Monday, October 7, 2013

Is "Captain Phillips" Going to Hijack Some Oscar Nominations?

Tom Hanks
Upon initial viewing of the trailer for director Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips, the gut reaction that it was just another average thriller with very little offering. While Tom Hanks has been churning out promising work as of late (see last year's Cloud Atlas), I had my money set on Saving Mr. Banks as Hanks' return to the Oscar race. However, over the course of time and with several reviews pouring out, including The Daily Mail claiming that "Tom Hanks is at the top of his game." At very least, this has become the surprising must-see that may just prove to be one of the unexpected upsets that I just didn't see coming.

While Hanks hasn't been nominated for an award since 2000's Castaway, he hasn't been out of the consciousness all that much. True, he was overlooked for the charismatic, fun Cloud Atlas last year, but the year before saw him as a supporting actor in Best Picture nominee Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. It may be reviled as one of the worst Best Picture nominees of recent years (I choose to disagree), but with that star power, it at least shows that Hanks has never shied away from challenging roles, even in sappy sentimental tales about September 11th. It is ironic that his return to the Oscars since 2011 would be with Greengrass, who directed another September 11th movie: United 93

What we get is a thrilled based on the life of Captain Richard Phillips, whose ship was hijacked by Somalian pirates. Not being familiar with the real life story, I cannot provide little beyond the trailers that have been presented. To say the least, nothing is immediately grabbing about them and feels like an average set-up for a film that would be classified a thriller: intense plot, made more intense with music by Henry Jackson, and Hanks appearing to be mild mannered to a villain spouting threats. It looks to be good, but when writing up my predictions, I didn't even consider it a contender.

In fact, it wasn't until the recent reviews from the New York Film Festival that my anticipation rose. While I planned to see it because I really like Hanks, it was the reviews that sold me. With plenty of discussion around the ending, it quickly began to look like things were looking in favor of Hanks and the film getting potential nominations. David Ehrlich of called wrote: "Anchored by a compellingly candid titular performance by Tom Hanks (his best on-screen work since Catch Me if You Can)" and Katey Rich of Cinemablend stated: "Hanks has been such a familiar star for so long that it was easy to think he'd run out of tricks, but he is so commanding, so authentic here, taking what could be cheap, sentimental heroism and creating a real but extraordinary human who is just smart enough to survive."

With the film also receiving a great deal of praise and holding 89% (subject to change) on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, there is a good chance that it may be entering the serious talks really quick here. Greengrass has also received a nomination for Best Director for United 93 and with his shaky camera receiving technical praise as well as the story, there is a good chance that he could be entering the race pretty quickly here. The only trouble is that I haven't fully placed into view who all of the competitors could likely be. As it stands, I am rallying for Alfonso Cuaron to at least get a nomination for the brilliance of Gravity and with Steve McQueen most likely entering the race as the front runner for 12 Years a Slave in two weeks, I don't feel like Greengrass is going to be prove to be a long term contender.

What are the odds of Best Picture, however? From what most people are saying, the trajectory of this film seems to be going the way of Argo: a true story with thriller elements. While Argo went on to win Best Picture, the same cannot be said for Captain Phillips. In fact, of the films that I have covered so far alone, it probably isn't even close to winning. It could receive nominations because of Hanks' performance and universal acclaim. Of course, my predictions continue to enter interesting territory. Just check out The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a film I speculated success on, but NYFF hasn't been all that kind to. If it drops out of the race, it opens more potential for Captain Phillips.

Looking up information on statistics website Gold Derby, the praise for Captain Phillips appears to be rather solid so far. While Gravity has quickly overtaken most selections, Greengrass' film appears to be in the top five for all categories I expect it to place in. In Best Picture, it currently ranks fourth with odds of 12:1 behind 12 Years a Slave (4:1), Gravity (11:2), and American Hustle (6:1). With the sliding 5-10 slots, it looks like an easy shoe-in for the time being. 

In fact, the pattern repeats in the Best Director race, with Greengrass coming in fourth behind the directors of the same films in the same order. With Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) in fifth and a bunch of heavyweights just out of the top five, there is still time for things to change, notably if Scorsese becomes disqualified as predicted. We still have to wade through the Coen Brothers (Inside Llewyn Davis), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), and Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine) before we can determine just how well the film does in the long run.

Even Hanks, who has been a powerhouse in the past, doesn't look to be doing so well yet. For starters, his last nomination was 13 years ago and while this is being hailed as a career best, doesn't necessarily guarantee a win yet. According to Gold Derby, he currently ranks in fourth behind Chiwetel Ejiofir (12 Years a Slave) with odds of 9:4, Robert Redford (All is Lost) with 10:3, and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) with 9:2. Of the nominees, I have simply heard about Redford's performance and know little else. Still, I believe that sight unseen, this may be Ejiofir's year. As much as I secretly hoped for a McConaughey victory, a nomination would be a decent start. Hanks has already won a few awards and the acclaim could help him get nominated, but unless the three performances ahead of him fail to capture the zeitgeist, this isn't probably his year.

As I initially stated, I believe that Captain Phillips will be surprisingly effective, but I don't think it will be a strong Oscar contender. While I plan to write a review justifying my thoughts one way or the other this upcoming weekend, I still don't feel that this will be the big surprise. Maybe it will get a few nominations, but the buzz around it doesn't feel strong enough to clarify some love. I even bet that Hanks is more likely to get nominated for Saving Mr. Banks, though I have a whole theory as to why involving bias. Either way, I am glad to hear that this is getting great reviews, though I cannot get on board with a nomination without the film justifying its chances.

Is Tom Hanks going to get a nomination? Will the film be surprisingly effective? Will a supporting actor have a breakout role in the film?

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