Awards Profile: Maps to the Stars

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Pattinson Maps to the Stars

Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: Bruce Wagner
Cast: Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, Evan Bird
Synopsis: Two former child stars navigate their dysfunctional relationships and personal demons in a satirical examination of celebrity and Western culture.

Why it could succeed:

Whatever you might think of his recent output, we would be remiss not to mention the latest project from David Cronenberg, a still singular talent who has been responsible for several of the most challenging and potent films of their time. Some of the biggest awards successes for celebrated auteurs followed major slumps (No Country for Old Men was Joel and Ethan Coen’s follow-up to The Ladykillers, and Roman Polanski bounced back from The Ninth Gate with The Pianist), and at 70 years-old shows no signs of settling down into any “comfort zones.”

It’s also a project that appears to be near and dear to his heart; he’s been trying to get this off the ground for almost eight years now. Funding fell through in 2009 and for a while it looked like the film would never be made. Three years later things started looking up when he secured Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz for the lead roleuntil she dropped out a few months later. Throughout the entire production there were difficulties with money due to how difficult this was to pitch even to independent studios. Cronenberg himself admitted,

“It’s not obviously a very big commercial movie, and even as an independent film it’s difficult. Maps to the Stars is completely different [from Cosmopolis]… it’s very acerbic and satirical. It’s a hard sell.”

Weirdly, this news, along with other setbacks like the director’s hope for a reteaming with Viggo Mortensen falling through and occasional detours from the project, actually give me hope that the project will turn out well. That he has stuck with this for all these years and all the myriad problems bombarding it tells me that he really cares about bringing Maps to the Stars to life…remember the old mantra “Art from Adversity?” He cares so much about accurately capturing the state of America and Hollywood in this day and age, he even did something for the first time in any of his works: film this in the United States. That’s right, in his almost-fifty-year film career Cronenberg has never made a movie here in the States until now. All to make sure his dark snapshot hit home.

Moore Maps to the StarsBut he’s not the only reason to be excited for Maps to the Stars, because after losing Weisz, in 2013 Julianne Moore was cast in the role of Havana Segrand, making this the first collaboration between her and this director! Obviously, Julianne Moore in any movie is something to be excited about, but to me it’s almost criminal that these two have never worked together before considering how the two of them make “sense.” While I’m not quite sure what Cronenberg sees in Robert Pattinson, I have to admit Cosmopolis was the best acting he’s ever done (whatever that’s worth…). Between this and his part in David Michôd’s upcoming thriller The Rover, the actor’s been taking some aggressive strides to distance himself from Edward Cullen…though I predict it’s going to be a long time before the Academy embraces him.

Those of you chomping at the bit for John Cusack to receive his first career nomination may also have something to hope for with this film after several years of frankly embarrassing work from Cusack. While his part is admittedly less juicy than a mentally disturbed actress haunted by visions of her dead mother, there’s still a chance for him to shine here as a self-help psychotherapist.

Another man who may see the Oscar spotlight for the first time through this film is the novelist Bruce Wagner, kinda-sorta adapting his own novel (actually, he wrote the screenplay first, then published the story as a book when the film plunged into development hell…I’m sure that’s going to be more than a bit of a problem if it’s considered for screenplay awards). The Academy often jumps at the opportunity to reward literary figures, and if the writing here is “sharp” enough he could be a serious contender regardless of the film’s odds in Best Picture.

Why it might not:

Hey guys, remember the last time David Cronenberg adapted the words of a prolific novelist into a nastily satiric view of modern America with Robert Pattinson? If you do, my condolences. It’s just as possible that this movie will simply continue his slump and – just like Cosmopolis – we’ll all be frustrated at this attempt to reach back to his old appeal instead of charting new ground after A History of Violence (and that he almost-but-not-quite attained with A Dangerous Method). There’s something suspicious to me about any satire that announces itself as one even in the most bare-bones plot synopsis provided by the studio, and really, do we need another film about this topic? Gee, you mean to tell me that our celebrity culture can be dangerous and the entertainment industry is both seductive and rotten? I don’t know if my mind can handle such off-the-wall themes! It’s especially disconcerting when one gets the sense that the people behind this film can’t even agree on things as basic as tone (is it a laugh-out-loud satire or a really dark film with comedic elements?).

It’s possible that Moore has been given a real Oscar-baiting role and it’s more than possible that she could knock this collaboration with Cronenberg out of the park, but you know who else did that when they were cast in Cronenberg films? Christopher Walken, James Woods, Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold, Judy Davis, and Maria Bello; none of whom received Oscar nominations for their performances.

And at the end of the day, the movie is setting out to throw barbs at the entertainment industry…the same entertainment industry that votes on whether or not a film deserves Oscars. However good – even great – this movie could be, that right there is a handicap that I don’t believe the film will ever overcome with the Academy. Robert Altman’s The Player is arguably the most widely-loved Hollywood satire made in my lifetime, and even that only managed three nominations with no Best Picture nod.

It’s for these reasons that its best chances at Academy recognition will likely rest with Julianne Moore, who usually does well with distinct filmmakers like Cronenberg and has the potential to wow voters if her part is showy enough. As for the movie’s actual quality, fingers crossed that Cosmopolis was simply an aberration and not the start of a trend…

Oscar Potential:
Lead Actress (Julianne Moore)
Lead Actor (John Cusack)
Supporting Actress (Mia Wasikowska)
Adapted or Original Screenplay (Bruce Wagner)
Original Score (Howard Shore)
Cinematography (Peter Suschitzky)
Film Editing (Ronald Sanders)
Makeup & Hairstyling