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Oscar Talk Wrap-Up: Never Let Me Go Wanes, Foreign Contenders, Blue Valentine, Harry Potter

Oscar Talk Wrap-Up: Never Let Me Go Wanes, Foreign Contenders, Blue Valentine, Harry Potter

During this week’s Oscar Talk podcast, Kris Tapley (InContention) and I were joined by indieWIRE’s awards expert Peter Knegt and InContention’s Guy Lodge, both in London covering the festival.

Never Let Me Go opened the London Fest; the film “has in reality already been let go,” said Lodge. Red carpet appearances by stars Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley at the fest weren’t enough to revive disappointment in the film. We agreed that the film is already out of the Oscar running: I compared its slow pace and subtle emotion to last year’s Bright Star. Mulligan’s performance was wonderful, and were this a year like 2005, in which Charlize Theron was nominated won for North Country, Lodge noted, Mulligan would have a chance at a Best Actress nom. But the competition is too tough this year, with many more established actresses in movies whose trajectories will continue to go upward. Never Let Me Go seems a lost cause, and Mulligan is “sinking with the ship,” Tapley said. The problem is rooted in the trailer, Lodge said. They sold it like Atonement rather than the sci-fi that it is.

Carlos, all agreed, is a worthwhile five and a half hours of film. While it is not eligible for an Oscar nomination (because it’s showing on the Sundance channel), it could be a contender for the Golden Globe and critics’ awards. Lodge, who saw the full cut, said there’s not an ounce of fat–“everything was essential and on pace.” He was “absorbed for half a day.” I applauded Edgar Ramirez’s performance (including frontal nudity; he’s the sexist naked man since Ewan McGregor), the outrageous facts of his life and watching the character arc of a man going from an idealist to a “complete asshole mercenary.” Tapley admitted that he had a hard time staying awake in the third act and despite great ensemble performances, felt he didn’t really know the man after the lengthy story. He loved the authentic characters and interesting comedic beats. He suggested that it would make an interesting double feature with Four Lions. Lodge agreed: both are “politically dangerous and adventurous” and have a similar theme of examining “the ways in which terrorists mess up both personally and professionally.”

We debated the strengths and weaknesses of several best foreign language Oscar submissions–among 65. Lodge saw China’s entry, Aftershock, and noted that while it’s a huge hit at home, it’s a terrible mix of a disaster movie and a melodrama and won’t be talked about again in an Oscar context. South Africa’s Life, Above All, however, has the right mix for Oscar voters, Lodge (a native South African) argued: drama, AIDS, children, “an incredible young actress (Khomotso Manyaka)” and one of the country’s best directors, Oliver Schmitz.

Knegt recently attended the Reykjavik Film Festival in Iceland and saw Greenland’s Nuummioq from directors Torben Bech and Otto Rosing. While the film is an unlikely Oscar contender, he pointed out that the worthwhile “sweet little road trip movie” is the country’s first-ever feature-length film, a huge feat for a land of 30,000 people. Knegt, a Canadian, expressed national pride for Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies (very well-received at Toronto), which has frontrunner potential and distribution through Sony Pictures Classics (who also boast Susanne Bier’s In A Better World, Life, Above All, and France’s Of Gods and Men, contenders all).

Lodge warned that people assume Cannes successes (Of Gods and Men, Thailand’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Mexico’s Biutiful) will do well with Academy voters, but won’t necessarily be shoo-ins. Of Gods may be “too deliberate and remote” and Uncle Boonmee is “the opposite of everything voters like” (though it did win the Palme D’Or at Cannes). I disagreed with Lodge on Biutiful: it’s emotional and beautiful and stunningly directed enough to be a frontrunner; Lodge agreed that star Javier Bardem could pull it into the race with his best actor campaign.

One film Lodge loved—but which may not get a nomination – is Estonia’s The Temptation of St. Tony, a “completely insane absurdist comedy” in black and white. Greece’s Dogtooth is another one likely to be overlooked, given that it breaks too many taboos for the Academy. Considering how much the Academy liked last year’s winner, The Secret in Their Eyes, Lodge and Knegt have heard that Iraq’s Son of Babylon is the one to watch (it was also well-received at Cannes). Algerian Rachid Bouchareb’s controversial Cannes entry Outside the Law, the follow-up to his Oscar-nominated 2006 film Days of Glory, is a “safe and classical film,” says Lodge. It’s a political road trip movie with politics that “aren’t that out of line” and graced with the “old-fashioned and absorbing” material the Academy likes.

We debated the impact, positive and negative, of Blue Valentine‘s NC-17 rating, with Oscar voters and at the box office. I argue that Harvey Weinstein is “delighted”– the publicity may do wonders for a film that has potential to be lost and forgotten. The rating slap is consistent with the MPAA’s rules and the Weinstein is unlikely to overturn it, even if the rating is too harsh. We all agree that the NC-17 rating makes a film sound dirty–it’s a stigma–and bodes poorly for serious Oscar consideration. The film played extremely well at festivals, and word-of-mouth is consistently stellar. Actors need to see Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ performances for the film to rise above this controversy. Tapley hears that director Derek Cianfrance refuses to make cuts (at issue are realistic thrusting and oral sex). It’s understandable that Cianfrance wants to let it be. This buzz could do less harm than good; it was never pretending to be family fare anyway. When Oscar-winner Midnight Cowboy carried an X rating, it hadn’t developed the porn taint that it has now.

Kris and I saw Andrew Jarecki’s All Good Things–“a bit of a train wreck,” says Tapley, who felt Jarecki did not make an effective transition from documentary to feature filmmaking. I said he was fascinated by this true story and in the attempt to dramatize it–with actors Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst–he lost his way. I thought Dunst did a great job; Tapley argued that the actors were not well-served by the material. It’s not an Oscar contender.

We answered some In Contention reader questions:

Why has the Harry Potter series not done well at the Oscars? Partly, we said, it’s based on young adult fiction, gets no respect, has never been embraced in a big way, even in technical categories. But Knegt points out that so far a Harry Potter film has never competed in a year with ten best picture slots. “The one to watch is the Producer’s Guild which nominated the first one,” says Lodge.

Why do documentaries not get into the best picture race? We agree that Inside Job and Waiting for Superman may get a chance at the top ten in a lean year. The latter is getting a lot of attention; Inside Job also needs to grab more. Tapley thinks a phenomenon like Fahrenheit 9/11 could get in. But docs are at a disadvantage because they lack scale and scope and have no actors in them, I emphasized.

Is Black Swan too edgy for voters? Yes. Lodge said that it’s too left-field for best picture, but perhaps Darren Aronofsky could land a best director nod. I pointed out that he’s not a member of the tight director’s club, and it’s a gritty hand-held movie. Tapley and Knegt saw Natalie Portman as the likeliest nomination; Lodge and I thought she’s well-cast but not there yet. If things fall through it stands a chance for best picture, insisted Knegt.

Why doesn’t Sony Classics shift Another Year‘s Lesley Manville to a supporting actress campaign? I agreed that she’s the film’s lead. Knegt thought she could have won in supporting.

More Oscar Talk on Friday.

[Photos: Lesley Manville in Another Year, Javier Bardem in Biutiful.]

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