We are in the last seconds of the pre-awards season, with the New York Film Critics Circle just on the edge of announcing their victors. We can be ready for a handful of surprises when we see exactly where the critics actually swing in their decisions. At the same time, don't be disappointed if the cards land exactly where we expect them to. The current frontrunners are still "The Artist", "The Descendants", and now effectively "War Horse". The trailer placed it as a winning and simple crowdpleaser several months ago, and even then I knew this was a lock for a nod. If you know me well enough, that also means I despised it quite fervently.
It's not that it's not pretty, but I have a much stronger pull to see the stage play and all its unique design elements than this relatively simple and straightforward exercise in spine-chilling. In the meantime, I continued my general cynicism against "The Descendants", which it's a shame when you employ such against an Alexander Payne film and not for it. I quite liked "Sideways", but I can feel the strands that were leading Payne towards this sort of conclusion. George Clooney is the frontrunner in the Best Actor race, and I doubt that's likely to deflate. Who's going to come in and steal the spotlight?
Jean Dujardin? As interesting an idea as that might be, he's pretty much just a nominee here, in the same vein as Christoph Waltz came along in 2009. He's bound to get a lot of offers after this film, and maybe one of them will bring him back around here, but he's not going to gallop away with this one. "The Artist", in the meantime, does have a strong inclination towards Best Picture, but the closer an opportunity it becomes, the less I see in it. It's really starting to seem more disingenuous a treat than the trailer lets on. 150 seconds conveys perhaps everything that the 90 minute film does, if my cynical non-viewer take on it proves fruitful enough.
So what else has shifted? Well, in case you hadn't noticed, the entire Best Picture race has skewed to becoming almost entirely sweet and obnoxiously endearing, even beyond the three frontrunners. I've already lamented about "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", but I have even more reason to complain now that "Hugo" has entered the conversation quite boldly in comparison. That does give me pause enough to question why I didn't see it while I had the chance over Thanksgiving, but even more over the overlap of the two films' plots. They're practically the same, with the core difference being that Scorsese's film uses breathtaking technologies in a way it's not been seen before and as a tool to give tribute to the past. Stephen Daldry's film is trying to yank those tears out of your eyes in the most manipulative and predictable of ways.
In comparison to all else, I'm actually kind of positive towards "The Help" and "Midnight in Paris", the last two films that are standing strongest in the list of potential players. What they have going for them is that people really seemed to like them a lot, and I admit to be in the same grouping. However, the more people start praising these films as something that they're not, the less affable towards them I find myself. Everything here makes "The Ides of March" seem like an outstanding alternative, even though it's long since weakened in terms of its following. It strengthened after its Venice premiere, but has willowed ever since.
There are only two films in the talk that I really hold out hope for, one of them being the more likely "The Tree of Life", which has held onto many as brilliant based on pretension. If I didn't know better, I'd have fallen like a sucker, but it just felt so irritant and belligerent at times, especially the end. Still, it was so effective for much of that middle. Jessica Chastain was fine, though her better work would come oddly enough in "The Help". I was ecstatic because of Hunter McCracken and Brad Pitt, both of whom brought their above A-game. I want this to be more of a player than it is, even if I'm not over the moon for it.
And then there's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", which is just on the cusp of release, though it's still not certain if it's coming in wide release or limited release. I've got fingers crossed for the latter, but even if that happens, it's probably not coming where I live. I once thought this could be the film to walk away with it, but since then it's just faded far too much. It could come back, just like "Hugo" had a recent resurgence, but I wouldn't count on it. At present, the Best Picture race is a dismal exercise in banality, so I'm hoping the critics awards turn that around.