Oscars: Why ‘Unbroken’ Is NOT Out of the Race Just Yet


unbroken-jack-oconnell-finn-wittrockWe read reviews from various outlets to seek out an Oscar contender.  When a film is panned, dragged through the mud, or even just receive standard reception, we take those words and translate it into a language for understanding a gold statue.  Pundits, critics, and audiences seem very quick at the moment to write off Angelina Jolie‘s World War II epic “Unbroken” from Universal Pictures.  One of the first reasons people point out are the reviews.  Currently, at time of writing, the film sits at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes (22 reviews counted) and 59 on Metacritic (12 reviews counted).  That’s not a whole lot of opinions to warrant this as a failure to the Oscar season.  For 50% who don’t like it, 50% do like it.  What you should pay attention to, are the ones that DO like it.  If half of those who are on the positive side, LOVE the film, on a preferential balloting system, they can ban together and do some damage.

Another reason people point out are the lack of citations during this precursor season.  Rightly so, a film that is ignored by many of the major guilds, we can usually write off.  However, that’s not always the case, especially for a film that was touted for months as “the one to beat.”  One of the best examples of recent memory was when Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” started being reviewed by critics.  Going into December, Daldry’s film was an unknown entity to the film year.  Screeners went out to various critics groups and Warner Bros. started showing it to AMPAS.  For nearly the entire Oscar season of 2011, the film was heavily anticipated by pundits to be one of the year’s top films.  Then came the reviews.  By the time of its wide expansion on January 20, 2012, the film sat at a dismal 52% on Rotten Tomatoes with 92 reviews counted.  This is coming from someone who outwardly admits to really liking the film at the time, and still very much still likes it today.  Four days later, the film was nominated for two Academy Awards, one of them which was Best Picture.  Before Oscar, the only major precursor under its belt was 4 nominations from the BFCA, and a handful of mentions (mostly 2nd or 3rd place) from various critics groups.

Unbroken” missed out at the Golden Globes, a place where we all thought it would rule the day, and SAG only noted the Stunt Ensemble.  Prior to these major award shows, the National Board of Review named it one of the top ten films of the year and gave Jack O’Connell Breakthrough Actor.  Earlier this week, the Critics Choice Movie Awards nominated “Unbroken” in four categories (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Cinematography).  As an overall satisfying fan of the film, I’m happy for its comeback.  Since 2008, BFCA has only missed 1 or 2 Best Picture nominees in their lineup.  Now, some of you may throw out the argument I’ve read around various message boards that we “try to predict the Oscars.”  I can only speak for myself, and say that I’ve always taken my ballot for BFCA very seriously, and I trust that most of my colleagues do as well.  The problem with large groups like the BFCA is that bigger groups yield consensus.  It’s much more difficult to get an “outside the box” choice in a group of over 250.  The good thing is, we have opportunities to reward certain films and performers in other places like the genre categories.  In no known universe can “The Babadook” stand up next to “Boyhood” or “Birdman” in a Best Picture lineup, but there’s an appropriate and fine place to cite its achievement in Best Sci-Fi/Horror Film.  If “The Babadook” is on the top of your list of 2014, I commend you for that, but we all know that not enough critics will feel that way or eager to place it on the top of their ballots.

Look back at a film like “The Reader,” also by Stephen Daldry, which was also in the mid-50’s on RT going into Oscar nominations morning.  Globes, BFCA, and BAFTA all nominated it in Best Picture.  There are times where the critics truly do not matter.  As “Unbroken” goes into the holiday break, I’m sure it’s near the top of all members film pile.  The technical branch is sure to check it off in a few places for Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and possibly Original Score.  While Jolie’s chances in Director may not be the same they were in mid-November, the film, along with an outside shot for co-star Miyavi, are still on the table.  A horrifying thin Adapted Screenplay race will surely keep the film with popular scribes William Nicholson, Richard LaGravenese, and Joel Coen & Ethan Coen in the conversation.

Don’t write off the film just yet.  As more reviews trickle down from critics, and AMPAS watches the film over the holiday break, don’t be surprised to see the film continue to pop up along the circuit. PGA nominations are next on the docket.

Check out the latest Oscar Predictions and see where “Unbroken” ranks!

Include your thoughts in the comment section below!

  • Suki

    Thank you for the insightful article, Clayton. Unbroken is definitely not out of the race. I know the film has many proponents in the industry, media, and public. It is not just being currently reflected on the critical barometer.I can only hope it can increase by its opening weekend. It certaintly doesn’t deserve this horrific panning.

    I do have a lot to say on this subject but I will refrain from doing so because I really don’t have the strength to deal with trolling and people spreading misconceptions. Nor do I want to place a target on my back. The sleazy and unethical people in Hollywood scare me. A rather strong anti-campaign exists Unbroken and I won’t comment on the parties responsible for orchestrating it. She has to continuously suffer from professional & personal slander. The corruption is in overdrive and has reached a hysteria.

