Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 01-09-12

Prince Charles and Martin Scorsese

Prince Charles and Martin Scorsese

Alexander Payne – Director of “The Descendants”

Alexander Payne – Director of “The Descendants”

“WAR HORSE” DM-AC-00062R Director Steven Spielberg sets up his next shot on the set of DreamWorks Pictures’ “War Horse”, an epic set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War. Ph: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“WAR HORSE” DM-AC-00062R Director Steven Spielberg sets up his next shot on the set of DreamWorks Pictures’ “War Horse”, an epic set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War. Ph: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Awards action: This year’s Oscar race isn’t anything like last year’s.

A year ago a week before the Golden Globes it was clearly a toss-up between “The Social Network,” which the critics groups had favored for months, and “The King’s Speech,” which Academy members later decided they liked best.

This time around it’s not nearly as simple. There are those who absolutely think the best picture Oscar will go to “The Artist,” while others are equally passionate about “The Descendants.” But there are those who insist it will be “War Horse” while others maintain it'll wind up being “Hugo” or “The Help” or, perhaps, “Midnight in Paris.”

Of course, we don’t know yet who Oscar’s nominees for best picture will be — or even how many of them there will be. For the past two years, there were 10 best picture noms, but this year the Academy changed its rules and now there will be five to 10 noms depending on how many pictures get first choice votes from at least 5 percent of the roughly 6,000 Academy members. In other words, if about 300 Oscar voters make a picture their first choice, it winds up with a nomination — but no more than 10 and no fewer than five are possible.

But on the eve of the Golden Globes, which will be announced Sunday (1/15), there’s no out-and-out Oscar front runner and not even a two-way race. Oscar voters must have their nominating ballots in by Fri., Jan. 13 so they can’t know by then who the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will honor with Globes.

Nonetheless, the Oscar crowd has been able to follow all the nominations news about the Globes and other key awards races like those held by the Producers Guild of America (PGA), the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA). Those noms — plus this week’s very influential Directors Guild of America (DGA) noms — typically influence Oscar nominations because they establish a field of pictures that Academy members feel they must see and consider since they’re resonating well with other awards givers and making headlines.

At this point, it’s interesting to look at the Golden Globe nominees and see how they’ve done with the Hollywood guilds. From this, we can assess their strengths as well as the challenges each of them faces on the Oscar front.

Here’s a quick snapshot of who’s in the Globes race and where they may be going. In most cases, having made it into the Globes means it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re going to make it into the Oscar race, but there frequently are surprises.

Unlike the Academy, which tends to ignore comedies in favor of serious dramas, the HFPA has a separate best picture - comedy or musical category. This year there are five nominees in this race and six nominees in the best picture - drama category.

Usually, it’s the Globes' best picture - drama nominees that have the best shot at Oscar gold, but this year there are a few films in the Globes’ comedy or musical race that actually could resonate with Oscar voters. So rather than go straight to the dramas, let’s start with a look at the films the HFPA is voting on for best picture - comedy or musical:

1. Woody Allen’s critically acclaimed “Midnight in Paris,” starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, has grossed $56.4 million domestically via Sony Pictures Classics, making it Woody’s biggest boxoffice hit ever. It’s nominated in four prime Globes races — best picture - comedy or musical, best director (Allen), best actor - comedy or musical (Wilson) and best screenplay (Allen).

In addition to its Globes noms, “Paris” is also a SAG best ensemble cast nominee, which is SAG’s equivalent of a best picture nom, a PGA best picture nomine and a WGA nominee for best original screenplay.

Clearly, this is a film that’s resonating all over the place and has an excellent shot at a best picture Oscar nomination. Its storyline in which Wilson time travels back to 1920s Paris and runs into legendary characters of that era like Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) is great escapist entertainment.

It’s the kind of film that’s well suited to today’s troubled times. This could be a year that Academy members steer clear of the serious dramas they’ve favored lately — like “Crash” (2005), “The Departed” (2006), “No Country For Old Men” (2007), “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), “The Hurt Locker” (2009) and “The King’s Speech” (2010). If they do, “Paris” is there waiting to be celebrated.

For any film, a SAG ensemble cast nomination is particularly valuable because actors make up the Academy’s largest voting branch. With a SAG nom in hand, it increases the chance that Oscar’s acting branch will also be supportive.

As for the film’s challenges if it’s Oscar nominated, Woody doesn’t campaign for Oscars and, typically, filmmakers who campaign best are the ones who win. Of course, Woody’s well known for not having campaigned for so many years that Academy members might not even care that he’s not out there doing endless q&a sessions and hosting post-screenings buffet dinners for them. In the past, Woody’s won three Oscars — in 1978 for directing and co-writing “Annie Hall” and in 1987 for writing “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

Another possible challenge is that although “Paris” is a movie by a high profile American filmmaker, it’s another of Woody’s European-filmed movies. “Paris” was shot in France. “Match Point,” “Scoop” and “Cassandra’s Dream” were filmed in England. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was shot mostly in Spain. Woody’s next film, “Nero Fiddled,” was filmed in Italy. Oscar voters tend to work in the U.S. On the other hand, “Paris” looks fabulous and it’s a safe bet that the City of Light is one of the places Academy members know well and love.

2. The Weinstein Company’s “The Artist,” directed by Michel Hazanavicius and starring Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, is a comedy drama that’s in the Globes’ comedy or musical category, but is still likely to get serious consideration from Academy voters. It’s resonated with critics groups and is also a best picture nominee in key races like SAG and PGA.

Earlier this year, it was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival where it won best actor (Dujardin). It’s also a Globes nominee for best actor - comedy or musical (Dujardin), director (Hazanavicius), screenplay (Hazanavicius), supporting actress (Bejo) and original score Ludovic Bource).

The silent, black & white French production is not eligible in the WGA race, which was the case last year with “The King’s Speech,” but that didn’t keep it from winning the best original screenplay Oscar (David Seidler).

In seven weeks in limited release “The Artist” has grossed over $7 million, an encouraging number considering that it’s not playing wide. Its expansion and boxoffice performance will be driven by how well it does at the Globes and in the Oscar nominations.

“The Artist” is likely to connect with Academy members given its story set in 1927 Hollywood as sound comes in and silent movie star careers start fading. It’s material that’s likely to play well to the Academy’s membership, which is mostly older males who have been in the movie business for decades.

One of the challenges “The Artist” will face is that it’s essentially a foreign film with a French director and French stars who aren’t well known names in Hollywood. On the other hand, “The Artist” was shot in Los Angeles so the jobs involved in making it were in Academy voters’ backyards. It’s a French film made in the U.S. — the exact opposite of “Midnight in Paris,” which is an American film made in France.

Also, with TWC and its co-chairman Harvey Weinstein distributing it in the U.S., “The Artist” couldn’t be in better hands to compete aggressively for Oscar consideration.

3. Universal’s comedy “Bridesmaids,” directed by Paul Feig and starring Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, was one of last summer’s surprise boxoffice blockbusters. The R rated romantic comedy about girls behaving very, very badly grossed $169.1 million domestically.

Another big surprise was that it did really well with the critics. That led to “Bridesmaids” generating an awards buzz that, at first, just didn’t seem possible for a raunchy girls comedy. At this point, it’s not only a Globes nominee, but it’s also got a best picture nom in the PGA and SAG races and is a best original screenplay WGA nominee.

The HFPA also nominated Wiig for best actress - comedy or musical, but “Bridesmaids” didn’t get into other key races like directing or writing that are generally dominated by dramas.

“Bridesmaids” is clearly a comedy that Oscar voters should take seriously. But the challenge, of course, is that Oscar never treats comedy with respect and changing that tradition is certainly not going to be easy.

4. The Weinstein Company’s biographical drama “My Week With Marilyn” is a Globes nominee, but didn’t get into the PGA or SAG races. It wasn’t eligible for a WGA nomination. Directed by Simon Curtis, it stars Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier. Williams is also a Globes nominee for best actress - comedy or musical and Branagh is a best supporting actor nominee.

As for challenges, not resonating with the guilds isn’t good news for “Marilyn.” Neither is its boxoffice cume of about $10.5 million after seven weeks in limited release.

