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Summermetrics vs. Oscarmetrics

Our movie experts look back at the summer so far, and ahead to the coming Oscar race

This week marks more or less the halfway point not just of summer but of the entire year; to celebrate, and to avoid reviewing Ice Age: Continental Drift, your Summermetrician, Zach Baron, invited Mark Harris, in-house Grantland Oscar expert and author of the great Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, to discuss 2012’s year in movies so far. It kind of got out of hand …

BARON: Mark! When last we heard from you, The Artist had just triumphed in one of the most self-congratulatory and uninspiring Oscar races ever, Viola Davis had watched Meryl Streep elbow Billy “Blackface” Crystal aside to accept an award that probably should have been hers, and you had finally finished getting the last bits of black and white inked into your Undying Magic of Old Hollywood Cinema full back tattoo. It is striking, all over again, to think about what a rough year 2011 was for movies: flickering with a palpable, craven longing for the past (Hugo, The Artist, Midnight in Paris, etc.), short on pleasures both “serious” (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Manipulative) and big-budget (R.I.P., Green Lantern, Ryan Reynolds’s career, my faith in 3-D technology, and humanity in general). We are now almost exactly halfway through another admittedly backloaded year of movies. Where is your 2012 optimism meter presently hovering?

HARRIS: As you know, it’s been a long and painful process trying to have that back tattoo removed. But the producers of the direct-to-DVD Magic Mike 2 have informed me that if I am to take over Matthew McConaughey’s role, it has to go. However, my own suffering aside, my optimism meter is pointing firmly and robustly north. (Insert second Magic Mike joke here.)

North, and also ahead, since 2012 is, as you said, backloaded — almost deliriously so. There’s not much point in handicapping the Oscar odds of unreleased movies, since that’s just a way of providing free marketing to whatever looks good on paper. But I think we can say that any fourth quarter that includes major new movies by Ben Affleck, Paul Thomas Anderson, Peter Jackson, Tom Hooper, Ang Lee, Baz Luhrmann, David O. Russell, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, the Wachowski no-longer-brothers-but-still-siblings, Joe Wright, and (with his return to live-action grown-up movies after a dozen years) Robert Zemeckis is, at least, encouraging. And, of course, by limiting that pedigreed list to an arbitrary dozen, I’m leaving out some lower-profile movies that could end up being good enough to knock some of those big names out of contention.

But let’s leave all that aside for the moment, because there are actually some worthy contenders from the first half of the year to discuss, which brings me back to Magic Mike, and specifically, to the never-nominated McConaughey and his fantastic work as the baby-oiled lizard-hustler at the dubious top of Tampa’s male-strip-club hierarchy. I can’t decide if this is a near-guaranteed nomination — a showy comeback by an immensely likable actor who suddenly seems fully in touch with the thing that makes him special — or the 2012 version of Albert Brooks in Drive: A great supporting turn in a kinda funky movie that is lavished with Internet praise and year-end critical hugs for the actor but just misses with older Academy voters, who are not conversant with assless chaps and who may not appreciate McConaughey from the back any more than they appreciated Fassbender from the front.

BARON: Glad you kicked off the Magic Mike/Oscar conversation early: It is my sincere hope that even now, Cirque du Soleil is figuring out how to whimsically fly through the air to an orchestral version of Ginuwine’s “Pony.” (I picture McConaughey emerging at the ceremony stage left, bongo drum clenched firmly between his knees, to cue the crowd: “Can you touch this?” [Acrobat waves a glittery streamer.] “No!”)

I wish it were not so, but my hunch is that voters will have forgotten all about this relatively small, charming movie by the time Oscar voting season rolls around. McConaughey also has the enviable problem of potentially splitting his own vote: In addition to Magic Mike, he’s also set for attractive roles in Killer Joe, The Paperboy, and Mud; only one of these films contains a brilliant self-parody by an actor who seemed lost as recently as a few years ago, but that is a lot of noise to surround what is already probably a long shot, no?

