Sunday, November 1, 2015

October Recap

So October is a wrap! As I was cobbling together my last-minute Doof Warrior costume in time for last night's frivolities, I figured now was the best time to start taking note of how the 2015-16 Oscar race is shaping up.

I realize that for many, the September festival circuit is the official kick-off of awards season. But for those of us without press credentials or travel time to burn, October is when we actually get to see the buzzy titles we've been reading about for a month or more. And this October was chalk full of them.

The very first weekend of the month saw successful wide releases for a pair of genre-tinged dramas in Denis Villeneuve's Sicario (already praised by me in my last full review for the foreseeable future) and Ridley Scott's The Martian. The former, superb thriller though it may be, is probably too dark and bleak to win the Academy's favour outside of Roger Deakins' cinematography and Benicio Del Toro's chilling performance.

But the latter, which has earned Ridley Scott his best reviews in over a decade, is already been speculated as a potential Oscar heavyweight. Following in the vein of Apollo 13 and Gravity, The Martian is a thoroughly entertaining celebration of ingenuity and human spirit. Drew Goddard's witty adaptation of the Andy Weir novel of the same name is a huge part of its success, plying a perfectly judged sense of humour to an interplanetary survival drama without leaning into farce.
Pleasing crowds the world over to the tune of a handsome $400M gross (and climbing) has shot the movie into plausible Best Picture territory. But even if AMPAS finds it too lightweight on the whole, Scott's crew is bound to find some love. Nominations for visual effects, sound, and (especially) editing are deserved, and the tally likely won't stop there. Even star Matt Damon, winning raves for his appealing cool-under-pressure performance, could figure in to the Best Actor conversation. His dubious placement in the Comedy/Musical category means he may have a Golden Globe coming his way, and that can only help his cause.
Unfortunately, other quality movies opening around the beginning of October have had a harder time winning dollars. Robert Zemeckis' The Walk should earn back its relatively slight $35M budget, but with a better release strategy it could have done so much better, and probably should have. It's far too riddled with miscalculations to be called a great movie, but the last 40 minutes -- in which JGL's gregarious Phillipe Petit performs his impossibly high wire act -- is truly awe-inspiring. Perhaps the film's fond memorialization of the once magnificent Twin Towers comes off as more elegiac than nostalgic, turning off some audiences, but it manages to leave a quiet impact nevertheless.
Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs is making humble cash as well, though that won't likely impair its profile with Academy voters. The film is simply too terrific to ignore, working with an elegant (if highly fictionalized) three-act structure that observes its eponymous subject on three separate days in his life and career; The product launches for the Macintosh, the NeXT, and the iMac. It's an inventive expositional gateway for Sorkin to explore this 'character', wonderfully interpreted by Michael Fassbender who is shored up on all sides by an equally wonderful ensemble. Expect big awards season attention.
On the more low-key end of the spectrum, Steven Spielberg's Cold War drama Bridge of Spies arrived to a respectable (though hardly ecstatic) critical reception. Granted, this isn't the sort of movie that elicits instantaneous ecstasy so much as sturdy admiration. Much like his equally reserved Lincoln, this is a movie that takes its time and beseeches the patience of its audience to keep attention through hours of talking heads before reaching its pay-off. I could have done without the fuzzy epilogues, but on the whole it's rock solid; Gracefully assembled with surefooted classicism, and featuring lovely, humanistic performances from Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance.
On the clout of Spielberg's and Hanks' names, it could find itself in the awards conversation despite its deliberate chilliness. The same probably can't be said for other October dramas Freeheld and Beasts of No Nation, which came and went with little fanfare. Studio eye-candy ended up disappointing as well, with Joe Wright's Pan being laughed off immediately, while Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak was an even bloodier mess than it intended to be. To be fair, Crimson Peak does deserve serious consideration for the Best Production Design trophy this year, although I think a film this far from the Academy's comfort zone will be lucky to get nominated.

In other awards-related news, we had a couple of hosting announcements made, neither of which has me all that excited. Chris Rock was selected to emcee the Oscars for the second time, albeit 11 years following his first gig. I found his 2005 outing decent but forgettable, and honestly I don't hold it against him that the decision to bring him back fails to titillate me. I hold it against the show-runners for staunchly refusing to venture anywhere within sight of left field when it comes to picking a host. I guess the Seth MacFarlane year is still too fresh and unpleasant a memory for them (though not for this viewer).

But far more discouraging than the Oscar host situation is the Golden Globes situation. For three years in a row the Globes were among my awards season highlights, chalked up in part to the do-no-wrong tandem of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler who (perhaps wisely) didn't want to risk overstaying their welcome by doing a fourth show. I'd be game for a fresh face, but instead the HFPA has gone with the worst possible alternative, reverting back to the snide barbs of Ricky Gervais, who had trashed the show throughout his own three-year stint before Tina and Amy were brought in to right the ship. You can bet the mute button on my remote will be getting quite the workout during the Globes this year.

But we'll ruminate on that another time. Still lots of movies yet to see before we need to start considering the awards shows themselves.

1 comment:

  1. Really? Wow, I actually loved Gervais' hosting gigs. But that's me.