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!

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