This raises an interesting question, though: How many Oscar-relevant 2012 performances and/or movies do you reckon we’ve already seen? I count at least two: Benh Zeitlin’s Louisiana fantasia Beasts of the Southern Wild, which is every bit as astonishing as the rapturous buzz out of Cannes had suggested, and — this is much more farfetched, probably — Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, which despite being jewel-box-y and precious in the way that all of Anderson’s films tend to be jewel-box-y and precious, is probably the director’s best work in more than a decade, darker and stranger and more unsettlingly resonant than anything he’s done since The Royal Tenenbaums, if not Rushmore.

Both films sport heartbreakingly serious and talented young women: Moonrise stars the 13-year-old Mensa member and living Madeleine L’Engle character Kara Hayward, while Beasts introduces to the world Quvenzhané Wallis, who was 5 years old when she auditioned for the part of Hushpuppy, and whose performance in this film is a revelation, a masterpiece of composure and emotional intelligence. Her tremulous speaking voice alone could knock down buildings. Do they give Oscars to tiny children, Mark?

HARRIS: They do, although most of those tiny children appear, externally, to be full-grown adults. And now, my 2012 Oscar-season debut as The Meanest Man in the World. Because when it comes to little Quvenzhané Wallis, I think it would be an irresponsible mistake for Fox to drag her through awards season as a walking, talking Oscar campaign tool. If she gets an Oscar nomination, it will still be a mistake. And if she wins, it will be a bigger one.

Don’t get me wrong: She’s adorable. She’s a completely appealing presence onscreen, and she is perfectly used in this very weird, very impressive (and also problematic) debut film. But what you see onscreen is not a reasoned, thought-through performance by an actress who is using her skills to calibrate the effect of what she does on audiences. It’s the result of first-time director Benh Zeitlin’s superb handling of a sweet young child.

Which is why Best Director is a nomination I can see for Beasts; it looks and plays like no other movie you’ll see this year. But Best Actress? Remember, it’s not like throwing a 13-year-old or even a talented 9-year-old up against four adults. The kid you’re seeing onscreen is 6. And yeah, comparing actresses is always apples and oranges, but with the other four, whoever they end up being, we’ll be able to talk about their performances and not the fact that they were bribed with candy on long days, or had their lines rewritten because long words were too hard to say, or were filmed without being aware of it in the hope that natural moments would be captured. Well, maybe the candy thing happens with adults. But to quote the star herself, “I didn’t even know about acting. That was just me.”

Also: Telling a kid that young that now her job is to go be interviewed by a lot of grown-ups and have her picture taken so that she can win a prize? Ugh. Yecch. Gross.

Don’t worry, I won’t rant about Moonrise Kingdom too. Instead, I’ll just shrug. When the movie opened to super-strong grosses in a few theaters, I thought it might grow into Anderson’s Midnight in Paris — the film that so far outperforms the filmmaker’s other work that it becomes a kind of mandatory Oscar occasion. Instead, it looks like its final take will fall into the category of “very good for a Wes Anderson movie.” Which means that its eventual fate in the Oscar conversation will probably rest on just how good all of those end-of-the-year movies are.

But Zach, you’ve spent the last couple of months doing weekly reports not on delicate little outliers like Beasts and Moonrise but on this season’s huge, brightly colored, noisy, spectacular money machines (although in a lot of cases there must be some sort of design flaw in those machines, because instead of minting money, they’re incinerating it). Do any of this summer’s big movies (please note, we’re writing at a pre–Christopher Nolan moment) deserve a place on our premature Oscar cheat sheet? (For the purposes of this chat, I’ll count two films for which I’d like to make small cases, The Hunger Games and Mirror Mirror, as honorary summer movies.)

BARON: Happy to report that child services has finally left my apartment and has declared that I’m allowed to remain a free man as long as I drop my Quvenzhané Wallis Oscar campaign and also apologize to some guy named Mark Harris … it’s weird, he has the same name as you and everything. To your point, though: not sure if it matters to me, the intentionality, craft, or lack thereof behind that performance. If it was “just her,” then give her a prize for being her (amazing) self, I don’t care.

