Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why "The Grey" Should Get Some Oscar Love

Liam Neeson
As much as I would like to believe that the Oscars will nominate the best of the best, I sometimes feel like there are a few exceptions to this rule. Every year I find a few of my favorites left off of the Best Picture category. I understand it is more for the populous that determines this list, but I feel like certain genres get ignored. I am even beginning to feel like certain months entirely. For this installment, I have decided to focus on the wildest card that I can think of. This movie came out in January and has since been in my top five favorite for this year. I am talking about director Joe Carnahan's The Grey. 

The story follows the journey of oil worker Ottway (Liam Neeson) as he is headed home from Alaska to visit his wife (Anne Openshaw). We never get to talk one on one with his wife, but through various flashbacks, we get a sense of the love. Suddenly, a plane crash occurs, which leaves the passengers to fend for themselves in the wild Alaskan climates, dealing with the cold, low rations, and of course the wolves. 

The reason that this movie works is also why I want it to be considered, if at least for a Best Actor nomination for Neeson and possibly Best Adapted Screenplay for Carnahan and Ian McKenzie Jeffers, the latter of whom wrote the basis titled "Ghost Walker." The story is in some parts horror, but it is more psychological and is a true study of the human will. While many will complain that the finale didn't deliver the goods promised in the trailer, that wasn't the point.

One by one the passengers are picked off, and our hero Neeson is seen praying and trying to figure out ways to survive. He emotes vulnerability and masculinity in ways familiar to his more action persona, but in a way that benefits the story better. In many ways, the narrative approach is to reflect on what is significant to the group and in a way better understand ourselves and motivations. It gets pretty wild at times, but not without a sense of concern for each passenger as they meet their final move. Many are tragic and often based on one small error. That is the reality of life, and this movie successfully turns it into a gripping thriller.

I am not expecting this to get a Best Picture nomination, though it should. The Academy has rarely given much love to thrillers of this sort. The simple subject matter of trying to survive in the wild fits some of their criteria, reminiscing on old nominees like 127 Hours, but this comes across more as blockbuster in comparison. There is an excessive need for action and Neeson's reputation as old action hero may detract the Academy from recognizing it, but at the heart of everything is a brilliant story of one man's quest to survive and get back to civilization at any cost.

This movie has a lot of great themes. It has a reasonable villain that keeps the intensity high at all time. Still, it is the brutal violence that may turn back some. The characters may seem redemptive, but the context isn't as palpable as The Deer Hunter. Still, I would suggest giving this movie a shot before you shoot me down. It is one of Neeson's best in years, and the themes are complex. This reminds me very much of Joe Wright's Hanna in that it was fun, but due to the action aspect, it wasn't going to stand a chance. As for Wright's Anna Karenina, it is pretty much up there in terms of buzz. 

I would like to see The Grey get some love because it is tough surviving in the wilderness and even more so to make a movie that meditates on the subject in a very human nature. Please, if you make one surprise nomination this year, please let it be this one.

[UPDATE: I have just discovered that it is getting a rerelease in October to get some Oscar momentum. It was originally supposed to be released last December, but scheduling conflicts resulted the push back one month. Still, it is nice to see this film getting a second and well deserved chance. Let's hope that this rerelease at least gets critics to recognize what made Neeson's performance so brilliant.]

What do you think? Is The Grey not really worth more than a January release and because of a controversially simple ending it shouldn't get credit? Also, is it because the Academy is too old and feeble to recognize complexity in films that are not strictly dramas or period pieces?

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