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AWARDS WATCH '08 | Back and Forth: Gothams Speculation and the Always Evolving State of Oscar Buzz

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire December 1, 2008 at 3:39AM

Continuing this year's awards season coverage in indieWIRE, editor-in-chief Eugene Hernandez and assistant editor Peter Knegt chatted via instant message about the ever-evolving race. Topics for this installment include a look at the upcoming Gotham Independent Film Award, the box office performances of "Milk" and "Slumdog Millionaire," as well as discussion surrounding our recent viewings of "Revolutionary Road" and "The Reader."
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Continuing this year's awards season coverage in indieWIRE, editor-in-chief Eugene Hernandez and assistant editor Peter Knegt chatted via instant message about the ever-evolving race. Topics for this installment include a look at the upcoming Gotham Independent Film Award, the box office performances of "Milk" and "Slumdog Millionaire," as well as discussion surrounding our recent viewings of "Revolutionary Road" and "The Reader."

Peter Knegt: So it's come. It's December 1st. From here on in, there's going to be buzz shifts and awards announcements and top-ten lists coming at us pretty much hourly.

Eugene Hernandez: Yup, its "the season." You know its that time of year when "The Carpetbagger" is back in action. Which I love! David Carr at the New York Times makes it fun and worth watching. He's the best of the mainstream awards bloggers as far as I am concerned (along with EW's Dave Karger, of course!)

And the IFP proudly boasts that tomorrow's Gotham Awards really kick things off. [Get the full list of Gotham nominees here at indieWIRE.com.]

PK: Yep, Tuesday night unofficially kicks things off here in New York. I mean, I'm not sure how much influence the Gothams will have in terms of Oscar buzz, but they'll definitely be interesting, and could help some smaller films gain recognition they deserve.

PREVIOUS AWARDS SEASON BACK AND FORTH COLUMNS:
Doc Short List (11.21.08) | Best Picture, Underdogs (11.14.08) | Gotham Nominations (10.20.08) | Guessing Gothams, Actor Buzz (10.17.08) | What are the Fests Saying (09.25.08)

EH: I think what they can do this year is elevate a few folks in advance of the film critics groups voting and top ten lists.

PK: Your thoughts on what films might win at the Gothams? Melissa Leo seems assured for breakthrough actor (despite not quite qualifiying for that category in my eyes.

EH: In my mind, a number of the category's are hard to guess this year. The nominees and winners are chosen by committees and its hard to guess which way they will go. I could see a case made for any of the five films vying for best picture, for example.

If I were voting for best picture at the Gothams, I'd cast my ballot for "Synecdoche, New York" But, its a tough category with a number of strong films.

PK: For sure. If I had to guess, I'd guess "The Wrestler." But I too am rooting for "Synecdoche." That film needs to be rewarded, and I fear it's not going to find a place in any of the more mainstream races.

EH: It deserves attention, particularly Charlie Kaufman for his script. Is there any question that it's the most unique and inventive American film from the studios this year?

PK: It stands with "Wall-E" as my favourite American film so far this year, but its bound to polarize the Academy and potentially critic's awards voters so I'm doubting its going to go very far. But some recognition for the screenplay especially would be fantastic.

A scene from Lance Hammer's "Ballast." Image courtesy of Alluvial Film Company.

EH: Meanwhile, the documentary category is even tougher as far as I am concerned. Each of those films is quite exceptional. It's a great list. I couldn't pick one, but "Man on Wire" would seem like a strong favorite. It was the best reviewed film of the year with 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

PK: As much as I loved "Man on Wire," I'm not looking forward to it's potential to sweep every single documentary award this year, so I hope the Gothams spread the love. I have a serious soft spot for "Chris & Don. A Love Story" but really, any of the films would make an inspired choice.

EH: Given that this is an IFP event, I am personally most excited to see films in the Breakthrough Director and Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You categories get some much needed attention.

The five guys in the breakthrough director category are all filmmakers to watch. I personally love Barry Jenkins' "Medicine For Melancholy" and Alex Rivera's "Sleep Dealer" and am excited to see what each makes next, but I am gonna predict that Lance Hammer wins the award. He's had an amazing year and has emerged as a real poster boy for a new DIY distribution wave.

PK: Yes. The Gothams obviously were huge fans of "Ballast" and this will probably be the category they choose to reward it in. I still think its a shame Courtney Hunt didn't get any recognition in this category, though.

What about ensemble, do you think "Ballast" has a shot here as well? It's a great cast, but there is some incredible competition.