But I suspect you’re right that there is a cruelty implicit in a Best Actress campaign here, and perhaps a bit of a risk for the film’s larger prospects as well. That’s what I take you to be implying by your “problematic” comment, anyway: the politics of the creation of Beasts, which is a kind of surrealist anthropological chronicle of a splinter Louisiana community trying to survive a Katrina-like event — there are also snuffling, mythical beasts, moonshine, and a psychedelic floating bordello — are complicated at best.

You know what’s not complicated? Mirror Mirror, which is not even my favorite take on the Snow White myth this year — that would be the ludicrous, animal-drunk Snow White and the Huntsman — and which to these eyes only deserves awards consideration if they give out awards for things like “Most Improbably Gigantic Golden Dresses” or “Most Times Armie Hammer Must Take Off His Shirt and Bark at Julia Roberts Like a Pitiable Dog.” Tarsem Singh has unicorns for eyes, but there is an exquisitely shot void in the part of his movies where the plot and ideas and momentum go.

The Hunger Games seems more plausible: When they expanded the Best Picture field in 2009, it was to make room for serious-minded crowd-pleasers like The Hunger Games and The Dark Knight Rises, which will probably have to be very bad indeed to not snag one of the surplus nominations that were pretty much explicitly created for Nolan. Plus, after last year’s toxically staid and commercially wan slate of nominated films, we are almost certainly in store for a populist correction, no?

Whether that correction will encompass Gary Ross’s Hunger Games — which takes a calmly poised performance from Jennifer Lawrence and makes it walk around the woods in search of some real narrative tension or the palpable sense of existential despair that was so powerful in the books — probably depends on the quality of movies we haven’t seen yet. Feels like a long shot to me, though.

As this website’s resident Summermetrician, I do feel the need to make a plea for Prometheus, which if nothing else is likely to be this summer’s most visually sumptuous — and, speaking of existential despair — adamantly adult blockbuster. I am not naive enough to think the Academy cares one drop of menacing cosmic sludge about the origins of mankind when said origins are explained via intensely graphic xenomorph C-section, but can we at least get a nod for Michael Fassbender’s coolly sinister robot, David, who is much better with a basketball than Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien Resurrection, and whose Lawrence of Arabia obsession ought to at least count for something with resolutely backward-looking Oscar voters?

HARRIS: I apologize to you and your readers for mentioning Mirror Mirror and the Oscars in the same sentence. I did so only because I would be happy to see some posthumous recognition for those amazing costumes by Eiko Ishioka (whose Costume Design win for Dracula in 1992 was among the most deserved ever in that category). I mean, improbably gigantic golden dresses are what the Academy Awards are all about, Zach! Look what the statuette’s wearing!

But I’m with you: Snow White and the Huntsman, which boasts nomination-worthy art direction, costumes, cinematography, and visual effects, outshines it in every regard, which proves … I don’t know what. Maybe that if you’re going to indulge in a genre as regressed as fairy-tales-retrofitted-as-overpriced-action-movies-about-“empowerment,” it’s better to play it straight, as Huntsman did, than to offer up Mirror Mirror‘s failed smirk. Tarsem is not a director you want to go to for big laughs. Intentional ones, I mean.

I liked The Hunger Games more than you did. I know some fans of the book think it was unduly softened; I disagree. It is, after all, a blockbuster movie about the systematic murder-for-entertainment of more than a dozen children, with nods to the rigid unfairness of class structure and the moral rot of consumer capitalism. I was impressed and held by its tempered toughness — more than I have been by most of this summer’s would-be blockbusters. (And doesn’t the movie deserve some credit for zipping through the novel’s less-than-fascinating “I like this boy, but I like that boy too” stuff so efficiently? No Kristen Stewart lip-gnawing ambivalence for Jennifer Lawrence!)

I’d also argue that its $400 million-plus domestic gross was a testament to the fact that, more than the Twilight movies or even the best Harry Potter movies, Hunger Games worked well for the not inconsiderable segment of the audience that was completely unfamiliar with the source material. If some big, popular movie from 2012 is going to sneak into the Best Picture race, I’d much prefer that one to The Avengers, which is an absolutely stunning feat of corporate sequel synthesis and international brand management, and an OK movie.

But I’ll predict right now that a Best Picture nomination is not going to happen for either film, and — as someone who wishes The Dark Knight had been a contender — I’m OK with that. There’s a lot of Internet foot-stomping about the Academy risking “irrelevance” or, worse, “elitism” when these big movies don’t get nominated. But the Oscars aren’t the MTV Movie Awards, and it seems to me that an adequate reward for making a lot of money is having a lot of money.

I’m not hazarding any guesses about The Dark Knight Rises — we’ll all have more than enough to chew on once we see the movie. And as for Prometheus: You caught me. I’m off to catch up with it now and hope to have some deep thoughts. Or, at least, to have as much fun as I did when I got an adult to buy me a ticket to Ridley Scott’s Alien in Olden Tymes when ticket-sellers actually asked you if you were old enough to see an R-rated movie. More later!

(Meanwhile, you can beat me up for writing such a long answer while avoiding all those knotty questions of race and class and truthfulness about Beasts of the Southern Wild that seem destined to be talked to death before most of its intended audience has even gotten to see it. My quick take: It’s unfair to dismiss Beasts as some sort of social-studies field trip by earnest white Wesleyan students. The movie is much better than that. But its take on the “authenticity” and resiliency of the rural poor and the perfect broken poetry of childhood can tend toward a kind of fuzzy-headed one-size-fits-all politics that I find problematic. Not nearly so problematic that I’d discourage anyone from seeing the movie, though.)

Yours in equivocation,

[Six hilariously short hours later.]

(I’m now writing from two years in the future, having just emerged from spaceship Cryovac sleep.)

Wow, Prometheus was so, so, so much better than I expected! Visually astounding, intestinally disgusting, thematically engrossing, dense and dank and tactile and dark and nightmarish and grown-up, directed with truly impressive septuagenarian vitality, and only slightly dragged down by a Jesus–meets–Chariots of the Gods script that’s a little too reminiscent of the “Ask all the Big Questions, then run toward the Light and hope for the best” dramaturgical style of Lost. (You said all of this much better in your piece a few weeks ago.) Anyway, this is not just some piece of processed cheese that rolled off the summer assembly line between Snow White and That’s My Boy. It’s the most enjoyable creation myth since … The Tree of Life? The Social Network? And you’re right: Fassbender is the best bad robot since J.J. Abrams’s production logo. Sequel, please!

But is it an Oscar contender? Possibly in the sound and visual effects categories, and for art direction … which is where we seem to be consigning a lot of these movies. My caution/skepticism is grounded in numerical reality: Last year, for instance, less than 20 percent of the total nominations for feature films in all categories went to movies released before July 1. But part of the issue does seem to be a deep aversion among many Academy voters not just to summer movies but to the way in which they now devour and define the entire industry. You’ve spent the last couple of months neck-deep in all of the different things that “summer movie” means, Zach, so I wonder if you feel that, at the end of 2012 when most of these films get ignored, it’ll be an example of the kind of snobbery that short-shrifts the work of actors like McConaughey and Fassbender, or it’ll happen just because the movies that come out in the fall will be, you know, better. Or, to take another approach: Let’s say there are 10 Best Picture nominees this year. How many slots would you like to reserve for films you’ve seen already? And if there are only five nominees (which is possible), would you still want any of them to make the cut?

