Academy Award Competition Is Expected To Be Tough

fromKCRW

Oscar voting is underway, and there are plenty of high-profile offerings like Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Les Miserables. David Greene talks to Kim Masters, of The Hollywood Reporter, about some of the contenders. Masters also hosts The Business on member station KCRW.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

It is that time of year, and I'm not talking about sleigh bells and sugar cookies. I'm talking about Oscar season.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ARGO")

BEN AFFLECK: (as Tony Mendez) What's your job on the movie?

SCOOT MCNAIRY: (as Joe Stafford) Producer.

AFFLECK: (as Tony Mendez) Associate producer. What's the last movie you produced?

MCNAIRY: (as Joe Stafford) "High and Dry."

AFFLECK: (as Tony Mendez) Who paid for that?

MCNAIRY: (as Joe Stafford) The CFDC.

AFFLECK: (as Tony Mendez) What's your middle name? What's your middle name? What's your middle name?

MCNAIRY: (as Joe Stafford) Leon.

AFFLECK: (as Tony Mendez) Shoot him. He's an American spy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LINCOLN")

TOMMY LEE JONES: (as Thaddeus Stevens) How can I hold that all men are created equal when here before me stands speaking the moral carcass of gentleman from Ohio, proof that some men are inferior.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LES MISERABLES")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) At the end of the day she'll be nothing but trouble. And there's trouble for all when there's trouble for one.

GREENE: That's right. Roll out the red carpet. Oscar voting is already underway. And we've just heard in scenes from "Argo" and "Lincoln" and "Les Miserables," it's shaping up to be quite a race. To break down some of the contenders Kim Masters joins us from NPR West. She's editor at large for The Hollywood Reporter.

And, Kim, thanks for joining us.

KIM MASTERS: My pleasure.

GREENE: Christmas Day seems like a great time to sit down and watch a movie and talk about movies.

MASTERS: Absolutely.

GREENE: Can I ask you a really basic question about the Oscars before we go on?

MASTERS: Of course.

GREENE: How many films can be nominated for Best Picture? I mean, is it five, is it ten, is there some limit?

MASTERS: Up to 10 can be nominated. And the process for reaching that number is mysterious and incomprehensible. Not only to me, but I think to a lot of the people who are voting.

GREENE: Everyone.

MASTERS: Yes. It has something to do with people ranking them according to what they think is number one and then eliminations. But up to ten. Between five and ten.

GREENE: And just the fact that, I mean, years that there are 10 does that mean it's an especially great year for movies or it's just too complicated to even get into that?

MASTERS: You know, I think this one is an especially good year. You know, it used to be that you could nominate five. And I pretty much for a long time have been able to say I can think of three. And then four and five, I'm having some trouble. This year, I could actually think of 10 solid contenders and a few that may be excluded that could be equally well nominated.

GREENE: Well, give us a few that are topping the list as contenders for Best Picture.

MASTERS: Well, I think we have certain movies that we pretty much know will be nominated - "Argo," the Ben Affleck CIA film, the escape from Iran during the revolution.

GREENE: Yeah.

MASTERS: "Lincoln," obviously, for sure, I would consider a front-runner right now - Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." "Les Miserables," based on the musical based on the French novel, actually.

GREENE: Right.

MASTERS: Definitely in there. "Silver Linings Playbook," a sort of off center comedy from David O. Russell." "Zero Dark Thirty," the hunt for Osama bin Laden. "Life of Pi" from Fox. And you could probably see "Django Unchained" in there, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," a smaller movie from earlier in the year.

GREENE: Long list.

MASTERS: Yes, absolutely. And I'm leaving some out that could still sneak in there.

GREENE: Well, let's get to some of the acting categories. Best Actor. I mean, Daniel Day-Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln. Is that a lock?

MASTERS: I would say for a nomination, it's a lock. For a win, it may also be a lock. You know, the competition, I think for sure, Bradley Cooper for "Silver Linings Playbook." John Hawkes for this movie "The Sessions," where he plays this guy in an iron lung. It's a very nice small movie. And he is very good in it. Hugh Jackman for "Les Miserables." Denzel Washington for "Flight." It's a strong category, but I've got to say Daniel Day-Lewis feels strong.

GREENE: You know, it's Christmas. I'm just in the mood. I want to hear a little bit from that movie. I love the scene where Lincoln is citing the mathematician Euclid to make, you know, a strong point about the equality of men. Let's give a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LINCOLN")

DANIEL DAY-LEWIS: (as Abraham Lincoln) Euclid's first common notion is this: Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. That's a rule of mathematical reasoning. It's true because it works. Has done and always will do. In his book, mmm, Euclid says this is self evident.

GREENE: Quiet, powerful scene. Well, let's move on to Best Actress. What do you think?

MASTERS: Well, we definitely are looking at Jessica Chastain for "Zero Dark Thirty," Maya, the person who hunted down Osama bin Laden. I think Marion Cotillard, who was in a movie called "Rust and Bone," is going to be in consideration. Jennifer Lawrence maybe also for "Silver Linings Playbook."

GREENE: She was in the "Hunger Games." It made her famous.

MASTERS: Yes. The little girl from "Beasts of the Southern Wild," Quvenzhane Wallis. She's, I think, nine years old now. An amazing performance in a movie that is, you know, a very, very original film.

GREENE: And what about Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"? Is she in the running for that?

MASTERS: As Best Supporting, she will be, I think, not only a lock for a nomination, but I would say she is likely a front-runner for that.

GREENE: As you look at the movies and the Oscar chances, does some narrative, some storyline emerge about the kind of year that we've had in Hollywood?

MASTERS: I mean, these are movies - there is so much handwringing in Hollywood now about the pressures on the business, the digital revolution, the cost of making and especially marketing these big splashy movies that are the top box office movies, like "The Avengers." These are movies that are, you know, very much based on sequels or remakes, you know, things like "Spiderman" this year were in the top 10. But somehow all these interesting movies got made, and to a surprising degree the studios are involved.

Argo is from Warner Brothers, you know, that's a roll of the dice that studios are very reluctant to take these days on a drama like that. "Flight," which could sneak in there, certainly probably will produce a nomination for Denzel Washington. You know, Paramount forced it to be made for $30 million, a tiny budget, and yet it worked. So I think a lot of people are saying maybe the studios will take heart from this and give us some more interesting films aimed at the big adult audience that feels often very underserved.

GREENE: Kim Masters hosts "The Business" on member station KCRW. Kim, Merry Christmas.

MASTERS: Same to you, David.

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