Awards Profile: Moonrise Kingdom

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Directed By: Wes Anderson
Written By: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola

Cast: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Jason Schwartzman, and Harvey Keitel.

Synopsis (From IMDB): Set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ follows a young boy and girl falling in love. When they are moved to run away together, various factions of the town mobilize to search for them and the town is turned upside down – which might not be such a bad thing.

Why It Could Succeed:
With an all-star cast, a director who marvels critics and moviegoers alike, and a original screenplay that pokes fun at the overly protective parents of the Baby Boom generation, I believe we have a possible awards contender on our hands. Did I fail to mention Moonrise Kingdom is the opening film for this year’s Cannes Film Festival? There is obviously a great deal of confidence placed on this Wes Anderson project from many in the industry, and perhaps this satirical period piece is worthy of such support. We can probably all agree that there will be no problems with Anderson’s script that he co-wrote with his long-time writing partner, Roman Coppola. Anderson has already received Oscar recognition once with his Academy Award nomination in the “Best Original Screenplay” category for the family dramedy, The Royal Tenenbaums. I’m expecting a repeat, except now Roman Coppola will fill the screenwriting duo role that Owen Wilson had in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Bruce Willis wouldn't be my first choice to cast in a Wes Anderson film. Maybe he'll surprise us.

Wes Anderson has this ability of perfectly materializing his characters in a humorous, simplistic, yet believable way. He stretches his comedy to an edge that never quite jumps into campy territory, which is something that the critical community has always admired from his work. Anderson is at a point in his career where enough projects have been presented to cement his auteur status in Hollywood. Now all Anderson needs is enough accolades to make his films, not just his scripts, major power players at the Academy Awards. Because of the lack of independent dramedies coming out this year, I expect Moonrise Kingdom will be one of several films up to fill that specified slot in the Oscar “Best Pic” roster. Every year, there seems to be an independent family drama film that the Academy becomes obsessed with, and they usually have a comedic undertone. Juno, The Kids Are All Right, Little Miss Sunshine, The Descendants, etc. are just a few films that come to mind in this regard. In my Oscar predictions, I thought that Peace, Love and Misunderstanding would fill this slot, but there is still no word on its actual release date. While Moonrise Kingdom is more about childhood romance than family dilemmas, I get that same sense of independent dramedy shtick that the Academy seems to always fall for.

Why It Could Fail:
I worry that some of the cast won’t be able to pull off Wes Anderson’s dialogue, creating instead a plethora of scenes where actors we respect seem foolish and ridiculous because of their inability to fully embrace Anderson’s vision. I know Bill Murray won’t have a hard time with Anderson’s script, seeing as how he is a regular in Anderson’s projects, but Edward Norton and Bruce Willis I question. The problem with both of these fine actors is that if they try too hard, they’ll come off campy and absurd. It’s great to laugh in films, especially if certain characters charm us with their lunacy, but if most of the actors are just going to portray their characters as unsympathetic dummies, I’m not sure many people will walk away from the film with a wry smile on their face — more likely a frown of contempt if this is the case. Yeah, it’s cute when kids act smarter than the adults, but I pray the actors don’t caricature the uptight and awkward adults of the 1960s to the point of exhaustion. We get it, traditional conservatism does sometimes seem rather silly, but what other complexities can you bring to the table?

Moonrise Kingdom’s other major hurdle is how well it’ll play toward a wide audience. I was sure, based on the quality of the film and its cast consisting of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, that Fantastic Mr. Fox would have performed much better at the box office than its mediocre showing. Is Wes Anderson such a unique director by nature that casual moviegoers just ignore his films entirely? Anderson has a cult reputation in the movie world, and I worry it could stymie his chances of getting Oscar’s  full approval. Thus far, his highest grossing film has been The Royal Tenanbaum’s, and — shocker — it was Anderson’s only nomination to date. Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom needs that mainstream support to truly make the leap to awards contender. Aronofsky had it with Black Swan, as did Tarantino with Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds. Mainstream success isn’t an Oscar guarantee, but it sure makes Anderson’s prospects brighter.

The kids may steal the show. How will the Academy respond to the "kids are smarter than adults" sentiment?

I know this is a slightly humorous point of observation, but will Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom be overshadowed by Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master? This awards season could be a battle of the Anderson’s, but I suspect only one will reign supreme, and the director of Their Will Be Blood is the odds-on favorite of triumphing at the 2013 Academy Awards between the two. Maybe it isn’t such a good idea to share surnames in the film industry, especially when the Academy starts placing votes for their favorites in film that year. Even the smallest thing can upset or jar the Academy. Case in point: Eddie Murphy in Norbit, who pundits had long predicted would walk away victorious in the “Best Supporting Actor” category for Dreamgirls.

Awards Speculation:
It goes without saying that an “Original Screenplay” nod is about the safest bet one could make for this film’s awards chances. Anderson already landed in that category once, and this year’s original work doesn’t seem to be as competitive as previous years. The real question is whether the film can land in the “Best Picture” nomination lineup. It has its hurdles, to be sure, but I believe with the right amount of commercial success, rave reviews, and a triumphant response from Cannes, it could certainly make it. This would mark a first in Wes Anderson’s illustrious career, and would also demonstrate the Academy’s full appreciation of his work.

I’m a bit skeptical about Moonrise Kingdom’s possible acting noms, but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to suggest Bill Murray first off, and maybe also throw in Edward Norton and Frances McDormand in the mix just because they are prior Oscar nominees. Everyone else who makes up the all-star cast will probably have to hope for a SAG ensemble nomination. Robert Yeoman’s brightly captured cinematography may finally get noticed, and Alexandre Desplat certainly could be up for “Original Score,” having already received four prior Oscar nominations for his past work. Finally, if for some reason Academy voters really do favor Wes Anderson over Paul Thomas Anderson this year, I suppose a “Best Director” nod isn’t in the realm of impossibility.

Oscar Potential:
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Original Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor — Bill Murray or Edward Norton
Best Supporting Actress — Frances McDormand
Best Original Score
Best Cinematography