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Critical Consensus: Eric Kohn and Peter Knegt On the Oscar Prospects of 'Anna Karenina,' 'Silver Linings Playbook' and More

By Peter Knegt and Eric Kohn | Indiewire November 14, 2012 at 10:11AM

Chief film critic Eric Kohn and senior editor Peter Knegt reconvene to get under the hood of the awards race: what's working, what's not and where the 'Silver Linings' are.
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"Silver Linings Playbook"
TWC "Silver Linings Playbook"

EK: Leave it to Weinstein and company to diminish the already minuscule chances of an underdog. Fortunately, I'll gladly admit that "Silver Linings Playbook" is the serious Best Picture contender from The Weinstein Company that I'm thrilled to endorse. (I didn't exactly hate "The Artist," but boy did it squash the potential of its worthy competition.) At any rate, "Silver Linings" finds David O. Russell returning to his comedic roots with a clever, snappy screenplay that he adapted from Matthew Quick's novel and further brought to life with the dynamic chemistry of his ensemble, particularly through moody turns by Bradley Cooper (who knew?) and Jennifer Lawrence. It's also a return to form for Robert De Niro, in a supporting role as Cooper's father and utterly convincing as an obsessive, demanding figure whose kinder sensibilities gradually come to the fore. The movie is also worth celebrating for the way it brings back the tradition of mature, insightful romantic comedies about American everymen, a format that harkens back to the screwball comedies made in the 1930s.

But I bet if we were surveying the 2012 release calendar six to eight months ago for potential Oscar heavyweights and came across the description of this movie, we might not see it as the contender as it has already become. I'm making this assumption based on one word often considered anathema at the Oscars: Comedy.

With the exception of a couple nominations for "Bridesmaids" last year, comedies were largely absent from the nominee list -- which is often the case. Now, in my corner of the room -- it's basically an alternate dimension -- the era of great romantic comedies hasn't waned one bit. Both "Silver Linings Playbook" and Lynn Shelton's "Your Sister's Sister" already have spots reserved on my top 10 list for 2012. However, I'm curious to see how the ever-cunning Weinstein plans to circumnavigate this usually treacherous path. In a year when other movies deal with weighty issues like slavery ("Lincoln"), god ("Life of Pi") and politics ("Argo"), how does a character-driven piece about a frustrated substitute teacher getting over his divorce stand out?

READ MORE: Criticwire Reactions to 'Silver Linings Playbook'

Then again, now that "Skyfall" is being touted as a Best Picture contender, I suppose anything is possible...and even if a comedy winning Best Picture is a surprise within the historical context of the awards, another Weinstein victory would be anything but. What say you?

TORONTO REVIEW | Post-"Humpday" Success, "Your Sister's Sister" Finds Lynn Shelton In Quieter Turf
IFC Films "Your Sister's Sister."

PK: I wish I shared your thoughts on "Silver Linings." I wanted to love that film so badly, and for the first 45 minutes or so, I thought I was going to. But it just turned into something a bit too conventional in its second act, and while I certainly didn't dislike the film -- select scenes and Jennifer Lawrence's performance were fantastic  -- it's not heading anywhere near my top 10. But I know I'm in a minority and I'm all but certain it's heading for a bunch of major Oscar noms, if not a few wins. I wish I could say the same about "Your Sister's Sister," which I absolutely adored. The joyful, authentic mix of comedy and drama won me over in every moment, and if I could magically make any Oscar nomination happen it would be Rosemarie DeWitt for best supporting actress.

But yes, setting my biases aside, I am curious to see how "Silver Linings" plays out. My aforementioned prediction that it's a surefire bet in large part comes from your observation that it stands out from a very heavy crowd this year. In the past, we've seen how this kind of situation ends up -- by pushing a lighter, more comedic film to the winner's circle. See "Shakespeare in Love" in 1998 -- another Weinstein film (back in their Miramax days) that took down a Spielberg heavyweight, "Saving Private Ryan." If this ends up being a "Lincoln" vs. "Silver Linings" duel, expect that comparison to be made. Nevertheless, as far as I'm concerned, "Argo" is still this year's frontrunner.

That said, there's still six weeks left in 2012, and some potentially huge films waiting in the wings.

EK: You're talking about the final chapter of "Twilight," right? I kid (although if there's anything that'll get that young demo the Academy sorely needs to tune into the ceremony to keep it relevant, getting Robert Pattinson onstage is probably near the top of the list). If the Oscars have the potential to help certain movies solidify their reputations, they also encourage a certain amnesiac perspective of the release calendar that finds movies released later in the year more likely to figure prominently in the awards race.

Django Unchained Quentin Tarantino skip crop

So does that mean Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" and the aforementioned "Les Miz" are serious contenders? I don't know, but I'm looking forward to seeing all of them. While the fall season might be programmed to conform to the Academy's whims, it also allows us to sample a lot of ambitious films that, within the context of commercial filmmaking, doesn't get seen much the rest of the year. For that reason, I'm truly excited about this December's jam-packed release calendar, and if we have the Oscars to thank for it, then I could care less who actually goes home happy on the big night. Since you're an Oscar pundit, though, I assume you have to view the situation differently. Realistically speaking, do you think any of these movies have serious potential to shake up the race or are they simply bonuses at the tail-end of a season already too dense for its own good?

PK: Theoretically, they all have potential. The three you mentioned -- "Zero," "Django" and "Les Miz" -- join two more possibilities: "Promised Land" and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." And who knows, maybe "This is 40" will finally be the Apatow film that crosses over into Oscar territory. Realistically? I'd guess one or two of them, with "Les Miserables" and "Zero Dark Thirty" most likely to succeed. And I must say that while I'm among the first to call awards season fatigue by early January or so, the excitement surrounding so many end-of-year releases with collectively remarkable pedigree (all five of those films come from previous best director nominees, three of them winners) is a pretty fun thing to watch unfold, whether you're a movie lover or a pundit or whatever.  

Who knows if such a crowded final field will prove problematic for these films, particularly now that Oscar voting stars mid-December. But remember last year the two films everyone was waiting for -- "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" -- both managed best picture noms, and this happened without much critical support (it honestly still blows my mind that such mediocre films are best picture nominees). So maybe it's a good thing not to leave room for backlash, but hopefully a couple of these films will be so good they won't even warrant it.

But yeah, the real reason there's no point to having this conversation is because "Breaking Dawn, Part 2" is clearly headed for a clean sweep.

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This article is related to: Critical Consensus, Reviews, Academy Awards, Awards, Anna Karenina, Joe Wright, Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Les Miserables