Oscar Moment: “Hereafter”

5 10 2010

There was once a time when a Clint Eastwood movie being released meant instant Oscar attention and presumed to have nearly automatic entry into the Best Picture category.  Wait, that was just in 2008.  After picking up his second Best Picture/Best Director combo package for “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004 and nominations for “Letters from Iwo Jima” in 2006, the Academy has been cold as ice to the 80-year-old legendary filmmaker.

Is it a sort of backlash to Eastwood?  Have they simply had enough of him?  Or have his last three movies just really not been that good?

I personally don’t think he will ever win again, simply because twice is nice – and enough.  However, he can still have some horses in the race; they just aren’t in it for the win.  If Clint Eastwood directs one of the ten best movies of the year, they can’t be denied a spot simply by virtue of being directed by Eastwood.

So where does that put us with “Hereafter?”  We’ve hit the pedigree, which is kind of a toss-up as to whether it will hurt or help come awards season.  As of now, all we have to work with is critical reaction and looking at how the Academy has reacted historically to similar movies.

Eastwood’s latest directorial venture debuted last month at the Toronto Film Festival to a very polarized reaction.  Some critics seemed to really like it.  Roger Ebert went to bat in a big way for the movie:

“Clint Eastwood’s ‘Hereafter’ considers the possibility of an afterlife with tenderness, beauty and a gentle tact. I was surprised how enthralling I found it. I don’t believe in woo-woo, but there’s no woo-woo anywhere to be seen. It doesn’t even properly suppose an afterlife, but only the possibility of consciousness after apparent death … it is made with the reserve, the reluctance to take obvious emotional shortcuts, that is a hallmark of Eastwood as a filmmaker. This is the film of a man at peace. He has nothing to prove except his care for the story.”

Other critics, however, were not impressed.  Many called it the worst movie Eastwood has ever directed.  Some used words like uneven” while others just went straight to “trash.”  But according to Kris Tapley of In Contention, this may not be entirely bad.

“… even among the appreciators, Peter Morgan’s script may come together in a rather unsatisfying manner in the third act.  But words like “facile,” “cliche” and “manipulative” describe many, many former Oscar nominees and winners, so we should keep an eye on it.  To be perfectly honest, it sounds like a contender now more than ever.”

As I have said many times before, critical tastes do not determine Best Picture.  They didn’t love “The Blind Side,” and it still got in.  They didn’t lavish praise on “The Reader,” and it still got in.  While critics can shape Academy taste, they do not define it.  The Academy is not a group of critics; it is a group of filmmakers.  The fact that it has gotten a polarizing reaction thus far is not necessarily bad.  Several of last year’s Best Picture nominees had their fair share of detractors, such as “Avatar,” “Inglourious Basterds,” and even “Precious.”

And while on the subject of Academy tastes, speaking to the dead is a concept that they have readily embraced in the past.  Both “Ghost” and “The Sixth Sense” received Best Picture nominations.  But according to Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly, “Hereafter” reminds him more of “Babel” because of the movie’s three inter-connecting storylines.  “Babel” received nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay in 2006.  I could see Eastwood’s latest taking a similar trajectory.  I’m not expecting it to win (Eastwood has already won here twice), but it would be a nice inclusion on the shortlist.

Beyond the movie itself, I think Matt Damon can also be seriously considered in the Best Actor category.  He received his first acting nomination last year for “Invictus,” a collaboration with Eastwood, and he also has a nice Oscar sitting on his mantle for writing “Good Will Hunting.”  But with Damon also being an apparent scene-stealer in the much more Academy friendly “True Grit,” Warner Bros. may choose to campaign him harder there.

He stands a better chance in Best Supporting Actor, which has yet to be formed, than in Best Actor, which many people have narrowed down to Firth, Franco, Eisenberg, Duvall, and Bridges with Wahlberg and Gosling as strong outside shots.

There’s also a chance that Peter Morgan’s original script could make it in the field since he has been nominated before.  I don’t think much else from the movie has much of a shot, even the visual effects which make a tsunami look pretty good.

To close, I want to quote the wonderful review by Sasha Stone of Awards Daily.  While she was not a huge fan of the movie, she still states that it is one of Eastwood’s best and puts it all into perspective quite nicely.

“In his later years, he is ruminating on bigger questions, like what it means to be alive, to be killed, to be loved – to die, and to mourn … ‘Hereafter’ fits in to a triptych of films that meditate on childhood and loss: Mystic River, Changeling and now, ‘Hereafter’ … it isn’t the flavor of the month, but it is quintessentially Eastwood … at 80 years old, Eastwood remains a visionary.”

Since the idea of death is something especially pertinent to someone at the end of his life like Eastwood is, perhaps the emotional impact on the voters will prompt them to show some gratitude to a man who has been an outstanding contributor to the cinematic way.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay


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One response

8 10 2010
Stuart O'Quin

Honestly, I felt “Invictus” and “Gran Torino” were excellent pictures – and maybe have as much claim to the “best since ‘Unforgiven'” tag as “Mystic River” or “Million Dollar Baby.” I hope that this picture will receive the proper nominations but chances are it will face the same fate as “Torino.”

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