Oscar Watch: Ammonite

When Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan are romancing one another in a 19th century set costume drama, you better believe there’s going to be Oscar speculation. This is for good reason. Between the two performers, they’ve collected a staggering 11 Academy nods. There’s just one victory among them.

Francis Lee’s Ammonite has premiered this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival. As mentioned, it casts Winslet as a paleontologist who strikes the fancy of Ronan’s wealthy wife. It is Lee’s follow-up to his hailed 2017 pic God’s Own Country.

Critical reception from up north does include some rave reviews. There are others that are decidedly more mixed and even negative. The Rotten Tomatoes score of 64% puts a Best Picture and Directing and Original Screenplay nomination into serious question. Right now, I would say it’s certainly iffy.

Tech nods like Costume Design, Score, and Production Design are feasible. Yet the main chatter centers on the leads. The likelihood is that Winslet will contend in lead Actress with Ronan in supporting. Winslet would be scoring her eighth nomination in 25 years. Her lone win was for 2008’s The Reader. Based on buzz, she appears poised to grab it. That said, let’s keep an eye on how competition plays out in the coming weeks. Frances McDormand (Nomadland) seems like a shoo-in for inclusion. There’s other potential heavy hitters in the wings, including Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Michele Pfeiffer (French Exit), and Jennifer Hudson (Respect) to name just three.

Ronan has achieved 4 nominations since 2007 for Atonement, Brooklyn, Lady Bird, and Little Women. She’s yet to walk to the podium. There’s a general feeling that her time is coming and I have had her ranked #1 in Supporting Actress since I began my weekly prediction posts last month. Now I’m wondering whether she even makes the final five. It is still a strong possibility, but I highly doubt you’ll see her atop the estimates this coming Thursday. I would say right now that 2020’s Supporting Actress winner probably hasn’t her movie screened yet.

Bottom line: the reception for Ammonite in Toronto raises more questions than it answers about its chances. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

For over two decades, Charlie Kaufman has been one of the most celebrated screenwriters in the business. His original written works have resulted in a nomination for 1999’s Being John Malkovich and a win for 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Kaufman picked up an Adapted Screenplay nod for 2002’s Adaptation. Additionally, his direction of the stop-motion tale Anomalisa in 2015 brought in a Best Animated Feature nomination.

Kaufman’s name on a project immediately brings awards buzz and his latest effort is I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which debuts on Netflix September 4th. Described as anti-romance and a horror flick, it marks the auteur’s third film behind the camera. Based on the 2016 novel by Iain Reid, Things stars Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis.

The review embargo lapsed today and it currently stands at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s a fine number, but some of the critical reaction mirrors 2008’s Synedoche, New York (Kaufman’s directorial debut). Hailed as a masterpiece by some with others calling it a bleak misfire, Things appears headed for a polarized mix and that will likely translate to Oscar voters.

As for the performers, it does appear Plemons would contend in lead actor (this was more uncertain previously). Several critics have compared his performance to that of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s in Synedoche. I have trouble envisioning him being a major contender here (though his supporting work in the upcoming Judas and the Black Messiah gives him another potential shot at a first time nod). Buckley got some chatter for her breakout role in last year’s Wild Rose. I feel her chances are a bit stronger than her costar, but the Best Actress race looks like it could be crowded in 2020. Despite many heralded performances, Collette has only received one Oscar nomination and it was over 20 years ago with The Sixth Sense. There could be a groundswell of support for her to be recognized, especially after many felt she were snubbed for 2018’s Hereditary. She may have the best chance for inclusion, but it too feels like a reach at the moment.

I’m thinking that Ending Things will contend in Adapted Screenplay and it certainly could be recognized there. We will have to see how this fall’s other heavy hitters land to see how full that race is. Even with some negative reaction, voters have shown their appreciation for Kaufman before and they may again. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar History: 2004

In 1976, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver was seen as a strong possibility to win Best Picture at the Oscars until a boxing movie unexpectedly captured audiences attention and took the prize. That would, of course, be Rocky. Fast forward to 2004 where Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator seemed to be the odds-on favorite for Best Pic until, yet again, a pugilistic tale surprised moviegoers late in the awards season.

Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby wasn’t even talked about much as an awards contender during 2004’s calendar year. It was released very late in the year, but it turned out to be great timing. 

Baby would win the top award over The Aviator, as well as Marc Forster’s Finding Neverland, Taylor Hackford’s Ray, and Alexander Payne’s Sideways.

As for other contenders not recognized, the Academy would ignore Quentin Tarantino’s fantastic Kill Bill and its Volume II after snubbing the first installment the year prior. It’s also worth noting that the greatest Harry Potter flick in the franchise (in my view) Prisoner of Azkaban could have been honored too. And there’s Michel Gondry’s highly original critical favorite Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And a favorite of audiences – Mel Gibson’s mega-blockbuster Passion of the Christ. Any of one of these pics should have at least replaced Finding Neverland, which was decent but doesn’t belong in the category.

The Baby boom would extend to Eastwood, who won Best Director exactly a dozen years after winning the same award for Unforgiven. This prevented Scorsese from winning his first Oscar. Other nominees included Hackford, Payne, and Mike Leigh for Vera Drake. 

Once again – Gondry, Tarantino, and Gibson are names worth mentioning that didn’t get in the mix.

Jamie Foxx would take Best Actor for his dead-on portrayal of the legendary singer Ray Charles in Ray, winning out over Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator, Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda, Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby, and Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland.

One major snub was Paul Giamatti for his fine work in Sideways. The Academy yet again snubbed Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine.

Hilary Swank won her second Best Actress award in five years for Baby (in 1999, she was victorious in Boys Don’t Cry). Other nominees: Annette Bening in Being Julia, Catalina Sandino Moreno in Maria Full of Grace, Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake, and Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine.

Once again, it was Uma Thurman left out for her work in the Kill Bill franchise.

Morgan Freeman would win his first Oscar in the Supporting Actor race for Million Dollar Baby over Alan Alda in The Aviator, Thomas Haden Church for Sideways, Jamie Foxx in Collateral, and Clive Owen in Closer. 

Not to keep bringing up Kill Bill, but the late David Carradine should have been nominated.

The Aviator would finally receive some Academy recognition with Cate Blanchett winning Supporting Actress with her portrayal as Katherine Hepburn. Other nominees: Laura Linney in Kinsey, Virginia Madsen for Sideways, Sophie Okonedo in Hotel Rwanda, and Natalie Portman for Closer. 

After all my mentions for Kill Bill and Eternal Sunshine receiving snubs, there’s one other 2004 pic that demonstrates the Academy’s constant ability to ignore comedies. So I give you the following snubs –

Best Actor – Will Ferrell, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Best Supporting Actor – Steve Carell, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Best Supporting Actor – Paul Rudd, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Best Supporting Actor – David Koechner, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Best Scene Involving a Cannonball – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Best Scene With a Dog Being Punted – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Best Rendition of “Afternoon Delight” In a Movie: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

I’ll be back with Oscar History: 2005 soon, my friends!