Analysis: ‘127 Hours’ makes an Oscar comeback as ‘Inception’ is humbled

01.25.11 7 years ago 21 Comments

Fox Searchlight

The big buzz this morning has been over the startling omission of Christopher Nolan in the best director category from today’s Oscar nominations announcement, but there’s a bigger story that needs to be immediately addressed: the amazing turnaround of “127 Hours.”

Just six weeks ago, if you were to ask any competing consultant or Oscar pundit if “127 Hours” still had a chance to receive a best picture nomination you would have received a stern “No.”  Even after amazing reviews from its debut at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, “127” had not becoming the box office phenomenon many expected.  Moreover, the continuing stories of moveigoers fainting or having attacks from the picture’s intense story weren’t just problematic, they were hovering on the ridiculous. Even director Danny Boyle remarked that he couldn’t understand the reaction and was concerned by it.  Fox Searchlight’s attention was also no doubt diverted by the incredible success of “Black Swan” theatrically that had many considering it as a potential best picture upset winner.  

How “127” turned it around was threefold. First, they embraced the reactionary nature of the film by discussing it openly and in their marketing.  They even had James Franco record a Christmas video where his grandmother told viewers she was brave enough to watch it and why weren’t you?  Second, and this ties into the first point, they put their best asset out in front, James Franco.  The once press shy actor did everything humanly possible to help promote the film while still attending Yale and getting his Sundance Film Festival installation off the ground.  You can’t discount how much affection for him personally and his performance helped seal the deal.  Third, and most important, the screeners worked.  Academy members who were scared off by the stories of attacks could watch the picture in the safety of their home able to turn it off if it just became to much to bear.  It’s obvious by both the best picture and best director nominations, many members didn’t.  

Granted, “127” is a long shot to win best picture, but Boyle’s masterpiece at least got its proper due and mostly thanks to Searchlight’s smart change in strategy.  As we’ll discuss, some of their competitors weren’t as nimble.

Now, onto some other interesting revelations this morning.

What are Christopher Nolan’s peers telling him?
This has to be a very strange morning for Christopher Nolan. On one hand, both he and his wife received their first nominations as producers for “Inception.”  He also landed his second nod for screenwriting and his decade old passion project found itself tied with “The Social Network” with an impressive eight nominations.  Shockingly, however, Nolan didn’t land a directing nomination.  This after he received his third DGA Awards directing nod for “inception” earlier for this month.  In fact, Nolan has now been nominated by the DGA three times while also being snubbed by his peers in the Academy.  It’s worth reminding that the directing branch is smaller then the DGA which also includes assistant directors, etc.  Why his Academy peers are averse to him just can’t be the competition.  Especially when the writer’s branch easily found him worthy of a screenplay nomination. And, if any movie is a “director’s” film it’s “Inception.”  Could his peers believe Nolan’s success is too fast, too soon? Has he alienated them without knowing it?  On a personal level, it’s got to be disconcerting for both Nolan and “Inception’s” studio, Warner Bros.

‘Black Swan’s’ polarizing reactions came back to haunt it

Since its Venice Film Festival debut, the reaction to Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” has always been passionate. Those who love, love.  Those who dislike, really dislike.  Granted the former is a much bigger pool, but it appears there were enough of the latter to affect “Swan’s” nomination haul.  After Globe, SAG and BAFTA nods for either Mila Kunis or Barbara Hershey, neither landed a best supporting actress honor from Oscar.  The film also lost out on expected nominations in art direction, costume design and sound mixing.  Add that up and it’s clear “Swan” has become a bigger long shot to win best picture than studio stable mate “127 Hours.” Who knew?

Is ‘True Grit’ the real party crasher?
“Inception’s” tumble has opened the door for the Coens’ adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel to be the strongest upset winner to “King’s Speech” or “Social Network” for best picture.  10 nominations is huge for the film as is the Coens’ landing yet another directing nomination.  There has to be some concern over not making the editing field, but with a staggering (for a Western) $137 million at the box office so far, it could be the biggest spoiler of the night.  Plus, you cannot underestimate the love for Jeff Bridges in the industry at the moment.  Two hits and an Oscar win the past year have made him everyone’s favorite.  

Something went wrong with ‘The Town’
Talk to any awards consultant around and they would continually tell you Ben Affleck’s “The Town” was consistently mentioned by Academy voters as a favorite.  So, when the film went pretty much unrecognized by the guilds except for Jeremy Renner’s SAG nomination the assumption was the thriller could still make the final ten.  However, it was the SAG omission for best ensemble that should have been the warning that a best picture nomination was in severe doubt.  

Jacki Weaver means: Aussie, Aussie Aussie!
Many are no doubt surprised by Weaver’s inclusion here, but while talking to her before her LAFCA acceptance speech a few weeks ago, the Aussie acting icon shared stories of all her famous countrymen who sought her out to congratulate her on her Golden Globes nomination.  Geoffrey Rush called, Nicole Kidman stopped by her play, current stage co-star Cate Blanchett made sure their production of “Uncle Vanya” gave her a special bow and Toni Collette sent flowers. Now, Weaver certainly deserves her shot at the global spotlight for her work in “Animal Kingdom,” but is there a real Australian voting bloc in the Academy? You bet there is.

When Julia Roberts speaks, Oscar voters listen

Roadside Attractions worked tirelessly and never gave up on their campaign for “Biutiful.”  They were rewarded with nods for foreign language film and best actor for Bardem.  However, the real key in Bardem’s nod wasn’t just that he’s become beloved among Academy members for his charm and talent. Julia Roberts did a rare thing for an actress of her stature and issued a public declaration for her love of Bardem’s performance that received a ton of press.  Granted, it wasn’t the only big name to come to Bardem’s candidacy (Michael Mann, Werner Herzog and Sean Penn did too), but it was the most well known.  And it helped.

Disney is officially on notice for the next ‘Tron’ sequel’s visual effects

After pushing the revolutionary effects of “Tron Legacy” in their marketing campaign for over a year, Disney and visual effects house Digital Domain got a slight slap in the face when the visual effects branch ignored them for a nomination.  “Legacy” had made the final showcase cut, but the branch members voted for “Hereafter” over the sci-fi spectacle which allowed Jeff Bridges to play both an older and younger version of himself.  Guess those complaints about the younger Bridges not looking so good came back to roost huh?  Luckily, the companies will have a third sequel to redeem themselves (we think).

What do you think of this year’s nominees? Share your thoughts below.

For more on award season and entertainment buzz and news follow Gregory Ellwood on twitter @HitFixGregory.

Around The Web