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The Oscar Grouch: Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson on ‘The Hateful Eight’ and Who’s Winning the Holiday Screener Game

Where to Stream

Beasts of No Nation

After a furious few weeks of critics’ awards, SAG nominations, and the Golden Globes, awards season is taking their traditional holiday siesta. No new precursors to talk about. The only real updates are how well contenders are doing at the box-office — the short version? The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, and Joy are all doing well in limited release, while The Force Awakens is a giant starkiller base sucking money from the pockets of every living human on its way to possibly $1 billion domestic.

However, one underrated, unseen, but potentially very influential aspect of awards season is happening right now: the annual Oscar-voters’ screener binge. Anecdotes abound about Hollywood types jetting off to vacation homes armed with ungodly stacks of screener DVDs, ready to prep for their ballot like they’re cramming for finals. To help me speculate about what films might benefit from the screener stage of the competition, I spoke to Vanity Fair film critic and all-around Oscars enthusiast Richard Lawson.

“I think movies like Spotlight and The Big Short, talky and interior, will play well for voters who are watching at home,” Lawson said. “The Revenant and Carol, both visual marvels, just in very different ways, should almost certainly be seen on the big screen. I’m not a fan of The Revenant, but it deserves the attention that being in a theater cultivates. Carol, with all its polished style and intelligence, should wash over you in a way that just doesn’t happen at home.”

“I’m nervous that Mad Max, my favorite movie of the year, won’t play as well on screener,” Lawson continued, “because the screeners are never great quality, and because you really need to feel all the boom and rattle that makes that movie so exciting. I’m sure plenty of Academy members have impressive home theater setups, but it’s just not the same. ”

It’s notable that the bulk of movies that waited until the very last minute to open in theaters are banking so heavily on the theatrical experience. It’s tough to imagine anyone hasn’t seen The Force Awakens at this point, but a movie like The Hateful Eight would certainly want as many award voters as possible to see it in its intended super-widescreen glory. Of course, Oscar voters might not have the same hangups as the Alamo Drafthouse set.

The Hateful Eight‘s big 70mm roadshow is sort of odd to me, considering that most of that longggg movie is basically a one-set play,” Lawson offered. “I don’t think there are that many visuals to lose out on by watching a screener. Film purists will surely disagree with me on that, but my guess is that the average voter won’t miss the essence of that movie by not seeing it at some opulent old picture house.”

And while part of the game at this time of the year is how movies will play in home-viewing settings, there’s still the matter of winning the attention game. There are only so many hours in the day, and that applies to awards screeners as much as anything. What films take priority in the screener stack will make a difference, which brings us right back to good old-fashioned publicty. Those critics awards and Golden Globe nominations might be worth something after all, if they can convince an Oscar voter to pop 99 Homes or Clouds of Sils Maria into the DVD slot.

“I want to a holiday party at the home of a SAG voter a couple weeks ago (I run in fabulous circles, Joe) and she had that legendary stack of screeners — every big movie of the year in a pile next to the television,” Lawson said. “While I trust her to watch most of them, I think with everyday life intruding, as it does, she and other voters probably won’t watch everything sent to them. So access isn’t everything — even though they have all the movies at their fingertips, I think voters will still curate their viewing based on word of mouth, personal bias, et cetera. Screeners don’t guarantee that everything gets a fair shake.”

So, in the end, what movies will benefit from screener season? Anecdotal evidence is all we have at this point.

“I watched Steve Jobs on screener with a friend the other night, and she loved it,” Lawson said,” though it’s not something she would have gone to see in the theater. I suspect a movie like that, and a movie like Bridge of Spies, will benefit from the ease and low-commitment of screener viewing.”

That said, here are Decider’s current predictions for who we think will get nominated in all six major categories — not who we think deserves to be (ranked in order of “buzziness”). Enter “The Oscar Grouch”:

BEST PICTURE

Front Runners: Spotlight, The Big Short, The Martian, The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, Carol, Brooklyn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Bridge of Spies, Trumbo,

What’s The Buzz: No real cause for advancement up or down these charts due to the holiday slumber period, though box-office performance means The Revenant is looking ever more solid. Beyond that, it’s just about hunches this week.

