a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

As the 51st Edition of the New York Film Festival, wound up tonight, where did all the Oscar seekers land? Who was helped? Who was hurt? Well, one thing is still sure. “12 Years a Slave” is STILL the front-runner and the one to beat emerging from this festival, where it also received its’ lion’s share of raves to match its’ tumultuous receptions at Telluride and Toronto. And it opens this coming Friday in theaters and expect the lion (NOT M.G.M.s) to keep on roaring.

“12 Years a Slave” depicts the horrors of slavery more completely and compellingly than any other film on the subject has been able to do. Oscar bound director Steve McQueen said “It is a film about a holocaust.” And it is. The moniker “The Black ‘Schindler’s List’” still aptly describes it, glib though that may be. And remember how many Oscars that dark, frightening, monumental film won!

But other things emerged at the NYFF, but not I think any other film that could topple “12 Years” from its’ front-runner status.

But Chiwetel Ejiafor saw competition to his Best Actor Oscar chances emerge from veterans Robert Redford and Bruce Dern, both 77. For “All Is Lost” and “Nebraska” respectively. Also Tom Hanks as well for “Captain Phillips” which opened the Festival. It’s clear now that ALL FOUR of these men are really seriously vying for the five slots. They may all get in. But so intense was the competition trying to take down Ejiafor (but assuredly not the Picture) that the rival film companies had all THREE of these films competing for red carpet time and media and audience attention by all playing on the same night! Tuesday!

I think that shows that Redford and Dern’s parties are especially scared. But this is particularly surprising in Redford’s case. He got a standing O and cheers galore from the audience at the NYFF, but I sense flop sweat. Ejiafor’s portrait of kidnapped slave Solomon Northrup is going to go down in history and is going  to be hard to beat. But clearly Redford’s crew has thrown down the gauntlet with this Tuesday night manuvering.

Some thought Hanks may not even squeeze into the top five, but Redford evidently is a sure-thing. But will he win?

Some say he’s giving the performance of his career, but if “All Is Lost,” a film with virtually no dialogue, tanks at the box-office that will be a different story. A sparse, intense drama at sea, which is well, exactly what “Captain Phillips” is, too. Uh-oh…

But “Phillips” killed at the box-office this past weekend. It was evidently smart to get it out immediately after its’ NYFF Opening Night stint. Where, like Redford, Hanks got a standing ovation. But who is in the better film?  It’s clearly Ejiafor.

And where does that leave Bruce Dern? Maybe in Supporting, if he’s smart. But I don’t think he’s smart. And the film is in Black and White, another hard sell.

These tiny, little gradations mean MUCH MORE than they’d usually mean in an ULTRA-tight Oscar race. Hanks was rumored to maybe even not get in!

But then again the box-office just spoke up on his behalf. And loudly.

Meanwhile, outside the NYFF, in the real world, “Gravity” was still breaking box office records and was even satirized on SNL on Sat. night. I can’t think of when a MOVIE, an Oscar-seeking movie was on SNL BEFORE the opening titles, this quickly! it’s become a pop cultural event and at barely 90 mins. running time, millions more people can see it and more quickly than any of the other film.

Who came a cropper at the NYFF? Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” which I quite enjoyed, but it’s slot as the prestigious Centerpiece film raised expectations and garnered the genial, funny film lots of negative reviews that its’ Oscar chances certainly didn’t deserve or need. I think it will make a lot of money and  family audiences will to it respond, too. It opens Christmas Day, which sounds perfect.

And “Inside Llewyn Davis” the latest from the much beloved Coen Bros? It seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. So many films. SO little time

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings are “Saving Mr. Banks” about the making of Disney’s classic “Mary Poppins” which Jeff Wells of http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com has announced that he’s going to fly over and see its’ London opening,, so he can scoop every one over here. Jeff, who’s been crazy about it, since he read the script, has been a big champion of it sight unseen and it co-stars Emma Thompson(who already has a two Oscars) and oh, him again, Tom Hanks (he’s also got two). Hanks could see himself in Supporting playing Walt Disney, which sounds like an Academy slam dunk, if ever there was one. But it could also diminish his “Captain Williams” shot at lead. Yes. It’s THAT competitive this year. Which is great, because it means that there are a lot of excellent films in the mix.

We shall see. I can’t wait for Jeff’s postings from London! But meanwhile, my (seemingly) endless journey of festivals is done. For the greater moment anyway. And I’ve seen a lot of good films this year. But nothing, NOTHING beats “12 Years a Slave.”

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