Awards Profile: On the Road

Directed by: Walter Salles
Written by: Jose Rivera (based on the novel of the same name by Jack Kerouac)

Cast: Sam Riley, Garret Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Alice Braga, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard, Elisabeth Moss, Giovanna Zacarias, and Danny Morgan

Synopsis (from the Internet Movie Database): Dean and Sal are the portrait of the Beat Generation. Their search for “It” results in a fast paced, energetic roller coaster ride with highs and lows throughout the U.S.

As a bonus, here’s a synopsis of the seminal book by Jack Kerouac that the film is based off of: The two main characters of the book are the narrator, Salvatore “Sal” Paradise, and his new friend Dean Moriarty, much admired for his carefree attitude and sense for adventure, a free-spirited maverick eager to explore all kicks and an inspiration and catalyst for Sal’s travels. The novel contains five parts, three of them describing road trips. During their trips and searches, they change and their relationship changes. The narrative takes place in the years 1947 to 1950 and is full of Americana and marks a specific era in jazz history, “somewhere between its Charlie Parker Ornithology period and another period that began with Miles Davis.” The novel is largely autobiographical, Sal being the alter ego of the author and Dean standing for Neal Cassady.

Why It Could Succeed:
This is a film that many have been looking forward to for a long time (including myself and Clayton), not the least of which due to its potential for being a major cinematic work of art. The pedigree behind this is very strong, with director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera reuniting to do what is in a lot of ways a spiritual sequel to ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ (a film that the Academy bestowed 2 Oscar nominations on), not to mention Jack Kerouac’s novel often being cited as one of the great American works of literature in the 20th century. Attempts at making the book into a movie have been made literally since the novel was published, at one point potentially starring Kerouac himself beside Marlon Brando. Francis Ford Coppola tried for years to get it made, hoping to have Ethan Hawke and Brad Pitt star, while Joel Schumaker gave it a try as well, in an adaptation that would have starred Billy Crudup and Colin Farrell. All this effort just goes to show how much this novel affects people. A strong adaptation would translate that to the big screen and create a rather moving cinematic experience. With Salles and Rivera finally getting this film made, and attracting a strong and eclectic cast to boot, the ingredients are in place for a successful flick and a potential Oscar player. Rivera’s script for ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ was nominated for an Academy Award, and this is an even more potential laden bit of source material. One might extrapolate from the talent involved that Rivera’s script is as good or better. Assuming Salles directs this thing with the panache that we’ve previously expected from him, this could be ‘The Tree of Life’ for the literary crowd. That certainly worked in 2011, so it’s not unreasonable to think that 2012 could bring a similar result, just with the possibility for even more in the way of nominations. The potential is really there for something special.

Why It Could Fail:
There’s really no way around this point sadly…the film is likely to just not really be the type of work that the Academy responds to. If they couldn’t get behind the wanderlust of something much more Oscar friendly like ‘Into the Wild’, the chances are somewhat slim here that they will for this much edgier work. Also, keep in mind that as much as one could think that the decades long effort to get the film made is evidence of passion and the need to make an important work, it could just as easily be indicative of the material just not being ripe for the cinematic treatment. I really am hopeful that this film will turn out to be tremendous, but I can’t shake the feeling that its Oscar potential is really limited. Even if the quality is there, we could see vote splits in the Supporting categories (though Supporting Actress is more likely to produce a real contender than Supporting Actor) and just a situation where this small film is overshadowed by the larger awards contenders of 2012. A lack of solid distribution doesn’t help things either, but that’s just one smaller issue among a bunch of larger ones. I’d wager that failure is much more likely than success for ‘On the Road’.

Awards Speculation:
Despite its uphill battle, the potential is there for a whole host of nominations in almost all of the categories, regardless of their likelihood. Obviously, the standard issue Best Picture and Best Director are out there, but I wouldn’t bet on either. Best Adapted Screenplay is probably its best chance at a major nomination, with a little potential there for Best Cinematography or Best Film Editing as well. The other techs are a possibility if the precursor season really is favorable to it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. As for the acting categories, Sam Riley is someone to keep a bit of an eye on in Best Actor, while a host of players are there in the Supporting fields. Best Supporting Actor could see Garret Hedlund, Viggo Mortensen, or Terrence Howard cited, while Best Supporting Actress has Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Alice Braga, and Elisabeth Moss to choose from. They could opt to ignore everyone (see above), but then again, they might not. I’m incredibly intrigued about this work, and hope it blows everyone away. It’ll make for a much more interesting Oscar race if it does. Let’s just hope it actually comes out this year…

The film is scheduled to be released at some point during 2012 and is still looking for a U.S. distributor.

Oscar Potential:
Best Picture
Best Director (Walter Salles)
Best Actor (Sam Riley)
Best Supporting Actor (Garrett Hedlund, Viggo Mortensen, or Terrence Howard)
Best Supporting Actress (Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, or Elisabeth Moss)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Jose Rivera)
Best Art Direction
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Original Score

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