Oscar Moment: “Conviction”

1 10 2010

With the Oscars expansion to ten Best Picture nominees, it’s truly unfortunate that within the first year, the term “The Blind Side slot” became a legitimate phrase.  We now know that certain movies of less Academy-caliber filmmaking have a shot at Best Picture.  “The Blind Side” brought a mixture of inspiration and sports to the table and wound up on the Academy shortlist.

However, those two elements seem to go hand-in-hand nowadays.  Could this same slot be for a movie that is just inspirational?  What I am suggesting is that perhaps “The Blind Side slot” in 2010 is destined to go to “Conviction,” not the presumed heir apparent “Secretariat.”

It’s a legal drama, a genre that has been more traditionally up the Academy’s alley that sports.  Betty Anne Waters, played by two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, spends a decade earning a law degree to prove the innocence of her brother Kenneth (Sam Rockwell), who is jailed on a murder conviction.  The struggles are many, but the underdog story prevails as always.

On paper, the plot seems to good to be true – and it may turn out to be exactly that way. “Conviction” may be hitting theaters a few years too late as many will feel like they have seen this exact same story several times before.  We’ve seen audience backlash on banality before, and the Academy have echoed their sentiments.  Just look at how they scoffed at “Invictus” last year, a movie everyone thought was safe on the virtue of being about sports and Nelson Mandela.

The movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival a few weeks ago to fair reviews. Here’s what Brad Brevet of Rope of Silicon had to say:

“‘Conviction’ is a rather simple film, but the emotional impact of the story comes through in the end after what is a rather mundane and cliched story of the innocent man in jail and the person working hard on the outside to get them out. At no point does this seem like new territory, but outside of being about ten minutes too long it’s a decent film despite its rather traditional dramatic nature.”

This might be an alarming review or an almost immediate disqualifying flaw if the same words could not be used by most critics to describe “The Blind Side.”  Nowadays, if the audience is moved and critics aren’t, the former can win out.  I think a Best Picture nomination is a possibility if the reviews can get into the 70% range on Rotten Tomatoes and the box office take exceeds $25 million.  But sorry, Tony Goldwyn, the Best Director field is too talented to make room for you.  (I haven’t seen “A Walk on the Moon,” but “The Last Kiss” was kind of lame, so he can start proving himself here.)

“Conviction” also stands a chance in the acting categories as well.  While I have nothing against Hilary Swank, there are plenty of people up in arms that she has the same amount of Oscars as Meryl Streep.  I think backlash and a strong field of Best Actress candidates will keep her out of the race.

Sam Rockwell, as the convict of “Conviction” (punny, I know), seems to be the movie’s best shot at Oscar glory.  He has been coming into his own as a star as of recent, and movies like “Moon” have made him a cult favorite.  This could be his chance to show the mainstream how talented he truly is, and I think an aggressive campaign could easily get him into the relatively unformed Best Supporting Actor race.

Rockwell seems to be the one part of “Conviction” that everyone can rally around.  According to Katey Rich at Cinemablend, “every scene in the prison interview room and especially flashbacks gives the film a jolt of electricity.”  I think we can expect some sort of representation from the movie, be it just Rockwell or the movie as a whole.

BEST BETS AT NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell)

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay