'The Counselor' Took Road Less Traveled Not Vying for Awards Love
by Joey Magidson
October 29, 2013
One of the benefits of hindsight when it comes to the awards season is to periodically look back and see just what some of us were predicting would be Oscar contenders at different points throughout the year. For example, remember when The Great Gatsby was, sight unseen, thought of as a Best Picture lock? I certainly do. Especially now, when nearly all the awards contenders have screened at film festivals or some form, I always like to see which titles currently stick out like a sore thumb. Now we're able to add one more to the list, and that's Ridley Scott's The Counselor. Oh boy, is it ever one to add to the list. More below!
I'd kept my distance from this flick in terms of predictions all year, but lots of other folks hadn't. Honestly, part of it was because of being burned last year by Prometheus, but mostly I just don't buy into the notion that the Academy is just waiting to honor Scott. It's the same reason I've stopped going out on limbs to predict John Cusack for acting nominations (more on that in a bit); sometimes it just seems like it's never going to happen. Scott had his time as a nominee and didn't win. Nothing in his current body of work suggests he's got a winner in him still, so perhaps it's time to move on.
Still, this was a trendy Best Picture/Director winner prediction earlier on this year. Even up until a few weeks ago, The Counselor was hanging around predictions, mainly in Picture, Supporting Actress for Cameron Diaz, and Original Screenplay for author turned screenwriter Cormac McCarthy. Folks might have backed off of Directing, Lead Actor for Michael Fassbender, Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem or Brad Pitt, and various technical citations, but they hadn't abandoned it completely. Then...well, they actually sat down to a screening and saw it.
Yes, this past weekend The Counselor hit theaters amid a near tidal wave of disappointed reviews. It's at 34% on Rotten Tomatoes as of the morning of it coming out, which is a far cry from where even I thought it would be. If you peruse the reviews though, you're not seeing out and out pans left and right, but they more seem to just be sad and wishing for a different movie than they got.
It happens every single year, but for some reason, we're always still surprised when something doesn't meet expectations. Just wait until pundits like myself see American Hustle. If in any way, shape, or form it doesn't play like a Best Picture nominee/potential winner, it's going to get mauled and brought down several pegs, fairly or unfairly. Part of the awards game is meeting and exceeding expectations, so when you don't, like in the case of Scott's new film, you suffer the consequences.
When we look back on the contenders that never were, The Counselor will certainly wind up being one of the oddest looking ones there. It's almost like how people look at anyone who predicted Only God Forgives for anything earlier this year and just cock an eyebrow, doing their best impersonation of The Rock. The notion just seems silly. I've been guilty of this before (don't ask how many times I've predicted Cusack for the still unreleased movie Shanghai), so I've eaten my fair share of crow.
I'm not saying that a film that doesn't meet expectations can't still be a good film (though in this case, if the shoe fits...), but to be an awards contender that kind of has to happen. Some pundits looked at the radio silence on the part of this movie as a sign of confidence and going for the box office before the awards. I didn't quite see it as a sign of impending disaster, but I was suspicious and skeptical, which I now know was the prudent thought process to have.
Perhaps from now on, when the evidence (no early screenings, a director on the downturn, skipping the festival circuit, etc) points towards a film not being an awards contender, the mind frame of my colleagues will turn towards it as just a regular movie, as opposed to trying to make it into something that it's not. By doing so, not only will the film itself not have to suffer extra criticism, but the critics themselves won't feel this sense of disappointment that you can see throughout the reviews of The Counselor. Plus, maybe a different film can sneak up and surprise them with this method? Stay tuned.