On the other hand, Oscar voters might embrace it because of the movie’s storyline about the legendary actress. Many Academy members are old enough to remember the real Monroe and some may have worked with her. And, of course, it won’t hurt that Harvey Weinstein is also distributing and campaigning for “Marilyn.”

5. Summit Entertainment’s R rated comedy “50/50,” directed by Jonathan Levine and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick, is a Globes nominee that’s not on the PGA or SAG radar screens. Its story about a young guy battling cancer did, however, bring it a WGA nom for best original screenplay. Gordon-Levitt is also a Globes nominee for best actor - comedy or musical.

While the picture did well with critics, it wasn’t a big hit with audiences, grossing about $35 million domestically.

Its biggest challenge is how to overcome competition from other higher profile nominees with broader support from the guilds.

Meanwhile, there are a half-dozen other nominees to consider in the Globes’ best picture - drama category. Here’s a quick look at how they shape up:

1. Fox Searchlight’s “The Descendants,” directed by Alexander Payne and starring George Clooney and Shailene Woodley, is a strong contender in the Globes competition and seems a safe bet to land a best picture Oscar nomination.

Payne is a Globe nominee for directing and co-writing while Clooney is nominated for best actor - drama and Woodley is a supporting actress nominee.

In 2005 Payne won the Oscar for co-writing the adapted screenplay for “Sideways.” The HFPA has applauded him over the years, giving him a Globe for co-writing “Sideways” and then “About Schmidt” in 2003. He’s also been a Globe nominee for directing “About Schmidt” and “Sideways.” Clearly, both the Academy and the HFPA like Payne a lot and that’s a big advantage.

It also helps that “The Descendants” has done well with the critics and with audiences. It’s grossed nearly $44 million in limited release during its first eight weeks in domestic theatres.

As for challenges, with any filmmaker who’s had lots of noms and wins over the years, the question always is how does his current picture compare to the ones that have already been honored. Whether “The Descendants” will be seen as equal to or better than “Sideways” is a question without an answer at this point.

2. DreamWorks, Participant Media and Touchstone Pictures’ drama “The Help,” directed by Tate Taylor and starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, sparked an Oscar buzz as soon as it hit theatres early last August.

Between its critical acclaim and its boxoffice success — grossing $169.5 million domestically — it was immediately seen as a big awards contender. Its serious storyline about an African-American housemaid working for a white family in the South in the 1960s is the type of dramatic material that has resonated with Academy members over the years.

“The Help’s” also a best picture nominee in the PGA and SAG races and a WGA adapted screenplay nominee. In the Globes, it’s also nominated for best actress - drama (Davis), best supporting actress (Jessica Chastain and Spencer) and original song (“The Living Proof’).

Taylor didn’t get a directing nod from the HFPA and the challenge “The Help” faces in the Oscars is that if the same thing happens it would make it tougher for the film to win best picture. Typically, best pictures and best directors go hand in hand with Academy voters, but not always.

3. Paramount and GK Films’ adventure drama “Hugo,” directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz, did well with moviegoers and critics when it opened just before Thanksgiving. It’s grossed nearly $53 million domestically at this point. “Hugo” would benefit big time if it wins the best picture - drama Globe and gets a best picture Oscar nod.

“Hugo’s” in the PGA’s best picture race, but didn’t get a SAG ensemble cast nod. It’s also a WGA best adapted screenplay nominee. On the Globes front, it’s also nominated for best director (Scorsese) and best original score (Howard Shore).

Scorsese won the best directing Oscar and Globe in 2007 for “The Departed” and has been nominated numerous times over several decades by both groups. The HFPA also voted him best director in 2003 for “Gangs of New York.”

It definitely helps for a filmmaker to have Scorsese’s awards pedigree, but it also poses challenges as to whether a current film is up to what’s been celebrated in the past. A Globes win could help answer that question with a “yes” for Oscar voters.

4. Columbia Pictures’ political drama “The Ides of March,” directed by George Clooney and starring Ryan Gosling and Clooney, was one of the first films to arrive last fall and generate a serious awards buzz. Its storyline about dirty politics in a presidential race is, of course, especially timely in a presidential election year. It’s grossed about $41 million domestically, which is okay for a film that reportedly only cost $12.5 million to make.

