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Oscars: Could Ang Lee’s ‘Life Of Pi’ Go All The Way?

Oscars: Could Ang Lee's 'Life Of Pi' Go All The Way?

There’s been some significantly sesmic shifts in the Oscar field in the last few days, and not just the surprise announcement that “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane will be hosting the ceremony itself (for the record, this writer dislikes pretty much everything he’s ever done, but based on his ‘SNL‘ appearance a few weeks ago, he’s a pretty savvy choice by the Academy). But last Friday, one of the most anticipated movies of the season was unveiled, as Ang Lee‘s “Life Of Pi” opened the New York Film Festival (read our review here). And what was already looking like a busy field got a little more crowded.

As we said last time we discussed the Best Picture race, two major front-runners came out of the September festival season: “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Argo” (with “The Master” also very much in the game). We’d been reasonably confident that “Life Of Pi” would be a player, but Ang Lee misses as much as he hits (see “Ride With The Devil,” “Hulk,” “Taking Woodstock“), and the risks inherent in the material meant that there was a fair chance that it wouldn’t end up paying off.

However, by almost all accounts, it did. Twitter lit up as the NYFF press screening let out on Friday morning, with our A- grade review only one of a string of glowing reactions to the film. It’s been tricky to find full-on naysayers (though more will emerge in time, we’re sure…), and it seems like it’s truly won over some hearts and minds — Anne Thompson called it one of the most beautiful films she’d ever seen.

What does this mean? Well, it means that “Silver Lining Playbook” and “Argo” already have some major competition. The film seems to be technically impeccable (cinematography and effects nods at least seem certain, and Mychael Danna‘s score has won praise), and the use of 3D — which has won James Cameron and Martin Scorsese nods in the last few years — is said to be glorious, putting Lee himself, already a two-time nominee and one-time winner, in a good place too. Furthermore, it’s the kind of deeply emotional fare that always goes down well with the Academy. To us, it feels like it’s a more traditionally Oscar-type movie than either David O Russell‘s or Ben Affleck‘s film.

That said, it’s still too early to call it the shoo-in frontrunner. While critics almost universally adore it, box-office could be a problem if it doesn’t land as it should. Then again, who thought “Slumdog Millionaire” with zero stars and foreign language aspects would be such a gigantic hit? Additionally, a movie’s financial performance is far less important to Oscars of late (we discussed this earlier in the year). But like ‘Slumdog’ or “The King’s Speech,” “Life Of Pi” does have potentially major, wide appeal so if it does connect with families and kids and the four quadrant audiences it’s built for, that won’t be a problem. On the downside in the Oscar race, ‘Pi’ is unlikely to make much impact in the acting categories — newcomer Suraj Sharma will struggle to crack the tough Best Actor field, and while there’s some talk of Irfan Khan, who plays the older Pi, in the supporting category, that could be a stretch too, especially if the comeptition is fierce, which feels like the case this year.

Technically, the film is said to be such a dazzling marvel that, like “Inception” or “Avatar,” it could sweep that type of category as well as Best Picture, Director and the other usual suspects. Where it’s a less natural fit is for things like costume and production design. While many reviews have pointed to the screenplay as the weakest link in the film, the book was labelled as “unfilmable” by many so that will only help its case (though it should be noted it’s a very crowded field in the Best Adapted Screenplay category this year as well). 