My hunch is that The Big Short is coming on very strong at the right time, while The Force Awakens might be approaching an interesting threshold. It used to be that “Oscar movies” tended to be successful but not TOO successful. Profitable enough to have made money for folks with Oscar ballots, yes, but major blockbusters were a summer thing. Avatar, the movie The Force Awakens is hoping to overtake as #1 of all time, seemingly smashed that old way of thinking for good, but is there a sense of buyer’s remorse for the Oscar love granted that glowy, blue 3-D bonanza? It’s worth noting that while both Mad Max and Star Wars look well-positioned now, The Lord of the Rings is still the only sci-fi/fantasy franchise to ever nab Best Picture nominations past the first installment, and there’s a veritable boneyard of recent well-reviewed franchise sequels and reboots that have tried and failed to buck that trend (including J.J. Abrams’ own Star Trek, which MANY were tagging as a Best Picture beneficiary the year the category expanded to 10 nominees).Yes, Mad Max and Star Wars are phenomenon, and yes the landscape is changing a bit, but I’d be wary of predicting a sea change.

 

BEST DIRECTOR

Front Runners:   Ridley Scott (The Martian), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant), Todd Haynes (Carol), Adam McKay (The Big Short)

What’s The Buzz:  Swapping out George Miller for Adam McKay this week, even though I think Mad Max is probably stronger in this category than in Best Picture. McKay might seem like a longshot given his Anchorman pedigree, but it makes for a dandy “who’da thunk it?” narrative. I still think Ridley Scott emerges from a spread-out voting pool to take his first Oscar.

BEST ACTOR

Front Runners: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

What’s The Buzz:  Give or take a Johnny Depp in Black Mass (who I’m not counting out by any means), the buzz really does seem to be coalescing around this group, doesn’t it? I remain flummoxed at the lack of traction for Creed‘s Michael B. Jordan, who may well end up missing out on a deserved nomination for the second time in three years. Get on the ball, awards voters!

BEST ACTRESS

Front Runners: Brie Larson (Room), Cate Blanchett (Carol), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Rooney Mara (Carol)

What’s The Buzz:  Just for this week, let’s see how things would look if Oscar voters end up putting Rooney Mara in the lead category rather than supporting. I suspect that Mara will get votes in both categories, which usually spells disaster for an actor’s chances. But I think Mara’s performance has been high-profile enough to pull a Kate Winslet in 2008, when my suspicion is that Winslet got enough votes to be nominated in both categories. That fifth slot is looking soft anyway, much as I adore Charlotte Rampling’s performance in 45 Years and would like to see it nominated.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Front Runners: Sylvester Stallone (Creed), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Christian Bale (The Big Short), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Michael Shannon (99 Homes)

What’s The Buzz: Just when it looked like Spotlight was going to be the movie that flooded the Supporting Actor category with a plethora of options, here comes The Big Short to do the same. Bale’s SAG and Globe nominations put him a cut above the others, I’d say. This is really turning out to be quite the competitive category! Shannon scored noms at SAG and the Globes too, but there are strong challenges out there from Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight) and Paul Dano (Love & Mercy).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Front Runners: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), Helen Mirren (Trumbo), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)

What’s The Buzz: Vikander’s role (a true lead slumming it in supporting) would probably be enough for her to win here, but nothing about this category seems all that secure, particularly in this Mara-in-Best-Actress hypothetical universe we’ve created. All the more reason to hope that wild cards like Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria) or Elizabeth Banks (Love & Mercy) shock everyone on nomination day. Hey, here’s a wild idea: Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina. Yes, The Danish Girl is far more of an Oscar-type movie, but at the very least her Globe-nominated performance as a life-like cyborg is bound to split her vote some.

Of course, the Oscars are nothing if not a political game. Every week, new films are released, reviewed, and hyped by the Hollywood machine. And that means that every week, new frontrunners might emerge. The Oscar Grouch will be back every Monday to keep you updated on this year’s Oscar race.

Where To Stream The 2016 Oscar Contenders:

[Watch Beasts of No Nation on Netflix]
[Where to Stream Mad Max: Fury Road]

[Photos: Open Road Films, 20th Century Fox, Everett Collection, The Weinstein Company]

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