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Oscar Watching: Specialty Box-Office Players THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL and MOONRISE KINGDOM


We dished on Joss Whedon’s The Avengers last week, so let’s discuss the Oscar likelihood of two films with much smaller scales: John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

To date, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has grossed roughly $35.5 million in the States and over $100 million globally. With Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in the mix, older moviegoers – to whom big studios don’t often cater – would probably rather see this than watch Honest Abe fight vampires or a hard-partying teddy bear named Ted.

Although he helmed the Oscar-nominated Mrs. Brown in 1997 and Best Picture winner Shakespeare in Love one year later, John Madden’s other works haven’t been as successful. His Shakespeare follow-up was 2001’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a disappointment that snagged leading star Penélope Cruz a Worst Actress nod at the Razzie Awards. He’s since overcome the cacophony of Mandolin with the Golden Globe-nominated drama Proof and acclaimed thriller The Debt, but none of his films have been recognized by the Academy since Shakespeare. Even so, Marigold Hotel is something of a contender, with its distributor being none other than Fox Searchlight.

Fox Searchlight has a relatively strong history with Oscar, as its seven highest-grossing films were Picture nominees, the top six earning at least one major win each. Marigold Hotel currently sits at number fourteen on the distributor’s list of top grossing films, but some of its lower-grossing features, such as 127 Hours, Notes on a Scandal, and The Wrestler, earned major Oscar nominations. Additionally, Searchlight releases Boys Don’t Cry and The Last King of Scotland – both of which earned less money than Marigold Hotel did – won acting Oscars.

But where would Oscar recognize Marigold Hotel? An Adapted Screenplay nomination seems plausible, and if Sundance hits Beasts of the Southern Wild and Six Sessions don’t live up to expectations, Fox Searchlight might give this comedy a Picture push. At the moment, though, Supporting Actress seems like its best bet, with the aforementioned Dench and Smith being the contenders.

Neither seems to be baiting for Oscar with her work, but both actresses have their advantages. Dench worked with Madden on Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love, respectively earning an Actress nod and Supporting Actress win in the process. If she doesn’t get a nomination, this will be the first Madden collaboration for which she doesn’t earn an Oscar nomination. Of course, that possibility isn’t impossible to imagine becoming a reality, as Smith seems like the better bet. The two-time Oscar winner hasn’t been nominated since 2001’s Gosford Park, but with television’s Downton Abbey putting her back in the limelight, this might be the perfect time for the Academy to throw her another Oscar bid.

Still, it seems very risky to predict Marigold Hotel for any Oscar attention at all, though I can’t imagine it missing out on some love at the Golden Globes. Fox Searchlight has its aforementioned Sundance hits to parade this awards season, so the film might simply serve as a nice profit for the distributor. If one of the Sundance favorites goes south, though, Marigold Hotel might get a full-fledged awards campaign.

Though it might seem obvious at first the success of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom easily parallels that of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which hit last year: both were Cannes kick-off features that debuted to overwhelmingly positive reviews. Then the box-office test came. In its first weekend of release, Midnight in Paris took almost $600,000 from six locations for one of the highest opening-weekend theater averages ever. It went on to gross over $50 million in the States – the most ever for an Allen film – and earned major recognition from various awards groups. At the end of the awards season, it bested Picture winner The Artist for the Academy’s Original Screenplay prize.

Meanwhile, Moonrise Kingdom debuted with about $523,000. That’s less than Paris’ debut, but that money came from just four locations, making for an even higher opening-weekend theater average. It’s yet to hit wide release in the United States, but as the film continues to expand, it might become an enjoyable alternative for those who aren’t interested in more mainstream fare – much like Paris and the already-discussed Marigold Hotel did – and a major box-office player in the process.

Even if Moonrise matches or surpasses Paris’ gross, there’s still something about this comparison that doesn’t fully work: Wes Anderson isn’t Woody Allen. That’s not meant to be a criticism of either filmmaker, but Allen’s a prolific cinematic legend. Turning in films with an uncanny frequency, he has around forty full-length features to his credit. He’s also picked up multiple directing and writing nominations throughout the years; he even scored an Actor bid for his leading work in Annie Hall, for which he won Director and one of his three Original Screenplay prizes. On the other hand, Anderson takes more time between projects and is new to filmmaking when compared to Allen. Moonrise marks the director’s seventh full-length feature, and he has only two Academy Award nominations to his credit: one in Animated Feature for Fantastic Mr. Fox and one for writing The Royal Tennenbaums with Owen Wilson.

Even though the Anderson-versus-Allen comparison might not favor the former auteur, only one film has opened with a higher theater average and failed to score a single Oscar nomination: Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The Mouse House’s action-oriented animated feature opened impressively but eventually became a box-office disappointment. Keeping that and the previously discussed information in mind, Anderson’s latest seems relatively safe for an Original Screenplay nomination –if not more – at the moment.

We still have to wait and see what happens this awards season to determine the awards fates of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom. However, it’s clear that, at least for now, both films have a whole lot going for them.

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The Author

Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren loves the wonderful world of film and all that comes with it. He specifically loves long takes, fabulous actresses, and keeping up with the Oscar season - even when it's far too early to make sense of anything.