Oscar Watch, charting the ups and downs of award season, arrives every Monday. This week we're looking at movies that have been going over big and running afoul, as well as wondering why Chris Rock's "Top Five" can't find a foothold with voters.
Ava DuVernay's powerful civil rights drama has been winning standing ovations since its AFI Fest premiere last month, and its academy screening Saturday afternoon prompted the same reaction. The audience at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills was on the small side, maybe 300, but they gave it up in a big way for the cast, particularly lead David Oyelowo, who earned what one academy member called the year's most enthusiastic response. Past Oscar winners haven't been shy in lending support (here and here, among others), giving the film continued momentum as it moves closer to its Christmas Day limited release.
'Birdman' score outrage
Look, we love Antonio Sanchez's percussive "Birdman" score as much as the next drum major, but rules are rules, and the academy's are crystal clear on this count: "Scores diluted by use of tracked themes or other pre-existing music, diminished in impact by the predominant use of songs, or assembled from the music of more than one composer shall not be eligible."
And "Birdman" uses a lot of preexisting music, classical pieces by Gustav Mahler, John Adams and Tchaikovsky, among others, and often in key moments. The inclusion of these pieces does not lessen the effect of Sanchez's clanging, tension-amping work. It's perfect. But it does clearly make it ineligible, which was the case with Clint Mansell's "Black Swan" score (which adapted Tchaikovsky’s "Swan Lake") and Jonny Greenwood’s "There Will Be Blood" music (which incorporated pieces by Brahms and Arvo Part).
You want to go the sackcloth and ashes route? Fine. But maybe the ire would be better directed at revising the music branch's existing rule instead of wailing every time some inventive piece of work gets shafted.
Oscar foreign-language shortlist
The slate of nine movies that voting volunteers and members of the academy’s Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee shortlisted won't make everyone happy. (French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan took to Twitter to vent his disappointment over the exclusion of his film "Mommy.") But it's a strong group, including the movies — "Ida," "Leviathan," "Force Majeure," "Wild Tales" — that have been dominating critics awards this month.
And the lesser-known titles that made the cut have their champions too, generating fine notices at festivals. (This review of Georgia's near-wordless drama "Corn Island" points to its merit.) Yes, it would nice if the Dardenne brothers would win an Oscar nomination one of these years. But sorting through 83 submissions and narrowing the field down to nine is a monumental task, and those involved in the job this year deserve to be congratulated.
Chris Rock's romantic comedy killed at the Toronto International Film Festival, leading to a bidding war and a prime December release date that had many thinking the film and its writer-director-star might win some love this award season. But even with separate categories for comedies, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. didn't give the movie one Golden Globe nomination. And the film is probably too funny to win favor with Oscar voters, who tend to reward more LQTM, Woody Allen-style humor. Wait ... you say "Top Five" has been repeatedly compared to Allen's comedy style? Hmmm ... well, why hasn't it been winning more favor then?
Angelina Jolie's dutiful portrait of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner and Air Force bombardier who spent two years in Japanese prison camps, currently boasts a 44% approval rating at movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. "Unbroken" opens Christmas Day, so that number may change as more reviews arrive. The lowest Rotten Tomatoes score for a best picture nominee? Stephen Daldry's 9/11 tear-jerker, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," at 46%.