Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is "Anna Karenina" Able to Separate Itself from Other Best Picture Period Pieces?

Keira Knightley 
Next Friday sees the release of director Joe Wright's fifth film Anna Karenina, an adaptation of the Russian novel by Leo Tolstory that follows the titular character (Keira Knightley) on her journey through love in the 19th century. With all of the attention surely going to be focused next week on director David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, is it possible that Wright can pull an upset and bring period pieces back to the Oscars, and more notably the Best Picture category? Can he nab Knightley her second Best Actress nomination and possibly a win?

Wright is not necessarily a newbie when it comes to the Academy. While it hasn't been prominent, he has two films that have received multiple nominations. Of his four films, Anna Karenina most resembles those that had been nominated in the past and almost features similar themes to that of his biggest achievement: Atonement, which was another period piece he did starring Knightley and featured a faithful adaptation to a story about forbidden love. 

If the Academy is to look at his track record, it is sparse, but considering he goes back and forth between period pieces and contemporary films (including the brilliant Hanna), is mostly showing a director of two faces. At one time, you have Wright who manages to craft elegance and characters into a brilliant yarn. The other face puts a twist on modern life by turning assassins into fairy tale metaphors and an emotional piece on how the homeless can overcome their adversity through the power of music. Of the two, Wright has shown that he is capable of capturing the Academy's attention through elegant period pieces the likes of which are often reserved to mediocre movies about British royalty in the Best Costume category.

What has his achievements included?

Pride and Prejudice

Best Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood (Art Director), Katie Spencer (Set Decorator)
Best Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran
Best Original Score: Dario Marianelli
Best Actress: Keira Knightley


*Best Original Score: Dario Marianelli
Best Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood (Art Director), Katie Spencer (Set Decorator)
Best Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
Best Supporting Actress: Saoirse Ronan
Best Adapted Screenplay: Christopher Hampton
Best Picture

"*" indicates wins.
Total Nominations: 10
Total Wins: 1

If the records prove anything, this movie is at very least destined to get nominated in the Costume Design, Art Direction, and Original Score categories. Of course, that is just going based off of multiple nominations. It is also easy to assume this because Wright's period piece styles almost have the same elegant sheen, the classic selection of music, and a romance that is lacking in majority of competing films. Wright knows how to adapt a 19th century story and make it feel fresh and alive.

If you don't think that this looks like a 19th century film, please check out the trailer:

If it wasn't for Hanna and The Soloist, this would look like the playbook for Joe Wright tropes. Everything you'd expect is in there. Knightley pulls off the accent, the orchestra sounds fitting, and Aaron Johnson looks swarthy enough to win anyone over. This looks like another average adaptation from Wright, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your opinions of his period pieces. Personally, I find them to be some of the most inspired takes in the field of adaptation. Of course, Wright now has to tackle Tolstoy's 864 page book into a film that spans 130 minutes. Surely some elements will be cut.

For those that are still unsure of what Anna Karenina is, here is a summary provided on IMDb:
"Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky."
The question with this description now is what it needs to do to get the Academy to notice it. Wright is already off to a good start, having had Atonement in the Best Picture category and Knightley already a Best Actress nominee. The credibility has been established, and it will be hard for the Academy to ignore this on the account that the older voters tend to vote for older, more mature films. This is most recently notable in Best Picture winner The King's Speech, directed by Tom Hooper and may contribute to how Atonement had the extra edge, especially in a time when only five films got Best Picture slots.

But still the big problem is that this film hasn't had the momentum that other films like director Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, Ben Affleck's Argo, or Hooper's Les Miserables has had. They have become critically praised front runners that just happen to be dealing with complicated themes from long ago.The field is already filling up with more contemporary pieces, and the film will need to get some heavy praise to even be considered, especially when the beloved Silver Linings Playbook is standing a chance of taking way its thunder.

