Rushfield: Oscars + Sundance - A Reason To Believe
In which our columnist succumbs to an unwelcome fit of optimism
Coming back from Sundance and pivoting straight to Oscar noms is a bit like leaping one's brain from the Jacuzzi into an ice bath; from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again.
But interestingly on both ends of the spectrum, there's reason to feel significantly less grumpy about the state of film than I would have thought possible even a couple months ago.
First off, the nominations.
Given that this might be the worst year in the history of film artistically, not bad. You can quibble around the edges but the Best Picture list includes:
The two most-seen films of the year (Avatar, Top Gun)
Two crowd-pleasing breakouts (Everything Everywhere; Elvis)
A valedictory piece by American cinema's reigning Grand Old Man (The Fabelmans)
Two international picks (All Quiet on the Western Front, Triangle of Sadness)
And three highly lauded critical favorites (Banshees, Tár, Women Talking)
You might swap out a couple of these, but not a bad mix! About as good a mix as you're going to come up with in a year like we had.
It's also a pretty radical break with the drift towards little-seen navel-gazing solemnity that has dominated nominations in recent years — and driven the ratings to the precipice of an extinction event.
And of course, a near shut-out on the streaming releases. So Hollywood's big film award of the year is going to... widely admired, widely seen, theatrical releases.
(There are exceptions to this within the Academy. The doc branch continues to be at war with audiences, shutting out the one breakthrough documentary of the year, Moonage Daydream.)
Like we're living in 2007 or something. Who would've thought that was possible?
Is this year a dead cat bounce or an actual rebound to something like entertainers getting back in the business of entertaining? We’ll see soon enough.
I take all this in just having returned from Sundance, breathing deep without doubling over wheezing again, starting my cleanse to clear away the damage of five days surviving on hors d'oeuvres and stale popcorn.
So what's my takeaway from a week exposing myself to the viruses of the world in crowded over-heated theaters, shivering in bus shelters and chatting with agents by chafing dishes over rock-hard sliders? And what does it have to do with today’s nominations?
As one producer pointed out to me, in the past five years there have been few to no directors to come out of Sundance and follow the Ryan Coogler path to an established career; a fact which should be of concern to Hollywood even more than to Sundance.