“Ides” didn’t resonate with critics groups and was starting to fade as a likely Oscar contender when it snapped back to life with Globe noms for best picture - drama, best director (Clooney), best actor (Gosling) and best screenplay (Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon). It’s also a best picture nominee in the PGA race, but didn’t get a SAG best ensemble cast nod or a WGA nod.

The challenge for “Ides” is rekindling its original Oscar heat now that it’s started resonating well with some prime awards givers. Another challenge is that Clooney is also a contender for his lead performance in “The Descendants,” a situation that typically results for an actor in votes split between two movies.

5. Columbia Pictures’ baseball drama “Moneyball,” directed by Bennett Miller and starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, is another fall release that came into the marketplace with a major Oscar buzz. Miller is a well regarded director for his drama “Capote,” for which he was Oscar nominated in 2006. Pitt, needless to say, is Hollywood royalty and a likely contender for just about any film he stars in.

Besides its Globes best picture - drama nom, “Moneyball” is also a PGA nominee and has an adapted screenplay nod from the WGA. It didn’t get a SAG best ensemble cast nom.

On the Globes front, “Moneyball” also is nominated for best actor - drama (Pitt), best supporting actor (Hill) and best screenplay (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin).

“Moneyball’s” $75 million domestic theatrical gross is the kind of boxoffice success that Oscar voters respect — not so huge that it’s enviable and considered enough of a reward for the film, but large enough to show that it worked with audiences.

The challenge for “Moneyball” is to keep it in Academy members’ thoughts despite the fact that it’s the late-in-the-year releases that they tend to be thinking about now. Nonetheless, “Moneyball” is looking like a film with a good shot at getting on base with a best picture Oscar nomination.

6. DreamWorks and Touchstone Pictures’ “War Horse,” directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Jeremy Irvine and Joey his horse, is a World War I set drama about a boy who enlists in the army in order to join his beloved horse in the cavalry in the battlefields of France.

Any Spielberg film is typically catapulted into awards consideration. “War Horse” is also a PGA best picture nominee, but it’s not in the SAG or WGA races. Its only other Globes nom is for best original score (John Williams).

While it hasn’t been a big favorite with critics groups, “War Horse” has done well with moviegoers. Its cume after three weeks in domestic theatres is nearly $57 million.

The challenge for “War Horse” is that Spielberg is not only competing with the other nominees, but also with his past self, having won Oscars in 1994 for directing and producing “Schindler’s List” and in 1999 for directing “Saving Private Ryan.” He also won the Globe for directing “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Just as with other filmmakers who’ve had with numerous nominations and wins over the years, Spielberg’s latest film will be judged against his past work, as well as against the other nominees.

Update: The Directors Guild of America (DGA) nominations were announced after this week’s column was written.

Four of this year’s five DGA noms reflect the Globes choices for best director — Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”), Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”), Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”) and Martin Scorsese (“Hugo”). The DGA’s endorsement gives these films a great shot in the arm as the Oscar race moves forward.

The DGA’s fifth nominee is David Fincher for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” which gives the Columbia Pictures, MGM and Scott Rudin Productions thriller new hope after having not received Globes noms for best picture - drama or best director or a SAG best ensemble cast nod.

“Tattoo,” which stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, previously received a best picture nomination from the PGA. Now with its DGA nomination added to that PGA nod, “Tattoo’s” Oscar prospects are clearly on the rise.

The DGA noms are critically important in handicapping the Oscar race since directors who get DGA nods typically get nominated by the Academy’s directing branch.

While the tendency is for best picture and directing Oscars to go together, that’s not always the case. It happened last year when “The King’s Speech” won best picture and Tom Hooper, its director, took home the best directing Oscar. It also happened in the Globes best picture - drama and best director races.

It was the same story the previous year when “The Hurt Locker” won the best picture Oscar and Kathryn Bigelow, its director, won for directing. Although the HFPA gave best picture - drama and best director nods to “Locker” and to Bigelow, neither won.

There have been times, however, when films have won best picture without any recognition for their directors. For instance, in 1990 when “Driving Miss Daisy” won best picture, Bruce Beresford, who directed the movie, wasn’t even nominated. Insiders joked at the time that “Daisy” was the movie that directed itself!