Oscar Update: Defiance, Twilight(?), Australia, Wrestler and New Predictions

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Well, last week it was all about Miramax’s Doubt as it finally screened and had a few mixed reactions, but didn’t inspire Oscar blogger finger pointing so I guess that’s something. However, this week all the buzz has been around Baz Luhrmann’s Australia as word began circling Fox had forced Baz to change the downer ending to a more upbeat one. I already discussed the original charge and the Fox response, but Baz has also issued his own statement saying:

“You really think that on my films people tell me what to do? I don’t think so,” he said. “On my films I decide.”

“I wrote six endings and I shot three,” said Luhrmann, adding that he decided not to use the ending where Jackman’s character dies. “There is a death at the end of this film, but it’s a surprise how that works.”

With that, I am done with the controversy, but not entirely done discussing the film. So far, the only audience to see the film was an Oprah audience and good ol’ Harpo was quite ecstatic about the event as you can see from the YouTube video to the right. You can get more on the Oprah visit right here.

Keeping on the Aussie beat for a sec, Guy Lodge at In Contention has taken all the controversy and put it through his gray matter super computer and digitized an article headlined “Is Australia really in the Academy’s wheelhouse?“. It’s an interesting question based around the idea that the Academy is interested in grand period romance epics, but outside of Titanic you really have to go all the way back to Gone With the Wind to find one that really hammered home the gold. This, of course, is simply a matter of looking at the film through Oscar’s goggles and has nothing to do with the overall quality of the piece, but when it comes to Australia I don’t really think genre matters as much as the fact it is “From the director of Moulin Rouge!.” Should the film turn out to be as good as I hope it is, I am quite confident the Academy will look at the history of the epic romance as an afterthought.

I must now bounce back in time to Doubt for a second and point you in the direction of a pair of contradictory reviews. Variety’s Todd McCarthy dedicates an adjective filled paragraph to Meryl Streep’s performance saying:

The film’s one iffy element, oddly enough, is Streep. This master screen actor, who applies a slight New Yawk accent to her phrasings, takes the vocal low road here as opposed to the more forceful approach of Cherry Jones in her riveting Broadway turn. By ostensibly underplaying the role’s villainy, however, Streep overdoes the melodrama, thereby turning Sister Aloysius into more of a stock figure than she ultimately seemed onstage.

And that’s just the first half. To combat this I must point to one Cherry Jones, who told Gold Derby’s Tom O’Neil:

“On stage, I stood my ground,” Jones said. “I held my resolve and I fought Father Flynn right back. I didn’t let him break her. This is the play’s big confrontation scene and we played it for maximum dramatic conflict.

“But I was fascinated to see that’s not what Meryl Streep does,” she added. “She lets Sister Aloysius crack. She decides to break with the moment. Suddenly, she caves, she’s vulnerable. You think these two might actually come together, that all will be understood and forgiven, but, no. They go right back to fighting. On stage we decided to drive the scene right through.”

Hmmmm, who to trust?

The next big film that screened for LA critics recently was Paramount Vantage’s Defiance, which has earned decent marks for acting, but at the same time Screen Daily‘s Tim Grierson says “Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber have a tough time with the material.”

The big complaint is the story as The Hollywood Reporter‘s Kirk Honeycutt adds, “Although Zwick and co-writer Clay Frohman have tailored a thoughtful script that covers all the inherent theological and philosophical angles and archetypes (making it an ideal “bearing witness” companion piece to Zwick’s Glory), the production cries out for a more compelling approach given its limited exteriors.”

I am seeing the film next week along with a screening of Bolt, Twilight, Australia, The Wrestler, Four Christmases and Transporter 3. Now if that isn’t a star studded line-up I don’t know what is. And actually there is a little bit of Oscar talk surrounding Twilight if you can believe it… Of course it is coming from the horse’s mouth as Stephenie Meyer touts the film based on her own book.

