Thursday, April 11, 2013

Will Malick Get a Best Picture Nomination for "To the Wonder"?

Left to right: Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams
In 2011, one of the surprise hits of the year was director Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, which was an epic poem about beauty and life. When it received three Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, it only made the film more prevalent in the culture. Since, he is on a role with three films set to release in 2013 alone. His first venture is To the Wonder, which stars Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem. Will this recent spurt of output help to put Malick back into the race, or is The Tree of Life one of those odd exceptions?
What is amazing is that Terrence Malick is one of those greatly acclaimed directors. However, his inconsistent output and unique film style have only resulted in three Oscar nominations in his 44 years of a career. Still, many who have seen The Tree of Life come away either amazed, dulled, or in the case of Sean Penn, not even sure what is going on. Any way you look at it, it has helped to put Malick back into the zeitgeist and with his excessive output, it probably will only rise.

What makes To the Wonder an intriguing selection is not only is it his first follow-up, but it also stars Ben Affleck, who just won Best Picture for Argo. While the acting and directing categories are not exclusive for consideration, there is a chance that his recent winning streak will give To the Wonder more attention and with Malick's previous earning three Oscar nominations, it is possible that this dynamic will play in favor to their voting habits. 

But what is To the Wonder? Like The Tree of Life, the promotional materials have been very low key. Possibly due to it only opening in limited release this week. Like The Tree of Life, it is better to show you than to tell, as I feel that Malick's films have a more nature-based flow to them than a narrative structure.

Pretty intriguing, right? Another great thing to note is the score by Hanan Townshend, whose string orchestration was also integral to The Tree of Life. At very least, I am a fan of the Townshend/Malick combination, as it makes everything seem far more marvelous and hopeful. While it has yet to be seen, I am hoping it is great enough to consider come Oscar season. However, the Best Original Score category is not my strength, as my choice to call The Master and Cloud Atlas necessities didn't quite pan out, even though Anna Karenina did make the cut thankfully.

If the trailer didn't sell you and you are still asking: What is To the Wonder about? Here is the description from IMDb:
"After visiting Mont Saint-Michel, Marina and Neil come to Oklahoma, where problems arise. Marina meets a priest and fellow exile, who is struggling with his vocation, while Neil renews his ties with a childhood friend, Jane."
Sounds almost straightforward compared to The Tree of Life. However, never underestimate Malick to mess with the narrative. Both films look equally as engaging and it is sure to play to the Academy's bias of beautiful things. However, what are the chances that it will get any nomination?

For starters, it is already off to a bad start. Many critics are giving it bad reviews. On critic aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, it currently stands at 38%, which is vastly lower than The Tree of Life, which sits at 84%. Very few films below 60% have ever been nominated for Best Picture, the last known one was Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close with 47%. While there is still a chance that the score can go up upon wider release, this already doesn't bode well. However, a quick search of reviews, it will reveal that the initial criticism is more that they never liked Malick's work. Maybe the supporters will come out soon enough. After all, The Tree of Life's 84% had to win some of these naysayers over.

Olga Kurylenko
The odds are that this is going to be more of a director's movie than an actor's movie. As established, Malick films are not prolific. However, he has quite a track record when it comes to nominations. Besides The Tree of Life, he also received Best Director and Best Picture nominations for The Thin Red Line along with four other nominations. His other films have had their share of nominations as well, though none for Best Picture, Best Director, or any of the acting fields. 

While it is possible that Malick can sneak into these categories again, especially with his praise still at a high, I don't feel like To the Wonder will be it for a a few reasons. Besides the low Rotten Tomatoes scores, I am still a personal doubter that anything before June stands little chance at  a major nomination, no matter how great it is. This is also being considered a more conventional film and already known by most as his first non-masterpiece. The pressure is low right now. Maybe one of his other films, The Knight of Cups or an untitled production, stand a better chance, especially with them coming out later. However, this can also be seen as the moment Malick went off the rails. Maybe quality will have diminishing returns from here on out.

However, Malick is a personality. He can make films on his own style and get praise for them. I am confident that one of these will pop up at the Oscars. I doubt that To the Wonder will be it, even with a promising cast and an equally amazing trailer. It would need a lot of support to get there. However, I still stand that if the soundtrack is as good as the snippet heard in the trailer, there needs to be a stronger campaign to get Hanan Townshend into the race. His music was crucial to The Tree of Life's success. I doubt that this will be the film to break the lack of acting nominations as well. Even with Ben Affleck's recent success, a film by a director known more for style instead of his actors is a big problem. 

To the Wonder may be great and this speculation may all be misleading. However, I still hold out hope that one of his other two films is the hidden masterpiece that will sneak into the Best Picture race. Both of those films have an even more diverse and appealing cast and while little is known about either, they could end up being these amazing projects. It just seems that for the time being, To the Wonder's big contribution to discussion is that it isn't up to Malick's potential. That alone is giving me fear that it isn't the great comeback many think it is, at least in terms of to the Best Picture race.

Does To the Wonder stand a chance at the Oscars? Will Ben Affleck or Rachel McAdams break the acting nomination curse? Is it time to start looking at his other two films and hope for something better?

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