We had one film releasing this weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.
Before I saw the first trailer for The Sessions, the premise read like a cheesy romantic comedy that would play poorly with the more staid Academy voter. While the trailer didn’t convince me that it could rise above minor contender at the Oscars, it did convince me that it wouldn’t be such a far-fetched choice by the Academy in a number of surprising categories.
Much of the talk surrounding The Sessions has been around the comeback performance of Helen Hunt. While most of the discussion was whether she would be pushed as lead or support, the bigger question was whether the Academy would recognize her at all. At the height of the popularity of her television series Mad About You alongside Paul Reiser, she was picked to star opposite Oscar winner Jack Nicholson in James L. Brooks’ latest comedy picture As Good As It Gets, the Terms of Endearment director managed to generate a lot of love for his first film in three years. And the acting performances of all three primary stars were cited by the Academy. Against the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, Julie Christie and Judi Dench, it seemed like Hunt was destined to be an also ran. But as the momentum shifted towards Hunt as the late-breaking, populist organizations picked her as the Best Actress of the year combined with the genuine love for the film, the admiration of Hunt for being able to stand side-by-side with Nicholson and come out looking good, and the popularity of the film led Hunt to a victory over the three more deserving thesps (even her fellow nominee Kate Winslet was better in Titanic even if she wasn’t much in the race at that point).
The disappointment among critics led the decision to frequently cite it as one of the Academy’s worst decisions in many years. And unlike Marisa Tomei’s shock victory for My Cousin Vinny, Hunt went on to star in a number of execrable films giving performances that suggested her As Good As It Gets performance was merely an adaptation of the one she gave on Mad About You and involved little to no appreciable range. The Academy may now be looking at The Sessions as an opportunity to recognize Hunt again and put to rest all those nasty comments that have been made about their 1997 decision. While this move won’t erase the Academy’s mistake, everything that’s come out about The Sessions suggests that Hunt is doing her finest work in over a decade.
The story about a invalid who seeks the company of a sex surrogate to help with his pent-up desires, doesn’t quite seem like the kind of film the Academy would normally appreciate. The trailer, however, presents a less ribald romantic comedy that seems more charming than lurid and with the performance of John Hawkes belying his traditionally creepy or aggressive stereotype, the film may end up with a nomination in Best Actor as well. The film’s originality may nab writer-director Ben Lewin an Original Screenplay nomination, but I don’t think the film will have quite what it takes to break out beyond those three categories. Some talk has surrounded William H. Macy for his performance as Hawkes’ character’s priest-confessor, but the role seems too light and unrealistic to be much of a threat. The only question that remains about the film’s Oscar chances is whether Hunt will be positioned for lead or support. While a lead berth could be argued, support may be her better placement…especially against a strong array of lead actress contenders this year. That is if she’s hoping to secure a nomination. After that, it’s all about competition…at least that’s what we thought 15 years ago.