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The Oscar Eye Visits Criticwatch ‘08
by Erik Childress

“This year’s Oscar race starts with Sleepwalking.” That was the wisdom from Rick Bentley of The Fresno Bee way back in March. Every year someone gets quoted in an ad trying to jumpstart the discussion. Sometimes its meant to remind voters. Sometimes its meant as honored praise. Other times it’s the ramblings of a half-assed prognosticator so sure they’ve made the earliest possible call for a lock that they are guaranteed to get their name in print – only to look like a fool later. It’s nice to be thinking Oscar so early as voters of all groups are prone to forgetfulness and so are studios who tend to keep their campaigns on the year-end releases. Props to Warner Bros. this year though for getting out the Snow Angels screeners so early. Those studio marketers though love it when someone feeds them an Oscar-specific quote, but maybe its time to realize they may be doing their films more harm then good. Luckily for them Criticwatch has been keeping track of such quotes and we’re here to help.

When does the Oscar season officially start? Is it sometimes after Thanksgiving when the National Board of Review kicks things off with their annual “we’ll give you an award if you come to our dinner?” announcement, subsequently followed by the big cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago)? Others get the discussion going sometime after the Toronto film festival when we get our first look at some of the choice fall releases. That’d be a resounding “NO” to both since everyone knows it ain’t Oscar season until the Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers says it is.

“Start the Oscar buzz now! P.S. is Laura Linney's show, and she makes it hilarious and haunting.”

You all remember P.S., don’t you? Directed by Dylan Kidd? His anticipated follow-up to great debut Roger Dodger? Hasn’t been heard from since. No? Well, Oscar didn’t either even if Travers tried to write the pre-script on it. Many of us are so eager to get to that chase for Oscar, even while Hollywood saves most of the cream of their crop from October on so as not to watch it spoil and thrown out for a fresh batch. Sometimes there’s honor in trying to catch the attention of voters like reminding them how great Amy Adams was in Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day back in March. The best critics and/or strict award prognosticators know when to throw out the copyrighted word, while the occasional overreach is resulted from some praise that doesn’t jive with many of their colleagues or proof that their prediction skills make them not an ideal candidate to go to Vegas with. Naturally though, there’s also the imagination-lacked whores who can use the word to find their own fast track to an ad quote.

(2003) Start the Oscar talk now for Bill Murray! (Lost in Translation) – Peter Travers
(2003) The first great film of 2003. I’m glad I’m not an Oscar voter, I don’t know how I could decide between Tim Robbins or Sean Penn for a Best Actor nomination. (Mystic River) – Joel Siegel
(2006) Forest Whitaker gives the first performance of the fall film season worthy of a Best-Actor Oscar nomination. (The Last King of Scotland) – Claudia Puig

Luckily, the late Joel Siegel didn’t have to as Tim Robbins went supporting. But those are examples of Oscar-oriented praise that few would have argued with on site, even when said in September. How did these films end up doing though?

(2003) The Oscar race has begun! (The Magdalene Sisters) - Robyn Carter
(2003) The Oscar buzz has started! (The Human Stain) – David Ansen
(2004) For (Christopher) Walken, the Oscar buzz is already in high gear. (Around the Bend) - Liz Smith
(2007) The first must-see of the Oscar season. (Into the Wild) – Ben Lyons
(2007) The fall's first Oscar worthy film. (Feast of Love) – Paul Fischer
(2003) This film has more heart than any 100 films released this year. Earns its place in film history within the first hour. A masterpiece of nuance filmmaking. The first Oscar contender of the season. (Matchstick Men) – Mike Sargent
(2004) One of the first serious Oscar contenders of the year. (The Village) – Jim O’Brien

Remember the days when The Village was considered an Oscar contender? No? That’s cause it was all in Jim O’Brien’s head. Think he still stands by that comment? That was pretty certain too, using the word “serious” and all. Not even a “should be” or “if there’s any justice.” There’s no fine line between suggestion and certainty. Sometimes a critic just loves a movie so much they feel compelled to mention the “O” word to match the “O” face they gave while watching it. No matter what we think of whore du jour Paul Fischer, he did see Feast of Love was Oscar “worthy”. Feel free to pause for laughter, but even he wasn’t ready to finalize his guesstimates for the big prizes with a film like that. In 2006, my Chicago colleague Bill Zwecker said “The term Oscar-worthy is used so often it frequently loses its impact, but in the case of Whitaker’s Idi Amin, It should be a clarion call to all who have Academy Award ballots crossing their desks this year.” Clearly he must have learned a lesson in 2003 when he said Matchstick Men was “Oscar-worthy all the way!” If only others could have taken a page from Zwecker’s book.

