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Academy Awards Preview: Will 'Life Of Pi' Roar At The Oscars?

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ACADEMY AWARDS PREVIEW
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Welcome to For Your Consideration, HuffPost Entertainment's weekly breakdown of all things Oscar. Between now and Feb. 25, 2013, executive arts and entertainment editor Michael Hogan and entertainment editor Christopher Rosen will chat about awards season and which films will make the most noise at the 85th annual Academy Awards.

Rosen: Hey, Mike: Another week, another favorite? "Life of Pi" premiered at the New York Film Festival on Friday and thrust itself into the Oscar conversation with the force of a Bengal tiger attacking a villainous hyena. Most critics and pundits were wowed by the film -- with some notable exceptions in David Poland and Jeff Wells, who never agree on anything -- including yours truly: Ang Lee's film mixes high adventure with some thought-provoking questions about faith and wraps it up with some incredible technical whiz-bang. One person on Twitter called "Life of Pi" an "art house version of 'Avatar,'" and that sounds about right. This is a four-quadrant film that has something for audiences and Oscar voters. To me, the comparables are the aforementioned James Cameron epic and last year's "Hugo," meaning "Life of Pi" could easily cruise to double-digit nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Irrfan Khan, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing.

Not everyone would agree with that lofty tally. Noted Oscar expert Scott Feinberg wrote that while "virtually everyone liked the film, few loved it, and that makes it a tough awards sell." That few loved "Life of Pi" might be true, but calling a "liked" film a "tough awards sell" feels just a tad disingenuous. Not to harp on "The King's Speech" -- as you've done in every one of these chats, says an angry reader -- but that film wasn't necessarily loved; it was well-respected and well-liked. "Hugo" wasn't loved, either, and that got 11 nominations. Not saying, just saying: "Life of Pi" is certainly in the conversation for Best Picture. That doesn't mean it will win, but it's waiting to pounce like a tiger -- especially if the film takes off at the global box office. Which, with the 3D surcharge, international cast and adventure-based story, it could. (Lest we forget, Fox has experience selling this kind of film thanks to "Avatar.")

Sorry, "Dark Knight Rises": "Life of Pi" might be the blockbuster of choice this awards season.

Hogan: Hey, Chris, at the risk of telegraphing a plot point in "Life of Pi," isn't it funny how, after Friday's morning press screening, Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's 2001 bestseller seemed to have landed in Oscar-buzz paradise (seriously, what did Fox put in Sasha Stone's morning coffee?), only to discover, once Feinberg's critique hit the Web, that the lemmings aren't the only creatures on this island. It was especially interesting that Feinberg's gloomy assessment came on the heels of his colleague Todd McCarthy's technicolor rave. (Also interesting: McCarthy is on the board of the New York Film Festival, and presumably played a part in choosing the film for the fest's opening-night gala.)

I don't think anyone can deny the magnitude of Lee's accomplishment here. He took a seemingly unfilmable book and turned it into an unprecedented visual feast with real emotional resonance. (I didn't cry, but plenty of others did, and I really only cry at movies about emotionally stunted men who disappoint everyone around them. Hmm, wonder what that could be about.) The central performance, by 18-year-old Suraj Sharma, is also strong -- and potentially Oscar-worthy, especially since he dropped a considerable amount of weight to more realistically portray the title character's castaway ordeal. But the people I spoke to at the screening (some of whom have films of their own to promote, mind you) were divided about whether the movie was broadly appealing enough to truly roar (sorry) at the box office. It seems like an obvious winner internationally, but while I'd like to believe that we live in a country where parents will take their children to watch an arty, progressive, multicultural parable about faith and the existence of God, I'm not 100 percent convinced. Then again, maybe they'll take their kids to see a 3D movie about a shipwreck and cool-looking animals, in which case, great! If the movie catches on at the box office, I think your prediction of double-digit nominations could well come true (though I think you're insane to predict a nod for Irffan Khan over Sharma). If it winds up being a bit too weird for the good people of Peoria, Lee and Fox could be stuck singing "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" to themselves come Oscar season. An indie underdog like "The Artist" or "The Hurt Locker," can skate into the winner's circle on less than $20 million at the box office, but "Life of Pi," with its reported $100 million budget, needs to prove its populist appeal.

Go ahead, remind me that "Hugo" cost something like $175 million to make, earned a semi-crummy $11 million on its opening weekend and went on to win five Oscars. (It eventually earned $77 million in the U.S. and another $111 million overseas.) To that I would say: Good point, but Ang Lee, beloved as he is, is not Marty Scorsese. After all those years of being snubbed, Scorsese is now an Oscar icon. Meanwhile, we've already seen the Academy screw Lee because gay sex made them feel icky, so I wouldn't necessarily expect them to bend over backwards to reward a movie that features a Hindu/Catholic/Muslim teenager alone on a life raft for a solid hour and a half.

Then again, there are 10 Best Picture nominees. Room enough for everybody! The real question is, who's going to get a Best Director nomination, because those are the folks whose movies have a real shot at taking home some hardware.

