Do the NBR’s Best Pics Translate Into Oscar Nominations?

On Monday the National Board of Review teed-off the Oscar season’s playoffs by announcing their 10 Best Pictures of the Year. With more populist pics than in recent years, just how influential/accurate are the NBR’s selections?

While their choices certainly serve as easy marketing decor (“One of the National Board of Review’s Best Pictures of the Year!”), the snowball effect is rather difficult to measure. Do AMPAS members actually look to the NBR list before penning 5 favs for nomination?

While their influence as tastemakers may be questionable, the idea that studios throw resources their way for the occasional screenings/discussion acknowledges that the NBR are at-least the first ones out of the gate.

So where do we draw the line between primary influence vs. simply choosing logical choices? Let’s do some math!

The Oscars expanded the Best Pic field for movies released in 2009 from exactly 5 noms to between 5 and 10 (varying due to the preferential balloting process). Since the expansion, the titles on NBR’s short-list have served as predictors for 34 of the 55 films (or 62%) that would eventually receive top Oscar nominations. And while the NBR’s top pic last year (A Most Violent Year) didn’t even get nominated for an Oscar, the eventual Oscar winner has also made their list 87% of the time over the last 75 years.

But NBR’s overall nomination prediction rate has slipped with the increase in the number of AMPAS nominations. From 2000-2008, the NBR’s list truly missed predicting a nomination only twice (Erin Brokovich and The Queen). The other ten missed picks were likely due to December releases they weren’t given the privilege (read into that however you want) of seeing. This gave them an effective net forecast rate of 94%. Since then, they’ve had 15 blatant misses for a rate of 69%.

So how does affect the field going forward? What’s still to-be-released that the NBR hasn’t seen? The Revenant and Joy are likely sure-things. The Big Short features a heavy ensemble cast, relevant topic, and solid early buzz. And while unorthodox, Charlie Kaufman’s  Anomalisa could squeak in if Paramount plays their screener/screening game TO THE MAX (12/30 release means public buzz won’t exist in-time).

What might have already been released that the NBR’s blatantly left out?  Steve Jobs, while a commercial miss, was expertly crafted on all fronts making it very attractive to the guilds. Carol and Brooklyn have big performances, great reviews, and slow buzz-building distribution models synonymous with the successful arthouse Oscar push. They may be competing with each other for votes though.

Who falls away in these situations? Straight Outta Compton won’t make it. If I have to choose between Mad Max and Hateful Eight (may also compete w/each other for votes), I’d say Eight sits out in the cold but it’s very unlikely that either will represent at least 5% of the Academy’s ballot first-choices. Sicario would make my personal list, but it has too much working against it to stay in the convo. Disney’s Oscar track record is notoriously non-existent and a likely push for Inside Out should also leave Bridge of Spies behind. Creed truly is the darkhorse that may continue to play well enough to stay in the convo.

The NBR’s never missed more than four of the nominations in a single year. Yet if AMPAS nominates 10 Best Pics this year, it may be the first year with 5 misses. But hey, this is a GREAT problem to have for the industry to have. It only means there’s been a larger quota for quality in 2015.

2015: NBR’s Top 10 vs My Predicted Oscar Noms
(For the now. There will undoubtedly be momentum shifts )

National Board of Review Top 10 AMPAS (Oscar) Best Pics Noms
1 Spotlight 1 The Revenant
2 Room 2 Spotlight
3 The Martian 3 Room
4 Inside Out 4 Steve Jobs
5 Creed 5 Carol or Brooklyn
6 Mad Max: Fury Road 6 The Martian
7 Sicario 7 Joy
8 The Hateful Eight *8 Inside Out
9 Bridge of Spies *9 The Big Short
10 Straight Outta Compton *10 Creed

*=Would make list if 10 nominees make it.
-(Yes, I get that I’m cheating with Carol/Brooklyn and I’m still anxious to see both as I’ve heard nothing but amazing things.)

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George Lucas & Parting Ways With Star Wars

This is terribly sad. It further promotes some speculation that Michael Arndt’s original screenplay was all-but-thrown-out. Arndt, writer of Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, was brought on-board to reflect the vision of Lucas and continue the story of Skywalker which is THE core narrative component to Star Wars. Disney/Kennedy/Kasdan/Abrams have apparently not only tossed everything Arndt wrote, which led to the removal of the expanded universe canon, but it has removed Lucas’ ideas altogether.

Now this doesn’t automatically mean the franchise is wrecked going-forward. Arguably the best of Star Trek (the later TNG seasons and DS9) came following the dis-involvement and passing of Gene Roddenberry. But the Abrams-led reboots, while mildly-appealing to a general audience, are NOT well-liked by core Trekkies, including my grandfather who refers to them as “a bunch of boom bah.”

