RIP Gil Cates and Added Predictions

When you get right down to it, Gil Cates probably had just as much influence on my development as a film snob as Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Lumet or Orson Welles. Though his career as a director was quietly ordinary (I have never seen any of his films, but I hear that “Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams” is well worth a watch), it was as producer of the Oscar ceremony that Cates made his subtle mark on the industry. Cates produced the show a record 14 times between 1990 and 2008, and made numerous production tweaks that we now consider to be ceremony staples. It was Cates’ decision to have Billy Crystal host, thereby establishing the opening monologue/song-and-dance number that we have come to expect. He also brought in Whoopi Goldberg and Steve Martin, establishing comedians accustomed to large venues as the generally desirable model (though he also had one-off misses with David Letterman and Chris Rock; but neither of those were as disastrous as this past year’s Franco/Hathaway pairing, so we’ll forgive him). His writing team always seemed a little more flexible than in the past couple years, reacting well to quirky in-show moments (i.e. Jack Palance’s push-ups, Danny DeVito’s celery munching).

Anyway, it was Cates’ intuitive sense for a practical and good-humored show that helped attract me to the Oscars in the first place, and through the Oscars eventually to film in general. For those wondering, I count three events that set me on the inevitable path to film snobbery: 1) watching “12 Angry Men” in fifth grade, 2) realizing sophomore year of high school that I could put my own movie choices on our family’s Netflix queue, and 3) “Crash” winning Best Picture at the 2006 Oscars. That last one may confuse my readers a bit, but it’s the first year that I truly had a deep concern for the Oscar winners (I was pulling hard for Clooney’s “Good Night and Good Luck”). When “Crash” triumphed instead, I simply had to watch the movie for myself, to see if it deserved to beat my beloved Murrow biopic. It didn’t. At all. But from then on, I was intensely interested in judging the Academy’s taste for myself, and that meant watching as many of the year’s films as possible.

I digress. The point is, I wouldn’t have even been watching the Oscars at all in 2006 if I hadn’t enjoyed the show. And Gil Cates made sure that I and millions of other viewers did. His ceremonies remain the standard by which all shows in the near future will be judged. RIP, Gil.

In other news, out of pure procrastination I will shortly be updating the Predictions page to now include all categories save the shorts. Fans of art direction and sound mixing rejoice.

Hans Zimmer Doesn’t Like Talking to People

That was the basic gist of Zimmer’s announcement to The Hollywood Reporter yesterday that he will not be submitting any of his work this year for consideration in the Best Original Score category (unlike pretty much every other category, Academy rules dictate that Original Score contenders personally put forward their work for consideration, rather than the studio). While Zimmer’s work for “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Pirates of the Caribbean 4” and “The Dilemma” probably wasn’t going to make much of a dent in the Oscar race anyway, many pundits (myself included) were predicting a nomination for his energetic, genre-referencing score for “Rango.” Considering that Zimmer also scored a nod for “Sherlock Holmes” a couple of years ago, we were keeping an eye on the upcoming sequel as well. Now neither of those films will be eligible come ballot time.

The reason? The campaign stress after consecutive nods for “Sherlock Holmes” and “Inception” seems to have worn the composer out:

As soon as you get nominated, and I don’t care who you are — there are certainly people of better character than me — it all goes crazy… You get the phone call at five o’clock and after that you have to do the interviews and then do the parties and meet all these people and do all these things. It’s disruptive, and I think it would be more interesting to observe it for a year. It does worry me that we have to stay relevant. Times are changing, very rapidly. Usually what I do when things are changing rapidly is stand still and observe.

OK, but the thing is, Hans, a nomination for “Rango” in the Original Score category wouldn’t have been all about you. For an animated film like “Rango” to land a nod in any other category besides Animated Feature is a pretty big coup, especially for a non-Pixar film.  It seems unfortunate to exclude the possibility of this highly entertaining film scoring some recognition beyond the Animated Feature doldrums. After all, couldn’t Zimmer just submit the score but simply refuse to do any campaigning? Zimmer is a big name in the field, after all, and probably could’ve glided through the season on name recognition (plus, you know, the considerable merits of the score) alone. Remember when Mo’Nique won Best Supporting Actress while basically giving no interviews or schmoozing at all? Sometimes the Academy does recognize quality work, regardless of whether you play the game or not.

Anyway, Contenders and Predictions categories have been updated accordingly. Speaking of composers, it was recently announced the Alexandre Desplat will be doing the score for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” NOT previous Stephen Daldry collaborator Nico Muhly as previously assumed. That gives the ultra-prolific Desplat FOUR dogs in the race this year (assuming that “The Tree of Life” doesn’t get disqualified for its use of pre-existing material, which is probably a horrendously dangerous assumption). Looks like he’s setting himself up pretty nicely to get a nomination for the fourth year running (after “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The King’s Speech”). Right now it looks like his best chance is for “The Ides of March,” but we’ll have to see what his work in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” sounds like (and how that film gets received on the whole).