It might be the hot topic of the moment among awards watchers, but as usual, the temperatures can always shift in the Oscar game. Like “Argo” and ‘Silver Lingings,’ Lee’s picture has a lot going for it, but if it’s a three-legged race (at the moment anyhow), none of them are the surefire home-run that “The Artist” looked like this time last year. While this trio of films leads the pack at the moment, big hitters like “Lincoln” and “Les Miserables” could easily shake things up. However, even if “Life Of Pi” doesn’t exactly have the field to itself, it’s pretty damn close at the moment and the unveiling of the film was as good a start as 20th Century Fox could have hoped for. This week’s Best Picture chart is on page 2.Best Picture Chart – 21 Weeks To Go
1. “Les Miserables” (3)
You saw that featurette, right? It’s smart of Universal to start spreading the word about the singing-live vibe, because it makes the film seem like it could be somewhat groundbreaking (if it pays off). But having moved to December 25th, will the film have enough time to get traction?
2. “Life Of Pi” (6)
See above. This week, at least, it’s a little above ‘Silver Linings’ and ‘Argo,’ but the three will be tangled together for months to come.
3. “Argo” (2)
Hits next week, so we’ll see how the box office turns out (again, it could end up going the way of “Ides of March” if it disappoints), but it’s still difficult to find many who have problems with the film.
4. “Silver Linings Playbook” (1)
First whispers of a backlash out there, but that was always inevitable, and a dip in fortunes for “The Master” only helps the other Weinstein Company films. But again, it’s a comedy, and the competition isn’t terribly fluffy (“The Artist” was light, but so was its principal competition).
5. “Lincoln” (4)
One of the big unknowns of the season is about to become much clearer — it’s screening in New York next Wednesday, with an interview with Spielberg and Day-Lewis to follow on Yahoo. We’re not sure we get the “Q&A with Spielberg & cast-member on a fading social network/website” tactic, but we’re looking forward to the Bearded One and David Strathairn answering fan questions on Bebo.
6. “Zero Dark Thirty” (7)
A new poster arrived recently, which suggests we might be getting a new trailer not long after. We still think that the Bigelow/Boal reteam, plus the subject matter, is golden, but it’s another film that could suffer from the earlier close of voting. And will it be too journalistic? “The Hurt Locker” did have a strong central character, after all.
7. “The Master” (5)
The opening box office numbers were great, the subsequent ones… less so: The Weinstein Company expanded fast, and probably too fast. It’s not a dealbreaker for a nomination, but with the film looking like it’ll make a third of “There Will Be Blood”‘s tally, it’s going to be trickier to keep the momentum up.
8. “Moonrise Kingdom” (9)
The perception we’ve got of late is that this is keeping up momentum in a way that other early movies of the season haven’t so much (and expect it to do well in top 10 lists at the end of the year). But still, on a bit of a knife edge for a nomination, and no chance at winning.
9. “Amour” (11)
A strong response out of NYFF critic screenings continues the lovefest for the film. The question that’s going to be in the air until January is if it’s accessible enough for Academy members, though.
10. “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” (8)
The coming of the more studio-minded, similar-on-the-surface “Life Of Pi” doesn’t help its lower-budget cousin, and the coming of “The Master” has supplanted it as the critic’s favorite of the year. Still in the mix, though, and being disqualified from the SAG awards is less of a big deal that it might appear on the surface
11. “The Impossible” (12)
Didn’t quite get the long-lasting love out of TIFF, and as a Christmas release, it’s likely to be lower on the priority list in terms of screener viewings than something like “Django Unchained.” But its fans are impassioned enough, and a late release worked nicely for the similarly tragedy-fuelled “Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close” last year.  
12. “Hitchcock” (-)
The late-breaking surprise of the season (bar another shock entry of some kind). We’ve already said that we think it’s principally a play in the acting categories, but the AFI Fest opening slot suggests a degree of confidence.
13. “Django Unchained” (16)
The thought’s been that Tarantino might struggle to finish his film in time, but there are rumors it might play the Rome Film Festival in November, which would help Academy voters to see the film in time. Word is it’s also a little more serious in tone than the director’s other pictures, which can only help.
14. “Promised Land” (12)
Trailer looks sort of decent, but also quite minor, in a year with some bigger, bolder dogs. Is Matt Damon’s charisma enough to get it through?
15. “Cloud Atlas” (14)
Eaten up by the Fantastic Fest crowd last week, but… well, it would have been, wouldn’t it? If it’s going to be an Oscar player, it needs to be a big hit, and that’s still up in the air.
16. “Flight” (13)
We’ve heard that Paramount has high hopes in the acting categories, but don’t necessarily consider it a Best Picture player. That said, this is the only dog in the race for them, and if it goes down well at NYFF next week, it could go beyond that.
17. “Anna Karenina” (15)
Box office in the U.K. recovered nicely from a disappointing start, but still feels to us like it might be caught between being a costume drama and something more unconventional.
18. “The Sessions” (17)
The arrival of “Hitchcock” in the season is another signal that Fox Searchlight don’t have so much faith in this one as a Best Picture nominee. Or are they just hedging their bets? It’ll land in a few weeks, so it could yet get another boost of momentum.
19. “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (18)
Unlikely to get much/any love from the critics groups, but it’s the kind of film that will play like gangbusters to Academy members during the holiday season, and if it plays well with the Golden Globes (which it might well do), it’s not to be counted out.
20. “Looper” (-)
Not a traditional Oscar movie, for sure, but one of the best reviewed films of the year (only “Moonrise Kingdom” has a better Rotten Tomatoes score, of those in release). And let’s not forget that it’s only three years since distributors TriStar took sci-fi movie “District 9” to a Best Picture nomination. The definition of a dark horse, but not inconceivable.

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