Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 01-18-11

Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”

Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”

Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”

Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”

Golden Globe winner Christian Bale (left) and Mark Wahlberg in “The Fighter”

Golden Globe winner Christian Bale (left) and Mark Wahlberg in “The Fighter”

“The King’s Speech” Geoffrey Rush (left) and Golden Globe winner Colin Firth (right).

“The King’s Speech” Geoffrey Rush (left) and Golden Globe winner Colin Firth (right).

Golden Globe winner Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”

Golden Globe winner Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”

Golden Globes: I’ve been saying it for the past 20 years and I'm still saying it — the Golden Globes is Hollywood’s best celebration of the year!

This time around was no exception. In fact, this may well have been the best Globes ever. The drinks flowed through the night, everybody looked great and most of the town’s power players were there to mingle within the aisles, restrooms, elevators and parties. Every year more than a few deals get underway thanks to rubbing the right shoulders at the Globes!

This year’s Globes set was an elegant stage for an awards event that unlike the Oscars, which rarely ends on time, finished right on schedule. While Ricky Gervais was unquestionably mean spirited and insulting across the board, he did his job and kept people’s attention both in the room and at home. As a result, the Globes’ ratings were up a bit from last year and that’s what it’s all about. Bruised egos will heal slowly. As for Gervais, he gets the prize for butchering sacred cows.

The real post-Globes question is whether Sony’s “The Social Network” can go the distance now and take home the Best Picture Oscar?

The knee jerk reaction of many Hollywood handicappers has been that it will, having already won so many key contests. But it’s dangerous to assume Oscar voters will be content to echo what other groups have already applauded so generously.

Certainly, “Social” is a movie with a lot going for it, but does that necessarily mean it’s an Oscar shoo-in for Best Picture?

Over the years the Globes have been a great bellwether for Oscar nominations in many categories, including Best Picture. However, now that the Academy has 10 Best Picture nomination slots, it’s a safe bet that any medium-to-high profile contenders for Best Picture will at least make it into the race. In fact, Academy members may be hard pressed to come up with a total of 10 titles that seem deserving of Best Picture nominations.

On the other hand, the Globes really don’t match up all that well with Best Picture Oscar wins. If you look back at the last 10 years there were only four times that Academy members gave Best Picture to the same film Globes voters named Best Picture - Drama. You might as well forget about the Best Picture - Comedy category since the Academy essentially forgets about comedies when it thinks Best Pictures.

Here’s a quick summary of how these top Globes and Oscars have matched up over the decade:

  • In 2001 the Academy’s Best Picture Oscar (for the year 2000) went to “Gladiator,” which also won the Best Picture - Drama Globe.
  • In 2002 the Academy’s Best Picture Oscar (for the year 2001) went to “A Beautiful Mind,” which also won the Best Picture - Drama Globe.
  • In 2004 the Academy’s Best Picture Oscar (for the year 2003) went to “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which also won the Best Picture - Drama Globe.
  • In 2009 the Academy’s Best Picture Oscar (for the year 2008) went to “Slumdog Millionaire,” which also won the Best Picture - Drama Globe.

Only one of those match-ups — “Slumdog Millionaire” — was within the last five years and it can be argued that so much has changed on the awards campaigning front over that period that we should really pay attention only to recent history.

Nonetheless, if we use “Slumdog” as a model it’s arguable that “Social” could prevail at the Oscars the same way “Slumdog” did. Like “Slumdog,” we see that “Social” did very well with critics groups and was named Best Picture by the National Board of Review and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

Moreover, both “Slumdog” and “Social” took home the same four Globes — Best Picture - Drama, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Score.

Another similarity is that both triumphed at the Globes without having had any wins for best actor or actress, a category that often helps propel a film to a best picture victory. Actually, “Social” did manage to land a best actor nomination (for Jesse Eisenberg), but “Slumdog” didn’t have any acting noms.

While this all sounds like a decent case that lightning could strike again on behalf of “Social,” it doesn’t take into account the emotional side of the equation. Oscar voters may have been willing to celebrate “Slumdog” along with lots of other awards givers because “Slumdog” was a tiny film from a specialized distributor (Fox Searchlight) that had everything going against it from the start, but still managed to find its audience. “Slumdog” was really a discovery and, as such, it belonged to everybody — not just to the awards groups that got there first.

“Social,” on the other hand, is a much bigger film from a major studio (Sony) and some very high profile filmmakers, including producer Scott Rudin, director David Fincher and screenwriter/ executive producer Aaron Sorkin. “Social” may be — and I’m happy to say I believe it is — a very good movie, but it’s certainly no discovery at this point.

Academy members may want to exert their own sense of what’s best rather than just rubber stamping what others have been applauding. If that’s the case, they’ll find they have better alternatives than they had in 2009 when they voted the top prize to “Slumdog.”

There were only four other best picture Oscar nominees competing with “Slumdog” and it wasn’t a really strong field. The competition included:

  • “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” which had started out as the frontrunner, but by January was perceived as having lost its lead. “Button” is the film David Fincher directed prior to making “Social.” Fincher was nominated for directing “Button” in both the Globes and Oscars, but lost in both races. Now with “Social” he’s won the Globe and will almost certainly be an Oscar directing nominee. Will history repeat itself with “Social” running out of steam the way “Button” did? Nobody knows, but it’s something to think about.
  • “Frost/Nixon,” which didn’t do well at the boxoffice or with critics and just didn’t resonate as a top awards contender.
  • “Milk,” an indie biographical drama about a murdered gay San Francisco politician, was notable mostly for Sean Penn’s performance as Harvey Milk. Penn won the best actor Oscar, but lost in the Globes’ best actor - drama race to Mickey Rourke for “The Wrestler”
  • “The Reader” an indie drama with a Holocaust storyline that did not resonate as a best picture contender until the Globes gave it a best picture - drama nod.

These days, of course, there are 10 best picture nominees in Oscar’s race so Academy members have many more options. Some of these are strong alternatives they could champion if they want to exert their independence of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and many other awards givers. The Weinstein Company’s British biographical drama “The King’s Speech” is perceived as “Social’s” strongest competition. Most of the awards givers who didn’t gravitate to “Social” celebrated “King’s” instead.

Not surprisingly, “King’s” just received 14 BAFTA nominations, the most of any other film this year. That, of course, hammers home its British Masterpiece Theatre style, which is both good and bad. What’s bad is that most Academy members don’t earn their livings working on such movies. Some of them, therefore, may not feel good about voting for small British films no matter how well made they are.

On the other hand, “King’s” is in the very capable awards generating hands of TWC’s Harvey Weinstein. It’s always dangerous to underestimate what Harvey and His Team can achieve on the awards front. So “King’s” is definitely prime competition for “Social.”

It’s certainly got front-runner status in Oscar’s best actor race after Colin Firth’s Globes win for best actor - drama. But “King’s” isn’t helped by the relatively low profile of its director Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”). It’s always an advantage to have a high profile director who’s well known to Oscar voters and well liked by them.

Academy members could also turn to Relativity Media’s boxing biographical drama “The Fighter,” distributed domestically by Paramount Pictures. “Fighter” is seen by some handicappers as an emerging contender. It has the advantage of being driven by its strong success in the supporting acting categories. The Globes named Christian Bale best supporting actor and Melissa Leo best supporting actress for their performances in “Fighter.”

“Fighter” director David O. Russell (“Three Kings”) is well known, but hasn’t ever been Oscar nominated. What he has been is a rather controversial figure in the past and that’s not good because likability is important to some Academy voters. It doesn’t matter to how many because with 10 Best Picture nominees every single vote is absolutely precious.

By the same token, “Social” director David Fincher also isn’t the most popular guy in Hollywood, so perhaps this will be the year that likability counts for less when the Oscar crowd votes.

Another film that could emerge as an Academy alternative to “Social” is Paramount’s western drama “True Grit.” Despite its high pedigree — written and directed by Oscar winners Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country For Old Men”) and produced by the Coens and Oscar winner Scott Rudin (“No Country For Old Men”) — “Grit” wasn’t even nominated for best picture or best director or anything else by the HFPA.

With Academy members needing to nominate 10 respectable titles for Best Picture, they almost have to nominate “Grit.” Actually, many Oscar voters got their start working on westerns years ago and have an affection for that genre that could make them want to embrace “Grit.” They also have a high regard for the Coens, having given them a total of 10 nominations over the years (including four wins).

It’s a tough race to predict because all the strongest potential Best Picture contenders are very good movies — “Social,” “King's,” “Fighter” and “Grit.” What will tip the scales is likely to be last-ditch marketing in the post-Oscar nominations weeks. And that can always result in surprises.

For instance, Fox Searchlight’s ballerina thriller “Black Swan” could generate late season Best Picture heat thanks to Natalie Portman, who just won the best actress - drama Globe and made a nice acceptance speech. Those Globe on-camera moments are seen by some as being auditions for Oscar night. You may not get to talk to Academy members if you don’t do well facing the Globes’ audience. Meanwhile, Searchlight is the studio that took “Slumdog” all the way to Oscar Gold.

So stay tuned as we follow the twists and turns on the road to the 83rd Academy Awards.