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Oscar Watching: SMASHED in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE with SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS

I almost devoted the majority of this week’s Oscar Watching to Ben Affleck’s fact-based thriller Argo. But we talked about that one upon its Telluride premiere. The film still merits some space here since it opened this past weekend, but again, we’ve known where that one stands for some time, and nothing seems to have changed.

Argo debuted behind holdover Taken 2 – which, if you didn’t know, isn’t happening – with $19.5 million, less than The Town, Affleck’s last directorial effort, did on its opening weekend. But does that change things? Not really. Both films entered the Oscar season with different sets of expectations. Plus word-of-mouth for Argo should keep it near the top of the box office for weeks to come. To keep things brief and to the point, it’s a contender and potential front-runner, and for now, I can’t see anything changing that.

In addition to mulling over whether to give Argo the spotlight, I almost completely forgot about Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy Seven Psychopaths. It’s embarrassing when considering the rave reviews it picked up at Toronto and the pre-season hype for McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges, which earned an original screenplay nomination.

Still, the fact that Psychopaths almost didn’t get any space this week might indicate something. It grossed around $4.2 million over the weekend, placing in ninth – fourth in terms of new releases. Ouch. Sure, In Bruges grossed $7.8 million by the end of its run, and Psychopaths is over halfway there. It also played in less than 1,500 locations over the weekend.

After all, Psychopaths pulled in only a bit less than the $6 million its distributor CBS Films anticipated. However, there are different expectations with this film than there were with In Bruges, and the enthusiastic festival response apparently hasn’t paid off. As Box Office Mojo’s Ray Subers notes:

 

“Seven Psychopaths was playing in far fewer theaters [than other new releases] (1,480, instead of well over 2,000), but that excuse only goes so far: when releasing in a lower theater count, the theaters are disproportionately higher priced locations in denser population centers, and therefore should drive a much better per-theater average.

[…]

Seven Psychopaths will ultimately outgross writer-director Martin McDonagh’s first movie, In Bruges ($7.8 million), but will struggle to even get to a meager $20 million by the end of its run.”

 

We also have to consider that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (i.e. Golden Globe voters) loved In Bruges when it arrived in 2009: Colin Farrell, who also stars in Psychopaths, won best actor in a motion picture comedy or musical, while co-star Brendan Gleeson was nominated in the same category. The film also earned a nomination for best motion picture comedy or musical.

The critics were behind In Bruges as most are with Psychopaths, but the former benefitted from a Golden Globe field that boasted few legitimate Oscar contenders. Sure, Vicky Cristina Barcelona earned a supporting actress Oscar for Penélope Cruz, and Happy-Go-Lucky picked up an original screenplay nomination. Even with those factors in mind, none of the films represented in that year’s motion picture comedy or musical lineup went on to pick up picture nominations at the Oscars.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, competes for attention in the midst of Oscar front-runners Silver Linings Playbook and Les Misérables, not to mention ensemble dramedies like John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Dustin Hoffman’s official directorial debut Quartet, Oscar host Seth MacFarlane’s well-reviewed hit Ted, and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. I should also mention Hyde Park on Hudson, which probably won’t win over Oscar voters but could still sway the HFPA, as one to watch.

It wouldn’t be stunning to see Farrell’s work in Psychopaths score another nomination in the actor in a motion picture comedy or musical race, but beyond that, the film’s Globe prospects seem limited. Regarding the Oscars, McDonagh might score a second original screenplay nomination, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Also new to the nationwide box office this past weekend were Here Comes the Boom, a comedy in which Kevin James does MMA fighting; the horror flick Sinister, which stars Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke; and Atlas Shrugged: Part II, a film that – like its predecessor – has been embraced by conservatives but not many others. So, we have a silly comedy with funnyman James, a horror flick that isn’t the next Exorcist (or even the next Paranormal Activity), and a film with an obvious agenda (I’ll be nice and refrain from being snarky). Not an Oscar contender among them.

Moving to the weekend’s limited releases, Middle of Nowhere and Smashed feel like possible Oscar prospects. Both films made waves as they debuted at Sundance earlier this year. However , we’ve heard little Oscar chatter for them – perhaps because they feature unknown, or at least not A-list, talents behind and in front of the camera – until recently.

While the Oscar candidacies of both films still aren’t certain, it’s silly to completely dismiss either at the moment due to the attention and critical raves they’ve received. Additionally, the strong reviews might lead to impressive grosses as they expand in the coming weeks.

There’s a small possibility that Middle lead Emayatzy Corinealdi becomes a best actress nominee, but it’s more likely that the film walks away with only an original screenplay nomination. Still, even that would be significant: its writer-director Ava DuVernay would become the second African-American female to earn a nomination for original screenplay.

As Sasha Stone of Awards Daily notes, she would be the first to do it completely on her own, her only predecessor being Suzanne De Passe, who shares an original screenplay nomination with Chris Clark and Terence McCloy for 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues.

A flip-flop of that situation faces Smashed: while its candidacy in original screenplay is questionable, Mary Elizabeth Winstead seems to be a serious contender for a best actress nomination (ahem). She plays a drunk, gets to go a bit “de-glam,” and fits the mold of young, up-and-coming actress who’s never been nominated. Oscar loves all three, but Beasts of the Southern Wild breakthrough Quvenzhané Wallis already fulfills this year’s young, never-before-nominated actress quota.

On occasion, there’s room for more than one new nominee, so Winstead isn’t completely hopeless. But the actress race recently began to shape up, without her name in the prevailing conversation and with bigger names like Jennifer Lawrence and Dame Helen Mirren hogging the spotlight for Silver Linings and Hitchcock, movies that’ll almost certainly get more coverage this season. Posing another problem is that Sony Pictures Classics, the U.S. distributor of Smashed, also handles seemingly more assured actress contenders Marion Cotillard in De rouille et d’Os (Rust and Bone) and Emmanuelle Riva in Amour (Love).

From what I’ve seen and understood, Smashed is a dark comedy and seems to be contending for Golden Globe attention in the category of comedy or musical. Winstead shouldn’t have much trouble scoring attention in the actress race there. Beyond that, it might be difficult for her to stand out, especially when considering SPC’s other actresses.

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Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren loves the wonderful world of film and all that comes with it. He specifically loves long takes, fabulous actresses, and keeping up with the Oscar season - even when it's far too early to make sense of anything.