Oscar Preview: Weekend of Jun. 29-Jul. 1, 2012

We had four films releasing this weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.

Magic Mike

Had this been a dud, director Steven Soderbergh’s latest film might have meant the latest chance for the Academy to snub him, which it still might. Soderbergh has been one of the most Oscar-inconsistent directors, nabbing Oscar nominations for his films only intermittently. This could be largely attributed to his artistic streak that doesn’t quite appeal to traditional Academy sympathies or his double nomination over a decade ago has caused the Academy to feel enough was enough. Whatever the reason, Magic Mike has done well at the box office, but the story may just be too routine for Academy tastes.

Soderbergh’s films have occasionally nabbed nominations. Yet, his films since his double feature of 2000, Traffic and Erin Brockovich, have been avoided by the Academy with The Good German six years ago even though it only picked up a nod for Original Score. Every six years, though, Soderbergh has gotten something, so could Magic Mike be it? I doubt it. A male stripper film just isn’t the Academy taste and unless its a huge blockbuster, the critics would have to shower it with praise at year’s end to get anywhere in sight of Oscar.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Child performances have been intermittently successful since the Academy did away with their miniature statuettes. Most often these children are considered in Supporting Actress even when they should be considered like (think Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon and Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit). So far, only one actress, because she had no serious co-lead, made it through to the ranks of Best Actress when she should have and that was Keisha Castle-Hughes for Whale Rider. This year, we have another film that has that potential. Beasts of the Southern Wild has been celebrated for featuring the dynamite debut of youngster Quvenzhané Wallis. Her name has been bandied about frequently as a Best Actress contender.

The key problem is what Wallis’ competition will be like this year. There is no doubt that a heavy raft of Best Actress contenders will be in evidence, but can she hold on to positive word of mouth for the six months it will take to get there? I’m not sure she’ll pick up very many critics’ prizes outside of Best Debut and the like. That might help a little, but there have been plenty of promising, well received actresses that never made it through. Think Victoire Thivisol who received adoration for her performance in Ponette and never materialized with a nomination. Granted, her performance was in a foreign language film and more young actresses have made it through in recent years than they did back in the 1990’s. Of course, if the likes of Elle Fanning, Dakota Fanning and Chloe Grace Moretz haven’t been able to crack the age barrier with the Academy in recent years in spite of very promising and acclaimed performances. My gut says Wallis will make it through, but my gut has been wrong before.

Neil Young Journeys

After his first and to date only Oscar nomination, Jonathan Demme has been entirely unable to make the Academy proud. Focusing more heavily on documentaries over the years, many of them critic darlings, Demme has reached a point in his career where the Academy might finally recognize him. Unfortunately, this is Demme’s third documenting journey with Neil Young and although his first, Heart of Gold was a huge success with critics, his second, Trunk Show made barely a blip on their radars. Then there was Jimmy Carter Man from Plains, which proved he could do non-music documentaries. Will that be enough for the Academy? My answer is likely to be no. The Academy has been reticent to recognize musician documentaries in recent years and I see little reason for them to change their tack for this year. Neil Young Journeys just seems like the small documentary that people love, but don’t admire, which could be a hazard for the man who’s been absent from the Oscars for nearly 20 years.

Take This Waltz

Sarah Polley had been acting for several years before her major breakthrough came in Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter. Her performance was one of those great moments in film that you just can’t shake after seeing it. She never received an Oscar nomination in spite of deserving one, but nearly a decade later, she’d make it to the Kodak with her first Oscar nomination as writer for Away from Her, a film she also directed. Away from Her was a brilliant film that had critics falling head over heels for her talent, that and the performances of leads Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie, who many had predicted would win the Oscar even though she disappointingly did not. Polley displayed a talent at minimalism that made the heartbreaking film one of the finest of the last decade, so when she picked up Take This Waltz as her next effort six years later, everyone took notice.

Critics haven’t been so kind to the film, which may bode ill for Polley, but star Michelle Williams has proven that even films the Academy won’t support in other categories. Williams now has three Oscar nominations under her belt (though, she could have had four had the Academy rightfully slotted her for Wendy and Lucy). Her first was part of the behemoth Brokeback Mountain while her second came as the sole nominee from Blue Valentine. The third was last year playing Marilyn Monroe in a film that only picked up a nomination for Kenneth Branagh in Supporting Actor besides. Williams has received some chatter for a nomination and after three previous goes at the Award, I don’t see why she shouldn’t be considered. The lack of admiration for the film shouldn’t stand in the way considering how little critics seemed to care for My Week with Marilyn, but that film had Harvey Weinstein behind it. This one has only Magnolia Pictures, which hasn’t had a lot of success at the Oscars.

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