Are We Underestimating the British Voting Bloc? (‘Skyfall’ Edition)

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Exactly two hours before I began writing up this article, the Producers Guild of America had just announced its complete list of nominees. In the “Theatrical Motion Picture” category, one film appeared that virtually no pundit had thought to anticipate: Sam Mendes’ British-produced Skyfall. But after recently crossing the $1 billion mark worldwide, not to mention its widespread critical acclaim and seven BFCA nominations, does this really comes as that much of a surprise? Oh yes, I forgot…Skyfall is a “genre” film, which means its “Best Picture” chances would usually be at the bottom of the barrel when stacked against baitier competitors that seem destined for Oscar® upon announcement. However, it has two things going for it that critically-beloved moneymakers like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises do not: a late release closer to the pivotal Oscar® date and, most importantly, a huge chunk of support behind it in the form of the Academy’s hefty British voting bloc, who are no doubt beyond astounded by its record-breaking success, and not just for the James Bond franchise either.

Skyfall is currently the 14th highest grossing movie of all-time and the United Kingdom’s top movie earner in history, barely surpassing James Cameron’s Avatar. Not including the Harry Potter movie franchise, Skyfall is also the most successful British film (Eon Productions) ever released. With these figures and the aforementioned accolades and overall success, it may be time to not just realistically consider Skyfall for “Best Picture,” but also come to the realization that we’ve been underestimating the influential power of the Academy’s British voting bloc throughout this entire race. In addition to Skyfall, I’ll now turn your attention towards award hopefuls who have been under-the-radar all season long like Judi Dench as “M” in Skyfall, Maggie Smith in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and even John Madden’s British ensemble dramedy itself. I strongly believe these four British category contenders will receive their major boost from the crucial British voting bloc in the form of Academy Award™ nominations come the morning of January 10th. After the jump, you will see the ‘Skyfall’ category contenders in this first of a two-part article series…

The Case for Skyfall, “Best Picture”:

'Skyfall's' cast and crew might have more to celebrate in a week's time.
‘Skyfall’s’ cast and crew might have more to celebrate in a week’s time.

It’s no surprise that AMPAS has been wanting to appease the general movie-going audience for quite some time now. After all, the Academy Awards™ are a televised event, and what kind of movie-going patriotism do the Oscars® promote when the majority of films nominated are low earners or, even worse, ones that haven’t been seen or even heard of by the vast majority? AMPAS most likely wants to move away from the elitist country club its been deemed as of late and instead revert back to a wonderful film year like 2009 where, for better or worse (see: The Blind Side), the films nominated for “Best Picture” were diverse in genre and represented the year exceptionally well. With a film like Skyfall, you have all the makings of a “Best Picture” nominee by this same criteria, but with the added bonus of the British voting body on its side…hopefully. James Bond has been a British film franchise since time immemorial — okay, okay…since 1962 — and Hollywood has consumed it for all its monetary worth these past five decades.

However, what changed this year is that Skyfall is the first film in the highly-beloved franchise that feels quintessentially “Oscar.” It has Academy Award-winning actors chewing up an impressive screenplay that focuses on character development and storytelling before mindless action and visual bedazzlement. The arc each character has is as emotional a journey as you’ll find in any baity awards film. Lives are at stake, relationships are torn apart then reconstructed, and the production values are simply astounding. With an Oscar-winning director at the helm, a nine-time Academy Award™-nominated cinematographer, and sound designers who undeniably know their craft to a tee, there isn’t a better combination of talent out there to make a film as ambitious and grand as Skyfall anything less than Oscar-worthy. A billion-dollar grosser, breaking records left and right, and a British production on top of that? The British Academy voting bloc couldn’t have asked for anything more impressive in the history of cinema since maybe Lawrence of Arabia. This recent PGA nomination has most likely lit an even greater fire under the influential bloc now that Skyfall’s “Best Picture” chances have jumped from the realm of possibility to the realm of probability. Let’s now list the precursor nominations Skyfall has managed to corral for itself: 7 BFCA nominations, 3 Chicago Film Critics Nominations, 1 Golden Globe nom, 5 London Film Critics noms, 1 LAFCA nom (and win), 7 Satellite Award noms, 2 SAG noms, and 2 DC Film Critics noms. Oh, and of course today’s important PGA nomination. That makes a whopping twenty-nine nominations in total, and nine nominations for acting alone in supporting categories (4 for Judi Dench, 5 for Javier Bardem). What Bond film can you think of that has performed as well during these precursors? That’s right — absolutely none of them! And by crossing the $1 billion dollar mark and becoming the UK’s highest earner of all-time, you can bet the Academy’s British voting bloc will be coming to Skyfall’s defense, patting themselves on the back for such a massive success and rightfully so.

