Lots of empty seats at Sunday's double feature
"War Horse" impressed Academy voters. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" left some in tears and others indifferent. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" drew rare applause in the first five minutes, after its opening credits.
And on the final weekend of the Academy's official membership screenings for 2011, most Oscar voters were apparently off doing their Christmas shopping.
According to reports from members in attendance, crowds were small at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Saturday and Sunday, where several of the year's big awards contenders screened for AMPAS members.
The crucial screenings were Sunday's afternoon/evening double bill of Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (left), followed by Steven Spielberg's "War Horse."
The former film, after being tightly embargoed for a couple of weeks, is now beginning to be reviewed – and its early reviews have been mixed, with Todd McCarthy saying "emotional fluency and literary pretense go hand in hand" and Gabe Toro at the Playlist called it "effective in short spurts."
But others have found themselves deeply touched by the film, which deals with the aftermath of 9/11 ("emotionally staggering," wrote Brad Brevet) – and the reaction was through-the-roof positive at the early screening I attended, at which the audience was liberally sprinkled with guild and Academy members.
Still, the Sunday afternoon AMPAS screening of "Extremely Loud," according to a few of those in attendance, met with a muted response. On the last pre-holiday weekend, the crowd was reportedly very small, and the film met with what one member described as "not more than polite applause."
Said a voter in attendance (who did not like the film), "can't see it advancing much if that's the kind of reaction it's getting from members."
Another member, though, disputed that report, and said the film drew a good reaction and left many in the crowd in tears.
That evening, "War Horse" drew a bigger crowd, though the Goldwyn was still nowhere near capacity. (As a member pointed out, the film has been screening aggressively around town for a few weeks.) The film met with good applause at the end, and one voter speculated that the strength of its crafts will help make it a real contender.
Another voter (who loved the film) described the reaction as "no walk outs and applause at the end, although not overwhelming." Afterwards, the member did report hearing some grumbling that the film was "too perfect and manipulative."
On Saturday, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" screened at the Goldwyn to the biggest crowd of the five weekend showings (the other two being "We Bought a Zoo" on Saturday afternoon and "Albert Nobbs" on Sunday at noon).
"Dragon Tattoo" not only drew applause at the end of the film, but also at the end of the opening credit sequence, a bracing abstract sequence set to Trent Reznor's and Karen O's brutal version of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song."
Still, even those who liked the film wondered if it might not be too dark and shocking for voters. One member figured its best Oscar shot would be for Rooney Mara in the Best Actress race.
New York-based Academy members will have their official screening of the film on Tuesday, along with additional screenings of "We Bought a Zoo," "A Separation" and "Extremely Loud" later in the week. In Los Angeles, London and the Bay Area, though, membership screenings have now concluded for the year.