2016 Awards Profile: ‘Lion’ from Garth Davis

lionWelcome 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: Garth Davis

Written By: Luke Davies

Cast: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Priyanka Bose, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Deepti Naval

Synopsis (From IMDB): A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

Why It Could Succeed:

The Oscar voters love to vote with their hearts (see recent Best Picture winners such as “The King’s Speech”). In fact, many of the surprise Best Picture nominees since the rule expansion have been heart-tugging pictures  (“The Blind Side,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” and “War Horse”). “Lion,” based on the book and true story “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierly, mirrors the heart-warming journey that propelled “Philomena” to a Best Picture nominee. There are more than a few similarities between “Lion” and the Best Picture winning film “Slumdog Millionaire.” Besides the Indian location and the presence of Dev Patel in the leading role (this time playing Saroo Brierly), both films revolve around family and of a young boy ripped from his family at an early age and both were adaptations of a book. We could see residual “Slumdog” love help boost “Lion”  in multiple categories, including in some of the tech categories such as Production Design (since locations in India and Australia will play a big role), Cinematography (by Greig Fraser of “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Rouge One”) and Film Editing (Alexandre de Franceschi from “Tracks”).

Many people in the cast are no stranger to Oscar love. While Dev Patel did not net an Oscar nomination for “Slumdog Millionaire,” Patel did net a BAFTA and SAG nomination and was part of the SAG winning cast. As Saroo’s adoptive mother, Sue Brierly, previous Oscar winner Nicole Kidman could find herself in the Oscar race. Supportive mothers have been winning supporting actress trophies throughout history (Brenda Fricker in “My Left Foot” and more recently with Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”) and been nominated even more frequently (see two recent nomination upsets, Jacki Weaver in “Silver Linings Playbook” and Laura Dern in “Wild”). There has also been some buzz around Australian actor David Wenham as Saroo’s adoptive father, John Brierly. Could he be the discovery of the cast? Lastly, we have Rooney Mara, fresh off her second nomination last year for “Carol.” Her role as Lucy is a bit undefined at the moment. Only time, and more footage, can tell if it is a meaty role.

The Weinstein Company, who is distributing the film, seems to have some faith in “Lion.” They have given “Lion” a prime Thanksgiving release date, right in the heart of awards season. We all know Harvey Weinstein knows how to campaign hard to get his movies up for the Oscars. Will this be the movie he puts his weight behind, or will it be “The Founder?”

Why It Could Fail:

We haven’t seen a frame of this film, so it is hard to tell if there are any glaring warning signs. Could this be in the vein of Reese Witherspoon’s “A Good Lie” a couple years back? Sometimes when material relies on making the audience cry, the film can turn maudlin very quickly. These movies also face an uphill battle with the early critics awards, who may not rally behind a more “feel good” film. While this doesn’t matter as much when it comes to winning an Oscar (see “King’s Speech” vs. “The Social Network”), it can make the road to nominations harder.

“Top of the Lake,” director Garth Davis’ previous work, got plenty of accolades on the TV front. However, this is his feature film debut. While 21 directors have been nominated for their first features, a majority of them occurred in the earlier years of the Oscars and included famous names such as Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner and Orson Welles, to name a few. It has happened four times since 2000 (Rob Marshall for “Chicago,” Bennett Miller for “Capote,” Tony Gilroy for “Michael Clayton” and Benh Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild”), so it is not impossible. Similarly, this is the one of the first notable feature film screenplays for Luke Davies, who is mostly an author and poet. First timers can make their way, but early prognosticating tends to lean on those who have proven themselves within the Academy.

Awards Speculation:

Once the trailer comes, we will get a broader sense if this is more of an “epic tearjerking journey” or a schmaltzy discount Tuesday weepie. The creative team is new, but not without promise if everything really clicks. The cast has been around the awards circuit before and will make people initially take notice. Movies based on books also come in with a rabid fan-base that helps for name recognition and early interest. If the film takes off, it will land multiple above and below the line nominations. Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay and Cinematography seem to be the best bets of the group if the film is a success. It could get even more if reviews and audiences rally behind the film. However, if it is a miss, the film could wind up with a big goose egg come Oscar nomination morning.

Oscar Potential:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (Garth Davis)
  • Best Actor (Dev Patel)
  • Best Supporting Actor (David Wenham)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Film Editing

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 Lion ranks!