Oscar Moment: “How Do You Know”

5 11 2010

No one knows much about “How Do You Know” at the present moment.  But any movie that comes from director/writer/producer James L. Brooks has to be considered given the man’s 60% track record in scoring Best Picture nominations for his movies.

I’ve only seen his latest two movies, “As Good As It Gets” (which I totally adore) and “Spanglish” (which is still good although to a much lesser degree).  But the man has directed a Best Picture winner with “Terms of Endearment” and picked up a nice Best Director trophy for himself while he was at it.  Brooks is an incredibly influential figure in comedy, and as I pointed out in my column on “Love & Other Drugs,” that’s not an incredibly popular genre with the Academy.  To land three movies in the winner’s circle is a pretty huge accomplishment.

So what’s he up to now?  A comedy with comedic actors laced with drama.  His previous movies have starred, for the most part, dramatic actors – unless you dare to call Shirley MacLaine, William Hurt, and  Jack Nicholson comedians.  It will be interesting to see how critics and voters react to this shift in tactics.  “Spanglish” starred Adam Sandler, and they pretty much spat that right back out; will “How Do You Know” be any different?

To its advantage, it does have two Academy Award winners on the marquee: Reese Witherspoon as the headliner and Jack Nicholson in a supporting role.  I think wins are out of the question; Witherspoon because she won for a much more serious role, and Nicholson because he has enough with three.  The Golden Globes could nominate Witherspoon in a heartbeat in the musical/comedy category, and I could even see Jack getting an Oscar nomination because they love so darn much.

The other two leads are played by Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd, both of whom have a fair amount of respect compared to other similar performers (cough, Jack Black/Will Ferrell).  I think it would be pretty amazing for Owen Wilson to score an Oscar nomination given the field (assuming he competes in leading actor) and his often poor selection of films leading up to this (“Drillbit Taylor,” anyone?).  Paul Rudd, on the other hand, has picked movies that have gotten his comedic talents some good notes from high up.  And according to Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere, he could actually be a contender for this movie:

“The guy who delivers the goods is Paul Rudd. This will raise his profile to the A-list. This is a guaranteed Best Supporting Actor nomination.”

I’m a huge Paul Rudd fan, and I can probably quote every single line in “Role Models” that he utters.  So I’m all for him getting an Oscar nomination.  Best Supporting Actor has been particularly kind to comedic actors in the past decade with winner Alan Arkin for “Little Miss Sunshine” and nominations for Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder” and Thomas Haden Church in “Sideways.”  My only worry for Rudd is that he could be pushed out by Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right,” which could be a stronger overall awards play.  But in my mind, the males of that movie were the weak link, and I don’t feel as much buzz around him as I do Bening or Moore.

As for the movie as a whole, I feel like Best Original Screenplay is a category that the movie could easily score in given the pretty slim field this year.  Best Director is not quite as likely given that Brooks has already won.  But Best Picture, now that’s an interesting proposition.

Smart comedy is something that many people speculated that the Academy would want to reward with the expanded Best Picture field.  They get their recognition at the Golden Globes, but very few find their way into the big dance (with a few notable exceptions over the past few years).  I think comedy has some unfinished business with the Academy, and “How Do You Know” could provide that perfect mixture of comedy and drama to score big with the voters.  Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly stood up for it in October, writing:

“Here’s the one case where I’m apparently the most alone in my thinking, as no other participant has the film on his or her list. But I have faith in the upcoming Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy based on writer/director James L. Brooks’ selected track record (‘Broadcast News,’ ‘Terms of Endearment’) and the positive buzz I’ve been hearing about costar Paul Rudd’s performance. Here’s hoping it’s not another ‘Spanglish.'”

Karger ranked it as his fifth selection, which shows a lot of confidence.  It’s hard to judge anything until the movie gets seen by a lot of critics, so right now all I have is speculation based on little substantive evidence.  But with James L. Brooks, we can make those guesses pretty educated.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Rudd), Best Original Screenplay

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson)


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