(2007) Julie Christie’s intelligent and nuanced portrayal is Oscar-worthy. (Away From Her) – USA Today
(2007) A best actress Oscar-worthy performance if there ever was one. (A Mighty Heart) – David Sheehan
(2003) Angelina Jolie is brilliant. She gives another Oscar-worthy performance. (Beyond Borders) - Paul Clinton
(2006) …Annette Bening is Oscar-worthy. (Running with Scissors) - Matt Sullivan, In Touch Magazine
(2005) Damian Lewis gives an Oscar-worthy performance. (Keane) – Karen Durbin
(2007) Steve Carell gives an Oscar-worthy performance. (Dan In Real Life) – Jim O’Brien
(2006) Derek Luke gives an Oscar-worthy performance. (Catch a Fire) – Pete Hammond
(2007) Another Oscar worthy performance from Ryan Gosling. (Lars and the Real Girl) – Jeanne Wolf
(2006) Another powerful Penn performance…Oscar-worthy in every way. (All the King's Men) – Clay Smith
(2005) North Country is an Oscar contender in every way. (North Country) – Clay Smith
(2006) Kevin Kline is hilarious, with a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. (A Prairie Home Companion) – Ben Lyons
(2007) Don Cheadle’s brilliant performance is Oscar-worthy. (Talk to Me) – Pat Collins
(2006) Ed Harris plays the tortured artist with emotional range and even sly humor, and his performance is Oscar worthy. (Copying Beethoven) – Paul Fischer
(2004) Robert Redford gives perhaps his deepest and most unguarded Oscar-worthy performance... (The Clearing) – Lou Lumenick
(2007) Ashley Judd gives a raw, shattering Oscar-worthy performance! (Bug) – Dennis Dermody
(2006) Mos Def gives a performance that’s truly Oscar-worthy. (16 Blocks) – Chris Kaltenbach, The Baltimore Sun

(2003) Worthy of several Oscars. (Mystic River) - Pat Collins
(2007) Christian Bale and Russell Crowe deliver Oscar-worthy performances. (3:10 To Yuma) – Connie Ogle, Miami Herald
(2004) James Garner and Gena Rowlands are magnificent, delivering performances worthy of Oscar consideration. (The Notebook) – Clay Smith
(2003) A trio of Oscar-worthy performances! (The Cooler) - Neil Rosen
(2006) Performances by Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck are all Oscar worthy. (Hollywoodland) – Larry King
(2003) Screenwriter Nicholas Meyer’s Oscar-worthy adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel is flat-out great storytelling. (The Human Stain) – Thelma Adams
(2004) Oscar-worthy! (Enduring Love) - John Black
(2004) This is The Alamo to remember! Oscar-worthy! (The Alamo) – Mark S. Allen

If you were keeping count, only two of three films or performances went on to match their worthiness. Perhaps “worthy” is not as much of a grabber. Would Mos Def be a big winner today if someone had said he was Oscar “caliber?”

(2007) An oscar-caliber performance by Julie Christie. (Away from Her) – Ruthe Stein
(2003) Oscar-caliber work that combines to make your heart race (Seabiscuit) – Joel Siegel
(2004) Natalie Portman gives an Oscar-caliber performance in one of the best films of the year. (Garden State) – Paul Fischer
(2006) Oscar caliber! (The Illusionist) – Jeffrey Lyons
(2005) An Oscar-calibrated film. (Paper Clips) – Joel Siegel
(2004) Colin Farrell is majestic. An Oscar-caliber performance. (Alexander) – Paul Fischer
(2007) Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo give Oscar-caliber performances. (Reservation Road) – Steve Oldfield
(2003) Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen give Oscar-caliber performances (Beyond Borders) – Steve Oldfield
(2003) Cate Blanchett is brilliant. An Oscar-caliber performance! (Veronica Guerin) – Steve Oldfield
(2007) Masterfully directed, from the stunning cinematography to the hypnotic Oscar-caliber score! (Evening) – Steve Oldfield

***********************STEVE OLDFIELD'S OSCAR LIST***********************

OK, maybe not. Can we blame Fischer for Natalie Portman not getting nominated for Garden State? Sure, what the hell. Again though, really one of the few mentioned above that was worthy of any calibration or whatever the hell was said about Paper Clips and outside of Julie Christie, Seabiscuit and a Cinematography nod for The Illusionist, one of many ignored completely by the Academy. And justifiably so. That’s why we need stronger words. Tougher words. Words that will guilt voters into thinking this is their last chance to honor them. These films, these actors aren’t just caliber-worthy, they DESERVE it.

(2007) Steve Carell deserves consideration at Oscar time. (Dan In Real Life) - Julie Washington, The Plain Dealer
(2006) (Gretchen) Mol is hot stuff! The first performance by an actress this year that deserves serious Oscar consideration. (The Notorious Bettie Page) – Peter Travers
(2005) Claire Danes deserves an Oscar nomination. (Shopgirl) – Joel Siegel
(2005) Tom Wilkinson gives a towering performance of grace and grit that deserves to put him on Oscar's shortlist. (Separate Lies) – Peter Travers
(2007) Samuel L. Jackson richly deserves an Oscar nomination for the most complex and moving performance of his great career. (Resurrecting the Champ) – Michael Medved
(2003) Director James Cameron deserves another Oscar for his amazing work. (Ghosts of the Abyss) – Steve Oldfield
(2003) Dustin Hoffman is brilliant! He deserves an Oscar! (Confidence) – Roger Ebert
(2005) Diaz, Collette and MacLaine all deserve Oscars! (In Her Shoes) – Jess Cagle

OK, now we’re going backwards with a big donut for those films and actors. Maybe Mark Twain was right though when he said, “On the whole, it is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.” I’ll leave it to you to determine which category the above belongs to. It’s at this point that we should put aside the coy suggestions and begin delving into the guesswork. And by guesswork, I’m talking about non-commitment.

(2006) Ryan Gosling gives a career-making performance! Don’t be surprised if his name surfaces come Oscar-nomination time. (Half Nelson) – Claudia Puig
(2005) Could end up in the next Oscar race! (Winter Solstice) – David Sterritt
(2003) The Toronto Film Festival could easily fill its own Best Actress Oscar Category... Consider Sarah Polley. (My Life Without Me) – Richard Corliss
(2003) Diane Lane heats up the screen and could find herself nominated for an Oscar again this year. (Under the Tuscan Sun) – Clay Smith
(2007) Douglas’ role could earn him his first Oscar since Wall Street. (King of California) – Larry Carroll
(2007) The race for the Best Actor Oscar really should detour in the direction of Michael Douglas. (King of California) – Elizabeth Weitzman
(2005) Mortensen delivers a controlled, muscular, pitch-perfect performance that should earn him his first Oscar nomination. (A History of Violence) – Thelma Adams
(2004) Reese Witherspoon gives a performance of a lifetime. Reese Witherspoon rocks! She gives a flawless performance! Perfectly cast as the manipulative heroine, Witherspoon should score an Oscar nomination. (Vanity Fair) - Jami Bernard[br]

Coulda, shoulda, woulda, but really didn’t. You need balls of steel to play this game. Don’t just namby-pamby your way off the bench. You stop warming that thing and you TELL voters what’s what!

(2007) Put Chris Cooper in the running pronto for next year’s Best Actor Oscar. (Breach) – Peter Travers
(2004) Save room for Jim Carrey's name at the top of next year's Oscar Best Actor list. He's incredible. You won't forget this one. (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) – Joel Siegel
(2007) If this came out in October, Oscar talk would be fully in order for Parker Posey. (Broken English) – David Elliot, San Diego Union Tribune
(2007) The early favorite for best picture at this year’s Oscars. Angelina Jolie is this year’s front runner for an Academy Award. (A Mighty Heart) – Ben Lyons
(2005) An Oscar front-runner! (The Chronicles of Narnia) – Thelma Adams

And get SERIOUS about it!

(2006) A serious Oscar contender that demands to be seen. (United 93) – Shawn Edwards
(2004) This inspiring film offers impeccable performances, particularly by Gael Garcia Bernal, a very serious candidate for a Best Actor Oscar. (The Motorcycle Diaries) – Lou Lumenick

YEAH, you’re gettin’ it! Go tell the Oscars what they’re made of!

(2005) The kind of movie that's made for Oscar. (Proof) – Richard Roeper
(2003) Alec Baldwin's revelatory portrayal is the stuff Oscars are made of. (The Cooler) – Peter Travers

RIGHT ON! Tell us how certain and sure you are!

(2004) Tom Hanks' performance is certainly Oscar-worthy and among his best work. (The Terminal) - Roger Friedman
(2005) Gwyneth Paltrow will almost certainly get a best actress nomination for her deeply layered performance. (Proof) – Richard Roeper
(2007) This is a movie not to be missed and certain to become a force at Oscar time. (A Mighty Heart) – Pete Hammond

(2004) This film is sure to gain an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. (Shrek 2) – Richard Roeper
(2007) Jolie’s performance is complex, sophisticated…and a sure thing for an Oscar nomination. (A Mighty Heart) – Thelma Adams
(2004) Sure to be the most thrilling thriller of the fall....sure to have serious Oscar consideration. (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) – Jeffrey Lyons
(2006) Sure to be one of the most honored films of the year. (The Illusionist) – Jeffrey Lyons

(2003) Nicolas Cage is Oscar-bound! (Matchstick Men) – Dean Richards
(2005) Stirring, satisfying and Oscar-bound. (North Country) – Thelma Adams
(2006) (William) Hurt in one of the best pieces of acting you’ll ever see. An Oscar-level supporting performance. (The King) – Richard Roeper
(2004) Oscar level documentary filmmaking! (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) – Richard Roeper
(2004) Thornton is Oscar-quality brilliant! (The Alamo) – Joel Siegel

(2005) I say give the whole cast a truckload of Oscars. (Nine Lives) – David Ansen
(2005) Look out Oscar. (Proof) – Pete Hammond
(2004) I see the Oscar word all over this movie. (De-Lovely) – Joel Siegel
(2004) We cry Oscar! (P.S.) – Richard Corliss

Hmmm......seems like the only ones crying are the films on these lists. Only three of the films in that last bunch garnered any sort of recognition at the Oscars. Shrek 2 did indeed get that nomination for Best Animated Feature (but lost to The Incredibles.) North Country got a couple of acting nods, but no actual trophies. And Jeffrey Lyons’ precious not-quite-Prestige picture, The Illusionist, got the aforementioned Cinematography nod from the Academy and assorted shout-outs for its Score and Costumes from various critic organizations and Screenplay nods from the Indie Spirits and USC’s Scripter Awards but wasn’t even as honored as The Da Vinci Code was that year (and we’re not even including its Razzie nomination.) Of course, the broken clock theory does come into play occasionally.

(2006) Prediction: It’s a truly original screenplay and will earn an Oscar nomination. The film is that good. (Little Miss Sunshine) – Joel Siegel
(2007) Don’t bother voting. Just give the Oscar to Marion Cotillard now. (La Vie En Rose) – Richard Nilsen, Arizona Republic
(2007) Tommy Lee Jones’ unforgettable performance will lead directly to Oscar’s door. (In the Valley of Elah) – New York Daily News
(2006) …an instant classic on the fast track to the Oscar! (Cars) – Clay Smith

But only twice a day.

(2007) Julie Christie is simply astounding…it’s the sort of performance that wins Oscars. (Away from Her) – Lou Lumenick
(2005) The Oscar for this year's Best Animated Feature belongs right here. (Corpse Bride) – Peter Travers
(2003) It's likely to win lots of Oscar nominations! (The Human Stain) – Roger Ebert
(2004) Christopher Walken plays a shattered, guilt-haunted father straight to Oscar level. (Around the Bend) – Karen Durbin
(2006) She’s on a fast track to an Oscar nomination! (Sherrybaby) – Marshall Fine
(2006) Running with Scissors will land Annette Bening in the Oscar race again. (Running with Scissors) – Newsweek
(2006) Running with Scissors is an inevitable Oscar contender. (Running with Scissors) – Rob Nelson
(2007) Tanna Frederick’s debut is the best female starring performance so far this year, one that will win Oscar & Golden Globe voters! (Hollywood Dreams) – Tim Sika, ABC/San Francisco
(2004) Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, Oscar nominees in 2005. (De-Lovely) - Liz Smith
(2005) It’s the finest performance of Steve Martin’s career. She’ll be hard to beat at Oscar time. (Shopgirl) – Jim Svejda

Swear to God, that’s what the ad read. Like that broken clock though, most critics probably only work in the word Oscar into their reviews just a few times a year, usually leaning firmly on the side of a film or performance they feel passionate enough about. Others, like E! (in name only) “Oscar expert” Ben Lyons (currently seen every week destroying the name of At the Movies) know they have a lightning rod on their hands and can get good ink by proclaiming that “the Academy is going to eat this one up,” referring to Clint Eastwood’s Changeling on a recent edition of At the Movies. We’ve already seen Ben’s talents when it comes to his early guesswork on A Mighty Heart, Into the Wild and A Prairie Home Companion. By reputation alone he’s probably damned Eastwood’s first film this year by saying we should “look for nominations for Best Actress, Best Director AND Best Picture amongst others.” Yeah, maybe Jolie can look for a dress or two there Junior but in the last five years, only one film below a 75% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes (Babel with 68%) has been nominated for Best Picture. Changeling’s current rating – 56%. “An incredible film that will surely be talked a lot about during Oscar season.” Right, as long as you’re doing the talking there, Benny.

