2016 Awards Profile: ‘Story of Your Life’ from Denis Villeneuve



Welcome to the 2016 Awards Profiles series, where we talk about high and low-profile films coming to a theater near you at some point this year. We will analyze the potential for these films to be players for the Academy Awards, and while many of these have the potential to be recognized, many will not either by quality or being pushed back to the following year. For the next eight weeks, we will bring you a film every weekday to talk about their potential. If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below. If you missed a film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

Directed By: Denis Villeneuve

Written By: Eric Heisserer, based on the short story of the same name by Ted Chiang

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Mark O’Brien, and more

Film Synopsis (via IMDb): Taking place after alien crafts land around the world, an expert linguist is recruited by the military to determine whether they come in peace or are a threat.

Book Synopsis (via Amazon): Soon to be a major motion picture starring Amy Adams.

Combining the precision and scientific curiosity of Kim Stanley Robinson with Lorrie Moore’s cool, clear love of language and narrative intricacy, this award-winning collection offers readers the dual delights of the very, very strange and the heartbreakingly familiar.

Stories of Your Life and Others presents characters who must confront sudden change—the inevitable rise of automatons or the appearance of aliens—while striving to maintain some sense of normalcy. In the amazing and much-lauded title story, a grieving mother copes with divorce and the death of her daughter by drawing on her knowledge of alien languages and non-linear memory recollection. A clever pastiche of news reports and interviews chronicles a college’s initiative to “turn off” the human ability to recognize beauty in “Liking What You See: A Documentary.” With sharp intelligence and humor, Chiang examines what it means to be alive in a world marked by uncertainty and constant change, and also by beauty and wonder…”Story of Your Life,” in which a linguist learns an alien language that reshapes her view of the world.

2352097Why it could succeed:
It’s hard to argue that Denis Villeneuve isn’t one of the most exciting and talented filmmakers in the business right now. Between Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario, Villeneuve has consistently challenged us with his cinematic view of the world. It’s a dark and uncompromising worldview, but one with room for some heavy emotion as well. That’ll be central to the success he seeks to have here with Story of Your Life, a science fiction film that will be unlike anything he’s attempted before. Instead of the violent nature of humanity, this will be about understanding an alien language, with all of the drama inherent in determining whether the visitors come in peace or not. Villeneuve going in a different direction, one that could very well have the potential to be heartbreaking if the short story by Ted Chiang is faithfully followed, is incredibly exciting to me. Combine that with an ace cast he’s assembled, led by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, with notable supporting turns to expect from Michael Stuhlbarg and Forest Whitaker, and you could have something special here, perhaps even the vehicle to get Adams her overdue first win. Sci-fi is becoming less and less of a scarlet letter to Academy members, so if Villeneuve takes on this genre like he’s taken on others previously, he could knock on the award season’s door in a big way. Assuming he maintains his streak of quality, you’d be foolish not to consider Story of Your Life as an outside the box threat across the board.

Why it might not:
Although there’s plenty to be excited about here, there’s certainly a handful of elements that give me pause about Story of Your Life being a major Oscar player. For one thing, while Villeneuve has made some excellent movies, they’ve barely been acknowledged at the Academy Awards. He won’t have the benefit of Roger Deakins to help smooth out a path to a tech nomination either, which could be an issue with this one. Of course, there’s still the uphill battle sci-fi has, especially serious fare like this particular project. It could be just plain over the heads of voters. Most notably though, is the fact that the adaptation has been written by Eric Heisserer, who honestly has yet to pen a good film. The closest was the dramatic thriller Hours, but Heisserer is a scribe mostly known for junk like Final Destination 5 and the remake of The Thing. Sure, it could be that he’s just been doing the work available to him and waiting to really show his true colors, but that’s something you just can’t assume. Until I see otherwise, this chasm between the quality of the director here and the writer here will cause me to second guess it as too heavy a contender.

Jeremy-Renner-Amy-Adams-Held-SAG-Awards-HighAwards Speculation:
If the potential successes come through and the possible weaknesses are nullified for Story of Your Life, we could see this bit of serious sci-fi turn into a big time contender. Obviously, a campaign for Best Picture will be launched, along with Best Director for Villeneuve, Best Actress for Adams, Best Supporting Actor for Renner (along with potentially Stuhlbarg and/or Whitaker), Best Adapted Screenplay for Heisserer, and the majority of the technical categories. Of specific note there is Best Cinematography, where instead of Deakins, Villeneuve has tasked the immensely talented Bradford Young with the shooting of the project, along with Best Original Score, where the filmmaker is again working with Jóhann Jóhannsson, who has been doing some of the best cinematic music in the business over the past few years. Best Production Design is a distinct possibility as well, though we won’t know much about its tech chances just yet. Right now, I’d look to Picture, Director, and Actress as the places to potentially see this one make its case. If it’s up to snuff, Adams might have a vehicle to finally get a win and Villeneuve could get his overdue first Oscar nomination. We won’t know what its true Academy Award chances are until the movie probably plays at a festival (watch out for it to play at the Cannes Film Festival, in fact), but there’s reason to be optimistic. This is one of the year’s most intriguing titles, so stay tuned to see how it turns out!

Story of Your Life will be distributed by Paramount Pictures and released sometime during 2016, likely after a film festival bow/during the middle of the awards season.

Potential Nominations:

Best Picture
Best Director (Villeneuve)
Best Actress (Adams)
Best Supporting Actor (Renner, Stuhlbarg, or Whitaker)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Heisserer)
Best Production Design
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Original Score
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Best Visual Effects

Share your thoughts in the comments or on the message forums!

Check out the first official set of
Year-In-Advanced Oscar Predictions
and see where Story of Your Life ranks!

What do you think?

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Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.


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