BARON: I refuse to be your populist stooge, Mark! But to briefly pull off the Channing Tatum latex mask that I’ve been wearing for the last two months: What you’re really asking for is a philosophy, a comprehensive vision of What Movies Should Look Like in 2012. When the gang of old white men who make up the Academy give Best Picture to The Artist, they are essentially making an argument that the Film Hollywood Should Be Making is one that takes mild formal risks, works out of a deep respect for the history of the medium, and contains an adorable dog. When the younger white man who is writing this sentence nominates Kristen Stewart for Princess of the Universe, he is making a different, more poptimist argument — that we as intelligent adults and enthusiastic moviegoers can still find a lot to like, even in a movie as flawed and ultimately inconsequential as Snow White and the Huntsman.

So it’s not snobbery so much as a certain kind of conservatism, to my mind, that leaves guys like McConaughey and Fassbender in the cold come Oscar season. Academy voters are terrified that a vote for a performance like McConaughey’s is a vote for a cinema of improperly worn bondage gear and the word “alright” repeated into sweet, sweet infinity. In Hollywood — though by no means just in Hollywood — to universalize your appreciation of something is to make an implicit argument for more of it. And that is how critics like myself end up writing columns that concede that while The Avengers was the best possible movie it could’ve been, given the amount of people who had a say in how it was made, its success was in some way a larger failure for an industry that will now inevitably try to make 10 more versions of this same film, eight or nine of which will likely be closer to Thor — or worse, Wrath of the Titans — than to Iron Man or The Avengers.

But here I am, awkwardly kickflipping like Andrew Garfield out of the way of your question. Beasts and Moonrise are on the Best Picture list for me right now, mostly by default, though I would be happy to see either or both get bumped by Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Tarantino’s Django Unchained, or even Affleck’s Argo, to name three movies I predict I will be helplessly in love with. And save a spot for Prometheus too — or The Dark Knight Rises, or both — because I would rather see a Best Picture race that hinged on competing visions of What Hollywood Should Be than one that sliced the usual and completely disingenuous December prestige onslaught into five or 10 tiny variations on the same theme. Besides, Academy voters would be better served backing guys like Nolan and Scott — who make the big-budget blockbuster entertainments that this industry will never stop making, but who do so in a supremely thoughtful and ambitious way — than to turn their back on the whole summer enterprise. The fact is that these days, in Hollywood, summer lasts all year.

Of course, you know this already, Mark. In February of last year, you wrote an influential and much-referred-to-in-this-column article for GQ called “The Day the Movies Died,” which eloquently captured the way in which new kinds of financial and creative pressures set the studio system on the path to becoming what it is now: top-heavy, intensely averse to risk, sequel-mad, brand-obsessed, and addicted to marketing, frequently at the expense of what’s actually being sold. You conclude that essay by pointing a finger in an uncomfortable direction: at us. Hollywood makes the movies we pay to see. Critics like myself can (and did!) gripe endlessly about Sony’s maddening decision to reset its Spider-Man franchise to the exact same point it was at only 10 years ago, but the studio is — and who could blame them? — too busy counting its $140 million in first-week receipts to hear, let alone attend to, that kind of complaint.

But while The Avengers and Hunger Games have done great business, many other colossally expensive summer films — John Carter, Battleship, and, to a lesser extent, MIB3, among others — have either underperformed or flamed out spectacularly. So my wistful, wishful question to you: Can we take any comfort in a summer that has, so far, by and large rewarded the better-crafted blockbusters at the comical expense of Taylor Kitsch’s career and the jobs of the executives who green-lit many of these commercial and creative misfires? Put another way: Are we any closer to another Inception, a sui generis blockbuster with its own mythology and auteurist director calling the unexpected and exhilarating shots? Or has a summer of well-executed franchise cornerstones like Hunger Games and The Avengers only doomed us to live in this exact moment for the next 10 years, if not longer?

HARRIS: This discussion started so pleasantly and simply, with Matthew McConaughey’s tan, toned, and glistening butt (brought to you either by Industrial Light & Magic, a stunt double, or a diet and exercise regimen so brutal that I’m going to file it under Just Not Worth It). How on earth did we get from there to here (to steal a question from Prometheus)? And how do we get out?