    I deeply appreciate that this site didn’t jump on that terrible bandwagon. I really don’t feel like addressing the thousands bs points that the haters will make. The film doesn’t deserve this. The movie Unbroken itself doesn’t deserve this. Jack O’Connell who was riveting in his amazing portrayal doesn’t deserve this. The late great Louis Zamperini, his family, and his legacy don’t deserve this malice & disrespect that the anti-campaign against the film caused.

    People are trying to sink this film and set it up as the biggest bomb of the year…to kill Angelina’s career as a director among other things. Most of the negative reviews are not to be trusted. There are unethical influences at play here.

    A person has to be utterly lacking in compassion or humanity to claim not to be moved by the story or what Louis suffers through. The movie has even been criticized for being “too polished” or stodgy. They will criticize every aspect of the film irrationally no matter what. Basically, the negative reviews cite a litany of lame excuses and weak rationalizations for giving the movie a terrible review. Some are simply trying to manipulate readers and are trying to destroy the movie.

    The bias is overwhelming. It is not just Angelina’s hardcore fans who are recognizing it and speaking out against it. A lot of the people in the industry who have viewed the film are confounded by the level of ill will against this movie especially when you compare to the other prospective contenders/nominees that are being lavished with praise while Unbroken is being smeared over every singe so-called flaw and many of the hate against the film is personally antagonistic towards Jolie. The public is smarter than the media gives them credit for.

    Jack O’Connell’s raw and powerful performance here is not to be dismissed. He really does carry the movie. He is magnetic and gripping. I was more impressed by his performance than anybody else’s this year. He worked so hard and it shows. He pushed himself to the maximum and does Louis justice here.

    There is tons of pain and suffering depicted in the movie which the film does not shy from. If Angelina had toned that down, she would have been bashed over glossing over Louis’s struggles, the truth, and trying to make this into a popcorn movie. It was made clear from the start of promotion & the trailers, that this movie was about Louis overcoming the adversity in his life and was primarily about his experiences in World War 2. Angelina didn’t sugar-coat anything here and apparently people are accustommed to Hollywood glossing over certain details to make for a light-weight or an enjoyable film experience.

    There is no reason for people to be let down as the movie doesn’t attempt to make this an entire summary of his life and it isn’t about his career as an athlete. It would have taken a television mini-series to adequately display all of the extraordinary events & elements of his life.

    A person has to have a positive attitude while they are viewing this film. It is uplifting, emotionally resonate, and has many poignant moments but a person has to be willing to feel it. Many of these critics approached the film with a negative mindset and were basically looking for reasons to trash it. The film was even insulted by negative reviewers for being too noble for pete’s sake. The haters are seriously reaching here to find reasons to criticize it.

    The film has no sychophantic dialogue towards Louis Zamperini so I don’t know where these snide remarks about “hero-worship” or being pedantic from the haters come from. Louis was a real hero and the film was a tribute to him. There is no exaggeration or over-dramatization here. The movie artfully conveys what Louis experienced and his peserverence. The film doesn’t spoon-feed the viewer with any sentiment either, you viscerally are exposed to what he endured…and then any decent human being would feel empathy and admiration for Louis because of it.

    There are no hyperboles on my end. I know this post ended up being long-winded but I felt compelled to comment.

    The film is gorgeously shot and incredibly acted. All of the production values are top-notch. I hope the Academy does not reject it.

    There are too many categories that it qualifies for: Cinematography, Original Score, Original Song, Editing, Production Design, Adapted Screenplay, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Jack O’Connell’s spetacular performance.

    The film really is emblematic of the triumph of the human spirit and good triumphing over evil.

  • Andrej Bosco

    That’s what I call “flogging a dead horse”.
    You just can’t accept the movie you’ve set your sights on from the beginning had so much promise and so little delivery.

    • Joey Magidson

      I’m actually 100% with Andrej on this one. It’s possibly still going to show up at the very bottom of the Best Picture lineup, but the days of it being a force to reckon with are over.

      • Andrej Bosco

        Joey, I know I’ve been harsh with you in the past, so let’s start from scratch.
        I won’t be as hostile as I’ve been so far, but you have to promise me you’re going to expand your horizons on non-American. cinema: deal? 😉

        • Joey Magidson

          I appreciate that. Well, what I can say for sure is I’ll be more vocal about the titles I do see, since I see plenty. 90% of what I see is English language cinema (hardly all American though), so 10% might not seem like a lot, but that’s usually between 30 and 50 titles still, so it’s hardly a blind spot. If it helps, I can make more of an effort to review them, as opposed to leaving it for others to tackle, so at least it’s more out there that I’ve seen them. If nothing else, I’m right there on Facebook and Twitter talking about them when I get out of a screening, same as any other film.