Thursday, May 31, 2012

Awards Season: Will "traditional studio fare" trump more artistically ambitious films again this year?

2011 showed a lot of things to me, in the film world. Let me start by re-hashing into my top 20 of 2011:

1. The Tree of Life
2. The Skin I Live In
3. Drive
4. The Adventures of Tintin
5. Moneyball
6. Hugo

7. Shame
8. Bridesmaids
9. Beginners
10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

11. The Descendants
12. Contagion
13. X-Men: First Class
14. Margin Call
15. The Muppets
16. The Artist
17. The Ides of March
18. Source Code
19. 50/50
20. Win Win

Now what do you see in the top 10? Tree of Life, Skin I Live In, Drive... they were each either artistically ambitious or featured a strong singular vision from its director. Go further down to Hugo, Shame, and Beginners... more personal and ambitious films from their filmmakers. Hugo was personal and yet intended to be a family 3D adventure type film. Needless to say, it kinda went limp with audiences. In fact, none of the films in my top 10 did particularly well with audiences, as a whole. Moneyball is probably an exception. Moneyball and Bridesmaids were successful studio films with the right combination of writers, directors, and performers. But the majority of the films on my top 10 are the works of visionaries who had a vision and stuck with it. 

What happened during awards season? Well, as they were divisive with audiences, the Academy were cool on them as well and they gave the big awards to my 16th favorite film of 2011, The Artist. You can say The Artist was ambitious in its approach, but aside from it being silent, it wasn't challenging. It only challenged the audience to watch people not talk for 100 minutes. It's a funny film, an engaging film, but it's not hard to see why Oscar voters ate it up. 

Moneyball and The Descendants just didn't have the box office push that could've taken the spotlight from The Artist which made The Artist such an easy victory for the Oscars. This was different from 2010 when The King's Speech won despite very strong critical backing and impressive box office numbers from The Social Network. And The Social Network is as "studio movie" as it gets, it just happened to be superb as well because David Fincher is the master at making great studio films.

So what of 2012? Will there be another disconnect between what audiences like and what the Oscars like? Will audiences see challenging films from Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), or Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) or will they see more typical Oscar-y fare like Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, Hyde Park on Hudson or The Great Gatsby? I'm not trying to pigeonhole any of those films quite yet, but there definitely seems as if there's going to be a split like that in the months to come.

I see the ambitious films sitting well with critics, the costume dramas/musicals sitting well with the Oscars... what will audiences do? 

I mean, in December, the only big blockbuster film is The Hobbit. Will it dominate December and everything in its path? Or can Quentin Tarantino strike gold again with another big success like he had with Inglourious Basterds?

There are a lot of interesting films coming out in September-December, and the release schedule isn't 100% yet. We could still have a game-changer get strong buzz from Venice, Toronto, or Telluride Film Festivals and then run away with the whole thing. Can a big budget film like The Dark Knight Rises or The Hobbit gain serious traction with the Academy? And shit, we can't forget about Steven Speilberg's "Lincoln" which, judging by on-set pics, will feature another masterful performance from Daniel Day-Lewis.

This year, we're gonna have a little bit of everything as we wind down through the year. The serious Oscar baity dramas, the ambitious director-driven films, and the epic blockbuster films... it will be interesting to see what type of films the critics ultimately embrace, along with the audience, and with the Oscars.

It's not that it's frustrating to watch the Oscars because there feels like a disconnect between them and audiences, I don't give a shit about that. It just feels like the Oscars are going back to preferring such a specific type of film that it deserves its own genre. They want a film set in the past, a costume drama, not too light and not too heavy, with some strong performances (preferably by its lead male), and with direction that isn't too flashy. That's not even to call films like The King's Speech or The Artist bad... it's just, it wasn't hard in retrospect to see why the Oscars picked those films. I just wonder if that's a road they'll keep going down, or will more ambitious, thought-provoking films get a chance this year too?

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