EH: Another very tough category. I could see any of the nominees winning. I wouldn't be surprised to see "Rachel Getting Married" get it, but if I were voting I think I'd go with "The Visitor." The performances in that film were pretty stunning, it deserves the attention.

PK: I also would predict "Rachel." The film's notices have often made reference to how it's a great ensemble work. I would throw my imaginary vote to "Synecdoche." What a way to reward so many amazing actresses (and one great actor) in one shot.

Although, it doesn't really feel like an "ensemble" as its so fragmented.

EH: I have to put in a plug for the five films vying for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You. Some great movies in there from a strong group of filmmakers. Jake Mahaffy, in particular, has been making very good films for years. It would be great to see him get some attention. He's one of the most distinctive American directors that not enough people seem to know about.

PK: They screened all of the films at the MoMA this past week, which was really great exposure in itself. If there's anything the Gothams have power to do, it's help these films find distribution.

A scene from Stephen Daldry's "The Reader." Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

EH: So, switching gears. This weekend's box office numbers point to strong initial audience support for "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Milk". They are clearly the specialty division front runners at this point. But how will they fare against "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Revolutionary Road"?

PK: "Ben Button" has had some of the most awkwardly evolving buzz I've ever seen. Frankly, I don't really know what to make of it anymore. We'll see when it actually comes out, but at this point, that kind of intense back and forth can't be good for it.

EH: Before we wrap up, I have to ask about the chances for "Revolutionary Road" and "The Reader." I'm starting to see TV commercials for each one.

PK: Yes, I recently saw them both. I really liked "Road," and didn't mind "Reader," but in both cases wasn't blown away. Which sort of seems like a theme with the barrage of December releases. No one seems overly impressed with anything, at least not collectively.

Of the two though, "Road" is definitely the contender for a best picture nomination, though it won't win. Leonardo diCaprio and Kate Winslet could, though. They are both incredibly showy, Oscar-like roles and both pull them off powerfully.

EH: And "The Reader?"

PK: Winslet's good in "The Reader," though occasionally I found her accent was off. And the film is simply nothing special. Its well made, sure, but it doesn't succeed in being as affecting as it wants to be, and in the end I just didn't care.

I understand the suggestion that her best shot is for "The Reader," as "Road" is so similar to her role in "Little Children" and people might be offput by that. But I feel if after all this she ends up winning for "Reader," it'll be a shame. She's much better in "Road." And its a much better movie.

At this point, "Slumdog" and "Milk" are definitely looking frontrunnerish. And there performances at the box office are just intensifying that. As we know, box office can be just as important as critic's opinions when it comes to the big O. And for the past week or two I've been thinking more and more that "Slumdog" in particular is the film to beat there. Especially since its turning into a potentially "Juno"-sized (or at least "Sideways" sized) word-of-mouth hit.

EH: I have to say, since the tragic, horrible events in Mumbai last week, I've thought a lot about "Slumdog."

PK: It's a bizarre and unfortunate coincidence, but it brings a certain relevance to "Slumdog."

EH: Yes. Not to say that such a tragedy will "help" the film, but like Prop 8 and "Milk" it just makes the film that much for resonant. There is certainly an "Indian people v. the Indian government" thread emerging in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attack and "Slumdog" gives a window into the city and people who live there.

PK: Definitely. And you feel it. I mean, with so much criticism being thrown at films for feeling too cold or unaffecting, I found "Slumdog" one of the more moving films of the year and it seems like I'm not alone.

The film did very well at the British Independent Film Awards this weekend, and at the wacky, rather unbelievable Satellite nominations, where "Milk" did quite well also. Not the Satellites mean anything at all. But they make for an entertaining read.

EH: And good awards blog fodder!

PK: Yes! I mean, Catherine Deneuve competing against Debra Messing for best actress in a comedy or musical? "Choke" for best picture? And, seriously, what is up with "Elegy" and "Ben Button" getting original screenplay nominations. Did they forget to read the press notes? On top of that, they credit "Elegy"'s screenplay to Philip Roth, who didn't even write it. Who are these people? And why do they have an awards show?

EH: LOL.

Get the latest from awards season in indieWIRE's special Awards Watch section.

PREVIOUS AWARDS SEASON BACK AND FORTH COLUMNS:
Doc Short List (11.21.08) | Best Picture, Underdogs (11.14.08) | Gotham Nominations (10.20.08) | Guessing Gothams, Actor Buzz (10.17.08) | What are the Fests Saying (09.25.08)

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