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Every Oscar season you wait for something to come along and surprise you, whether it's a presumed frontrunner falling on its face-- a la Nine or Amelia in recent years-- or something nobody expected much from coming along and blowing everyone away. That second one is much rarer, because awards buzz is a carefully calibrated, analyzed thing, and by the time October comes around it's hard not to at least get a sense of what could be a big contender.
But I was genuinely surprised on Saturday when I caught the new James Bond film Skyfall and saw what I honestly believe could be an Oscar nominee (you can read my full write-up on it here). No Bond movie has has ever been nominated for Best Picture, and I'm not naive enough to assume that Skyfall can be the one to break the trend. But I think they should at least try, and certainly aim for some other nominations, including a campaign for Javier Bardem as the villain Silva or even Judi Dench as M, playing a bigger role in the franchise than ever before and hitting some remarkable emotional moments. There are also plenty of previous Oscar winners working behind the scenes who deserve attention, from Roger Deakins's jaw-dropping cinematography to Thomas Newman's playful, perfect score. Sam Mendes does terrific work as director, but Best Director is such a competitive category that I'm not even going to get my hopes up there.
I'm not the only person wild about Skyfall-- opening in less than two weeks in the UK, it's already got plenty of rave reviews, and lots of people saying it's not just good for a Bond film; it's just plain good. Everybody knows that good reviews never translate directly into awards nominations, specifically when they're raves for an action movie; Mendes has said he was inspired by Christopher Nolan's Batman movies on how to make a large-scale movie that matters, and Nolan's movies have fared famously poorly with Academy voters. But I do think Skyfall deserves consideration across the board this season, and when it opens and inevitably becomes a massive hit, the pieces may start coming together to make that happen.
I saw one other awards hopeful over the weekend, Robert Zemeckis's Flight, which closed the New York Film Festival on Sunday. It has exactly the powerhouse Denzel Washington performance we were hoping for, and ought to assure him a fifth nomination. The film itself is a little shakier, though very powerful in parts, and it doesn't have any other performances that really shine next to Denzel-- John Goodman racks up another performance, after Argo, that's terrific but too small to really stand out. I liked Flight a lot-- you can read my review here-- and it seems likely to have the same role in awards season that Cast Away did 12 years ago, with nominations for the lead actor and maybe something for the technical component. Regardless, it's good to have Robert Zemeckis back out of motion-capture filmmaking and making movies that star people again.
This week's new wide releases are pretty fallow for awards talk, with Paranormal Activity 4 and Alex Cross taking over, but Sundance hit The Sessions is coming out in limited release, and bringing with it even more talk about lead actors John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. There's also the surreal French film Holy Motors, which I adored and will hopefully have time to write about this week. It's got one of the year's best performances from Denis Levant, who plays 7 different characters over the course of the film. Don't expect to see it anywhere near the Academy Awards, but hopefully some other critics will be singing its praises by year's end.
Now, on to the charts, where my high hopes for Skyfall are duly reflected.
I've kept in Flight as Still In The Running, because you never know how a serious adult drama can surprise you, and bumped Skyfall up to the same category, since I recognize it's a tough sell for a Bond movie as Best Picture. Argo is as close as they come to Mortal Lock, but it still seems a little soon for those kinds of bold pronouncements, so I'm holding off.
STILL IN THE RUNNING
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