Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is this The Year of Matt Damon?

David Poland over at MCN (via In Contention) has written a column about the effect 10 best picture nominees might have on the Oscar race. Because the field will be so large, it'll be much harder to figure out what voter trends are this year. One of the trends he does give us could be the Matt Damon trend:

It could, I guess, be The Year of Matt Damon, who has Invictus, The Informer!, the animated Miyazaki film, Ponyo, and maybe even Green Zone coming out.
I think most film buffs knew that Damon had at least two films that were set for release this year. But when you combine the above mentioned titles with the news from back in March that Margaret might also be released (or not) in 2009, then we get a total of 5 Matt Damon films in one year (well, 6 if you count Che: Part 2). And they'll all be crammed in the second half of the year. So, how promising are these films anyway?

Cast: Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, Mark Ruffalo
Synopsis: A young woman (Paquin) witnesses a bus accident, and is caught up in the aftermath, where the question of whether or not it was intentional affects many people's lives. [IMDb]

Margaret is looking like it might never be released, though there was finally some news about it this year. Originally wrapped in 2005, there haven't been major announcements on this film in years. I was a teenager when this thing was completed. Word is that the project was incredibly long and director Kenneth Lonergan couldn't get a cut he liked that was under 150 minutes. Then there was the court drama. Earlier in the year Nico Muhly was hired to score the film which means that someone out there gives a damn about it. And we're still talking about it, which I guess, is good for any actor.

The Informant!
Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale
Release Date: October 9, 2009
Synopsis: Based on a true story, The Informant! focuses on Mark Whitacre (Damon), the vice president of Archer Daniels Midland, who blows the whistle on his company's price-fixing.

It seems easy to predict how this might turn out, at least commercially. Steven Soderbergh films (unless they are of the Ocean's variety) don't exactly set the box office on fire. Neither do dark comedies based on true stories. Critically we'll know how good this is by September once it screens at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Cast: Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman
Release Date: December 11, 2009
Synopsis: A look at life for Nelson Mandela after the fall of apartheid in South Africa during his first term as president when campaigned to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup event as an opportunity to unite his countrymen. [IMDb]

This is by far the most blatant piece of Oscar-bait of 2009. If it doesn't deliver in a big way, then it's doomed. Even though I have my own personal doubts - especially given how Hollywood has portrayed Africa in the past - I'm still looking forward to this project mostly because I'm interested in watching Damon's performance. Just how good or bad will his accent be?

Cast: Matt Damon, Tina Fey
Release Date: August 14, 2009
Synopsis: Ponyo, is about a 5-year-old boy and a goldfish princess in a world gone awry. [The New York Times]

Hayao Miyazaki's latest animated film will likely be his most commercially successful one in the United States. Disney, which owns the distribution rights, is trying to get the film into 800 theaters and promote it on the Disney Channel.

Green Zone
Cast: Matt Damon, Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson
Release Date: sometime in the fall
Synopsis: Based on the 2006 non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Green Zone is a thriller that takes place in Iraq's Green Zone prior to the US surge.

There is still no official release date, but most people are banking on a fall release since director Paul Greengrass completed the film earlier this year. It would be really great though, if Universal gave us a release date. Based on the track record of Iraq War films I expect this to do badly at the box office. Most Iraq War films are pretty awful with the exception of The Hurt Locker which I liked, but didn't love. A lot of people claim Iraq War films do badly because nobody wants to deal with the subject matter. I think they do badly because they're either badly made or boring (yes, even war films have to be engaging). If there's a team that can change that track record it's Damon and Greengrass.

It looks like Matt Damon may have a great year. Maybe even the best one of his career. He could get an Oscar nomination for Invictus or Green Zone, or hell, maybe for both. And since Oscar doesn't do comedy, maybe there will be a Golden Globe nomination for The Informant!.

Or, he could have a supremely shitty year. Like the kind Jude Law had in 2004. It looked like it would turn out great, at first. Even though some of the films weren't that good (Alfie, I'm looking at you) at least the worst of them was visually stunning (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). I Heart Huckabees, The Aviator, and Closer were all critical successes, but the praise and the awards nominations all went to Law's co-stars. He over saturated the market and it backfired. Has anybody cared about his films post-2004? Can you name a single film he's been in since 2004? Here's a hint: he's been in 5. Matt Damon could face a similar fate even if his films are good.

We'll just have to wait and see if this turns into a good year or bad year. Or if anyone notices or cares at all. In September we will get our first real clues.

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