Oscar season is rapidly approaching and it’s time to make a more accurate assessment of this year’s films. By now, thanks to summer and fall releases, as well as the Venice and Toronto film festivals, most of the serious contenders have been seen. In fact, in the previous five years, by this time, the eventual Best Picture winner had already been released. So why does it seem like there’s something different about this year? Let’s take a closer look.
Some would say that “The Social Network,” which opened to rave reviews last week, is the clear frontrunner. But is it? While the definition of Oscar movie has changed over the years, there has never been a Best Picture winner that even remotely resembled “The Social Network.” For one thing, it’s a film starring mostly teenagers and 20 somethings. It’s obviously a movie that about the internet sensation Facebook, which despite its broader appeal, is still geared toward younger people. It’s got Justin Timberlake in it. Unlike previous Oscar winners, it’s not an epic, a war movie, a love story, or a biopic.
It is, however, supposed to be really, really good. Never underestimate that. However, we think it may not be enough when all is said and done. First of all, look at what happened to Up in the Air last year. It had some of the best reviews of the year. However, it eventually faded from contention. Why? We suspect because its subject matter just could not match the epic scope of Avatar and the gripping realism of The Hurt Locker. The Social Network may just prove to be too lightweight. A bunch of college kids fighting over an internet invention doesn’t quite seem so important in the grand scheme of things. Secondly, the early frontrunners rarely do well, unless the film is phenomenal like Slumdog Millionaire or No Country For Old Men, which both went the distance. We don’t see The Social Network being in the same category.
So what’s next? Two films had great buzz coming out of Venice: The King’s Speech and 127 Hours. The former looks and smells like an Oscar movie. It’s got a killer cast and the prestige factor. We think, however, that the film centers around the supposed masterful performance of Colin Firth. A Best Actor win for Firth would probably be reward enough for The King’s Speech. 127 Hours is tough to figure. It’s Danny Boyle’s follow-up film to Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire. In the last twenty or so years, nobody has won back to back Best Pictures (we really thought Cameron might pull it off last year…sigh). 127 Hours also has an indie feel to it, which can cut both ways. But despite being small, the film packs a big emotional punch. How much does that matter?
While these are the three most talked about films at the moment, there are certainly other contenders. The Coen Brothers’ True Grit deserves some consideration. So does, of course, Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter. Inception remains one of the most talked about films of the year and a timely DVD release could renew its Oscar buzz. Toy Story 3, behind an aggressive Pixar campaign, will vye to be the first animated film ever to win Best Picture. But there are problems with all these films. True Grit and Hereafter will suffer from the extremely high standard people hold the Coen brothers and Eastwood to. Inception, while brilliant, is still basically sci-fi, and we all know how much the Academy loves sci-fi. Toy Story 3 is no Wall-E, and despite what anyone says, there’s a reason the Academy created a separate category for Best Animated Feature.
So what does it come down to then? In any given year, the Best Picture is the film that captures the mood of the movie-going public and in some way, wows them. This year, that film will be 127 Hours because it’s quite simply emotionally overwhelming. It doesn’t take a genius to note that times are tough in this country. The economy continues to flail. People are out of work. Stressed. 127 Hours offers a sort of release. It takes the viewer on a wild and powerful ride. It taps into a fear that all of us have. A well made film, it will make an impact any year. But especially in this year, people are looking for a connection, for something they can identify with, and really feel.
Well, that being said, it’s still a long ways to go before the first critics’ awards come out. Anything can happen. But for now, we’ll putting our chips behind 127 Hours. Danny Boyle is about to rewrite history.