One path toward a better vision for the Academy Awards — and for movies themselves — may be to try to peel away every possible stereotype. When we refer to Academy voters as old white men, we’re saying something that is literally true in terms of demographics, but also ultimately reductive. Terrence Malick, Stephen King, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, and Tom Berenger (to name just a few of this year’s newly invited members) are all old white men, but I can’t imagine them rubber-stamping their choices on that basis, or coalescing into an old-fogey voting bloc. And even if they did, who’s to say that new members Melissa McCarthy, S. Epatha Merkerson, Diego Luna, Wong Kar-wai, and Michelle Yeoh won’t cancel them out? Yes, Oscar voters tend toward a kind of esthetic conservatism in choosing their winners (much less so, I’d say, for their nominees). But I don’t particularly want to see the Academy’s very imperfect judgment replaced with a kind of Internet-driven This Is What Is Awesome vibe, since younger, hipper, more web-based movie love can be at least as guilty of insularity and uniformity.

So maybe we could engineer a summer/winter truce. We could agree to stop dismissing April-to-August movies as cynical cartoon crapfests that are the demon spawn of craven marketing departments and arrested-adolescence filmmakers (although I would ask for a moment of mournful silence for the three $50 million movies that will never be made because that money has already been earmarked for Thor 2). At the same time, can we agree to call bullshit on phrases like “Oscar bait” to describe the less effects- and marketplace-driven movies that tend to dominate the Oscars, as well as on tarring the people who like them as Masterpiece Theatre fuddy-duddies, olds, snobs, or elitists?

Because, as you point out, the movies we end up caring about most every year render those distinctions silly. I don’t care when a Christopher Nolan or Ridley Scott film opens or what genre it belongs to; I’ll be interested, because they’re thoughtful moviemakers with incredible command of their medium, and I want to know what’s on their minds. By the same token, I think it is a crime against art — seriously — that self-fulfilling marketplace dictates have forced a ludicrous scrum of ambitious movies aimed at adults into the last two months of every year. That release pattern creates a kind of quality fatigue that leads to weary dismissiveness, which is every bit as hazardous to the creative health of the movies as the never-ending summer is.

I am always reluctant to draw conclusions about the public’s taste from the box-office results of a season that is so driven by advertising dollars. But one thing that’s struck me about the grosses lately is that the audience seems to be favoring movies that take themselves seriously. I don’t mean movies without humor — some of the best moments in The Avengers are also some of the funniest moments. But The Avengers, even though I’m not wild about it, really believes that the comic-book heroes it features are intrinsically interesting and that something is at stake in their conflicts. And that matters. I look at the movies that are flopping this season, like Dark Shadows, which revives an old series for the sole purpose of taking easy potshots at period kitsch, or Battleship, which is based on a game that is not even as interesting as a Find-A-Word puzzle, or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which basically has no place to go as a movie that it doesn’t already go in its title. And I wonder if, collectively, their rejection by moviegoers says something about the limits of what Vulture recently called lie-concept movies — films whose huge marketing campaigns seem to come with built-in air-quotes that tell moviegoers not to bother.

Did we get too far from the Oscars? I’ll bring us back. Taylor Kitsch, you do not need to rent a tuxedo this winter. But you should try to get a meeting with Steven Soderbergh as soon as possible.

BARON: Cody Horn is nodding her head in solemn agreement right now.

But let me do something here that I probably should have done a long time ago. Taylor Kitsch has been a comedic anvil for this column — to the point where I promised two weeks ago, in an evidently wildly disingenuous way, that I would stop mentioning the poor guy — but you could conceivably make the argument (as Vulture recently did) that he has not been well served by even one of the three high-profile movies he’s starred in this year. There was no saving John Carter or Battleship. And Savages, which has received better — which is to say, mixed-to-positive — reviews, sticks Kitsch with the role of Wargasm-Having Guy Who Yells (and, worse, the name “Chon”): hardly a flattering fit for an actor whose primary strength involves manfully cradling an open beer can and gazing emotionally into the Texas sunset. There is a reason you and I are now nearing our 5,000th Magic Mike joke in this column (also, our 5,000th word; sorry, everyone!). It’s one of the rare, mid-budget summer movies that actually seems attentive to the abilities and weaknesses of the actors involved. There is run-of-the-mill, everyday Hollywood cynicism and then there is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a movie that would’ve been essentially the same with ferrets cast in the four to five lead roles.

