2016 Awards Profile: ‘Snowden’ from Oliver Stone

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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: Oliver Stone

Written By: Kieran Fitzgerald and Oliver Stone, based on the books The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Scott Eastwood, Nicolas Cage, Melissa Leo, Timothy Olyphant, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, Keith Stanfield, and more

Film Synopsis (via IMDb): CIA employee Edward Snowden leaks thousands of classified documents to the press.

Book Synopsis (via Amazon): IT BEGAN WITH A TANTALIZING, ANONYMOUS EMAIL: “I AM A SENIOR MEMBER OF THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY.”

What followed was the most spectacular intelligence breach ever, brought about by one extraordinary man. Edward Snowden was a 29-year-old computer genius working for the National Security Agency when he shocked the world by exposing the near-universal mass surveillance programs of the United States government. His whistleblowing has shaken the leaders of nations worldwide, and generated a passionate public debate on the dangers of global monitoring and the threat to individual privacy.

In a tour de force of investigative journalism that reads like a spy novel, award-winning Guardian reporter Luke Harding tells Snowden’s astonishing story—from the day he left his glamorous girlfriend in Honolulu carrying a hard drive full of secrets, to the weeks of his secret-spilling in Hong Kong, to his battle for asylum and his exile in Moscow. For the first time, Harding brings together the many sources and strands of the story—touching on everything from concerns about domestic spying to the complicity of the tech sector—while also placing us in the room with Edward Snowden himself. The result is a gripping insider narrative—and a necessary and timely account of what is at stake for all of us in the new digital age.

Snowden-ArmyWhy it could succeed:
Some people forget, but Oliver Stone is one of the more highly decorated filmmakers of his time. Stone has three Academy Awards, two in Best Director for Born on the Fourth of July and Platoon, and one in Best Adapted Screenplay for Midnight Express, to go along with a total of 11 Oscar nominations, he’s no stranger to the voting body. If you look over his filmography, he’s often nominated for politically tinged efforts. As such. Snowden seems right up his alley for a return to the Academy’s big night. This material already has been awarded with the documentary Citizenfour, so members aren’t turned off by subject Edward Snowden, which takes away one potential issue with a biopic of the man. Having the overdue for a nod Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role doesn’t hurt either, as he leads an eclectic cast that includes Shailene Woodley, Scott Eastwood, Nicolas Cage, Melissa Leo, Timothy Olyphant, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, and Keith Stanfield, to name a few. Woodley is overdue as well, so with baity roles here for them both, noms could be in the cards for sure. The material and the talent is there, without question, so it’s simply a matter of the execution being there. Assuming that happens, this is a film that could wind up a much bigger player than some are assuming, particularly since distributor Open Road maneuvered Spotlight to a Best Picture victory just this past year.

Why it might not:
Even if Stone tends to be at his best when delving into conspiracy theories, he’s not immune to political misfires as well. For every Born on the Fourth of July or JFK or Platoon, or even Nixon, there’s a W. there to throw you off. In fact, you can argue that it’s been some time since Stone has made an objectively successful movie. He’s been in somewhat of a slump, potentially for over a decade and change, so he’s hardly a golden child with Oscar. Similarly, as much as Gordon-Levitt and Woodley are overdue for nominations, you could claim that neither has come particularly close yet. Woodley might have been inches away from a nomination for The Descendants, but Gordon-Levitt hasn’t been especially snubbed. That prevents Snowden from banking on an acting citation as a fallback. A complete shutout is a scenario that could be as likely as anything, even if the flick is strong. If it’s not top notch though, count on it being pretty quickly swept under the rug and ignored. Stone will have to prove that he’s back for real before we can think too seriously about awards. It’s not an insurmountable hump, but it’s a notable one on the horizon.

SavagesAwards Speculation:
Should this be closer to JFK or Platoon than W. (or, gulp, Alexander) for Stone, then Snowden has the possibility of capturing the cultural zeitgeist and being a big player. If the quality is there, Open Road could launch a big Academy Award effort, with campaigns going in Best Picture, Best Director for Stone, Best Actor for Gordon-Levitt, Best Actress for Woodley, Best Supporting Actor for Cage, Eastwood, Quinto, Stanfield, or Wilkinson, Best Supporting Actress for Leo, Richardson, or Woodley, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Fitzgerald and Stone. There’s also Best Cinematography from Oscar winner Anthony Dod Mantle, to go along with other technical fields like Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. My hunch is that the techs are a long shot, with Actor for Gordon-Levitt and Actress/Supporting Actress for Woodley being far more attainable, especially if a Picture nomination has any realistic chance of happening as well. Stone in either Director or Adapted Screenplay is possible too, but I don’t know that any voters are in a hurry to get him his dozenth nomination just yet. We’ll see though, and anything is possible. Consider Snowden one of the more intriguing biopics hoping to get Academy Award consideration this year!

Snowden will be distributed by Open Road Films and released on September 16th, 2016.

Potential Nominations:

Best Picture
Best Director (Stone)
Best Actor (Gordon-Levitt)
Best Actress (Woodley)
Best Supporting Actor (Cage, Eastwood, Quinto, Stanfield, or Wilkinson)
Best Supporting Actress (Leo, Richardson, or Woodley)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Fitzgerald and Stone)
Best Production Design
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Best Original Score
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing

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 Snowden ranks!