Contender Countdown: Could ‘Skyfall’ land James Bond a best picture nomination?

When is an Oscar Bait picture not an Oscar bait picture?  Or, if it meets the qualifications of an Oscar Bait picture should it always be considered one?

The definition of “Oscar Bait” — at least according to this author — is an epic drama, romance, adventure or thriller filled with an overabundance of former Academy Award nominees or winners in front of or behind the camera.  And said talent can include directors, actors, etc. that the media or industry have collectively deemed as “deserving” of an Oscar nod (i.e.,”It’s [insert name]’s time.”) Obviously, Oscar Bait is also a picture that when you hear the logline seems as though it was greenlit just to play the Academy Awards game.  Traditionally, Oscar Bait is released during the last two months of the year, but I personally believe it can qualify from films released in the summer as well (see “Cinderella Man,” “The Road to Perdition”) .  Taking all that into account, let’s look at the cast and crew of a dramatic thriller being released this Nov. 9. It features an…

…Academy Award winning director
…Oscar winning and three-time nominated actor
…Oscar winning actress and six-time nominee
…five-time Oscar nominated actor
…two-time Oscar nominated acting legend in a supporting role
…noted screenwriter who is a three-time screenplay nominee
…cinematographer who is a nine-time nominee (and who everyone assumes has already won)
…10-time nominated composer
…Oscar winning production designer
…art director who is a four-time nominee
…Oscar winning second unit director
…and a leading man who is seen as “deserving” of landing an Oscar nomination (someday soon, at least)

Gotta be a legitimate awards season player right?  Well, it’s not at the moment.  The picture, of course, is “Skyfall,” the long awaited 23rd James Bond film.  The director is Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) and some of the teased talent includes Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Roger Deakins, John Logan, Thomas Newman, Dennis Gassner and Chris Corbould.  And the actor with the increasingly impressive prestige credits is none other than the current 007, Daniel Craig. To the mainstream media and the industry as a whole, “Skyfall” is just another highly-anticipated thriller and nothing more. Or is it?

Let’s rewind six years.  Craig’s Bond debut, the gritty and stylish “Casino Royale,” is a surprising blockbuster at the box office and a critic’s favorite. Unlike some of the over-the-top gadget-y antics of the latter Pierce Brosnan Bond films, “Royale” took things quite seriously thanks to some inspired direction by Martin Campbell.  There were consequences to 007’s actions in “Royale” and audiences were shocked to discover he wasn’t always going to earn a happy ending.  The film was so fresh and entertaining that some Academy voters quietly dished that it was actually their favorite film of the year.  But, when the five best picture nominees were announced a few months after its release “Royale” didn’t make the cut.  Bond returned in “Quantum of Solace” two years later, but Marc Forster couldn’t duplicate Campbell’s magic (although, to be fair, he was hampered by a strike-affected script that had to be rushed into production).  Throw in MGM’s untimely bankruptcy into the mix and it’s been four years since 007 graced the screen.  

The one advantage to the delay, of course, was that it allowed Craig, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson and “unofficial” director Sam Mendes to secretly work and develop “Skyfall.” Craig admitted as much to me when I visited the film’s set in April.  And while no one wants to give away any spoilers, “Skyfall” will put Bond in unexpected dramatic territory.  Consider Logan’s contributions to the screenplay, Deakins’ always gorgeous cinematography, Mendes’ skill with actors and the exceptional cast and maybe you have something special.  Yes, no one is forgetting that “Harry Potter” and “The Dark Knight” were unable to win over the Academy with big Oscar campaigns, but there’s no pesky fantasy elements to worry about here.  Assuming “Skyfall” delivers the goods?  Never say never.

As you ponder the possibilities, here’s a list of this pundit’s current top best picture contenders.

1. Argo
Industry and consumer reaction will come soon enough with LA premiere at the Academy theater next week and wide release in less three weeks.

2. Silver Linings Playbook
No need for Weinstein to hype this one before its time.  Might suggest a new poster though…

3. Les Miserables
The behind-the-scenes featurette released last week pretty much gives us Tom Hooper’s twist on the classic musical.  It could be the party crasher.

4. Lincoln
Hard to imagine it not getting in, but can it win? 

5. The Master
That was an OK expansion over the weekend.  It wasn’t a great one. Critic’s groups will give it a big boost again in December.

6. The Impossible
Gut says it’s in.

7. Life of Pi
We’ll know much more on Friday when it opens the 50th New York Film Festival.

8. Moonrise Kingdom
At this point, Focus’ best chance for a best picture nod. It “should” be a lock, but it’s absolutely too early to throw those out.

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Needs to be a monster screener player because ‘The Master’ will likely dominate the critic’s awards.  Of course, everyone doubted Searchlight’s chances with ‘The Tree of Life’ last season and they proved them wrong big time.

10. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
*If the Academy is going to nominate 10, this demo-friendly drama has to be the current save choice to close out the field.*

*Unless “Flight,” “Django Unchained,” “Cloud Atlas,” “Anna Karenina” or “Promised Land” win over the Academy.

Mover: Promised Land (last week’s no. 8)
Focus really believes in this one, but the trailer doesn’t hint about what could be so special about it. Studios cut previews for maximum consumer effect, but what are we missing here?

Do you think “Skyfall” could be a legit best picture nominee if its good?  Share your thoughts below.