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Oscar Watching: Kicking into High Gear

We might as well talk about some actual awards. The New York Film Critics Circle and National Board of Review both announce their picks next week, but the indie circuit brought the major awards updates of the week.

The Gotham Independent Film Awards took place on Monday night and offered two major surprises. First, Emayatzy Corinealdi’s performance in Middle of Nowhere triumphed in the breakthrough actor race over presumed front-runner, Beasts of the Southern Wild star – and still likely Oscar nominee – Quvenzhané Wallis. (Its director Benh Zeitlin did win breakthrough director and the Bingham Ray Award, though.) Also, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom won the best feature prize in an upset over a film from another Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Additionally, Your Sister’s Sister prevailed in the best ensemble category over notable contenders like the aforementioned Moonrise Kingdom, Bernie, and David O. Russell’s star-studded Silver Linings Playbook (reviewed). Check out all the winners over at In Contention.

Moonrise Kingdom gained even more indie accolades yesterday as it leads Film Independent’s Independent Spirit Awards nominations alongside Silver Linings Playbook. But does the latter film’s budget not exceed $20 million? Well, Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter clears up the apparent misunderstanding, gathering from Josh Wells, a co-president at Film Independent, that the budget rule is more of “a guideline” than anything else. After all, the rules state that “any variations [of this rule] are at the sole discretion of the nominating committees and Film Independent.” Oh. Also, aforementioned indies Beasts of the Southern Wild and Middle of Nowhere snagged four nods each. Check out this year’s Indie Spirit nominees over on my blog.

Emayatzy Corinealdi in Ava DuVernay's Middle of Nowhere

But what do the Gotham wins and Indie Spirit nominations indicate at this point? The Gotham Awards’ correlation with the Oscar season is iffy at best, often acting as the piece that just doesn’t fit into the puzzle, so last night’s upsets hardly turned the tides of the race. (However, I do think we should consider Your Sister’s Sister as a legitimate threat for best original screenplay now.) The Indie Spirit nods, on the other hand, carry more weight in the Oscar season.

I would advise playing it safe and waiting to see how the critics groups vote before factoring either the Gotham wins or the Indie Spirit nods into the equation. As I mentioned earlier, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Middle of Nowhere reaped four bids apiece at the Indie Spirits, but is the latter film really in the same position as the former at this point?

Suraj Sharma in Ang Lee's Life of Pi

Now let’s switch from the independent side of the season and talk about the box office. Audiences embraced Ang Lee’s Life of Pi to the tune of $30.6 million over the Thanksgiving holiday. Expect it to snag myriad crafts nominations – and win best visual effects unless The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has something to say about it. The film also looks to contend for best picture and adapted screenplay, and while Lee’s stance in best director is less certain, the Motion Picture Sound Editors will give him the 2013 Filmmaker Award, which certainly can’t hurt. I’d love to think that Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan have shots in best actor and best supporting actor, respectively, but there’s no time for wishful thinking anymore.

Meanwhile, Peter Ramsey’s animated Rise of the Guardians scrounged $32.4 million over the five-day weekend. That’s a little bit more than Life of Pi, but a film from Dreamworks Animation should have cracked at least $40 million over the five days since most of its output rakes in that much business on the typical three-day opening weekend. It might impress over the holiday season, but don’t bet on this one getting too far with Oscar’s animated feature film race.  I go into more detail about it here, but in short, I’d say this one officially leaves the fray thanks to mostly apathetic critical reaction, tepid audience outcome, and – the real nail in its coffin, I think – no holiday-themed film has ever scored a nomination for best animated feature film.

Sir Anthony Hopkins in a poster for Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock

Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock (reviewed) debuted in select locations on Friday, reaping $288,000 from 17 locations and a per-theater average of $16,924. Sir Anthony Hopkins and, more likely, Dame Helen Mirren could score best actor and best actress nominations for their portrayals of Sir Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville, respectively, but blasé reception from the critics hurts their chances.

Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone snagged $27,154 for an average of $13,577. In contrast, 2007’s La Vie en Rose, for which Rust and Bone lead Marion Cotillard won the best actress prize, reaped an average of $22,481 from eight theaters upon its $179,848 debut. For another comparison, Peter Knegt of indieWIRE notes that Audiard’s star-lacking A Prophet managed an $18,197 average with nine theaters in its three-day weekend debut on Feb. 10, 2010 debut. Cotillard needs a significant push from the critics groups to remain a major factor this season.

Legendary documentarian Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah BurnsThe Central Park Five made $30,570 from three screens, a rather strong number considering that it’s a documentary. Plus it made the cut with the Indie Spirits’ doc race. Ken Burns still doesn’t have an Oscar to his name despite his status, but he’s been nominated twice before. Expect The Central Park Five to make its way into the documentary feature race and possibly win.

Keira Knightley in Joe Wright's Anna Karenina

Playing less impressively are the aforementioned Silver Linings Playbook and Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina. The former’s surge with the Indie Spirits nods helps, but I wouldn’t bet on it winning any Oscars if audiences continue to ignore it. Meanwhile, the latter (reviewed) snags $1.4 million from 66 theaters for an average of $17,341. That’s not bad, but it probably won’t score beyond the crafts races.

How about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (reviewed) hitting $60 million in less than three weeks? I’ve been down on the film for quite some time – I doubted that it might anything even after its astounding, unofficial bow at the New York Film Festival – but it easily sits in Oscar’s top five at the moment. But can it win anything?

Hugh Jackman in Tom Hooper's Les Misérables

Well, of course it can, but will it? Word on Les Misérables, which began screening over the weekend, paints it as one to beat. The film looks like a slam dunk for at least a best picture nod, and while Tom Hooper probably won’t win best director once again, he’ll probably join the race. Anne Hathaway leads the best supporting actress race, but she might face competition from co-stars Samantha Barks and even Helena Bonham Carter. (Also, critics groups might throw support behind someone else.) While Hugh Jackman’s turn as Jean Valjean feels like a safe bet for a best actor nod, many point out how Oscar voters snubbed Richard Gere for 2002’s eventual best picture winner Chicago. However, the actual lead performance in Rob Marshall’s musical came from Renée Zellweger. Gere just happened to play the most prominent male character. On the other hand, Valjean is the heart and soul of Les Misérables. Plus the Museum of the Moving Image will give Jackman its Salute on Dec. 11.

Jessica Chastain in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty

Lastly, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty screened over the weekend. Her take on the hunting down and eventual killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden apparently approaches its subject matter in an emotionally uninvolving way. (The vibe I’m getting is that it’s a documentary acted out by movie stars.) Not sure where that lands it in the season, but Jessica Chastain looks to score in the best actress race, though I can’t imagine her winning if there really is so little in the way of emotion as I’ve read (unless the film itself becomes a/the Picture front-runner), and Mark Boal probably lands another nomination in best original screenplay. Beyond those and some crafts races, I can’t say how it’ll fit into the season.

And so it begins…

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Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren loves the wonderful world of film and all that comes with it. He specifically loves long takes, fabulous actresses, and keeping up with the Oscar season - even when it's far too early to make sense of anything.