Awards Profile: The Sea of Trees

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seaoftrees
Welcome to the 2015 Awards Profiles series.  For the next two months, every day (except for Saturday), we will bring you a run down of a future 2015 film that we see as a potential awards vehicle for next year’s Academy Awards.  This is all speculative since with just about all these films, we haven’t seen a frame yet.  Nonetheless, we venture on.  If you miss a film, then click on the tag “2015 Awards Profile.”

Director: Gus Van Sant
Written by: Chris Sparling
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts, Kasie Aselton, Jordan Gavaris
Synopsis: A suicidal American befriends a Japanese man lost in a forest near Mt. Fuji and the two search for a way out.

WHY IT COULD SUCCEED:
Some films inhabit an aura of prestige, intrigue, and just magical prowess.  Gus Van Sant has been an exceptional director for decades, delivering some of the most exciting and invigorating films in cinematic history.  Just look back at his work with “My Own Private Idaho,” “To Die For,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Elephant,” and “Milk.”  All wrestle with different themes, mood, and directorial execution.  With directors like Martin Scorsese, Alejandro G. Inarritu, and Alfonso Cuaron sitting comfortably with Oscars on their mantles, Van Sant is one of our most overdue working directors that the Academy has yet to recognize.  Taking on this serious drama about two suicidal men in the forest in Japan sounds all too intriguing for many to pass up.  When Van Sant is ON, he’s really on.

Then you have to take into account the stellar cast that Van Sant has assembled.  Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey, following stellar performances in “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Mud,” “Interstellar,” and HBO’s “True Detective,” has been on a roll, seeking out new and dynamic characters to inhabit.  The Academy loves to be proven right with their choices of winners, so an afterglow nomination is never out of the realm of possibility.

The talents of Ken Watanabe have been desperately seeking the screens of American audiences since his Academy Award nomination for “The Last Samurai” nearly 12 years ago.  Since then, Watanabe has found solace in the nooks of Christopher Nolan films like “Batman Begins” and “Inception.”  In between, he took on the lead role in Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated “Letters from Iwo Jima” and desperately tried to translate the role of the Chairman, in the almost untranslatable novel “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Rob Marshall.  He even dove into some summer blockbuster territory with “Godzilla” last year.  The role of Takumi Nakamura is said to be a “lead role” but as we’ve seen with people like Will Forte in “Nebraska,” the studios are never afraid to push the “lesser known” actor in Supporting, no matter how much “category fraud” it commits.  My eyes will be glued to Watanabe to see if he becomes our second most nominated Asian actor in Academy history.

Naomi Watts will have a full plate once again playing Joan Brennan, the wife of McConaughey’s character.  The past three years after offered Watts to cinematic community in a way that she’s lacked for a long time.  “The Impossible” earned her a second Oscar nomination following “21 Grams.”  Since then, she attempted Princess Diana, a Russian prostitute (which earned her a SAG nomination), and a debut Broadway actress.  Some earned her better praise than others but she’s been a staple on the circuit since.  This year, she’s already had a role in “Insurgent,” which many could care less about, but she’ll have roles in Gaby Dellal’s “Three Generations” and Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Demolition.”  Usually AMPAS finds a film to become an actor or actress’s representation (see: Philip Seymour Hoffman for “Charlie Wilson’s War”).

And then we have Kate Aselton (from FX’s “The League”) and Jordan Gavaris (from BBC’s “Orphan Black”) that could factor in if their roles are substantial enough.

Screenwriter Chris Sparling has been quietly on the beat for sometime, shocking the awards season world in 2010 when he won Best Original Screenplay (from the National Board of Review) for the underrated “Buried” with Ryan Reynolds.  His attention to character development and story building could prove to be an asset for the film’s success.

WHY IT MAY NOT SUCCEED:
As great as Gus Van Sant can be, the Academy and critics alike don’t always notice.  His films can be very difficult for mainstream audiences.  If “The Sea of Trees” fills itself with symbolism or an unorthodox storytelling element, many could pass on it.

The film is still without a U.S. distributor and it has been rumored to be a possible premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.  As some films have proven in the past, your first stop can be your last if the word is not positive (just look at “Grace of Monaco” which has yet to see the light of day).  If a big distributor doesn’t pick up the film or worse yet, decides to dump it in a quarter one of 2016 or VOD, you can say goodbye.

Honestly, just about anything can go wrong if the film’s quality isn’t there.

AWARDS SPECULATION:
For every “Milk” in Gus Van Sant’s life, there’s a “Promised Land” (which isn’t as horrible as some said it was).  You never know what you’re going to get with two-time Oscar nominated director.  With filming wrapped since last September, there should be more than enough time for the film to find its voice and position itself for a strong premiere at whatever festival it chooses.

My money on the film’s strongest chances at recognition, sight unseen can’t be stressed enough, is for director Van Sant, Supporting Actor for Watanabe, and Original Screenplay for Sparling.  This has the looks of something that could be in the vein of “Foxcatcher” in persona and awards chances.

POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS:
Best Picture – Kevin Halloran, Ken Kao, Gil Netter, Chris Sparling, F. Gary Gray, Brian Dobbins, Allen Fischer
Best Director – Gus Van Sant
Best Actor – Matthew McConaughey
Best Supporting Actor – Ken Watanabe
Best Supporting Actress – Naomi Watts
Best Original Screenplay – Chris Sparling
Best Cinematography – Kasper Tuxen
Best Film Editing
Best Original Score – Mason Bates

CHECK OUT THE OFFICIAL OSCAR PREDICTIONS:

PICTURE | DIRECTOR | LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS |SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS | ORIGINAL SCORE |ORIGINAL SONG | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | FOREIGN LANGUAGE | LIVE ACTION SHORT |ANIMATED SHORT |DOCUMENTARY SHORT