So here's a question for you: The way I see it, we've got 12 possibilities for Best Picture nominations and a maximum of 10 slots. If you had to cut two of the following movies, which would it be?: "Amour," "Argo," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," "The Hobbit," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi," "Lincoln," "The Master," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Promised Land." (I'm leaving "Cloud Atlas" off this list, but you can add it back if you want.)

And one more question! We both saw Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy" last week. Are you feeling any possible nominations there? Maybe a Best Supporting nod for Nicole Kidman? Or will the Academy punish her for playing a character who pees all over poor Zac Efron's face?

Rosen: We might be burying the lede here: 2012 is shaping up to be a great year for movies! Your list, which is loaded with exceptional titles, doesn't even include "Cloud Atlas" (which I'm seeing this week, so we can discuss that polarizing contender in our next chat), "Moonrise Kingdom," "Magic Mike," "The Hunger Games," "Marvel's The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "End of Watch," "Looper," "This Is 40," "Flight," "On the Road," "Not Fade Away," "Anna Karenina" ... the list goes on and on and on and on. Compare that to last year, when it was hard to find five films to like, and this feels like the equivalent of 2007 or 1999: A banner year for movies that reinvigorates the industry. Those saying film culture is dead maybe need to go the theater a little bit more?

So, which of your 12 films will not make the cut? From my vantage point, the weakest two might be "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which never caught on the way "Tree of Life" did last year (and just got dinged by SAG for not using professional actors), and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Have we heard one thing about "The Hobbit," beyond it being a lock for billion-dollar global grosses? It just feels ... stale. (If a movie not coming out for three months can already be considered stale. Forget it, Jake; it's Oscar season.) Not that "The Hobbit" won't be a technical miracle and an expert example of film craftsmanship, but will Oscar voters care? The Academy crowned Peter Jackson for "Return of the King" and I'm not sure anyone is in a rush to heap praise on him again -- especially with two more "Hobbit" films coming in the next two years.

Now, which films not on your list could sneak in? "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and "Anna Karenina" seem like the best of the rest, waiting there for one of the contenders to belly flop like "J. Edgar." In fact, "Marigold Hotel" might already be in the top-10, despite how hard you and I are both working to ignore that bit of Oscar-voter catnip. (I'm still foolishly holding out hope for "Moonrise Kingdom" to grab a nomination as well.)

As for Supporting Actress, I absolutely think Nicole Kidman could get singled out for "The Paperboy," a hot mess of a movie that throws everything, the kitchen sink and aligator intestines at the audience. If Oscar-worthy acting is the stuff of risks and reinvention, Kidman seems like a lock -- especially in a weak category. Consider: Kidman pees on Zac Efron and that's only the second or third craziest thing she does in the film. Apologies to Maggie Smith in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" or Samantha Barks from "Les Miserables" -- two popular choices for the slots behind Amy Adams, Helen Hunt and Anne Hathaway -- but y'all ain't got nothing on Kidman's barely repressed insanity in "The Paperboy."

That said, I don't want us to sleep on another contender for Best Supporting Actress: Emily Blunt in the aforementioned "Looper." Rian Johnson's film is really well done, and Blunt provides its emotional core; you could make the argument that "Looper" doesn't work without her, despite the presence of Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film itself is certainly not an Oscar player (it's "Drive" all over again), but Blunt is so good that she might deserve some kind of recognition. If only she gave JoGo a golden shower in the film, she'd be a lock.

Hogan: Ah, yes, I remember the 73rd and 80th Academy Awards as if they were yesterday. And I agree that this year is shaping up to be just as good, movie-wise. I'm totally on board with your Quixotic "Moonrise Kingdom" campaign, though I fear that the only people getting recognized for that movie will be the art department and maybe the soundtrack supervisor. (Do soundtrack supervisors get Oscars? If not, that must change!) And I guess we'd both better get hip to "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," since every person over 60 is in love with it. (Also, do not underestimate this generation of over-60s: they gave us The Beatles, free love, Gordon Gekko, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the financial crisis. No reason to think they're finished with us yet!)

But that just underscores the question of what happened to the women this year? I love Emily Blunt as much as the next red-blooded male (is there anything hotter than her asking Jason Segel if he wants to "get weird" in "The Five-Year Engagement"?), but, the way I see it, it will have been a weak season indeed if she finds herself with a Best Supporting nod for "Looper."

But wait -- speaking of burying the lede, Seth MacFarlane? Hosting the Oscars? And you're in favor of it? Are we on Earth anymore, or have I been secretly transported to a parallel universe where talking dogs and teddy bears are synonymous with glamour?

But that's a topic for another week, which is fortunate, since we're going to be yammering like this through February. Till next time!

EARLIER:
Week 1: Has Harvey Weinstein Already Taken Over Oscar Season?
Week 2: Will 'Les Miserables' Dream A Dream Of Oscar Gold?


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