Battle of the Late Contenders – Hitchcock vs. Promise

As you all know, this year, like almost every other awards season, we’ve had a few party-crashers looking to shake up the slow march to the Oscar nominations by coming out a few months early. Sometimes they hit, like “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crazy Heart,” or “Slumdog Millionaire” but plenty of the time they wind up not making a big mark on the race. This awards season has two surprise entrants hoping to be more like Clint Eastwood’s Oscar winner than another in a long line of films that should have waited an extra year. The titles in question for 2012 are “Hitchcock” and “Promised Land.” Both are possibly big contenders, though both could easily wind up shut out in the race. Gun to my head, I think the former has a stronger appeal than the latter, but both are clearly aimed straight at the Academy’s wheelhouse. Both have a lot of potential, but let’s not have a coronation them as Oscar winners just yet. What we should be doing is considering them in a way we’ve only briefly done before. What are the awards prospects for both films?

Hitchcock

With “Hitchcock,” we seem to have a ready-made Oscar vehicle, provided that the quality is there. This film is a bit of an X factor since we haven’t seen anything more than a Poster and a look at a few of the actors in character, but it’s definitely one of the easiest films to see the Academy falling for. Working in its favor is how it could be one of the few movies that will be able to strive for across the board nominations and how Fox Searchlight has such a strong history of pushing their projects successfully. Of course, it’s hardly a sure thing, but I find it hard to bet against this flick now, given the potential appeal that it can have to audiences, critics, and voters alike.

Scott Feinberg made a great pitch for why one shouldn’t discount “Hitchcock,” saying among other things that the film apparently has gone over extremely well during test screenings. It offers something for everyone; drama and comedy, a true but little-known story about one of the most famous personages of the 20th century.  American and British characters with humor, which should appeal to the same overseas voters whose support was instrumental in the awards success of “The Queen” and “The King’s Speech.” Distinguished actors’ actors (Hopkins and Mirren) and sexy young stars (Johansson and Biel) help it along with a behind-the-scenes Hollywood story, which worked out well last year for both “The Artist” and “Hugo.”   Highlighting how Fox Searchlight has funds available for a campaign, categories open for the film to be nominated in, and a choice release date. These are all things to clearly take into account. Does it automatically make it a nominee? Of course not, but I can easily see this snagging 3 or 4 nominations, with at least one or two in the major categories.

To play devil’s advocate, working against this movie is that it could easily come off as a lightweight gimmick and not something worthy of Best Picture. Also, there’s definitely the potential that the flick just won’t be good enough to get any strong nominations. Sure, Anthony Hopkins looks like Alfred Hitchcock, but is that enough? I really don’t know, though I think it’s in a nice position, provided the goods are there.

Potential Nominations

Best Picture
Best Director- Sacha Gervasi
Best Actor- Anthony Hopkins
Best Actress- Helen Mirren
Best Supporting Actor- James D’Arcy or Michael Stuhlbarg
Best Supporting Actress- Toni Collette or Scarlett Johansson
Best Adapted Screenplay- John J. McLaughlin
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Production Design
Best Original Score

Promised Land

Despite a somewhat underwhelming trailer, I still think that “Promised Land” could be a very big player for the Academy. The talent involved is tremendous, the film tackles an issue that voters could get behind, and it’s also the type of “little film that could” which often gets in at the last-minute. Having names like Gus Van Sant and Matt Damon never hurt things and if Hal Holbrook is awards worthy, then older, more seasoned Academy members can be even more intrigued. They didn’t end up going too hard for “Into the Wild,” but they Holbrook made it despite its lukewarm reception. This sort of movie could work better for them and ultimately lead to a nice showing, though we shouldn’t start saving spots for them at the table just yet.

When we have Van Sant making non-art house but still challenging fare (“Good Will Hunting’ and “Milk”), Oscar tends to come calling. He’s received two Original Screenplay nominations for his writers so far, and with a weak Original category, a third is not far off. Matt Damon could wind up winning his second Oscar for Screenplay with perhaps being in play for Best Actor. Voters do like that sort of thing. Focus Features will definitely be pushing it hard, since aside from possibly “Moonrise Kingdom” they don’t have a solid horse to push. They could put all of their funds behind this one and see a similar result to “Milk”…that’s surely their best case scenario. Will that happen? I’m not certain.

On the other side of the coin, a very late release date hurts things with the moved voting deadline this year. Focus really needs to start screening this movie almost immediately to give it the run that it needs to have a better than average chance of breaking through. Not nearly enough voters know about this flick yet, so an information campaign is essential. We’ll find out more about the quality once that begins, but like in politics…a good ground game is essential and if “Promised Land” doesn’t have one then its Oscar promise (no pun intended) will be severely limited.

Potential Nominations

Best Picture
Best Director- Gus Van Sant
Best Actor- Matt Damon
Best Supporting Actor- Hal Holbrook or John Krasinski
Best Supporting Actress- Rosemarie DeWitt or Frances McDormand
Best Original Screenplay- Matt Damon, Dave Eggers, and John Krasinski
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Original Score

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!