Sunday, January 15, 2012

Oscar 2012: Golden Globe and Critics Choice Winners

In continuing awards season coverage, let’s take the pulse of the Oscar race following the Critics Choice and Golden Globes Awards.

Mr. Popular: Clooney wins Globes and Critics' Choice Awards
The big winner of these two groups is the silent comedy that could, Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist. Sweeping four prizes including film and directing honours at Critics Choice, combined with three top awards including film and lead actor at the Globes, just elevated it to the very top of the heap, after it topped New York and Boston. And why wouldn’t it be? Critics love it, it made the rounds to rapturous applause at film festivals everywhere, and the industry is clearly enjoying its homage to the golden age of Hollywood. However, it’s also very French, it’s silent, and the film has made a rather puny $8 million in domestic box office receipts. In other words, the Academy might enjoy it enough to nominate it for a bunch of awards, but they might not consider it to have the weight of important subject matter. Plus, Best Picture winners tend to be out-and-out box office winners, but the likes of Crash and The Hurt Locker have proven otherwise. Perhaps The Artist will win out of sheer excellence, and it’s still too early to call it a done deal.

"Love, and a bit with a dog." - The Artist is named Best Film
Tonight was a chance for Hollywood to know who is top dog, and by George it was, er, George … Clooney, that is. Getting Best Actor citations at both Critics Choice and Globes for The Descendants has made him the candidate to beat for the Oscar, ahead of his close friend and likely fellow nominee Brad Pitt. Arriving at the Globe stage with a cane, Clooney clearly was lapping up the attention. He is the consummate leading man of the moment, with acting chops, the passion to take on humanitarian endeavours, and the energy to direct a well-received work like the multi-Globe nominated The Ides of March. Let’s not forget that although he has an Oscar, it was in Best Supporting Actor, and a star of his stature necessarily requires a lead acting Oscar for his mantelpiece. Unless Pitt draws even with him by winning the Screen Actors Guild Award in two weeks’ time, call Clooney to take home the Oscar.

Michelle Williams needed the Globe, in addition to her long string of smaller awards, including the Boston and Washington prizes and nominations for the Critics Choice and SAG, to make her presence greater felt, and she got it. It’s a bit contested as to whether or not My Week with Marilyn is a “comedy” per se, but the marketing team chose well to place her there, and her win officially cut off Charlize Theron’s and Kristen Wiig’s chances at getting into the final five for Oscar. It should be noted that every year, Harvey Weinstein champions a single Best Actress potential nominee and he has personally helped shape the campaign to get her the big win. This has proven successful for the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet in the past, and with Viola Davis and Meryl Streep still at the forefront of the race, he will undoubtedly put Williams front-and-centre in the campaign.

The Critics' Choice: Viola Davis for The Help
Speaking of Davis and Streep, both just made real and substantive cases for them to take home the Oscar, in terms of precursor groups’ wins. Davis won Critics Choice and did a double whammy by taking home the ensemble prize for The Help as well. She hasn’t won any of the other major prizes for her role, and almost everyone agrees that she is the very best thing in the whole film. The Critics Choice trophy put her neck-and-neck with Williams. Streep, with The Iron lady opening to respectable modest business in platform release and win her eighth(!!) Golden Globe, positioned herself further as the frontrunner by just a smidgen in the race for the Oscar. It’s not a slam-dunk yet, as she herself was out by a hair’s breadth two years ago and still lost for Julie and Julia, but she’s definitely one of the three co-favourites with Davis and Williams. And with her gracious speech at the Globes proving to be yet another charming performance, wherein she praised the talents of her fellow nominees, Academy voters should take note. In other words, the Best Actress race is a real race.

Best Supporting Actress has just been narrowed. Whereas Jessica Chastain ran away with most of the critics’ prizes for her body of work, which includes Take Shelter, Texas Killing Field, Coriolanus and The Tree of Life, her nominations this past weekend were for a single performance in The Help. Cast member Octavia Spencer took home both Critics Choice and the Globe, giving alternately an emotional and a composed, dignified speech, never appearing less than genuine and grateful. The longtime character actress finally has a plum role and both groups implied that, without the benefit of several roles to consider at once, Chastain’s performance might not be as good as Spencer’s. In any event, this category might come down to two co-stars battling it out for the Oscar with no one else in the conversation as a major contender.