Meyer recently told Entertainment Weekly, Robert Pattinson’s performance in the film was “Oscar-worthy.” This, of course, drew chuckles from a myriad of corners of the Internet, but none better than Jeff Wells’ response saying “Meyer gets a permanent cultural demerit” for her statement and on top of that he adds, “Oh, and Meyer gets another demerit for spelling her first name ‘Stephenie.'” Harsh man… Harsh.

I mentioned The Wrestler above and surprisingly the conversation on that front was relatively muted as it had its LA debut recently and really only managed to muster up a three-and-a-half star review from In Contention’s Kris Tapley to go along with an interview with star Mickey Rourke. The only other notable item to come out of the screening was a snapshot of the film’s poster art, which you can see to the right and larger over at Slashfilm.

Finally, before I get to my latest round of Oscar predictions for the top three I thought some of you may be interested in checking out an exclusive clip from Doubt being hosted by the Los Angeles Times accompanied by a eight-part audio review with Viola Davis who plays Mrs. Muller in the film. You can check that out right here.

And now – to the predictions.

This week I took part in another one of the prediction get togethers over at the Los Angeles Times’ Oscar Blog The Envelope and along with Anthony Breznican (USA Today), Peter Howell (Toronto Star), Mark Olsen (The Envelope), Jeffrey Sneider (The Insneider, contributor to Variety), Kris Tapley (InContention.com) and Tom Tapp (TheDailyBeast.com) I predicted the top five nominees in Best Picture, Actor and Actress.

We were asked to rank our picks 1-5, and so in order to figure out which picks came out on top I just reversed the numbers and made a #1 pick worth five points and a #5 pick worth one point and have brought you the results as listed below.

I have placed my picks in bold and you will see I only differed with the pack on The Dark Knight for Best Picture (but not by much) and Richard Jenkins for Best Actor. Other than that I think as long as the films mentioned manage to perform up to expectation I don’t think there will be many surprises. I am not sure if Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) is completely out of the race for Best Actress at this point, but based on the way Jenkins has managed to keep his name around while Hawkins’ has faded it is looking like that may be the case.

I personally believe two films will really decide the fate of this race and how interesting it gets and those two are The Reader (12/10) and Revolutionary Road (12/26). Kate Winslet stars in both and depending on the quality of the two films it could throw a big tidal wave on the predictions. Is The Reader worth the Weinstein rush? Is Revolutionary Road going to be as good as so many assume it will be? Will Kate Winslet compete with herself therefore knocking herself out of the race? There’s a lot to consider there. I did just learn I am seeing Revolutionary Road on December 3, which means I may be seeing both films around the exact same time.

And if you were wondering if Kate Winslet wants an Oscar for her mantle you better believe it as she is quoted in the December edition of Vanity Fair saying:

“Do I want it? You bet your [expletive] [expletive] I do! I think that people assume that I don’t care or don’t want it or don’t need it or something. It’s hard to be there five times, and I’m only human, you know?”

Enough of my jabbering though, here are the predictions and you can check out the source right here.

BEST PICTURE
  1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (31 points)
  2. Milk (17 points)
  3. Revolutionary Road (14 points)
  4. Slumdog Millionaire (14 points)
  5. Frost/Nixon (11 points)

  6. The Dark Knight (9 points)
  7. Gran Torino (6 points)
  8. Doubt (4 points)
  9. The Wrestler (2 points)
BEST ACTOR
  1. Sean Penn, Milk (26 points)
  2. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (24 points)
  3. Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon (19 points)
  4. Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino (15 points)
  5. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (10 points)

  6. Leo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road (6 points)
  7. Richard Jenkins, The Visitor (5 points)
BEST ACTRESS
  1. Meryl Streep, Doubt (28 points)
  2. Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road (25 points)
  3. Kristin Scott Thomas, I’ve Loved You So Long (17 points)
  4. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married (16 points)
  5. Angelina Jolie, Changeling (9 points)

  6. Nicole Kidman, Australia (7 points)
  7. Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (3 points)