Trailers of the Week: Wrapping Up the Unseen Contenders

Heading into the final months of 2011, there remain only a handful of films that are almost completely unseen; that is, which have not yet been exposed to the insanity of the festival/blogosphere/critical circuit. We’ve managed recently to get trailers for at least some of these films: “War Horse,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “J.Edgar.” Today’s batch should finish off the list, meaning we should now have at least a glimpse at each of the major contenders of the season. Coming up in a moment, trailers for “My Week with Marilyn,” “Shame,” “Albert Nobbs” and “Young Adult.”

But first, some commentary on tweaks the to the Predictions page. For no other reason than 9 seems like a lot of nominees considering the adjusted Best Picture voting system (check out this post over at Awards Daily for an extremely in-depth look at the new numbers game, including a very interesting breakdown of how the last decade could’ve looked if the five-to-ten system had always been in place), I’ve decided to cut “Moneyball” from the list for the moment. It seems to me that one of the perceived contenders from the Oscar pre-season (August to early October, if you will) will end up getting forgotten/bumped out by higher-profile fare come January. Every year we wonder why studios load up in December, and every year we remember the answer when some early-season contender misses the cut. So, between “Moneyball,” “The Ides of March” and “The Help,” I think “Moneyball” has the greatest chance of falling off. Then again, there are some bloggers who think “Moneyball” still has a chance to win the whole thing. And they could very well be right. Just goes to show how wide open the race is this year. We really need some of the precursor awards to start rolling in before we can gauge industry response.

Anyway, rolling with just a complete gut call that “Moneyball” will barely miss the cut, I also think that Brad Pitt is in the weakest position of the Best Actor contenders, and could lose his place to a well-timed campaign behind one of the “fringe” candidates. The fact that Fox Searchlight, the best studio in the biz at blitzing Oscar voters, picked up Steve McQueen’s “Shame” was a huge boon to man-of-the-year Michael Fassbender. They did wonders last year for James Franco and Natalie Portman, scoring two nods and even a win for performances that were not your usual Academy fare. They’ll already be plenty busy with on-the-edge contenders like “Tree of Life,” “Win Win” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (not to mention a ready-made powerhouse in “The Descendants”), so pushing a likely NC-17 art-house darling will certainly keep them busy. But they have a huge advantage in the fact that Michael Fassbender is goddamn everywhere this year. With “A Dangerous Method” fading fast from memory already (maybe it’ll get a boost when it’s released in theaters, but the festival reception was not ideal), “Shame” seems like the performance for Fassfans to latch on to.

Elsewhere, we’ve seen enough of Rooney Mara’s performance in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” now for me to be pretty convinced. The role is just too good for the actors’ branch to pass up (remember, Noomi Rapace probably almost slipped in to the category last year, and she was a foreign actor not named Penelope Cruz), and the Academy loves them an attractive up-and-coming young actress for the red carpet.

And while the trailer for “Young Adult” is keeping me wary regarding Jason Reitman’s latest as an across-the-board contender (more on that in a bit), it’s enough to think that Diablo Cody could very much be in the running again for Original Screenplay, since both of Reitman’s last two films have scored in that category.

Anyway, on to the trailers!

My Week with Marilyn

Strange, how watching someone else trying to be Marilyn Monroe just reminds you how unique Monroe was. Which is not to insult Michelle Williams – she looks fantastic here, and I’m sticking by my early prediction that the Academy will reward her with a second straight nomination. I don’t know that I’m buying the entire Eddie Redmayne-start-struck-young-man side of the story, but Williams and Kenneth Branagh will hopefully be enough.

Shame

Very moody, atmospheric teaser for Steve McQueen’s tale of sex addiction and wrecked relationships. Fassbender does seem like a bit of a no-brainer; the question is, can Fox Searchlight get enough voters to see the film in the first place?

Albert Nobbs

Can we please just do away with voice-over in trailers? It never works. Never.

Like “My Week with Marilyn,” this looks like a fairly bland film overall that could be saved by its performances; in this case, Glenn Close in particular hopefully making a triumphant return to film (she originated the role of Albert Nobbs on stage). That pretty much looks like the only noteworthy element here (except maaaaaybe Brendan Gleeson, but I doubt very much that he can squeeze into the supporting race).

Young Adult

This certainly has that typical Jason Reitman feel to it in that, like with “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” I really have no idea where this movie is going. Props to Reitman for consistently finding truly original stories. And “Young Adult” has me particularly intrigued, since it seems to be digging back into the dark, satirical side of Reitman’s personality that we haven’t really experienced since “Thank for You Smoking” (still his best film, for my money). If that’s true, I’d bet that “Young Adult” will follow in “Smoking’s” path and not be a full Best Picture contender. But Charlize Theron could certainly still be an option in the actress field, depending on how much redemption her character ends up with. I can’t see her grabbing the nomination if she stays as consistently bitchy throughout the movie as what we see here; the Academy just doesn’t cotton to that kind of queasy character in its lead roles (see: Aaron Eckhart in “Thank You for Smoking”).