Oscar Preview: Weekend of Nov. 16-18, 2012

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

Anna Karenina

After director Joe Wright burst onto the scene in 2005 with the critically acclaimed Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley, the Oscars took notice of him. Prejudice earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Actress for Knightley along with Original Score, Art Direction and Costume Design. The equally well reviewed Atonement marked his second feature two years later and increased Oscar’s appreciation for him. The film earned seven nominations three in the non-acting categories in which his prior film had been recognized and expanding to Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography. The film also brought his features their first Oscar in Original Score.

Wright’s third film the next year was a disaster. Striking out into a modern setting, The Soloist was met with hostile reviews and in spite of having a concept the Academy could easily have embraced, the utterly ignored the film. Soloist proved to be a hiccup in his career, at least with critics. Two years later (2011), Hanna returned him to critics’ good graces, but not to the Academy’s. This year, he has released his first period drama in five years. Working once again with twice nominated (and once Oscared) composer Dario Marianelli, Anna Karenina seems to be just the kind of gorgeous period film that the Academy loves to recognize. He’s also working again with Keira Knightley, which could bolster his chances since their prior collaborations have been well received by the Academy.

The critics appreciation of Wright has faded. Anna Karenina has proved divisive among critics and its unusual structure may not be appreciated by the Academy. However, I see the film competing in a number of his usual categories: Original Score, Art Direction and Costume Design. I think Cinematography might also be a possibility, but without reviews to bolster its resume, Anna Karenina will have to settle for the creative categories this time out.

Silver Linings Playbook

After the fall of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein didn’t seem like he had the same mojo that made his prior studio a hit with the Academy. However, as time progressed, he recruited a stable of talented actors and directors again and for two years running, The Weinstein Company has captured the Best Picture prize along with a number of other awards. The King’s Speech in 2010 and The Artist in 2011 had critics and audiences in their corner. The Academy followed suit, lapping up the lavish humor of The King’s Speech and the historical ambiance of The Artist. With Silver Linings Playbook, Weinstein has a different kind of horse in the race. David O. Russell’s comedy is set in the modern era, which will keep its potential nomination count low. The film has other things going for it, though.

The film stars Oscar winner Robert De Niro in support with Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence playing opposite prominent Hollywood heartthrob Bradley Cooper. With an audience award from Toronto and strong reviews from critics, Weinstein looks to have another strong contender. Can he make it three in a row? I’m not sure. Russell’s film faces stiffer competition this time around with historical epics and a musical from the director of The King’s Speech as current powerhouses in the race. Russell is generally appreciated in Hollywood, and if there’s a director that can take down the frequently honored Steven Spielberg and the recently recognized Tom Hooper, it might be Russell. He has the classic profile of a popular auteur that propelled a number of directors to wins in the 2000’s, but they all had films that were lead Best Picture contenders to boost visibility.

As one of the UAADB’s prominent voices says: never bet on the split. Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t have the profile of typical Best Picture winner, but that’s a hurdle Weinstein has overcome before. Look for the film to nab a number of key nominations including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and likely Editing with Original Score being a tougher sell. How many will it win? The only ones I can see as strong possibilities are Russell for Adapted Screenplay (finally giving the director an Oscar without giving him the directing prize) and Lawrence as Best Actress. She’s got a prior nomination, is a successful box office performer with well received performances in at least a half-dozen films, and she matches the profile of a number of this past decade’s winners. She’s young, attractive and talented. I can still see the film winning Best Picture and Best Director, but I’m waiting to see how the rest of the year’s releases play out first.

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