DISPATCH FROM AWARDS SEASON: “Sideways” Is Tops with Film Critics…Well, with the Exception of Maybe A.O. Scott
by Eugene Hernandez
With critics having weighed in on their top ten lists and critics groups having named their choices for the best movies of the year, awards season enters another phase this week. Oscar nomination ballots are in the hands of members and in the coming days the guilds will weigh in. The Producers Guild names its nominees tomorrow, while the Directors Guild is set to join the fray on Thursday. The Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild will name nominees next week (on Tuesday and Thursday respectively). While the average moviegoer certainly doesn’t follow such announcements, industry insiders and many at Indiewood companies are closely monitoring such news (as closely as they are tracking recent executive shuffles at Dreamworks and Paramount).
Alexander Payne‘s “Sideways” remains a front-runner, as noted this weekend in a New York Times article that has cinephile bloggers and insiders buzzing. Critic A.O. Scott, while complimenting the movie, branded it the year’s most overrated film. Probably not the sort of attention that the movie’s distributor Fox Searchlight wants. But one indie insider at a rival company admitted that with a movie as acclaimed as “Sideways,” such claims don’t hurt. Dissension is expected among film critics.
Scott’ comments about “Sideways,” which won top film honors from critics groups in Boston, Chicago, Florida, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Toronto, offered an insight into his own view of film critics. Admitting that the “accumulated passions of people who are paid to have opinions about movies can sometimes place an undue burden of expectation on both the objects of those passions and the readers to whom they are communicated,” he noted about the film, “In ‘Sideways,’ a good many critics see themselves, and it is only natural that we should love what we see. Not that critics are the only ones, by any means, but the affection that we have lavished on this film has the effect of emphasizing the narrowness of its vision, and perhaps our own.”
While Oscar nominees won’t be announced for another 3 weeks, “Sideways” is a shoo-in to be among the Best Picture nominees, as are “The Aviator” and “Million Dollar Baby.” Could two critical favorites from Indiewood such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Before Sunset” become one of the five? Or hey, what about “Bad Education?” Or are those distinctive, acclaimed films just too much for the stereotypically stodgy AMPAS members? “Ray,” “Hotel Rwanda,” or maybe even “The Incredibles,” “Finding Neverland,” “Closer,” “Kinsey,” and “Vera Drake,” are seen as vying for those two other Best Picture nods. A survey of critics top ten lists by Movie City News shows “Sideways,” “Sunshine,” “Baby,” “Sunset,” “Incredibles,” and “Aviator” as the having topped the most ten best rosters. Of course Academy voters aren’t film critics. Industry folks are spending big dollars to advertise these titles in Hollywood trade papers and on Internet sites because a nod in the Academy’s top category brings prestige and a potential for much larger box office grosses.
Perhaps the upcoming Guild nominations, or this Saturday’s announcement by the National Society of Film Critics, will narrow the race a bit. Whatever the case, on Sunday night at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, “Sideways” will be among the films in the spotlight, at one of many high-profile awards events — the New York Film Critics Circle ceremony. The film will be honored with prizes for best picture, best screenplay, best actor, and best supporting actress. A.O. Scott will not likely be in attendance; he is not a member of the film critic’s group.