Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Is "Rush" Capable of Putting Race Cars Into the Best Picture Category?

Daniel Bruhl
While I initially claimed that Oscar season began with The Butler back in August, it has seemed like a long, pointless gap between that film and the current stream of traffic. While I feel that Lee Daniel's look at American history will benefit from the earlier release, we are officially in the time when week-to-week, I will attempt to cover a lot more work than I normally do. As my predictions would imply the next few months starting this Friday will be a nonstop quest to catch them all and then speculate who will come out on top. It does seem poignant then that we begin season two of The Oscar Buzz properly with a Formula One racing movie: director Ron Howard's Rush.

From my memory, I cannot think of the last time, if any, that a movie involving auto-mechanics as a central plot has received a Best Picture nomination. We have seen horse racing (Seabiscuit) before, but usually films regarding four-wheeled devices have been saved for technical categories where even then, it is a tough competition. I am not entirely sure how the buzz around Howard's new film put it into the conversation as much as it did, but I do feel like this film is getting a lot of steam around it. As I predicted, it is going to be one of the Best Picture nominees for sure. I already feel somewhat confident on my decision as it currently holds an 89% on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes (subject to change).

The buzz may simply be around Howard as a director. While many are calling this a return to form, it is also his first big film since being nominated for Frost/Nixon in 2008. He also won top honors for A Beautiful Mind, which included Best Picture. As a veteran actor as well as director, he has more than enough credibility to make even the lesser of his projects hold some acclaim around it. With Rush being made outside of the studio system, it makes the project almost more passionate and leaves the wonderment of what exactly will make the film special.

I suppose it falls into a class of modern films like The Social Network where it may seem like an implausible subject matter for Best Picture, but it more lies in the execution. I will not claim to be wild about Howard as a director, though with A Beautiful Mind being a great representation of character studies, I am willing to believe that racing is only the big picture. Deep down, this will be a look at the relationship between two rivals, played by Daniel Bruhl and Chris Hemsworth. Even if the trailers make it look exciting, they still feel like promos for an entertaining film that is hiding its more dramatic intentions rather well.

What are the odds of it winning Best Picture? Not very high. With 12 Years a Slave getting every ounce of acclaim and speculation, this is looking to be a boring year for anyone wanting to challenge it. That is, until it comes out in three weeks. Once it reaches the public's consciousness, we will be able to put it into the conversation more accurately. For now, I feel like Rush and the idea of it being a character study more than a race movie will be its inevitable edge. I can't tell very well by the trailers how this will influence voters as far as performances or writing goes, but I have heard some buzz around Bruhl, so that should be something to keep an eye on.

I could even technically see Howard getting a Best Director nomination. As he proved with Apollo 13, he is capable of capturing tension and drama very well. He is great at period pieces and pays attention to detail well enough to keep them from being distracting. I feel like even if the only technical skill he applies to this film is some fine car racing, it will be flashy enough to solidify himself in the top five selection. Interviews he has given around the film have made him seem rather enthusiastic about this, and if it is more than hype, I could totally buy this being a surprise success with both critics and audiences.

I feel like after Argo, that is the type of appeal that the Oscars are trying to go for. I am not saying that The Hurt Locker, The King's Speech, or The Artist lacked universal appeal, but they were all more niche. Even if 12 Years a Slave is too far ahead, in hypothetical sense I feel like they are wanting to get recognition for a wider pallet of subject matters. Rush, at very least, would appeal to those who enjoy racing films as well as dramas. I feel like Howard will balance it enough that this will be the case. Hypothetically, I feel like it will succeed on the strengths of the general public's reaction to it. 

I also feel like it is one of the early front runners for Best Original Scores. While I am assuming that Hans Zimmer's work for 12 Years a Slave will steal Rush's thunder, the music in the film is some of the most interesting that Zimmer has produced in recent years. After the annoyingly blunt The Dark Knight Rises, he has come back with something full of personality. Mixing guitars and rock instrumentation with traditional scores, he captures the atmosphere of almost every race movie that has come before it. While I am not entirely impressed, I admire the creativity behind it to the point that I feel it is entertaining outside of context. It is upbeat and has plenty of power going for it. I can't wait to hear how it plays in the film.

As a whole, there isn't much to say about Rush at this point as the competition hasn't been made readily available just yet. I don't feel like it will win any major awards, but it will get a lot of recognition because of how it will appeal to the mainstream. I even think the music will have enough momentum to possibly get Zimmer a nomination on top of the 12 Years a Slave pick. I do feel that if push comes to shove and the Academy decides that one per person is the rule, then Rush will get ignored there. However, I like what I see enough to have little doubt against its placement in the race.

I hopefully will have a review of the film up and available sometime Friday afternoon. I will try and put my thoughts more into perspective at that point. As of now, I feel like Rush is one of those films that rides the line between prestige and entertainment well enough to recall Argo's success and potentially be as popular because of that. I also feel that since Howard has proven himself over and over, that this is going to be an exceptional effort to the point of at least keeping his reputation strong.

Is Rush capable of a Best Picture nomination? Will Ron Howard have yet another Best Director nomination on his hands? Is car racing too big of an issue for voters to overlook the story?


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