Oscar Preview: Weekend of Dec. 20-22, 2013

We had two films release this past weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.


As a music video director, Spike Jonze is a prolific figure. On the film front, he’s been barely a blip, having directed only four films. His first film, 1999’s Being John Malkovich was a hit with critics and picked up three Oscar nominations. His follow-up, Adaptation. not only picked up one more nod, but became his first Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor Chris Cooper in 2002.

After a seven-year hiatus, he brought the film community his third effort, an adaptation of the classic children’s novel Where the Wild Things Are. Based on his past reputation, it became an instant prediction for Oscar consideration, but as the precursors arrived and the film only picked up a smattering of attention, mostly for Karen O.’s score (and songs), it became obvious that Jonze wouldn’t repeat. Here we are, another four years down the road and his fourth feature has once again earned the plaudits of critics and picked up many more prizes than expected, becoming one of the few major challengers to the 12 Years a Slave parade.

Her tells a futuristic story of a depressed, middle-aged man who falls in love with his operating system. It may sound quirky, but if you’ve seen any of Jonze’s previous work, it doesn’t sound too far-fetched. Joaquin Phoenix has gotten some of his strongest reviews while Scarlett Johansson has even picked up a few prizes for Best Supporting Actress despite never physically appearing onscreen (she’s the computer’s voice). The film has gotten so much attention that, I wouldn’t be surprised if it made it into the Best Picture race this year and also brought Phoenix along. If the Academy wouldn’t recognize Robin Williams in Aladdin, Johansson has no expectation of getting nominated.

The film will also pick up an Original Screenplay nomination and could earn citations for Best Original Score and less likely Best Art Direction. Editing and Cinematography nominations are also possible, but the big question is whether Jonze can nab his first Best Director nomination from the Academy since his debut feature, Being John Malkovich. The possibilities are strong, but there’s a LOT of competition this year and he will have to show up on the DGA list to have any hope of making it through to the Oscars.

The Past

Just two years ago, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi burst onto the scene with the critically acclaimed family drama A Separation. Not only did it take home dozens of prizes from critics, it nabbed Iran its first Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and secured Farhadi a rare screenwriting nomination for a foreign language feature.

Two years later, the French co-produced film The Past debuted at the Cannes Film Festival where it won prizes for Best Actress for Oscar nominee Bérénice Bejo and a prize from the Ecumenical Jury for Farhadi. It was also nominated for the Palme d’Or, but did not win. With that level of acclaim, The Past entered Oscar season as one of the few guaranteed contenders in the Foreign Language Film category. Heavily produced by France, many thought it would be the French submission, but when France submitted Renoir, it was uncertain if Iran would submit after having boycotted the Oscars last year.

Iran gave in and sent Farhadi’s film for Oscar consideration and The Past was once again in the hunt. Although it was praised at Cannes, critics didn’t quite rally behind it the way they did A Separation, many considering it an inferior effort to his prior film. That may have been the start of the stumble. No precursor prizes found their way to The Past and this last week, the film’s chances were firmly quashed. The Academy’s Foreign Language branch announced the nine films that had made the finals for the Oscar nomination and The Past was not among them. While this doesn’t completely shut the film out, its remaining chance is in the screenwriting arena where Farhadi competed two years ago. Unfortunately, there are far too many prominent English-language features competing there, so The Past‘s fleeting flirtation with the Oscars has likely flown away.

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