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer
Overall, The Help is surging in the race given its slew of acting prizes at Critics Choice including Best Ensemble. Some have mentioned on the various Oscar- and film-related blogs that the film might be this year’s Crash, a liberal exploration of race relations in a big-budget Hollywood production. It’s been receiving attention at every single guild with the exception of the Directors Guild of America and just might be the film that has the necessary critical, commercial and industry support to take the Oscar. Right now The Artist has underperformed commercially and has the silent film stigma, The Descendants may not have across-the-board support, Hugo might lose support because it’s financially in the red, War Horse isn’t gaining as much industry support as initially thought, and Moneyball is seen as a character study and actor’s piece but did not capture the public imagination. Plus, The Help entered the popular zeitgeist in the last year, spawning debate and generating healthy business. If you think that it can’t possibly win without a directing nod, I have three words for you: Driving Miss Daisy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This isn’t to say that The Artist, Hugo or The Descendants are at all dead in the water. National Board of Review winner Hugo might not have won big, but its Best Director prize at the Globes, combined with the fact that it’s a Martin Scorsese picture and a loving ode to the cinema, might put it over the top. It’s still in theatres and even though it’s not yet in the black, it might have the long box-office legs to slowly but surely turn a profit. The Descendants’s big Globe win in the drama category, combined with numerous acting prizes and the top prize at the L.A. Film Critics’ Association, positions it as the small, quiet character study that could, a la 1980’s Best Picture Oscar champion Ordinary People.

Christopher Plummer has now officially pulled away from his closest rival, Albert Brooks, in the race for Best Supporting Actor. Having swept through these prizes and earning several minor prizes in the month of December, he’s now a lock at a nomination and likely the big win. He’s been charming and effusive in his acceptance speeches (including thanking his wife of 43 years, an eternity and a half in Hollywood) and it might just be a bit too irresistible to finally give an Oscar to Captain von Trapp. In case you were wondering if Brooks might have pulled away at the Screen Actors’ Guild, forget it: he hasn’t even been nominated, and he needed one of these awards to stay level with Plummer.

Streep with her eighth(!) Golden Globe
Mention must be made to a number of other films who made a big splash in the race. Midnight in Paris was voted Best Screenplay at both groups, and its well-timed arrival on DVD and Blu-Ray during Christmas week pushed the film into high viewing rotation during the crucial voting period. Its wins should steady its status as a contender for the Best Picture Oscar, even if isn’t a slam-dunk nominee. Similarly, A Separation’s wins as Best Foreign Film in both groups has made it the rock-solid film to beat for the Oscar. I’ve been calling for nominations for the film in categories outside of that category, most notably in Best Original Screenplay and possibly a dark horse Best Picture nomination, and I’m sticking by that. Perhaps the most interesting win was Bridesmaids’s trumping of Midnight in Paris and a number of other selections to take home the prize as Best Comedy Film at the Critics Choice. I still think Melissa McCarthy has a legitimate shot at Best Supporting Actress and the film’s creators Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo possibly up for Original Screenplay. Right now, a showdown between these three films in the same category is what I dream of.

Madonna just won her second Golden Globe, this year for Best Original Song. She had previously won for Evita in 1996 but unlike that victory, there will be no suspense as to whether she will be nominated for an Oscar. “Masterpiece”, the winning song from her forthcoming W.E., didn’t even make the Academy’s long list of qualifying entries for Best Original Song. Why? Because allegedly, the song had to appear immediately at the start of the credits in order to be qualified and it doesn’t appear until 90 seconds into them, thus disqualifying the song from Oscar. It’s either the strangest or most confounded rule ever, or Madonna fired someone in her chain of command for not clearing that rule through because the lady misses nothing.

I’ll be posting my nominations for the Academy Awards nominations in just a week’s time, check back then!