With a host officially in place, the Oscar race is most definitely off and running. Even though there’s still over three months (!) until nomination morning, there’s nothing to stop the rampant flow of buzz that comes as the puzzle pieces start coming together. And this past weekend, Oscar prognosticators were dealt a pretty significant piece in Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi.”
Opening the New York Film Festival Friday night, “Pi” quickly found a storm of raving tweets heralding it as Oscar’s new front-runner. The film is an epic 3D adaptation of Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name. Utilizing some of the best technology available, the film tells the story of a young Indian boy (Suraj Sharma, in his debut role) who survives a shipwreck and then spends 227 days on a lifeboat with none other than a Bengal tiger.
Going into the premiere, buzz was mixed on what was clearly a very risky project. At this point, it seems like it could all pay off in a big way on Oscar night. Or could it? A lot could happen between then and now, so let’s take on the new Oscar status of “Pi” on case by case basis:
For: It’s stolen the buzz from “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Argo” and “The Master.” Skipping out on Venice, Telluride and Toronto certainly has its benefits. By saving itself for the New York Film Festival, “Life of Pi” has taken control of the Oscar conversation that was all about the trio of films that took the more conventional path of Venice and/or Telluride and/or Toronto debuts. It’s become a more common tactic in recent years, with NYFF serving as an Oscar campaign launching pad for the likes of “The Social Network” and “Hugo.”
Against: But “The Social Network” and “Hugo” didn’t win. Both ended up largely being seen as the best picture maids of honor as “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist” went on to win the top prize. Having the dominant buzz in early October can be difficult to sustain. Just ask the folks behind “Network” and “Hugo.” And both Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and Tom Hooper’s “Les Miserables” have what it takes — on paper, at least — to steal the buzz themselves when they come out in November and December, respectively. What “Life of Pi” really needs to do to hang in there is become a bonafide box office hit when it comes out at Thanksgiving.
For: It’s got Oscar written all over it. It’s epic. It’s a literary adaptation. It’s both a tear jerker and feel-good. A sort of “Slumdog Millionaire” meets “Titanic,” “Life of Pi” most definitely has going for it what Oscar has warmed to in the past.
Against: So did “Hugo.” Not to keep harping on that comparison (but they are both 3D epics from renowned directors starring children that premiered at the New York Film Festival, so frankly… it’s warranted), but “Hugo” had Oscar written all over it, too — it ended up with 11 nominations, more than any other film. And while it won five trophies, none were in major categories.
For: It’s bound to end up with a boatload of nominations. It always helped to go into Oscar with the most nominations, and “Life of Pi” could manage a double-digit count. Beyond the strong possibilities of best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay nominations (though its screenplay is definitely its weakest link), “Pi” is all but certain to rack up nominations for film editing, cinematography, visual effects, sound mixing, sound editing and maybe art direction and original score.
Against: None of them will be for acting. Only twice in the past 15 years has a best picture winner managed that feat with no Oscar nominations for acting. While “Pi” lead Suraj Sharma is something of a possibility for a best actor nod, it’s unlikely. Also, did we already note “Hugo” had the most nominations last year?
For: They owe Ang Lee. Back in 2001, the Academy gave what was widely expected to become Ang Lee’s first best director Oscar (for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) to Steven Soderbergh. Then in 2006, when they finally did give him an Oscar for directing “Brokeback Mountain,” they did so in a backhanded way by snubbing the film itself in the best picture race. Time to make nice?
Against: They owe a lot of people. Even if the Oscars have snubbed Lee on two unexpected occasions, he still does have a best director Oscar. The same cannot be said of Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, Ben Affleck, all of whom, as noted, have films most definitely also in this race.
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