This week sees the 23rd James Bond film, "Skyfall," hit theaters in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, ahead of the film's U.S. release on November 9th. About ten days ago, it screened to critics, this writer included, to probably the most wildly positive reaction ever seen to a film in the franchise. It's been hard to find a naysayer, with a three star review from Little White Lies deemed the only "rotten" review so far (and as usual, bringing out the mouth-breathers who can't deal with the slightest criticism of a movie they haven't seen).
And as ever, certain people have started floating the question: Could "Skyfall" be a Best Picture nominee? Cinema Blend brought up the possibility (rightly framed by saying "I'm not naive enough to assume that 'Skyfall' can be the one to break the trend"), and only today The Independent weighed in with their own speculation. Hell, bookmakers Paddy Power have the film at 3/1 odds for a Best Picture nomination, which are pretty decent. But you'd be a fool to take that bet.
We're firmly on board with the film. If anything, I've grown to like it more and more as I've thought about it, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again this weekend. But we have to say that its chances of more than a handful of nods — and certainly a Best Picture nomination — are very slim at best, and we're slightly surprised that we've had to say this.
After "The Dark Knight" was overlooked at the 2009 ceremony, the Academy opened the field to ten Best Picture nominees in the hope of including more popular hits to boost TV ratings of the ceremony. And it seemed to work. The following year saw "Avatar," "Up" and "District 9" among the ten Best Picture nominees, and the ratings saw a 14% bump to the biggest audience in five years. And principally commercial fare like "Inception" and "Toy Story 3" got in the year after as well.
But last year saw the blockbuster well dried up, and this year, while "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises" and now "Skyfall" have all been touted, we're expecting a similar result. The Academy are ultimately looking to affirm the power of their medium and like to vote for things that feel important, or at least have a considerable emotional backbone. If they're going to vote for a nakedly commercial tentpole, it needs to feel like it's pushing the medium forward, has an of-the-moment subtext, or feels prestigious, ideally from a literary source material (see "Lord of the Rings"). Ideally more than one of the above.
It's why "District 9," "Avatar," "Inception" and the Pixar films made the cut, and it's why "Star Trek" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2" missed out. And it's why none of this year's big contenders will make it in. "The Dark Knight Rises" still likely has the better shot, thanks to Nolan's pedigree and the of-the-moment thematic qualities, but the film doesn't have the same degree of critical support as "The Dark Knight," so it seems unlikely that it would make the cut, particularly in a stronger field than its predecessor faced back in 2009.
"The Avengers" is now the third-biggest grossing movie of all time and given that numbers one and two – "Avatar" and "Titanic" — were both nominees, some have thought that the Marvel movie has a chance. But as enjoyable and well done as it is, it never transcends the superhero genre — there's not much more substance to it than "Green Lantern," it's just executed infinitely better. This is not to say that it's any more disposable than "The Artist," but while the Academy will vote for a black-and-white homage to silent film, as frothy as it was, they're not going to vote for a film where two of the central characters are space Vikings.
And the same is true of "Skyfall." For all the prestige of its creators (Oscar winner Sam Mendes, multiple Oscar nominees John Logan and Roger Deakins), and its equally lauded cast of Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Albert Finney, et al., it's still an espionage actioner. And more than that, a Bond movie. Outside of technical nominations and a handful of songs (and even then, not as many as you'd think), Bond movies have never been popular with the Academy, and as good as "Skyfall" is, as much as it has more emotional content than previous films and as likely as it is to be a monster hit (and it will be), there's simply not enough to give voters a reason to pick it over competition like "Hitchcock" or even "Django Unchained."
We suppose that the advantage is does have is that, with 50 years of Bond, the Academy's typically older demographic grew up on the series in a way that they probably didn't with The Incredible Hulk (although Batman is actually older than 007, for what that's worth ). And it certainly has a chance at some nominations. Roger Deakins should certainly make the cut in cinematography — though we said that about Robert Elswit and 'Ghost Protocol' last year, and it didn't pan out that way. If he does make the cut, he could even win, given that he's wildly overdue for a statue. And editing and sound nods are reasonably likely as well, and if it's deemed eligible (its use of the original theme could well end up disqualifying it), Adele's theme is a decent bet too.
We think that's likely it, though. We'd heard some early buzz about Judi Dench as a possibility for Supporting Actress, but as weak as the category is, and extended as her role is, there doesn't seem to be quite enough material for her. And some have floated Javier Bardem as villain Silva, and while he's absolutely terrific, his character never transcends the bad guy role, and voters are likely to compare it to his victorious turn in "No Country For Old Men" unfavorably. Given its origins, though, it has every chance of doing well at the BAFTAs – "Casino Royale" got 9 nods at the U.K. ceremony, including Best British Film and Best Actor.
New Best Picture Chart can be found on page two.
1. "Argo" (3)
I caught up with a number of Best Picture candidates recently, most notably this one, and I totally get what all the fuss is about. Not only that, but tremendous box office (one of the lowest second-week drops ever for a wide release), and outstanding word of mouth can only help its case. Until some of the later films arrive, it's the front-runner for sure.
