Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Is SXSW Winner "Short Term 12" Capable of a Best Picture Nomination

Left to right: Brie Larson and Ketih Stanfield
I will admit that when compiling my previous entry, I was going largely based off of personal speculation and familiarity with the events of the Sundance Film Festival. In a surprise twist, two films have come out as considerable Oscar contenders for different reasons. There is the great looking documentary Blackfish (trailer here) and director Destin Cretton's Short Term 12. Having premiered as SXSW, the latter film has gone on to receive accolades, including winning the Audience Award in the narrative feature category. It is quickly being considered as one of the year's best. With official Oscar Buzz finally starting to heat up, will this SXSW favorite make it all the way to the Best Picture race?

To say straight up front, SXSW is not really an important gauge when it comes to the Oscars. The festival is more of a populous fare driven by the audience more than critical support. There isn't any prestige attached to the level that Sundance or even the more recent Cannes Film Festival will bestow. It isn't to say that Best Picture nominees have ran with this crowd before, but when categories include Best Midnight Movie, chances are that this is more reflective on what audiences want as opposed to the Academy. 

With that said, this doesn't mean these films are immediately disqualified. While it lacks a release date, there is still a chance that it can manage to become the surprise darling. Beasts of the Southern Wild managed to strive on word of mouth to the point of numerous nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Benh Zeitlin), and Best Actress (Quvenzhane Wallis). At very least, this is reflective on the Academy's continuing desire to expand from their more traditional selection to pick more contemporary films. While my money still is high on Fruitvale Station sneaking into the race, that doesn't mean that we can't populate the category with several indie dramas.

So what is Short Term 12 exactly? Here's the trailer that was released yesterday:

For further information, IMDb states that the plot is:
"A 20-something supervising staff member of a foster care facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend."
The film itself doesn't have the highest rating on the website. Clocking in at 6.7 out of 10, this may be expectant for a large chance upon release, but the score suggests a more average film. Then again, it is too early and no definitive reviews have been published to justify speculation. At very least, the random comments that can be seen on sites like Pajiba and /Film will suggest that the crowd loves it and that it is one of the best films of 2013. 

While I speculate this will be a shoe-in for the independent Spirit Awards, I worry about it for another reason. As readers will be aware, I am a big fan of 2012's Smashed. Mary Elizabeth Winstead deserved an Oscar nomination for that performance. However, it wasn't a flashy drama that demanded your attention like the bigger films. Even Beasts of the Southern Wild suggested that it got there because it looked technically impressive. Smashed suffered from being a character study and not one that did that well at the box office. While it is arguable that box office doesn't determine the Oscars that much, it is common knowledge that independent movies that don't have any way of being called vivacious and lively aren't going to make the final rounds.

Still, I would like to believe that this film is as great as everyone says. For starters, I am a huge fan of lead actress Brie Larson, whose small career has produced brilliant work on United States of Tara and movies like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. She hasn't really had a standout movie role yet, but I feel that with Short Term 12, we may be looking at her jump into the big leagues. Like Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed, it just takes one great performance to make me an adamant supporter. Larson is due for it.

While Winstead was an unfortunate victim of not being in a big movie, there is still a chance that Larson can. For starters, the Oscar race hasn't produced too many other Best Actress-worthy selections so far. While September will unleash a whole string of potential overthrows, for now there is a chance. Another reason to believe that it stands a chance is because in 2011, Jennifer Lawrence received a Best Actress nomination for Winter's Bone (which also made it into the Best Picture race). She didn't win and she was fairly unknown at the time, but Winter's Bone wasn't exactly the most vivacious movie of the year. This factor alone suggests that performers in indie films are standing more and more of a chance. That is why I'm rooting for Larson.

Left to right: Larson and Kaitlyn Dever
The Best Picture race is sort of a different beast. With a sliding scale of 5-10 slots, there's already a chance that it could or could not make it. With Fruitvale Station probably a guarantee, the niche independent film slot may be harder to use as an excuse. Not knowing how good the film is, it is harder to judge it as more than another case like Smashed. It may do well with everyone but the Academy. It is unfortunate, but probably the reality.

The one bright side is that the film could get in based on bias. As proven when Kramer vs. Kramer won in 1979, the analysis of a broken family is a subject that the Academy tends to enjoy. While this isn't the story of a broken family, the trauma of being a foster child could possibly correlate well enough that the film connects on that emotional level. Really what this film needs to do is have a strong emotional punch. At best, Larson can get nominated, though chances are that she needs to be as good as the advertising says.

Still, I am intrigued to see Short Term 12 and am kind of disappointed that this wasn't on my radar until yesterday. It looks really good and whether or not it will get that Best Picture nomination, I am rooting for it to be a success story. Maybe the SXSW word of mouth will help this at least reach an audience. Not being familiar with the festival, I cannot argue in favor of it. Still, I would love to think that in a very interesting first half of 2013, we have at least seen one or two nominees so far. Maybe Spring Breakers is too raunchy for the category, but what's Stoker's excuse? I'm just hoping that this will be another interesting year of nominees. It would suck otherwise.

Will Short Term 12 manage to get into the race? Is Brie Larson going to become a strong front runner for the Best Actress race? Why is the Academy so down on independent movies that sometimes outshine the mainstream selections?

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