The Case for Judi Dench, “Best Supporting Actress” for Skyfall:

At 77 years-old, Judi Dench's career has never been as grand as 2012.
At 78 years-old, Judi Dench’s film career hit an unfathomable high in 2012.

Diehard readers of the site by now know what a fuss I made about Judi Dench’s Oscar® prospects on one of our Awards Circuit Power Hour episodes. I argued tooth and nail that Dench had as much of a chance as any contender in vying for a spot in the “Supporting Actress” category, and even though it might have seemed crazy — even to me, I’ll admit — I still firmly stand by what I said. My faith held up after Judi Dench received four acting nominations during the precursors, including one from what we call the “Big Three” of pre-Oscar® awards groups (BFCA/HFPA/SAG). When Judi Dench’s “Best Supporting Actress” nomination was announced by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, I realized my bold assertions weren’t completely adjacent to the looney bin. In fact, I might have been onto something. Then the SAG nominations came around, and when Dench’s name was not called, I wasn’t as devastated as I should have been. You see, every time Judi Dench has been nominated from an awards group for Skyfall, Javier Bardem has been jointly nominated as well…except for SAG. This leads me to believe — based on the pattern of voters grouping Bardem and Dench together for acting noms — that Judi Dench must have been either 6th or 7th in line for that SAG nomination since Bardem was able to nab a “Supporting Actor” nod for SAG. Moreover, that fifth spot for “Supporting Actress” is said to be open, but most pundits are now predicting either Nicole Kidman for The Paperboy or Ann Dowd for Compliance will nab that critical fifth and final slot, with The Master’s Amy Adams possibly being the surprise omission. The problem I see? Academy members who see these films will most likely dislike them either because they are poor movies to begin with (The Paperboy) or the subject material is too disturbing to embrace in any capacity (Compliance). But the bottom line is that the majority of Academy voters, who are cramming to see the big contenders before their ballots are due, won’t have seen these two films because of their small impact on the overall film year. I can guarantee you that the majority of Academy members will see Skyfall (if they haven’t already) before seeing Compliance and The Paperboy, whose screeners are most likely sitting at the bottom of a tall pile.

Yet, we always seem to forget the most important thing Judi Dench has going for her: she’s freaking Judi Dench! This is the woman who won “Best Supporting Actress” for eight minutes of screen time in Shakespeare in Love, received a “Best Actress” nomination for a film I still forgot came out called Mrs. Henderson Presents, not to mention four additional Academy Award™ nominations. She is beyond an Academy darling — she is an Academy treasure whose value never decreases! In fact, this has been the best year of Judi Dench’s entire career with two films that have grossed well over $100 million each. What 78 year-old actor can say that for a single film year? The British voting bloc will undoubtedly go to bat for Dench for the incredible year she’s had, especially for her emotional and heartbreaking — yet always riveting and appropriately cheeky — turn in Skyfall as “M,” a role that in 1995 launched her to international stardom. I can completely see the Academy and its British voting body getting choked up by the film’s final *SPOILER ALERT* moments before Dench exits the franchise for good, a franchise she helped revive seventeen years ago in Goldeneye.

I know what some people are thinking: well can’t the fifth spot also go to Kelly Reilly, Samantha Barks or Jacki Weaver? Sure, they may be in “baitier” films on paper, but they don’t have the record like Dench does, and not even for this year which is crucial. Have Reilly, Barks or Weaver shown up in any of the “Big Three” for individual nominations? Not from where I’m standing. Yes, I realize that breakthrough performances in award contending films have made a last-minute splash at the Oscars, but if Mila Kunis and Andrew Garfield can’t even garner Oscar® nominations for their roles in enormously baity films, then the lesser-known breakouts like Reilly and Barks stand very little chance to nab that competitive fifth spot. Statistically speaking, historically speaking, financially speaking, and British voting bloc-speaking, Dench has a far, far greater shot at an Oscar® nomination than we are giving her credit for, especially over Reilly, Barks and Weaver. The British voting bloc will surely see to it, as they’ve done so often before and for far less deserving performances from Dame Judi Dench.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s article where I tackle The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its other feisty British Dame, Maggie Smith.