2. "Les Miserables" (1)
Reportedly running close to three hours and not expected to screen early, various honors from critics groups are likely not going to happen. But then again, those don't have much impact on the overall race, and if the movie works as well as it's promising to, it should be massive.
3. "Lincoln" (5)
Screened since the last chart, and the word is good — a handful of raves, mostly respectful notices. It likely won't take the overall prize, but then again, Spielberg hasn't won Best Picture for 20 years at this point.
4. "Silver Linings Playbook" (4)
Continuing to delight audiences wherever it screens, but the last time a romantic comedy won was… what, "Shakespeare In Love?" "Annie Hall?" It's a crowd-pleaser, but does it play to a crowd of Hollywood professionals in the same way that "Argo" does?
5. "Life of Pi" (2)
Buzz quieting down a bit after its NYFF screening, as it gears up for release, but it's likely to pick back up again soon. Arguably pushes the medium forward further than its serious competition, which is worth bearing in mind. The last of the five that are pretty much locks at this point.
6. "Zero Dark Thirty" (6)
Still a bit of a question mark, but the recent trailer looked great, and we don't really know anyone who's not looking forward to the film. Still an unknown quantity, particularly as the cast doesn't really include any Oscar favorites (bar last year's nominee Jessica Chastain, who's going to be campaigning as lead for the film), so not likely to be a major favorite with the actors branch. That said, you could've said the same about "The Hurt Locker" too…
7. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (10)
I caught up with this finally recently and was pretty much astonished; it's as confident and accomplished a debut film as I've ever seen. Some have suggested that the film's slipping a bit momentum wise, but with "The Master" fading faster, this is grabbing the critic's favorite slot again.
8. "Moonrise Kingdom" (8)
An enduring favorite, boosted a little by the Gotham nominations and by its home video release, but seems less likely than its 2011 equivalent, "Midnight In Paris," to make the cut; Anderson simply isn't in the club yet. If it had landed a fall berth, its chances would be better. Still a strong possibility, especially if films like "Hitchcock," 'Django' and "Zero Dark Thirty" slip out.
9. "Hitchcock" (12)
It's about a week away from the film premiering at AFI Fest, so it'll become much clearer shortly, but Fox Searchlight has real confidence in the film, and some unnamed sources have suggested that it has a chance at not only a nomination, but winning.
10. "Django Unchained" (13)
We've been skeptics on the film's award chances all along, but it does benefit from the hit taken by "The Master," and the recent trailers have made even Tarantino skeptics like ourselves sit up and take notice. Not a guaranteed nomination, though.
11. "The Master" (7)
With disappointing box office (it may struggle to make more than "Punch Drunk Love," leaving it PTA's lowest grosser since his debut), and a shifting critical narrative, "The Master" is now looking like a longer shot. But having expressed skepticism about the critically adored "The Tree of Life" last year only to see it win a nod, we're not going to count it out; we can certainly see the film picking up enough first choice picks for a nomination.
12. "Amour" (9)
It's still a Michael Haneke film, with all the austerity that comes with it. It's not impossible, but it's going to be an uphill battle to secure a nomination.
13. "The Impossible" (11)
Still keeping a low-profile, and we're actually a little surprised that Summit didn't move it to an earlier release date, where it would be able to get the word out earlier (though their resources may be tied up with the final "Twilight"). But the film has passionate fans, and it's as nakedly emotional as anything else in the line-up.
14. "The Sessions" (18)
Did pretty well in its opening weekend, with a very healthy $30,000 screen average, and at least two acting nominations are locked up. It's also smarter than many give it credit for, but may feel too small and intimate for many.
15. "Promised Land" (14)
Still keeping its cards close to its chest. Still looking reasonably bait-y. Still probably hitting too late in the season to really make it into the race.
16. "Anna Karenina" (17)
Starting to gear up again for its U.S. release, and winning over a few more fans. But the film ultimately took in less than half than what "Atonement" did in the U.K., which suggests that the conceit has been a little too weird for many, which probably includes the Academy.
17. "Flight" (16)
Reasonably well-received at its NYFF screening, and Denzel Washington is looking good for a nomination. But some found it a bit glossy, and it's not going to get the critical plaudits of some of the films above, so it may have to settle for Washington.
18. "The Dark Knight Rises" (-)
Of all the films we talked about page one, this is the only one with anything close to a chance. Now "Argo" is practically selling itself, Warners have some room to push something else, and this is their most likely pick — and indeed, they are going to be campaigning for it pretty hard. A long shot, probably, but stranger things have happened.
19. "The Intouchables" (-)
We keep being told that this French smash hit shouldn't be counted out. And indeed, even though the reviews were lukewarm, Harvey is planning a push, and having declined to move "The Sapphires" and "Song For Marion" into 2013, has the space for another crowd-pleaser. We'd be very surprised if it happened, though it could well win Best Foreign Language.
20. "Cloud Atlas" (20)
Out this week, but it sometimes feels like Warner Bros. aren't even aware of that — they're putting the film into less than 2,000 theaters, which suggests a serious lack of confidence in the picture. So for all the geek-blog plaudits it's getting, we expect this to be out of the hunt by next week.