Sunday, November 11, 2012

Will the Word of Mouth Success of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" get the Film Oscar Nominations?

Left to right: Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry
Check out my review for the film here.

It has been quite a year for indie films in regards to awards season. Director Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master managed to win over critics and place Joaquin Phoenix as a top contender (though his comments may cause problems) and has gotten a few record breaking titles attached to its legacy. However, long before The Master was winning over audiences, there was director Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild, which saw one of the most original stories of the year with an equally engaging cast, thus making it the indie film that could. However, is the early praise of the film able to sustain now that we're seeing all of the big shots starting to compete?

Beasts of the Southern Wild is an incredible example of word of mouth. After winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, it has continually collected praise. Ending up with 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, it was considered to be one of the first serious contenders for Best Picture in a time when the only other logical choice was to question why The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises would never get that honor. Making $11 million, there is no doubt that it was a success thanks to the critical praise and helps it to stand out as one of the few indie films this year to capture both audiences and critics.

The bigger question now is what can it do? While a lot of talk has transferred to Silver Linings Playbook and Argo, it seems the Zeitlin's film has remained consistent. In fact, young actress Quvenzhane Wallis has been the film's biggest chance at a win to date, as she has almost solidified herself in the Best Actress race since her stunning debut performance. The way that she carries herself in a world dominated by her machismo father is almost a revelation, also considering that very few child actors even come close to being this compelling.

However, the biggest thing going against the film is the subject matter. Many consider Hushpuppy's (Wallis) life in the Bathtub to be a glorification of poverty while others see it as a tale of survival and struggle to find purpose. It manages to be uplifting while also making characters like Hushpuppy's father Wink (Dwight Henry) seem too abusive and drug addled. It is  complicated film for sure and it doesn't go easy on the filmmaker. If the idea of living the simple life bothers you, then this may not be your film.

Take a look at the clip below to get a better picture:

There is no doubt that it is a visually interesting movie, especially on a small scale. The world has an intricacy to it that keeps the muddled story from ever losing its merits. Still, there is a chance that in a world of big flashy movies with obvious stories that Beasts of the Southern Wild will undoubtedly fall behind. However, the fact that it came out in June and is still of important discussion gives me hope that it will make it all the way. After all, very few films from June are still being talked about.

What are the odds that it can even get nominated? With many of the big candidates still emerging, there is a chance that the slots can be swiped away. Nobody knows for sure how Les Miserables will control the categories, but one thing seems for sure, Wallis is almost guaranteed at very least a nomination. Her chances of winning are low however, as youthful actors rarely win on account of them not being seasoned veterans. However, she will beat both Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit and Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine as one of the youngest nominees in the Academy's history. It is a very much deserved nomination, though her chances of beating Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook or Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bones seems impossible Still, statistics website Gold Derby lists her at #3 with odds of 6:1. If she even gets nominated, that will be an incredible feat.

What about the equally engaging Henry for Best Supporting Actor? It may not pan out as well. Where the Best Actress category is not as cemented this year, the male acting fields have been filling up fast with Phillip Seymour Hoffman for The Master and Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln being the obvious favorites. Still, Henry isn't that abstract of a nominee choice. Gold Derby has him listed at #7 with odds of 33:1. I doubt that he will be able to squeak into the top five on the sheer caliber. It is also important to note that he may be crucial to the story, but Wallis almost receives the unanimous praise for the film's effectiveness.

As for the behind the scenes stuff, it may also get nominated just for the sheer level of ambition. Many important notes that critics make regard cinematography, writing, and music. In each of these fields, the movie plays strong. In Best Adapted Screenplay, it is at #4 with odds of 9:1. This is a hopeful sign for the film, though it may end up going to current Best Picture favorite Argo. In Cinematography, it ranks #5 with odds of 10:1. There is a good chance that it can slip away at any moment, though it stands less chance of winning against the likes of Lincoln, Les Miserables, Life of Pi and The Master, which all seem to be the serious competition. In Best Original Score (done by Zeitlin), it places #5 with odds of 10:1. Speaking that personal favorite Cloud Atlas is not too far behind (#8 with odds of 25:1), I can easily see this dropping out. Of course, this could partially be due to me not remembering the music being all that impacting. Where The Master and Cloud Atlas have memorable pieces of music, Beasts of the Southern Wild did not, and that may affect a fatal shift with #6's Argo which has odds of 25:1 and may get nominated simply because of Argo's high praise.

The film will play well in the fields and Gold Derby seems to believe that it will also stand a chance in Production Design and Editing, though it isn't quite as established in those categories, falling way below the top 10. As I said earlier, the film isn't flashy and that may effect the final outcome. It may get the honor of having multiple Oscar nominations, but otherwise it faces the feat that every offbeat indie movie must face. It must face the old Academy voters who have personal bias, usually involving films geared towards movies, history, or even white people interests (though that has began to shift in the past 10 years). This film stands no chance against Argo or The Master, but those few heavyweights cannot keep it from getting nominations on the basis that the movie is in many ways an inspiring, hopeful tale. It may play too much on empathy, but it will catapult this movie to nominations.

The Best Picture field is the hardest to gauge. With many of the big contenders still facing release, there is no word on if films that even possibly can get in (Anna Karenina) will make it. It is a very interesting year and a lot of strong choices, notably Les Miserables and The Master. The one advantage is that the fields are now a fluctuating 5-10 slots, which means that it can sneak in as the token underdog movie. The chances of it winning against the flashier names is highly unlikely, but it still can place. Gold Derby has it listed at #9 with odds of 20:1. That is pretty impressive, and the only things blocking guarantee are the currently unseen films that currently challenge it: Les Miserables at #2 with odds of 11:2 Zero Dark Thirty at #7 with odds of 12:1, Django Unchained at #8 with odds of 20:1, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at #10 with odds of 50:1. All three are being hyped solely on their directors right now and very limited footage. If any of these films manage to become disappointments (I predict that The Hobbit will be one of them) and Beasts of the Southern Wild can maintain enough votes, I see it being one of the lower Best Picture nominees.

While I will probably not see my dream of Moonrise Kingdom getting a Best Picture slot (it is currently #13 with odds of 100:1), there is hope that creative indie films will get nominated this year. I wish the film all of the best, even though it isn't one that I cared too much for. If this gets nominated, it will be a recognition of ambition more than storytelling. However, it is important to recognize films outside of the studios, and what better example than the word of mouth success of Beasts of the Southern Wild? If it does, it will continue to show the Academy's love for offbeat films like Sideways, The Tree of Life, and Juno getting nominated. The only step now if for one of them to win Best Picture, which I doubt this film will be.

Will the film manage to get a Best Picture nomination? Will Quvenzhane Wallis steal the Best Actress category? Is the Academy going to notice it over flashier films like Argo?

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