Oscar Preview: The “War Horse” – Steven Spielberg

Every week from now until the critics groups start giving out their prizes for the best of the year, I’m going to be spotlighting the big Oscar players and their chances at Oscar glory this year.

We start out this week with the Oscar’s biggest war horse (pun intended). And I’m not talking about his latest movie (though, technically, I will be). We’re highlighting Steven Spielberg this week who has not just one big Oscar contender this year, but two.

Spielberg’s courtship with Oscar began 36 years ago with his genre-busting blockbuster Jaws. Although the director himself was not nominated for Jaws, the film earned nominations for Best Picture, Editing, Original Score (longtime collaborator John Williams) and Sound, winning for all but Best Picture. From that year forward, Spielberg’s films have amassed a stellar 103 nominations and 29 Oscars including two Best Director prizes for Spielberg (Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan). Of the 24 big screen efforts he’s directed, only 4 have not received at least one nomination (though, half of those have been in the last decade). Matter of fact, he hasn’t had a film earn 6 or more nominations in one year in more than a decade. So is the Spielbergian era over? Not yet. Of his two films this year (War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin), he may end up with at least one double-digit nominee and the other a solid bet in a handful of categories.

War Horse

This is Spielberg’s best opportunity at Best Picture/Director nominations since Munich six years ago. While Munich only ended up with 5 nominations, the film wasn’t even a sure thing for a Best Picture nomination at that point. You have to go all the way back to Saving Private Ryan to find the level of potential War Horse has. While critics haven’t weighed in on the film, the source material was successfully adapted to the Broadway stage last year and earned 5 Tony Award nominations and won the award for Best Play. That shows it’s a potent story that appeals to a broad array of artists. The novel, by Michael Morpurgo, on which both productions are based, is well regarded, so it should have plenty of fans. Spielberg has done very well with adaptations and strongly emotional stories and being set during World War I should give it plenty of leverage in a number of categories.

Forecast Categories (where the film is most likely to compete): Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Sound, Sound Effects and Visual Effects.

The Adventures of Tintin

Based on the very popular series of French comic books, The Adventures of Tintin is the first film in a trilogy produced by Spielberg and Lord of the Rings impresario Peter Jackson. Jackson will direct the second film and both Spielberg and Jackson may co-direct the third film (which, as a side note, might be the most powerful director team ever nominated for the Oscars).

American audiences aren’t as familiar with the popular European character and some viewers who are familiar with the popular television pooch Rin Tin Tin might confuse the two (this last situation is unlikely but possible). But, the advertising has already begun ahead of its planned Christmas launch and with the prevalence of 3D films and animated films, the combination may make this one of the year’s major blockbusters (even if audiences aren’t initially familiar with the source material). The big question mark here is the use of motion capture technology. Although it’s been rendered by frequent Jackson collaborator Weta Digital (the best visual effects house currently working), the Academy has never shown love for the medium. The animation branch of the Academy even wrote rules in that would prohibit motion capture animation from competing in the Animated Feature category (the specific wording, “Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique”, could be debated). Setting that aside, the film might still be able to pull a small handful of nominations, though there aren’t a lot of categories in which it would be permitted, including Best Picture if the film is popular enough with critics and Academy members.

Forecast Categories (where the film is most likely to compete): Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Original Song (if there is one), Art Direction, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects.

Steven Spielberg’s Oscar History

  • The Sugarland Express (1974) 0 / 0
  • Jaws (1975) 4 / 3 [Picture, Editing, Original Score, Sound]
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) 8 / 1 [Director, Supporting Actress (Melinda Dillon), Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound, Visual Effects]
  • 1941 (1979) 3 / 0 [Cinematography, Sound, Visual Effects]
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 8 / 4 [Picture, Director, Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound, Visual Effects]
  • E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) 9 / 4 [Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Sound Effects, Visual Effects]
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) 2 / 1 [Original Score, Visual Effects]
  • The Color Purple (1985) 11 / 0 [Picture, Actress (Whoopi Goldberg), Supporting Actress (Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Original Song (“Miss Celie’s Blues”), Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup]
  • Empire of the Sun (1987) 6 / 0 [Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound]
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) 3 / 1 [Original Score, Sound, Sound Effects]
  • Always (1989) 0 / 0
  • Hook (1991) 5 / 0 [Original Song (“When You’re Alone”), Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Visual Effects]
  • Jurassic Park (1993) 3 / 3 [Sound, Sound Effects, Visual Effects]
  • Schindler’s List (1993) 12 / 7 [Picture, Actor (Liam Neeson), Supporting Actor (Ralph Fiennes), irector, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Sound]
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) 1 / 0 [Visual Effects]
  • Amistad (1997) 4 / 0 [Supporting Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Original Score, Cinematography, Costume Design]
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998) 11 / 5 [Picture, Actor (Tom Hanks), Director, Original Screenplay, Original Drama Score, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Makeup, Sound, Sound Effects]
  • A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) 2 / 0 [Original Score, Visual Effects]
  • Minority Report (2002) 1 / 0 [Sound Effects]
  • Catch Me If You Can (2002) 2 / 0 [Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken), Original Score]
  • The Terminal (2004) 0 / 0
  • War of the Worlds (2005) 3 / 0 [Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects]
  • Munich (2005) 5 / 0 [Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Editing]
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) 0 / 0
  • The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)
  • War Horse (2011)

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