With the world premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” having come and gone at the New York Film Festival this weekend, there’s one thing we can probably safely say about the film (which is not one where it’s easy to safely say much): You can cross it off those best picture Oscar prediction charts. And don’t expect Paul Thomas Anderson to care. Never one to pander to awards season, the filmmaker’s latest is perhaps his greatest example in that regard. A dense, confusing 148 minute stoner noir comedy, it’s likely to lead many Academy voters are going to ask themselves: “What the f**k did I just watch?!”
Let’s be clear: This is not necessarily a bad thing. “Inherent Vice” — as Eric Kohn’s review expresses thoroughly and thoughtfully — has a lot going for it. It’s boldly hilarious and bizarrely charming, even if you don’t know what’s going on half the time. Not everyone is going to agree, but even the film’s naysayers surely have to feel respect that Anderson continues to make whatever kind of movie he wants to make.
A fascinating thing about all that is that “Inherent Vice” is being released by a studio — the first time Anderson has done so since “Punch Drunk Love” in 2002 (which oddly enough also didn’t get any Oscar nominations). Warner Brothers is releasing “Vice” in limited release on December 12, and then going wide January 9. Those are definitely the kind of dates tied to Oscar hopes, and while Anderson might not care if that happens, the folks at Warner Brothers probably do. And it’s definitely worth a campaign. While best picture will be a very tall order, Anderson’s screenplay, Mark Bridges’ costumes and Josh Brolin’s supporting performance arguably stand a chance to at least be part of the conversation (I’d suggest Joaquin Pheonix too — he’s great — but the best actor category is just too packed to lend room to such an offbeat nominee).
Anderson has never really made Oscar movies, even if they’ve turned into them anyway. “There Will Be Blood” is the most obvious example, winning eight nominations including three for Anderson himself. And even 2012’s “The Master” nabbed three acting nominations despite many thinking its awards chances were significantly dampened by how unconventional it was. There’s a whole lot of folks in the Academy that respect the filmmaker so much that he’s able to challenge the norms of what typically gets in there (which notably can be said of other folks as well — Terrence Malick and “The Tree of Life” certainly comes to mind). But that said, “Inherent Vice” makes “The Master” look like “The King’s Speech” (alright, not quite — but you catch my drift), and it almost seems wrong to even talk about in the context that this very article is. It’s so fascinatingly far from an “Oscar movie” that it seems appropriate that it never becomes one.
Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Contributing Editor and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
Check out Indiewire’s latest chart of Oscar predictions here.