Still, my sense is that we’ve been treated to an above-average year so far. My grumbles about The Hunger Games or The Amazing Spider-Man or The Avengers aside, any one of those movies is probably better than almost anything we got last year. We’ve had solid genre efforts in 21 Jump Street, The Vow, and Magic Mike (the latex mask is back on, by the way), spiky, flawed, but worthwhile films from Wes Anderson, Whit Stillman, and Oliver Stone, borderline great stuff in Prometheus and Beasts of the Southern Wild, and a likely Oscar contender that neither of us have mentioned yet, probably because both of us remain under retirement age: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. We’ve had colossally entertaining displays of financial and creative hubris. And we are writing this a week before The Dark Knight Rises even enters into the conversation, to say nothing of Total Recall, Lawless, Looper, The Bourne Legacy, and the rest of the big summer movies that have yet to be released.

Which is where, if I can just ease you into your warm, Minority Report bath here for a second, I might ask you for some sense of what you think the rest of the summer holds, both in terms of the Oscar race and in terms of the overall health and well-being of the industry. My sense is The Amazing Spider-Man was a big domino that has now fallen in Hollywood’s favor; if The Dark Knight Rises can do what it’s supposed to do next week, I imagine we’ll hear the exhalation of relief from all the way across the country, right through the flimsy walls of our windowless New York garrets. So what is there left to watch for? What remains at stake for this summer? What don’t we already know?

HARRIS: What don’t we know? We don’t know if The Bourne Legacy is going to be the movie that secures Jeremy Renner’s transition from electrifying character actor to Franchise Man. (Bourne, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, and The Avengers in eight months; has any two-time Oscar nominee ever been more hell-bent on becoming the basis for an action figure?) We don’t know, yet, if there was any good reason to remake Total Recall: Does Colin Farrell saying “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” sound that much better than Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, “Ef A’m naahhdd me, daahhn who dhe hell ahm I?” We don’t know if the over-50 appeal of Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in the marital-strife seriocomedy Hope Springs is going to be this year’s late-summer-counterprogramming masterstroke à la The Help. And we don’t know why the phenomenal financial success of Bridesmaids last summer seems to have had zero effect on this year’s lineup. Well, actually, we do know about that last one — in Hollywood, it takes not one but two years for studios to get the point, even when the point couldn’t be more obvious.

So where does that leave us? With nowhere to go but toward a defense of an actor who’s worth defending despite his current status as a human rim shot. Taylor Kitsch, this one’s for you. After all, we started this whole exchange by enthusiastically making the case for Matthew McConaughey, a legit Oscar-nomination contender who, not so many bad choices, flops, and miscastings ago, would have been the perfect Kitsch-like punching bag for a column like this. Actors can always surprise you — and isn’t the moment when one of them exceeds expectations and upends everything you think you know about them one of the joys of any movie season? You look at Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and think ferrets could have starred (although clearly they were all busy making profit-participation deals for the, what is it, 16th or 17th Ice Age movie). But a year ago, Vampire Hunter‘s leading Abe, Benjamin Walker, blew the roof off a Broadway theater in the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and I don’t doubt that down the road, he could make happier news in Summermetrics, Oscarmetrics, or both. So, to Kitsch, I say: full hearts, hot abs, can’t lose! Here’s hoping, sincerely, that you have the last laugh.

Filed Under: Academy Awards, Awards, Movies, Oscarmetrics, Prometheus, Series, Summer Movies, Summermetrics, The Avengers, The Hunger Games