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Will Inception land Christopher Nolan an Oscar Nomination (or Two)?

I loved Christopher Nolan before The Dark Knight made it cool to do so. My love affair dates back to the relative indie Momento, the backwards-staged thriller in which a wronged insurance salesman attempts to find out who killed his wife, but is blocked by his inability to form memories. So, our hero makes studious notes and tattoos himself with all the pertinent information before he forgets it. A hokey premise to be sure, but it worked. The film went on to receive a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Nolan and his brother. This is, despite critically-praised hit after critically-praised hit, Nolan’s only Oscar nomination.

There was a lot of Oscar buzz around The Dark Knight, with commentators suggesting that even if the genre film was locked out of the Best Picture category Nolan would be guarunteed a nod as Best Director. He’d made a geek property the biggest summer blockbuster ever, proved that Imax was a viable filming method and assembled a cast full of folks that Hollywood loved (Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman). He’d delivered one of those rare pop cultre masterpieces. Alas, it was not to be. He couldn’t even get a nomination in the Best Adapted Screenplay, despite the most concise distilling of seventy-years’ worth of comic book history on to celluloid.

I’m not bitter, and had expected the snub – though I had anticipated Darren Aaronoski or Clint Eastwood to take the fabled fifth spot.

Nolan films Batman to the max... the (i)Max...

Nolan films Batman to the max... the (i)Max...

Anyway, Oscar prognosticators, clearly not allured by the whallop-crash-bang movies flooding into cinemas at the moment, have already started looking at next year’s awards. There are are all the usual suspects – Clint Eastwood’s untitled-as-of-yet Mandela biopic starring Morgan Freeman, Daniel Day-Lewis in a musical based on Fellini’s 8 1/2 (creatively titled “Nine”), and Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island with Leonardo diCaprio and former Watchman Jackie Earle Haley. Ever one to follow fads, I’ll be taking a closer look at these in the coming days.

I’m going to one-up these tea-leaf-readers and ask whether Christopher Nolan’s next film might earn him that coveted (but deserved) director’s nomination. The movie won’t be released until 2010, so it’ll be February 2011 before we know for sure (sooner based on advanced word and actually seeing the film – but that’d take the fun out of this), but let’s have a bit of fun with this. If I get it right, I’m a box office guru. If I get it wrong, well, there was no way I could reasonably get it right, right?

We don’t know much about Inception except that it’s loosely science-fiction – it takes place within “the architecture of the mind”. That bodes badly for a Best Picture Nomination, but doesn’t rule out a nomination in the Director category, not least of which for an established director. Look at Peter Weir (The Truman Show) or Stanly Kubrick (2001). So, not as solid gold as a Nelson Mandela biopic or a damned holocaust film, but not a dealbreaker.

Guy Pearce, Used Car Salesman

Guy Pearce, Used Car Salesman

The cast is pretty solid. Leonardo diCaprio and Ellen Page have received Oscar nominations, but never won. This will mark Michael Caine’s fourth consecutive film with Nolan. And there’s some pretty solid support there from Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has always been a respectable performer, if not a box office giant – though he is filling in from the increasingly-taken-seriously James Franco) and Cillian Murphy (who has yet to give a performance for an American audience that establishes him as a bona fides actor – The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Breakfast on Pluto, 28 Days Later and Intermission were all Irish or English films). So, a very respectable cast, if not quite Oscar-laiden. There’s also the release date to be considered – based on filming news and the guestimated scheduling of other films (read: Warner Brothers will want Batman 3 for Summer 2011), fate would seem to point to an early 2010 release date. Which is good for those of us dying to see it, but bad for the film’s Oscar chances.

And now the moment of truth. My best guess: no Best Picture nomination, no Best Director nomination, possibly a Screenplay nomination. The film will be out of Hollywood’s very short-term memory come the 2010/2011 awards season. It’s that simple. Over the past few years, every Best Picture nominee has been released in the last three months of the year. This has led to a ridiulous glut of awardsfare over a ridiculously cramped period, but as long as it continues to happen, the powers that be will continue to take it for granted. And as long as the powers that be take it for granted, the longer studios will continue to release in that narrow window. It’s a viscious cycle.

Besides, edgy films in underappreciated genres tend to have better luck in the writing categories (both winning and acheiving nominations).I readily admit that I might be getting ahead of myself here – it’s quite possible that the film may suck, but I doubt it. Besides, it’s just as likely that Daniel Day-Lewis’ next film could be a dud or that Clint Eastwood could forgt how to direct drama. Nolan’s record (Momento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight) stands to him, and at least gives him the benefit of the doubt. I’m looking forward to the film as one of the highlights of 2010.

Well, that was fun. Now I don’t feel so bad speculating about the 2010 Oscar ceremony!

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