I must reserve judgement and remain optimistic until December 18th. But it’s hard to consider that the storied vision of arguably the most influential artist of the 20th century is now completely absent from Star Wars going forward. If things go bad, I really don’t know how Disney is going to handle the power of of the Dark Side. If you thought the backlash over Lost was bad, then you can’t imagine what a real shit-show looks like. Regardless, it’ll probably be the highest-grossing movie of all-time. And then we’ll get another. And another. “I’ll be making these movies ’til the end of time.”-Weird Al

Room: Worth a Trip to the Cinema



Room​ will certainly emerge from 2015 as one of the year’s 10 Best Pics. Featuring some marvelous storytelling techniques, this emotional roller coaster plays equal parts discomfort, terror, and warmth. There was a good 7-8-minute stretch where I’m pretty sure I forgot to breathe. Brie Larson would be a shoo-in (if not the front-runner) for Best Actress, but I worry that limited marketing from a minor distributor might get it pushed out of the conversation down the road. Campaigning’s a bitter pill for those that don’t have the spending capabilities of the big studios. That said, it’s hard to imagine that helmer Lenny Abrahamson could have possibly gotten any more out of Larson and young Jacob Tremblay. They deserve any conversation that comes their way.

Well worth the price of a cinematic experience if only to feed your undivided attention. A home-viewing wouldn’t have done it for me in the same way. Do yourself a favor and avoid seeing the full trailer. I didn’t see it until today, and it seems to deal out more than should be necessary to get you in a seat (the teaser embedded here should be plenty for you).

[Edit 11/15/15 7:01PM: “shoo-in”]

Jennifer Lawrence & a Misguided Pay Gap Issue

By now you’ve probably seen Jennifer Lawrence’s 658 word essay regarding the American Hustle pay gap courtesy of last year’s Sony e-mail shitshow. She’s sick of trying “to find the ‘adorable’ way to state [her] opinion and still be likable” with everything she wants to say. And we should be glad she’s speaking up because she’s at the very best possible place in her career to tell us about it. J-Law is THE figurehead star of female American millennials. She’s every studio’s #1 choice for a pile of amazing roles tailor-made for a talented, beautiful white woman with 20s-age looks. Every chapter of The Hunger Games has domestically out-grossed (ignoring inflation) the 18 installments of LOTR, Hobbit, Twilight, and all-but-one Harry Potter. She’ll likely get a 4th Oscar nom this year. Think about that. FOUR NOMINATIONS BEFORE TURNING 26!

But I’m not about to tell you that Jennifer Lawrence was unfairly paid for American Hustle.

She actually had the best deal of the five key players when you consider the number of back-end percentage points she received vs the amount of time she appeared in the film (screentime). So she can’t be mad at herself for “giving up” early in negotiation because that’s simply her agency’s job. And her agency, CAA, negotiated themselves a helluva through their represented talent in American Hustle (including 9% points for Director David O’Russell).

Bale Adams Cooper Renner Lawrence
Back-End % Points: 9 7 9 9 7
Screentime (Min): 60 46 41 28-38 20
% Pts/Min: 0.15 0.15 0.22 0.24-0.32 0.35
Agency: WME WME CAA CAA CAA

(Note: I couldn’t find Jeremy Renner’s total screentime anywhere so I just tossed an estimation on that table. American Hustle was also very forgettable so I’m not inclined to go back through again to count it myself)

WAIT WAIT WAIT. But how in the hell did get Renner such an amazing deal? Heavy screentime? No. Performance difficulty? Nah. Star power? Negligible. “But he’s an Avenger.” LOL. “I’m going to see that new Jeremy Renner movie.”- said nobody ever. So yes, when it comes to Renner’s “hustle” here, J-Law may have a damn good reason to gripe since she undoubtedly draws a larger audience. But what happens when J-Law no longer represents that 20-something gal that women want to be and men want to be with?

Well that brings us to the real issue: where the hell is any mention of Amy Adams? Why does she have the worst deal of the whole crew? She clearly had the acting chops befitting of a lead actress (leading to an Oscar nom) and drew more screentime than all but Bale. Her stardom may not shine like Bale/Cooper but it’s certainly brighter than Renner’s! Everyone knew she’d look amazing on a billboard which means she’s visually marketable, right? So why did she work more than twice as hard as J-Law for the same amount of money? What’s the difference between those two women?

The real pay gap in this American Hustle situation resides in the 16 year age difference between Adams and J-Law. Should not the more-qualified, more-experienced worker receive the better compensation deal? In any other situation, you’d certainly think so. But our culture doesn’t value women the same way once they’ve moved-past the 20s-something pre-marital, American Sweetheart stage. Beyond then, high-gravity roles for women start to wear thin as they migrate towards what Amy Schumer calls the “no longer believably fuckable” age. As such, the competition for these roles is pretty heavy. If Adams’ crew fought too hard for a better deal, the producer/studio (Megan Ellison in this case) could easily say, “not a problem, there are plenty of Jennifer Aniston/Reese Witherspoon/Kate Hudsons out there that would love the opportunity to be abused by David O’Russell for an Oscar nomination.”

So even though she missed out on dealing a solid to Amy Adams, you gotta give Jennifer Lawrence credit for having the willingness to speak her mind. But you have to give her publicity team even more props for waiting until she had another movie on the one-month-horizon to bring this 10-month-old story back up! It’s very likely there were other factors that went into the American Hustle deal (up-front fees, shooting schedules, etc) that we aren’t privy to. But Lawrence & team chose to point at the gender pay gap and a tiny data sample when the real story should have been about Adams who, as far as we know, was clearly under-represented. As this subject sees more light, the solution may yet right itself through the creation of additional roles for the 40yo+ actress pool. Hopefully, 15 years from now, J-Law’s essay will have given her a better seat at the negotiating table than her predecessors had.

The Season Hath Arrived (wait…which season?)

The Great Season is finally upon us! As summer’s warmth fades with the arrival of September, so too comes the irrational hope of so many devotees. Time for watercooler conversations about how one camp is FINALLY going to pull it together this year. Or how the performance of an individual player could be enough to carry the weight of relevancy as the weeks pass by. Until finally, with boisterous anticipation on a cold Sunday evening in February, we’ll all gather around our televisions to see one camp capture the season’s ultimate golden prize.

The field for contention may be more crowded than we’ve seen in recent seasons. Yet there are two organizations whose talent stands on a tier above the rest. Their peers will be left fighting for meager scraps of the same conversation.

This season’s two prime contenders will be… Steve Jobs and The Revenant.

These teams are talent juggernauts assembled from molds of victory. Directors? Boyle and Iñárritu are easy Top 5 living/working. Leads? Michael Fassbender (riding a heat check) and Leo (who need only be mentioned mononymously). Other casts members?A bundle of true A-Listers.

Each camp is also armed with the most renowned and powerful artistic weapons of their respective fields. X-factors. Off the top of your head, who’s the most renowned screenwriter in the biz? Chances are you’re thinking of Aaron Sorkin. What about the top DP? Off back-to-back wins, it’s clearly Emmanuel Lubezki. Each has contributed their strengths in an attempt to distinguish these pics from their now-formulaic biographical predecessors. With Jobs, Sorkin wrote three clearly defined scene-acts (filmed by Boyle/Küchler in three different formats). With Revenant, Iñárritu/Chivo opted for a difficult path with their au-natural photography and a grueling production schedule.

Many pics will find their way on the shortlist for various merits but the REAL heavyweight fighters always excel at the following: strength of release schedule, accessibility to SAG members, and delivering content that appeals to the crucial “OWMs” (Old White Males) who rep the majority of Academy voters.

With Steve Jobs, all three criteria are easily met. Universal has taken the early buzz-grab road of debuting Jobs through a festival before opening wide in October (the release month of the last 3 Best Pic winners), They will have plenty of time to host Q&As and mail screeners before SAG noms are due on December 7th. With continued positive buzz, $100mil by then doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable (one more thing to tout on “For Your Consideration” ads). “OWM” appeal? LOL! See film title.

Fox seems to have a bit more work cut out for them with The Revenant. The Christmas Day frame is VERY crowded  And while the limited release insures they meet the mandated one-week run in the calendar year, no Best Pic winner in 11 years has opened so late. This far out, it’s also hard to ignore even the most mild comparison to Malick’s The New World which will have opened exactly 10 years prior. But again, the track records of this team should be enough to make this thing really sparkle. While on-set tribulations feel reminiscent of something from Aguirre, the “no expense spared” attitude reflects a heavy level of confidence in the reigning Best Director. “OWM” appeal: 17th century westward trappers battling elements and BEARS. Oh and Grade A+ technical production. But if Fox can’t get Revenant to mature in time for this race, they may choose to instead run Ridley Scott’s The Martian as their Thoroughbred (though genre pics are generally viewed as box office Clydesdales instead of arthouse racers).

This season will certainly see a solid count of talent-laden prospects (Joy, The Hateful Eight, Spotlight, Brooklyn, Suffragette) and hot button dramas (The Danish GirlBeasts of No NationCarol, SnowdenFreeheld), But at the end of the day this game is all about appealing to one group: Hollywood’s Old White Men. Gazing forward, Steve Jobs and The Revenant seem best-positioned to greet them.