It may seem like getting the conversation started is all one needs to do to procure that veiled nomination, but it usually takes someone to continue the conversation. Twilight author Stephanie Meyer may have told Entertainment Weekly that Robert Pattinson’s performance in the film adaptation is, in her opinion, “Oscar-worthy” but the discussion is only continue through repeated mocking and her own delusions of grandeur. When Ben Lyons believes that Frances McDormand may get nominated for supporting actress for Burn After Reading and Ben Mankiewicz follows-up by saying he’d “be surprised if this film didn’t generate some nomination,” we dismiss it because, well, it’s Lyons and Mankiewicz, who has even told Lyons on the show to cool his jets about his Oscar hyping. Rick Bentley started the Oscar talk back in March with Sleepwalking (or even earlier if he saw the film at Sundance in January) and 2008 continued with the following:

Cue the Oscar buzz! (Elegy) – Richard Corliss
Jenkins delivers a master class in acting...Oscar take note. (The Visitor) – Peter Travers
…Keira Knightley is one of the year’s first Oscar contenders. (The Duchess) – Mike Wilber, NBC News
Emma Thompson is Oscar-worthy. This is one of the first major Oscar contenders of the year. (Brideshead Revisited) – Bill Zwecker

Sally Hawkins delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. (Happy-Go-Lucky) – Thelma Adams
Oscar-worthy performances from Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley. (Elegy) – Jeffrey Lyons
Keira Knightley is Oscar worthy (The Duchess) – Guy Farris
An Oscar-worthy performance by Julianne Moore. (Savage Grace) – Rex Reed
Rock Me Sexy Jesus is worthy of a Best Song Oscar nod. (Hamlet 2) – Jason Lynch

…Elizabeth Pena turns in Oscar-quality work. (How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer) – Richard Roeper
Greg Kinnear shines with an awards-caliber glow. (Flash of Genius) – Lou Lumenick
Sally Hawkins is a major Oscar rival. (Happy-Go-Lucky) – Tom O’Neil, LA
Just as Marion Cotillard and Julie Christie blossomed last spring for Oscar certainties, Melissa Leo’s towering performance won’t be forgotten. (Frozen River) – Stephen Schaefer
Riveting! Miss Jolie shows why she is one of the great actresses of her generation in this terrific true story, sure to be an Oscar contender. (Changeling) – Jeffrey Lyons
The stuff Oscar nominations are made of. (W.) - Pete Hammond

That’s 13 different films given the Oscar quote treatment. Out of all of them, Sally Hawkins looks the closest to being a lock for a Best Actress nomination with Angelina Jolie a close second and both Melissa Leo and Richard Jenkins hoping to breakthrough as this year’s indie underdogs. I don’t know how many nominations hype-whore supreme, Pete Hammond, was hoping to get out of Oliver Stone’s W. but outside of Josh Brolin’s titular performance, it seems more and more likely that his plural is a bit excessive. Criticwatch has been tracking these quotes since 2003 and in that time, 61 of the 79 films exposed to this sort of pre-Oscar hype have either failed to get a single nomination or get the nod specific to its Lyons-esque boasts. Studios and their advertisers are never going to ignore such buzz when selling their films, but maybe its time they start backing up that praise. Less than half of the above films we’re sent out to critic’s groups for consideration at the end of the year; a sign of no faith in their ability to garner awards attention. Even though its becoming increasingly more clear that critic organizations are steering the ship towards Oscar and not just the bloggers and prognosticators that Patrick Goldstein recently demeaned. But more on that later. As one of those prognosticators myself, a word of advice beyond calling out Ben Lyons as no more of an expert than Stephanie Meyer – remember – just because Larry King says you’ve already won, doesn’t make it so.

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originally posted: 11/13/08 03:37:13
last updated: 11/13/08 04:03:18
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