Oscar Preview: Weekend of Dec. 25-29, 2013

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

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

How this film became an Oscar contender, I’ll never understand. In my defense, the only place I ever saw it referenced as such was The Hollywood Reporter. Everywhere else, the film was mostly just ignored. The film had the potential for being a contender in the creative and tech categories, which I will agree with, but HP was referring to the film as a contender for Best Picture and also possibly for Best Director. Of course, with the critical doldrums plaguing the film and the film’s colossal box office failure, anything outside of the creative and tech categories is out of the question.

So, does the film have chances? It might have, had it made the shortlist for the Visual Effects Oscar. The film undoubtedly made great use of visual effects (or at least abundant use) as the trailers showcased. With the myriad settings across the globe, production designers should have also taken notice. The film didn’t make the VFX shortlist and its potential in the sound categories has also been damaged by the box office flopping. Additionally, there are far too many potential nominees for Best Production Design, so I wouldn’t count on that one either. As it stands, I’d be shocked if the film picked up a single nomination.

The Wolf of Wall Street

There are a handful of names whose every project is an Oscar contender sight-unseen. Steven Spielberg. The Coen Brothers. Martin Scorsese. Sure, he’s had his low-points in the last two decades, but he has made more Oscar appearances than he has Oscar failures, so why shouldn’t The Wolf of Wall Street accomplish the same task?

I’d like to say the film doesn’t have a lot of hope, but it does. Critics have largely supported it, though the film is quite divisive. Audiences, however, have not been so widely accepting. Earning an awful C CinemaScore, Scorsese’s latest film started out strong on Christmas Day, but over the weekend has dropped from second place to fifth behind four holdovers. That’s not a positive sign for its longterm viability. The film has built up such a reputation and has earned just enough awards from critics to still get nominated for the Oscars, but how far will it go?

Best Picture is a given. Even a critically-panned film like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close can still snag a Best Picture nomination if its talked about enough in the lead-up to the nominations. There are a few categories it may not do as well in as expected: Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. If the film suffers too much, Scorsese will be left off the Best Director slate. While I’m doubtful that will occur, it’s possible. That’s because the bench for that category is incredibly deep and his absence in such a situation would not be completely unexpected. Leonardo DiCaprio has struggled for Oscar recognition, never having won the award and failing on several occasions to even get nominated. He’s on a very short list of Best Actor contenders, but ultimately I think he will make the cut off. It’s an outlandish, brash performance that will undoubtedly appeal to actor-voters who like such things. I’ll even toss in Best Adapted Screenplay as a likely nomination.

Beyond that, I think the film is unlikely to surface. Had it been the great film some were hoping it would be, I might have suggested nominations in Cinematography and Editing. At this point, Editing is a key category. Without it, the film has no chance of winning (not that it really has much of a shot at this juncture). Scorsese’s longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker is very respected and could get a nomination just for being her, but everything I’ve read about the film is that it’s overlong and clunkily edited. Cinematography is possible for Rodrigo Prieto, who got his first nomination 8 years ago. That’s a long time, meaning he’s not as well respected as Schoonmaker or Scorsese. If the film suffers, Cinematography will certainly go. The only other category a surprise nomination could show up is Best Supporting Actor. With the first trailer, Matthew McConaughey became a name bandied about by serious prognosticators for inclusion, but he’s already got two other major films to go for him this year, meaning Jonah Hill could manage a second nomination, but that’s another unlikely prospect at this juncture.

August: Osage County

Harvey Weinstein has pulled off miracles before, but August: Osage County may not be one of them. The Weinstein Company has a bountiful slate of films to champion this year, but a year ago we all would have said August was the film to beat. However, as the film screened and failed to pique interest, the potential for the film waned. Its stars Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts have earned the requisite attention that goes along with Oscar nominations and I’m certain they will appear. A Best Adapted Screenplay that’s a trifle weaker than the Original category this year could allow the film to sneak in there as well, but can it appear anywhere else.

This acting behemoth could attract the attention of enough actor-voters to secure a Best Picture nomination, but director John Wells is out of his league in the Best Director race. Other actors in the film aren’t getting any traction and the film isn’t fancy enough to fair well in the creative or tech categories. It’s possible the film could show up in Editing or Cinematography, but a movie that has no chance of winning isn’t likely to make a play at Editing this year, not with all the other major contenders going for that spot. Family dramas are infrequently contenders for Best Cinematography and if there’s a category more over-flowing with contenders, it’s Best Cinematography.

At this point, August: Osage County doesn’t have the critical acclaim behind it to push past the reticence Harvey is used to fighting. With Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom also collapsing late in the game and Fruitvale Station being forgotten after its strong debut this past summer, he still has Philomena and Lee Daniels’ The Butler to push. While I can see him getting traction for all five of his major year-end contenders, I only see three of them going anywhere with Oscar voters and only one or two of them earning Best Picture nominations. I doubt August is one of them.

The Invisible Woman

Ralph Fiennes follows up his modernist take on Coriolanus with another period adaptation, this one more squarely set in the period of history the Academy has historically adored. Not since the 1990’s, though, have they really been enchanted with the Merchant-Ivory set.

There was a lot of talk two years ago that Fiennes’ directorial debut could be Oscar catnip, but like that film, The Invisible Woman is showing way too late in the game to be of any impact. Critics aren’t terribly impressed with the film and there’s been virtually no buzz about it in recent weeks. The little buzz there was dissipated some time ago. So, why is this film even making it into my list?

Five words: Production Design and Costume Design. Even when the Academy has turned its back on a film, the creative departments rally to give certain types of films nominations. The Edwardian and Elizabethan are frequent sources of Designers Branch attention. They love their period frocks and locales, but it has been a few years since they were well represented. Looking at the talent associated with The Invisible Woman, though, I’d say its chances aren’t that exciting. Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald may be fantastic craftsmen, but their names don’t conjure the same level of interest as some of the greats that pull off these unified nominations.

Costume Designer Michael O’Connor, on the other hand, has two Oscar nominations, five years ago (The Duchess for which he won the Oscar) and two years ago (Jane Eyre). He’s not a name that demands nominations every time he makes a movie, but his is a name you could still see on Oscar Morning. The film may not show up anywhere else, but I wouldn’t be entirely shocked to see it on the Best Costume Design list. Nor would I be surprised if it wasn’t.

Lone Survivor

Until I received a screener for the film, I had never in a million years though of Lone Survivor as an Oscar nominee. Exploring the struggles of four soldiers in Afghanistan trying to survive against insurmountable odds does sound like the kind of film Oscar voters have considered in the past, so it became a late-game contender without having been seen.

The trailer has elements of Zero Dark Thirty in it, which makes it sound like a movie that producers had hoped to sell to the same Academy voters who championed ZDT to a nomination. Yet, other than Friday Night Lights, Peter Berg has never directed anything that’s been critically acclaimed. That leaves the question of why the film is still considered an Oscar contender if it isn’t likely to show up in the top categories.

War movies are a hit with the sound designers and as a result, Lone Survivor could end up nominated in Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. While the three individuals up for Best Sound Mixing (David Brownlow, Andy Koyama and Beau Borders) aren’t prior Oscar nominees, it’s Sound Editor Wylie Stateman that could bolster the film’s chance at a nomination. To date, he has six Oscar nominations, five in the Sound Editing category. His last four nominations have all come in the last decade (2005, 2008, 2009 and 2012). While that’s not a guarantee, it means the chances for at least one Oscar nomination for the film are much stronger than we might have otherwise expected.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.