Oscar Preview: Weekend of Dec. 28-30, 2012

We had four films that released this weekend that have the potential for Oscar nominations.

Django Unchained

The solid opening weekend plus Christmas Day at the box office means the film will be firmly in Academy voters’ minds as they finish up their ballots to send in this week. Yet, the question of whether they will embrace the ultra violent Quentin Tarantino again depends on Harvey Weinstein’s glad-handing expertise. The film has received weaker notices than Tarantino’s prior big Oscar contender Inglourious Basterds, but the film seems just as strongly poised to result in inclusion this year.

Although Tarantino has had little trouble getting his actors nominated, his films haven’t been as beloved by Academy voters as one might expect from the conversations that swirl around him these days. After Reservoir Dogs, which received no Oscar nominations, critics (and Weinstein) bolstered his chances with his follow up film Pulp Fiction, which was not only a cultural touchstone when it was released in 1994, it showed how much ability Weinstein, then with Miramax, had with the Academy.

A few years earlier, no one would have guessed that a uber-violent ’70s pastiche would fit into the Academy’s narrow view of what Best Picture was, but thanks to Weinstein, that Best Picture stereotype would slowly be eroded over the years and after The Crying Game began the trend in 1992, Pulp Fiction would solidify Weinstein’s political power. Yet, after Pulp Fiction, Tarantino only netted a Supporting Actor nomination for his next film Jackie Brown (even though many considered its star Pam Grier to be a strong contender for a Best Actress nomination) and subsequently disappeared from Oscar’s radar for over a decade. That’s when Tarantino’s revenge fantasy Inglourious Basterds jumped feet first into the Oscar race and further expanded the Academy’s limitations.

Now, in spite of recent negative press, I see little reason why Tarantino’s Basterds-against-slavery feature won’t be a Best Picture nominee. It will also likely net Christoph Waltz his second Best Supporting Actor nomination as well as nominations in Original Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography and Sound Mixing. Nominations in Production Direction, Costume Design and possibly even Original Score and Original Song may also be in the making.

Les Misérables

Before its lackluster reviews, Les Misérables was considered a to-beat film. While its chances are diminished greatly, the strong box office the film has been doing combined with a sufficiently positive average response from critics, the film will likely be one of the top nominees this year.

With ten slots, Best Picture is a given; however, some other categories remain uncertain. Let’s start with the assured nominations: Best Supporting Actress, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Sound Mixing all seem like safe bets. Best Director hinges on whether the Academy is suitably impressed with the film. If it isn’t nominated, we’ll know just how little the Academy approves of Tom Hooper’s follow-up. A nomination isn’t out of the question, but Director will be one of its toughest categories to crack.

Best Editing may also be a challenge, considering the film is largely comprised of close-ups and the pacing is a bit slow in places. A stronger case can be made for Best Cinematography, but the Academy’s general love of beautiful locations in this category is muted once again by an abundance of close-ups. Best Adapted Screenplay isn’t likely to happen thanks to a pervasive feeling that there isn’t much to adapt, but I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question. Best Original Song has the best chance of all of the iffy categories I’ve mentioned. “Suddenly” may not have the exuberance of many of the other pieces, but it will have one thing most other contenders in the category won’t: visuals to go with the song, a requirement for the music branch when viewing clips of the songs in the film.

Perhaps the biggest question mark of all of these is Hugh Jackman. There’s little denying that this is the role he was meant to play and that there is great affection and admiration for his past works, especially as a beloved host of a past telecast. The problem is, there are at least five others who have a strong hold on a potential nomination. Which will get left out? It could be any number of actors, but Jackman’s hopes are tied to general dislike of other actors in the category and weakened support for his own film. I think ultimately Jackman will make the cut, but I’m not willing to bet anything on it.

Promised Land

Had the film been released a month ago, we might be talking about Oscar contender Promised Land, a brazen look at the Fracking industry from the inside, a cautionary story about a man who works for a large firm who snatches up land cheaply and efficiently so his company can come in with their Hydraulic Fracturing operations. The process is controversial and has been shown to cause irreparable harm to the environment and to the former livelihoods of those who sell their land. This is a film that would typically pique the interest of the same voting block who not only recognized An Inconvenient Truth as Best Documentary Feature, but also gave the film a prize for Original Song.

This is the release window that prior to the Academy moving their ceremony into February would have meant positive word of mouth spreading just in time, it now seems like the worst position to find oneself in if they want to be considered. The same thing happened for the critically acclaimed Children of Men, which released in a late window, but didn’t gain momentum enough until it was too late. Promised Land boasts four Oscar nominees (two of them winners), one at the helm, two in supporting roles and the other both behind the pen (as co-writer) and in the lead.

Director Gus Van Sant has a positive relationship with the Academy, so there’s reason to believe he could have bolstered his film’s chances. Frances McDormand could have been in competition for her feisty supporting turn and Matt Damon could have had a screenwriting nomination. Yet, there’s one big problem with all of this. The film hasn’t been getting good notices from critics, which may be one of the reasons it was held for so late in the year. Personally, I liked the film and what it was attempting to accomplish. I don’t think it’s Best Picture material, but it is a compelling piece of propaganda. That aside, even if it were critically acclaimed, there’s little chance now that the Academy will consider it. The film’s only hope now is a screenwriting nomination for writers Matt Damon, John Krasinski and Dave Eggers. I highly doubt that, though.

West of Memphis

Peter Jackson’s not having a very good year. After The Hobbit took a drubbing from critics, his well reviewed documentary West of Memphis didn’t even make the cut-off of fifteen films on the shortlist for the Best Documentary Feature award. Even though it probably had a better chance at a nomination than a lot of those films on the list, it won’t be eligible for this year’s Oscars.

Leave a Reply

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