The Studio Battle For Oscars: Big Versus Small
By Joey Magidson
If there’s one thing that the movie industry loves (besides money, of course), it’s a good David vs. Goliath story. Each year, as the Oscars race heats up, there’s always a focus on whether independent movies in contention can take the prizes from big studio films.
Over the past decade or so, the tide has turned toward indie flicks more than was historically the norm. Recently, though, a situation has developed in which studios are trying harder to get back in the game but sometimes lag behind their smaller competition. This year proves an especially interesting case, since in most of the categories it looks like studio offerings will have a good chance to best the indies.
It’s hardly a guarantee, and it’s still very early, but any Oscar prognosticator worth his or her salt is leaning toward bigger studio films and performances in at least half of the big 8 categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay). In fact, while it could be an even split, I’d put forward that we could just as easily see seven of the eight big ones go studio, which is pretty rare these days. The nominations are still over a month away, but the tea leaves can already be read, to one degree or another.
In general this year, there are more contenders overall from big studios as opposed to indies. This is not to say that there aren’t tons of worthy independent films out there that are deserving of Oscar attention, but they’re simply not in the race. That, in part, is just the nature of the beast.
Money talks, so it’s far easier for a big studio to juggle multiple contenders or to put a large sum of money behind a campaign. Indie flicks are often shortchanged by the extra difficulties involved in launching a candidacy. It won’t hurt the major indie players this year, but it does limit just how many will be in play.
Best Picture is obviously the category in which this sort of matchup is most closely watched. This year sees a definite lean toward studio works, with the likes of Argo, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty operating as the best hopes for a studio Oscar win in 2012. The only real indies even contending for a nod are the quartet (no, not Dustin Hoffman’s film) of Amour, Beast of the Southern Wild, The Master and Silver Linings Playbook.
Of the latter group, only David O. Russell’s film seems to have a chance to win. It’s likely going to instead be a studio offering that takes the cake, notably Ben Affleck, Tom Hooper, or Steven Spielberg’s films. It’s hard to bet against Argo, Les Miserables or Lincoln, respectively, here.
Best Director is historically a studio-dominated category, and this will almost undoubtedly be the case here. I can’t imagine Paul Thomas Anderson or Benh Zeitlin winning the award, but the former is certainly in play for a nod, along with perhaps someone like Michael Haneke representing indies as well.
The aforementioned Affleck, Hooper and Spielberg are the top contenders for this prize, though the studios also have Kathryn Bigelow and Ang Lee very much in play. I’m not someone who’s expecting a split between Best Picture and Best Director this year, so look for the director of the top film honored to get on stage for this one as well.
Best Actor is a category with a solid mix of studio and indie work for voters to choose from. Representing the likeliest winners from the studio system we have arguably the frontrunner in Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln, along with Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables and Denzel Washington for Flight.
The indies are no slouches in their representation here either though, as both John Hawkes for The Sessions and Joaquin Phoenix for The Master could also easily wind up winning. Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook helps keep things balanced, though he’d never win. I’d say if it’s a studio winner it’s Day-Lewis and if it’s an indie winner it’s Phoenix, but this is an incredibly even and competitive category.
Best Actress happens to lean indie this year, but a lot has to do with the increased likelihood of a foreign performance getting in and the relative uncertainty of the category overall. The only realistic winner for a studio film is Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty. She’s a late-surging contender, and with almost every other realistic female performance being of the indie variety, it only helps her.
The trio of Marion Cotillard for Rust & Bone, Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook and Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild are the ones also looking to take the prize, though to differing degrees of likelihood. A lot of people are trying to make this the Chastain vs. Lawrence show, but I think a lot still has to be decided here. Still, the odds are in the favor of the independents.
Best Supporting Actor is stacked with studio contenders, though one of the bigger indie hopefuls is a real threat to win. On the studio side there’s Alan Arkin for Argo, John Goodman for Argo or Flight, Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln and Leonardo DiCaprio for Django Unchained. Any of them has a case to win, but each also have some issues to work through.
The only indie contender who can win is Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master, but he’s in the same boat as the other guys. It’s an interesting category to look at. Quantity favors the studios, but will it be enough to get a statue?
Best Supporting Actress is another of those mixed categories in which it all depends on what the Academy decides they like. The studio side has two very safe bets in Sally Field for Lincoln and Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables, so it’s hard to bet against them, especially Hathaway.
Still, the indies are in fine shape with Amy Adams for The Master and Helen Hunt for The Sessions leading the charge. I change my mind by the day on which side has the best chance, though Hathaway is most people’s frontrunner right now.
Best Adapted Screenplay often leans toward studios by its very nature, and that appears to be the case again in 2012. The big Best Picture players are all here, with the aforementioned studio offerings Argo (Chris Terrio), Les Miserables (William Nicholson), Life of Pi (David Magee), and Lincoln (Tony Kushner) well in play for wins, give or take Life of Pi.
The duo of Beasts of the Southern Wild (Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin) and Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell) represent the indie hopes, but the latter is a far more likely winner than the former. Still, you have to look studio here.
Finally, we have Best Original Screenplay. This is traditionally an indie stronghold, but this is such an unusual category this year that it may be a fool’s errand to try and figure out who’s in better shape. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino) and Zero Dark Thirty (Mark Boal) are probably the only studio flicks that can win for their scripts, while the indies are led by The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson).
Amour (Michael Haneke) and Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola) are in play on the indie side, though. I might lean towards PTA, but Boal is definitely not someone to bet against.
Depending on what the Academy decides to do, we could either see a very mixed year or a studio-dominated one. There will undoubtedly be indie winners, but the question is how many?
Tags: Alan Arkin, Amour, Amy Adams, Ang Lee, Anne Hathaway, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ben Affleck, Benh Zeitlin, Bradley Cooper, Chris Terrio, Daniel Day Lewis, David Magee, David O. Russell, Denzel Washington, Django Unchained, Flight, Helen Hunt, Hugh Jackman, Jessica Chastain, Joaquin Phoenix, John Goodman, John Hawkes, Kathryn Bigelow, Leonardo DiCaprio, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Lucy Alibar, Marion Cotillard, Mark Boal, Michael Haneke, Moonrise Kingdom, Paul Thomas Anderson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Quvenzhane Wallis, Roman Coppola, Rust & Bone, Sally Field, Silver Linings Playbook, Steven Spielberg, The Master, The Sessions, Tom Hooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Wes Anderson, William Nicholson, Zero Dark Thirty