Oscar Preview: Precursor Winners & Losers, Week 7

As the precursor awards continue unabated through the month of December, I’m going to be providing a weekly update highlighting the films that have won and lost momentum through the precursor awards (this will be in place of my prior weekly article “Oscar Preview”. Today, we look back at the results of the New York Film Critics Circle, National Board of Review, Satellite Awards nominations, Spirit Awards nominations and the Producers Guild of America nominations. This is a healthy spread of award bodies from indie to big budget, and a nice broad spectrum of critics groups.

But, before we get into this week’s winners and losers, let’s take a look at what’s coming up this week:

Week 8 (Jan. 17-23, 2012)

Tue. Jan. 17 – British Academy (BAFTA) Nominations
Thu. Jan. 19 – Cinema Audio Society Nominations
Thu. Jan. 19 – Costume Designers Guild Nominations
Thu. Jan. 19 – London Critics Awards
Fri. Jan. 20 – Motion Picture Sound Editors Nominations
Sat. Jan. 21 – Producers Guild Awards
Sun. Jan. 22 – OFTA Film Nominations

Big Winners

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As we get closer to Oscar nomination morning, the winners and losers seem to be decreasing in frequency. There were two films, however, that managed to reap a huge boost from the guild nominations that finally started ramping up this past week. The most rewarded of the two is David Fincher’s follow-up to The Social Network. Until the DGA announced its nominees Monday, most everyone thought Dragon Tattoo was fading and would probably miss out on a nomination for Best Picture and in several other key categories. Then Fincher picked up a DGA nomination and everything started to change. Everyone started noticing the patter. The Producers Guild of America, Writers Guild of America and now the DGA had recognized the film. A film doesn’t typically do this unless it has broad support. Then it came to my mind why this was suddenly occurring. Scott Rudin had until the critics started weighing in on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close been pushing that film for Oscar consideration, but as that film faded, it’s no surprise he turned to his next best choice and started pushing it heavily. Thus emerged Dragon Tattoo as a force. And at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it figure into a number of categories on Oscar nomination morning, possibly even Best Actress.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was the second film to emerge from the week in a better position. First it had an excellent wide bow landing it in the Top 10. Then, then the American Society of Cinematographers gave it a nod. Adding that mention to the nominations from Writers Guild of America and the Art Directors Guild and the film suddenly started looking like a champion. The problem is the film may not have peaked soon enough. Nomination ballots were due in Friday and the film had just started building steam. Still, it may have been just in time…or perhaps it had always been in the race. While I’m still doubtful the film will make an appearance, its chances have increased dramatically in the last two weeks.
The Descendants not only came out of the Golden Globes a bit stronger, but thanks to the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the film has managed to also push George Clooney into a stronger position. Whether this ultimately pans out with awards or not remains to be seen, but suffice it to say I was beginning to think The Descendants was weakening, but that is no longer the case.

Big Losers

Shame As much as the film should be appealing to actors, Shame has been shut out of nearly every other contest going into the Oscars. Michael Fassbender has picked up a few more awards, but he and Carey Mulligan have hardly been mentioned in the last week, which makes me nervous. Fassbender had an amazing year and I’m afraid that his star didn’t rocket as high as it needed to. The Academy can still surprise us and I’m still hopeful he’ll get a nomination, but the film may have lost enough traction due to its controversial subject matter to have lost most of its momentum.
War Horse There for a week or so, it seemed like War Horse had started a new emergence into the Oscar race. Then the DGA happened. Steven Spielberg has always been a popular director with the DGA, earning nominations when he didn’t get them from the Academy for Jaws and most famously The Color Purple. Yet when the DGA announced its slate Monday, Spielberg was missing. Then he missed the American Society of Cinematographers list and the film has been fading quickly at the U.S. Box Office. Never underestimate Spielberg, but he did take a nasty tumble this week, so his film may appear in a handful of technical categories but ultimately miss out on nominations in several key categories.

Individual Analyses

Visual Effects Society Nominations

The week started out with nominations from the Visual Effects Society who showered nominations (in its animation categories) on The Adventures of Tintin. For live action, the top nomination spot was shared between the final Harry Potter film and the third Transformers film. The two categories of most importance, Visual Effects and Supporting Visual Effects mostly recognized the same films on the Academy’s short list with Anonymous, Source Code and War Horse notable exceptions. And if you pulled one or two of the Supporting Visual Effects nominees and combined it with the remainder from the Visual Effects category, I’m sure you’ll find the Oscar nominees.

Directors Guild of America Nominations

The most accurate precursor in existence, the DGA has gone hand-in-hand with the Oscar so often that a win from them invariably locks up your Oscar chances. So the five nominees here, along with being solid contenders for nominations, are all now poised to become Oscar winners…of course, that’s if they get nominated. However, looking at this list, I’d be surprised if this wasn’t the final five with either David Fincher or Woody Allen having the potential to sit out the Oscars.

Vancouver Film Critics Circle Nominations & Awards

It’s probably not a good sign if your nominations weren’t covered in the press and your winners were highlighted without much fanfare. That’s what happened with the Vancouver group and they still remain fairly obscure. That could partially be because the group doesn’t have a website and worse, their list of winners was unoriginal (as were their nominations for that matter).

Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards

The Southeastern Film Critics Association have been around a very long time (20 years to be precise) so why weren’t their award winners, announced back in December, more easily located? Their website wasn’t updated and by happenstance, I came across a brief article on their winners. Of course, the group features another long list of duplicate winners making their importance even more diminishing.

American Society of Cinematographers Nominations

The first group that had a few surprises in their list of nominees. To date, the guilds have been mostly in lockstep with conventional pundit thinking. So why then did The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and more shockingly Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy appear on the eclectic ASC list? Who knows. Neither are very conventional or gimmicky productions. The only thing I can guess is that both films have been far better received by Academy voters than had been previously surmised.

USC Scripter Nominations

A place that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo should have shown up but didn’t was also the place that Oscar non-contenders A Dangerous Method and Jane Eyre made appearances. And there again is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a film largely ignored by critics groups that has been quietly amassing a strong war chest going into the Oscar nomination ballot deadline.

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards

They have been accused (and perhaps rightly so) of being a group of journalists who want to predict the Oscars (or in their mind foreshadow them) than reflect a broader critical taste. That’s not to disparage the members, for there are a few members who probably submit their true opinions for nomination, but when the final nomination list looks like an Oscar prediction list, you may have some problems. Of course, their winners are no less “predictive” showcasing a lot of conventional thinking about the current Oscar race. Of course, things can and do change in the last month of Oscar campaigning, so the end list may very well be different, especially considering how much the Broadcast critics spread the wealth this year.

Golden Globe Awards

Some have been praising this as one of the least predictable years in some time. To an extent, I agree with that. With the selection of The Descendants for Best Picture, Drama and Best Actor, Drama (George Clooney), the Golden Globes have thrown a wrench into a somewhat bland year. I say that because we’ve seen all of this year’s Best Picture nominees in some form or another showing up in this year’s precursors, but which films will dominate remains to be seen. For now, we have a fairly good idea of what 75% of the nominees will likely be. However, there’s still 25% unaccounted for or likely to shift somewhere unexpected. But once the nominations are announced and we know the landscape, we’ll probably begin to see patterns that point us to a winner. The Globes have only served to showcase the volatility of the year. While I think Best Picture is probably going to The Artist, a lot of other categories are a bit murky. But once the guilds begin handing out awards everything will begin lining up.

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