I mentioned this on the podcast Friday and in a column recently, I think, but the lull has been considerable this year, it seems. The waiting for late-season contenders, I mean. It’s subjective. Maybe I’m just coming from a weird perspective. But enough of it has to do with the four big remaining entries — “Django Unchained,” “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “Les Misérables” and “Zero Dark Thirty” — having been watched like a hawk as they race toward completion.
There has been this and that in the interim. Since the New York Film Festival dropped “Flight,” “Life of Pi” and “Lincoln” onto the season we’ve gotten “Hitchcock” (which I liked), “This is 40” (Judd Apatow’s richest work) and “Promised Land” (which has been shown a few times — I’m seeing it today). But mostly it’s been anticipation for what the aforementioned quartet will have to offer the season.
“Les Misérables” will finally unveil in New York for press and AMPAS/guild members the day after Thanksgiving. Director Tom Hooper will introduce the film and participate in a Q&A before hopping on a plane to go and do the very same thing the next day in Los Angeles. “Zero Dark Thirty,” meanwhile, is set to screen the NEXT day, while “Django Unchained” will wait longer than originally expected. Guild screenings for Tarantino’s film had been set for the end of November, but word is the film isn’t finished and director Quentin Tarantino has no real deadline other than a drop-dead one for release.
Regarding that, the unfortunate perception among some is that, if it’s not screening, it’s not an Oscar movie. But sometimes an artist just needs to finish his film, and you’ll see it when you see it. They were shooting into August, after all. He’s locked away in his editing suite now, getting there. So let’s just let him get there, shall we?
Then there’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” The wave of apathy toward this film that I’ve been sensing among friends and colleagues is fascinating for a project of this scope. I get the feeling there’s a bit of preemptive fatigue going on over the fact that a story that could barely make a case for two films is in fact set to be a trilogy. But that could frankly be a good thing for Warner Bros. The onus is on these other projects to perform, but if they don’t, “The Hobbit” (of all things) could be poised to surprise. I’m told it’s way behind on effects at moment, however, so it’ll be down to the wire — though much more quietly than Tarantino, it would seem. Screenings won’t happen until early December, I’m told.
So for a moment there, it really looked like everything would be seen before the final month of the year. Alas, not so. And while one or two deadlines will be missed as a result, it’s certainly not the end of the world.
“Les Misérables” will be the one likely receiving the most scrutiny as it has been considered a sight-unseen thoroughbred for quite some time. Anne Hathaway’s appearance on Saturday Night Live lit the fuse for the public last weekend. We can bet on below-the-line appeal across the board (including one original song contender), but will Hugh Jackman shake up the Best Actor race? Will Hathaway’s performance be enough for serious supporting actress consideration (given the part), or will Samantha Barks be the one? And is all forgiven enough for Russell Crowe to ride back into the race? Or will that hold until “Noah” proves surprisingly moving?
Early word on “Django Unchained” says Samuel L. Jackson might be the surprise of the film. Could he gallop alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in supporting actor races this season? Christoph Waltz’s slide over to lead actor does two things: A) It says the film is a co-lead piece with Jamie Foxx and that he might just fare better than his co-star (I’ve heard he just brings more to the table — whether that’s true and if so whether it’s the role or the performance, or both, that gets him there, I don’t know); and B) It frees up some space in the supporting ranks of the film to allow breathing room for someone like Jackson.
Jessica Chastain is taking on the part of a real-life CIA agent obsessed over tracking down Osama Bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Last year’s “it” girl could easily take control in a Best Actress race that seemingly has no confident frontrunner. (In my opinion, anyway. Chastain’s fellow “it” girl Jennifer Lawrence just doesn’t seem like a typical winner to me in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Of course, I could be dead wrong.) Meanwhile, Jennifer Ehle is someone to watch in supporting, I’m told, and Jason Clarke could emerge from the film a new star — 15 years into his career, no less.
And finally, “The Hobbit.” Can anyone stand out? Or is Ian McKellen just riffing on what we’ve seen? Is Martin Freeman offering just marginally better or worse than Elijah Wood’s non-nominated work? Do the various dwarves just blend together? And has all the focus on 48 fps caused the ripple in the effects work, which by definition has to be more expensive and extensive at a higher frame rate? We’ll see. Below-the-line could come out for it, could not. I suppose it depends, across the board, on how nostalgic members are for, versus how bored they are with, Jackson’s Middle Earth — particularly knowing there’s more to come.
Somewhere in all of this? Hopefully much-needed solace. Remember last year when a Tom Cruise actioner from Paramount seemed like a quick oasis in the middle of the season? I wonder…
Check out my updated predictions HERE and, as always, see how Guy Lodge, Greg Ellwood and I collectively think the season will turn out at THE CONTENDERS.