Awards Profile: Snowpiercer

snowpiercer_a_p Directed By: Bong Joon-ho
Written By: Bong Joon-ho and Kelly Masterson

Cast: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Song Kang-ho, Octavia Spencer, Alison Pill, John Hurt, Ewen Bremner, Go Ah-sung, and Luke Pasqualino.

Synopsis (From IMDB): In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine.

Why it Could Succeed:

Already a massive hit in its native South Korea (grossing more than double its $40 million budget), this dystopian science fiction film needn’t worry too much about flopping in the States. Critically and commercially successful, Snowpiercer now needs to be concerned about making a domestic splash and being able to sustain such momentum throughout its theatrical run. If it plays its cards right, Snowpiercer could very well be the next District 9, an indie sci-fi project that seemingly came out of nowhere, had incredible word of mouth and a strong opening weekend, and ended up scoring a “Best Picture” nomination among other accolades.

What raises Snowpiercer’s profile is its cast, which includes two Oscar winners (Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton), two Oscar nominees (John Hurt and Ed Harris), and two major stars that frontline their respective franchises (Chris Evans is Marvel’s Captain America, while Jamie Bell has just been cast as Fantastic Four’s The Thing/Ben Grimm). Also helpful are the behind-the-scenes contributions, which include Oscar-nominated composer Marco Beltrami (who was probably close to winning for his stellar score for The Hurt Locker), co-writer Kelly Masterson who wrote the highly underrated Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and The Weinsteins, who are distributing the film in the States via their Radius-TWC division. This level of influence and talent ensures that U.S. audiences will be well aware of Snowpiercer’s existence, possibly even Academy members who haven’t quite gotten over the sci-fi bug Gravity infected them with.

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Chris Evans in a dramatic role? Let’s see what he can do.

Why it Could Fail:

Just because you have a well-known ensemble and a supportive distributor doesn’t mean you’ll be a slam-dunk hit. Just two years ago, The Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas had A-list contribution but was met with D-grade reception, barely making back its budget even after adding in foreign earnings, and nose-dived at the U.S. box office with a paltry $27.1 million domestic sum. Snowpiercer could meet a similar or worse fate in the U.S. depending on if its script is too esoteric, political, or source-material reliant for audiences to handle. Based on early word, all those components that could potentially scare off mainstream viewers are clear and present in the film, which could possibly affect long term returns.

Another concern is that Radius-TWC has a horrible history finding success for its narrative works. Their foreign and documentary investments have performed impressively (see: The Grandmaster, 20 Feet from Stardom and Cutie & the Boxer), but Radius-TWC has basically treated its narrative features like red-headed stepchildren. Bachelorette was mildly worth the investment but Only God Forgives, Lovelace and Erased under-performed despite high-profile casting and a VOD releasing strategy. The critics also nailed those films to wall and threw darts at their figurative heads, which also contributed to the aforementioned films’ catastrophic statewide reception. If U.S. critics aren’t on board with Snowpiercer, or if Radius-TWC buckles under the threat of Transformers: Age of Extinction — which comes out the same weekend as Snowpiercer — and decides to release the film in only a few select venues (which according to this Deadline report, it will), Snowpiercer will find itself hitting the States without a parachute to cushion the impact. And with future competition that includes Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Wachowki’s Jupiter AscendingSnowpiercer will objectively be lucky if it can tread above water. Snowpiercer will likely be a cult classic instead of a U.S. commercial hit, but it’s often the latter the piques the interest of the often sci-fi disinterested AMPAS.

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Tilda Swinton wants you to pay attention. Don’t argue with her.

Awards Speculation:

While it’s unlikely to be a major player at the 2015 Oscar ceremony, if enough critics put it on their year-end Top 10 list and/or hand out some accolades along the way, Snowpiercer could be a sleeper nominee in several categories. If enough various branch members view the film, it could eke out some nominations among the tech categories, chiefly “Costume Design” and “Production Design,” which it was nominated for at the prestigious Asian Film Awards. The Asia-Pacific Film Festival even handed their “Production Design” award (titled “Best Art Director” at that particular venue) to art director Ondrej Nekvasil, a past Emmy winner for Anne Frank: The Whole Story.

In the major categories, look for the dependable Tilda Swinton to possibly show up in “Best Supporting Actress,” as well as Kelly Masterson for “Best Adapted Screenplay” if The Academy feels like it owes Masterson for not recognizing his electrifying script for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. “Best Picture,” “Best Director,” and additional major nominations are likely outside the realm of possibility. Had this movie been predominantly in South Korean, there might have been a chance to squeeze into the “Best Foreign Language Film” lineup, but there’s probably too much English dialogue to circumvent AMPAS’ strict guidelines. Not that I have much faith in AMPAS appreciating a performance by an internationally unknown Asian actor, but there’s been great word of mouth surrounding Song Kang-ho’s work in the film (pictured above). A “Supporting Actor” nod is doubtful but the potential is there if he gets enough precursor notice.

Oscar Potential:
Best Supporting Actress — Tilda Swinton
Best Supporting Actor — Song Kang-ho
Best Adapted Screenplay — Bong Joon-ho and Kelly Masterson
Best Film Editing
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Visual Effects
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing