Oscar Moment: “Fair Game”

19 10 2010

How ready is America to embrace a movie that is pretty deprecating to our sense of patriotism?  Doug Liman’s “Fair Game” will certainly show us if the bomb that was this March’s “Green Zone” was an anomaly or indicative of what to expect for movies about American involvement in Iraq.  (Interestingly enough, both movies share a connection to the Bourne franchise through their directors – Liman took on the first installment in that series, and Paul Greengrass helmed the second and third movies before making “Green Zone.”)

The movie will probably make its two biggest power plays in the lead acting categories with two performances from prestige actors.  Naomi Watts, who plays CIA spy Valerie Plame, was been nominated for Best Actress in 2003, and Sean Penn, who plays her husband, has won the prize twice.  Both stand decent chances, but it’s a tight year in both fields, and they could easily get squeezed out.

With firmly established pack leaders like Annette Bening and Natalie Portman, Best Actress will surely be a tough field to crack for Watts.  She’s strayed away from Oscar-type roles since her 2003 nomination for “21 Grams” save some mild buzz for “King Kong” in 2005.  Watts is well-liked but hardly beloved; however,she has gotten a fair amount of buzz from the movie being shown at Cannes and other festivals; Guy Lodge of In Contention remarked: “Naomi Watts is ideally cast as Plame, really warming to her character as she becomes more imperiled.”  Jeff Wells at Hollywood Experience was a whole lot more supportive:

“… I think this may be her finest performance yet. I think the reason I feel that way is because her role in this film as Valerie Plame is a truly challenging role because NOCs (Non-official cover – government intelligence operatives who assume covert roles in organizations without official ties to their government) are wallflowers by nature and are usually understated and quiet. They want be the least interesting person in the room and want to learn about you without you learning about them.”

I don’t think Sean Penn could win again just because of the virtual cap off at two Oscar wins.  Three would put him at Jack Nicholson status, but even Jack received his Oscar with eight and twelve year gaps.  A win for “Fair Game” would make three wins in seven years for Penn, which is, needless to say, a little excessive.  But Meryl Streep has been nominated a whopping 11 times since her last win, so a nomination is by no means out of the question.  He clearly has the respect and the praise to get him there (Sasha Stone of Awards Daily raved “he has so much charisma, such cinematic force one can hardly wrap one’s mind around it”), but it’s a pretty tight field as is.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get edged out by first-time nominees like Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco or one-time nominees like Colin Firth and Mark Wahlberg.

For the movie to have a shot at Best Picture, there needs to be some big buzz building around the opening to carry it through the season.  It received mostly positive marks from its Cannes debut, but no one was jumping out of their seat in excitement.  Emerging from the Bush era, “Fair Game” takes a look at how far we were willing to let the government take our freedom in exchange for security – and the victims of such policies.  It’s not a sympathetic look at America, and neither was last year’s Best Picture winner “The Hurt Locker.”  Are the politics of Oscar entering an era of confronting harsh realities?

It will need either an audience (which doesn’t seem too likely given the reception for other Iraq movies) or some strong critical allies to overcome what looks to be a fairly lackluster reception.  It’s hard to get a best Picture nomination when you draw a remark like this from a major trade: “Greeted with solid applause and a smattering of boos after its first press screening, ‘Fair Game’ has an enjoyable opening hour before disintegrating into melodramatic hooey” (that would be Manohla Darghis of The New York Times).

The movie’s chances could be hurt by fledgling studio Summit Entertainment.  As Kris Tapley of In Contention put it, “I’m curious to see how the studio will handle a campaign that doesn’t unfold serendipitously, as ‘The Hurt Locker’ seemed to do last year.”  The campaign will need to be big and brassy to keep interest going for four months on this movie.  Precursors are going to have to mention it frequently if it wants to nab a spot in the bottom 5 of Best Picture.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actress (Watts)

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (Penn), Best Adapted Screenplay


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2 responses

30 10 2010
richardM

Why don’t you have a similar poll for Best Actress, one of your two BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS:?

30 10 2010
Marshall

I usually limit it to one poll per post, and I’m more curious to poll my readers on how they feel about the movie for Best Picture since it’s a riskier pick.

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