I am almost sure that this will not be the film that Joe Wright gets a Best Director nomination for. There are too many other strong contenders this year, including Affleck, Hooper, and Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. I even question if Anna Karenina stands a chance in acting fields, notably with acting, though I have garnered some hope based on my research. 

According to statistics website Gold Derby, a lot of the performers are in some ways in a position of possibly getting nominated. While there are some that are more likely than others, almost every category features a strong presence from the cast and leaves small hope that a surprisingly effective performance will get a few nominations in. The most notable is Knightley for Best Actress. As of now, her statistics have her at #4 with the odds of 8:1. Other less hopefuls include: Best Supporting Actor Jude Law at #11 and Aaron Johnson at #22 both with odds of 100:1, Best Supporting Actress for Kelly MacDonald and Olivia Williams both with odds of 100:1. These statistics mostly point to Knightley almost being a sure nominee with the rest standing no chance. The only question after that is if Knightley can beat favorite Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone, whose odds are 5:1. She lost to Cotillard in 2007 and it will be interesting to see if it happens again.

Jude Law
The other fields are more rewarding in terms of nominations. It places #9 in Best Adapted Screenplay with odds of 100:1. It will most likely not stand a chance against the flashier names, including Argo, which is assumed to take the category. It is only when you get into the production nominations that you get more reassuring notes. While I have long argued that I want Cloud Atlas to take all of the technical and costumes, there needs to be more nominees. Just like that, it places #2 in Production Design with odds of 10:3, #8 in Cinematography with odds of 33:1, #1 in Costume Design with odds of 13:8, #13 in Best Editing with odds of 100:1, #6 in Best Makeup with odds of 25:1, #4 in Best Original Score with odds of 15:2,  and Best Sound Mixing with odds of 100:1. 

This film seems to be destined to be the typical period piece Oscar nominee. Almost every year films that are from another century get ignored except for the Costume categories. It seems like an unfair field, but almost creates one of the Academy's biggest cliches. I have long taken offense to them having period piece films (usually about queens) win on the account that at some point it is just photocopying what we saw last year. With this said, Anna Karenina almost seems guaranteed to do well in these fields, even if Cloud Atlas features a more inspired and ambitious palate of designs. I haven't yet heard the score for the film, but I am almost sure that it won't win against Jonny Greenwood's The Master score, but it will get nominated.

When it comes down to it, I don't see Wright's film making that strong of a presence at the Oscars. The highest nominations that it will get is Best Actress for Knightley and probably a Best Adapted Screenplay. These are two categories that are almost prone to nominating actors that perform emotional period pieces. It is too early to determine if Knightley will be the front runner in her field, but she almost seems guaranteed for that spot, if just because the Wright/Knightley formula seems to bring out the best in each other. Wright is really good with actors, which only makes the absence of everyone else seem a little appalling.

No matter how good Anna Karenina is, I don't believe it will be a runaway hit. It may get a lot of nominations, but in the design fields. I do not see it winning anything, except possibly and unfairly costume. It may get a lot of praise this year, but consider that the 5-10 slots almost seem to be filling up with reservations at this point. A guaranteed top five that seems to already have been established (Argo, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, The Master) just makes the chances harder, as the rest aren't promised to be nominated. The film is too low key in comparison to everything else to even reach a level of consideration necessary to play well. 

This may be the marketing department's fault, or it could simply be that a Tolstoy adaptation is hard to sell. It looks nice, but today's modern audience doesn't want to deal with a 130 minute tale about romance. They want stories about drug addiction, presidents, or even Osama bin Laden before they get to Anna Karenina. It also hurts that as far as period pieces go, Les Miserables seems to be more ambitiously fighting for a nomination and will most likely get it. The film may be another classic example of why Wright is a gifted director, but this year already features way too many interesting choices to have it stand out.

Do you think it can get a surprise nomination? Will Keira Knightley manage to pull ahead and win in a field that almost seems to be owned by Marion Cotillard? Is Joe Wright overdue for a directing nomination? Is this all poor timing?

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