’s no doubt Clooney was a big winner this year. Not only did he pick up his expected nomination for The Descendants, but after The Ides of March fell on the mediocre side of critics’ estimations and wasn’t much of a box office contender, we all thought the film had fallen off the radar. Then came the Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, which revived thoughts that he might still pick up an Oscar nomination for screenwriting. Still, it was a long shot with the film doing poorly in almost every other precursor race. Then he managed it. He got the nomination, which made him a double-nominee. It could have been name recognition alone that did it, but appreciation for what the film attempted to do combined with his celebrity to net him another writing nomination.

Big Winners & Losers

The New Journeyman – Viola Davis: There was a point in the lead-up to Oscar season where we had thought Viola Davis was going support for her performance in The Help with Emma Stone the clear lead. Yet, early on she decided to campaign in lead and we all thought it was folly as category confusion was push her out of the race entirely. It didn’t. She netted a few awards in lead and the ball rolled ever in her favor until she became an inevitable nominee for Best Actress. It wasn’t long before her certain Best Actress nomination also became the certainty that she would win. After the Screen Actors Guild gave Davis the trophy, many were so sure that she would win that some went so far as to dismiss Meryl Streep’s win at the BAFTA’s as a fluke of familiarity with the subject (Streep played Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Britain). yet, in the end, Viola’s strong campaigning didn’t hold up against the feeling Streep was overdue for a third Oscar, the fact that Streep was playing a historical figure (something the Academy loves), Harvey Weinstein twisting a few extra arms for Streep, and the fact that The Help wasn’t as beloved as we were all led to believe (it didn’t even get a writing nomination). Davis may live on to fight another day, but while she was the belle of the season, she ultimately lost in spite of seemingly overwhelming odds in her favor.

The Mistress of Gowns – Sandy Powell: With a film like Hugo, it seemed unlikely that the Academy would ignore Powell who had tossed off the frocks in favor of period French fashion tweaked to fantastical levels of cleanliness for Martin Scorsese’s film. She got her nomination, but the reason I have chalked her up as a loser is that she lost. This didn’t affect Clooney, but it does effect Powell as her designs were glossy enough to charm voters, but of all the tech categories in which Hugo was nominated, this was one of the two it didn’t win. That isn’t Powell’s fault necessarily, but she didn’t sell her designs to the voters as well as she could have. And since Art Direction quite frequently matches Costume Design, it’s unusual that she should lose, but lose she did.

The 100% Solution – Stephen Daldry: Daldry’s record stands in tact. Sort of. Going into Oscar season, he had a 3-for-3 record of earning Best Director nominations. The Academy’s director’s branch obviously loved him. And his last two films had earned Best Picture nominations in addition. So, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close seemed, at least on paper, to be a sure thing, but then the reviews came out. They were overwhelmingly negative, leading many to believe the film would ultimately fade from consideration. His film’s lack of appearance on several precursor nomination lists seemed to show that he wasn’t going to make it this time, but he did. Not in Best Director where we expected him, but in Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Max von Sydow, where his presence was less certain. Daldry’s presence in both of these categories is something of a win for him (though more credit should probably go to Scott Rudin who produced and stumped for the film). And while he’s not four-for-four in Best Director, he’s now three-for-four in both Best Picture and Best Director and still four-for-four in the acting categories, which is a far more impressive feat once you think about it.

The “War Horse” – Steven Spielberg: Like Daldry, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar history seemed to point towards an ultimately strong showing at the Oscars with two high profile films scheduled for Christmas release. War Horse had the earmarks of a potential Best Picture winner while The Adventures of Tintin seemed certain for Best Animated Feature. Then the reviews came out for both films. They were lukewarm to glowing, but with enough negative emotion and blasé that their stars began dimming almost immediately. Tintin had universally positive reviews, but not to the extent many of us expected and both films were hardly successes at the box office. But through precursor season, both films hung on, Tintin more so than War Horse and with the latter doing well with a number of guilds, we accurately expected War Horse to make the Best Picture lineup, but with a smattering of creative nominations to go with it. We also thought The Adventures of Tintin was fairly surely a Best Animated Feature nominee. The results for War Horse, though not what we thought early in Oscar season, were right on the mark of our late predictions, but Tintin collapsed miserably nabbing only a nomination for Best Original Score, not in Best Animated Feature where two DreamsWorks films, two foreign films and a bizarre lizardy western took its place.

Big Losers

The Leading Man – Leonardo DiCaprio: J. Edgar started tanking early in Oscar season. Here was a film from Clint Eastwood earning mixed reviews, while simultaneously praising its lead Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio continued through the precursors as a viable candidate for nomination, but as Eastwood’s film began fading, DiCaprio’s prospects began to evaporate. A last-minute nomination for both DiCaprio and Armie Hammer revived speculation that he could eke out a nomination on Oscar morning, but it wasn’t to be. The combination of too-early release and lackluster critics’ notices left Eastwood’s film completely off the Oscar slate and DiCaprio with another lost Oscar cause.

The Hard-Working Thespian – Ryan Gosling: Gosling had a pretty amazing year at the box office and with critics. His work in Drive was highly praised, as was his performance in Crazy, Stupid, Love. and The Ides of March seemed like a terrific opportunity. Only Drive made it into precursor season in tact and the film even picked up several awards, but mostly for his co-star Albert Brooks. Sure, he was mentioned a few times, but never with the same voracity or exuberance as Brooks. By the time SAG ignored him, most of us felt he was going to continue being ignored, but a glimmer of hope emerged. Drive was picking up guild nominations and the general buzz remained strong on the film. There was even a point where some of us thought it could be a surprise Best Picture nominee with Gosling as a dark horse contender. Yet, he couldn’t muster up the support to get that nomination and after failing to get noticed for Blue Valentine the year before with his co-star making it through, I’m beginning to wonder if Gosling can ever eclipse his pretty boy reputation and have the Academy embrace his acting talent.

The Old Master – Roman Polanski: It wouldn’t have been the first time that a Roman Polanski film had earned strong early buzz but ultimately collapsed by Oscar season, but this time, unlike The Ghost Writer, Polanski’s film Carnage earned mostly mixed reviews, which ultimately led it towards being ignored by voters. His nominations were never assured and were he nominated, I would have been surprised after being routed through precursor season, but Polanski will always be a threat as long as he continues interesting projects.

The Consummate Professional – Kate Winslet: She hasn’t taken on many roles since winning an Oscar for The Reader, but Kate Winslet had the first opportunity in some time at a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work in Polanski’s Carnage. She got good marks from critics, but the film’s late-Autumn fade ultimately resulted in the Academy ignoring her.

The Unexpected Force – Woody Harrelson: Perhaps buzz on Harrelson peaked too early because no sooner had Harrelson emerged as a possible dark horse nominee, his star began fading just as quickly. Harrelson has already picked up a nomination from the Academy in recent years and he continues to do interesting work, but Harrelson might not get that third nomination for some time and it will take a more high profile entry than Rampart to do it.

The Incomparable Studio – Pixar: They did not achieve the impossible. For the first time in history of the Best Animated Feature category, a Pixar film hasn’t been among the nominees. Cars 2 was the studio’s worst reviewed film, many wondering if Pixar had succumbed to Disney’s bizarre need for crass commercialization, in history. Buoyed by the fact that many had been wondering when the studio’s luck would change and it finally did. Not only did Cars 2 not take a Best Animated Feature slot in a fairly weak yet, but it also became the first Pixar feature film not to get any other Oscar nomination. Even A Bug’s Life, which came out before the Best Animated Feature category, was nominated for Best Comedy/Musical Score. Some believe jealousy of Pixar’s success ultimately led to its defeat and that could certainly be the case, but Disney has been known to pull out nominations for even the most surprising vehicles in the category (think the double nomination of expected nominee Lilo & Stitch and the unexpected nod of Treasure Planet the same year). I think the big issue was the film wasn’t good and people knew it. Why recognize something that’s universally believed to be off par for a studio when you have other titles to look at. Now, if Brave is likewise ignored in 2012, then there might be some truth to that supposition.

The New Master – Alexandre Desplat: Never has there been such a high profile composer with such elegant work get such unusually sparse and sporadic attention. Desplat has been an infrequent Oscar nominee, but seemed to have emerged in recent years as a go-to composer for celebrated and Oscar-nominated work. And with no fewer than six films for which he could have been nominated, four of which were Oscar nominees in themselves, how could he have been left off the list for so many? Perhaps they really don’t like his lack of distinguishable style. His work has a few notable elements, but mostly his compositions are as varied as the films for which he writes. By contrast, just listen to any John Williams score (twice nominated this year), and you’ll recognize just how derivative one of the most celebrated composers of our time sounds. Certainly his themes are original, but the backbones of his symphonic work are so distinguishable that even when he steps out of the box with scores like Schindler’s List, Catch Me If You Can and The Adventures of Tintin, he’s still recognizable. And perhaps Desplat’s lack of identifiability costs him support. I’m not really certain, but he should have been nominated for the final Harry Potter film but wasn’t. It’s truly bizarre.

France, The New Wave: On paper, France seemed in a strong position to take Declaration of War to the Oscars. The film had strong reviews and was a heart-tugging family drama. And nothing in precursor season could really prepare us for Declaration of War not making it through except for the fact that the Foreign Language Film rules are so strange and cumbersome that some noted films are bound to be ignored.

The Grande Dame – Vanessa Redgrave: The buzz was so faint for Redgrave before Oscar season and during that you could hardly consider her a loser, but she did indeed lose. If any actress could transcend weak box office and pull off a nomination, its the frequent Oscar nominee doing excellent work well into the twilight of her career. But Coriolans didn’t get near the level of praise it needed to bring her to the Oscars and as Richard III proved for Ian McKellen even giving the best performance of your year doesn’t make you an Oscar contender.

The Sound Guy – Kevin O’Connell: I almost feel bad for including O’Connell here. Nothing in his resume really seemed long a strong Oscar contender, but I covered him anyway. Sure, he could have been nominated for the music-heavy The Muppets, but he wasn’t. And I really didn’t expect him to be, so he takes up the bottom of the list simply because you can’t really be a loser if you were never expected to compete in the first place.

And that’s everything for this year’s Oscar Preview wrap-up. Next week, we’ll start looking forward to the 85th Academy Awards and hope to find out what’s been happening in the first quarter of the year in terms of Oscar contenders.

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