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Oscar Watching: LIFE OF PI Sails Into the Race

On Friday, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi kicked off the New York Film Festival and received high marks from the critics. The epic scale, lauded visual effects, and story about humanity might tug the heartstrings of Oscar voters, and if there’s a movie out there to grab “the heart vote,” this might be it.

But not every pundit is convinced that Pi is such a sure thing for Oscar. Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter says that “to my eye it is, frankly, uneven — its pacing is off, it feels too long, and its third-act twist is something between confusing and aggravating.” However, Pi isn’t finished, as Lee plans to spend more time in the editing room before it hits theaters on Nov. 21.

Speaking of the New York Film Festival, Nicole Kidman receives a Gala Tribute at the fest today. Lee DanielsThe Paperboy, in which she gives a raved-about performance, gets its U.S. premiere afterward, and the film debuts in nine stateside locations on Friday. Negative reviews accompanied The Paperboy’s Cannes premiere earlier this year, but one wonders if Kidman might hit the campaign trail for her work.

While on the topic of New York, Lincoln screens in the Big Apple – and in nine other U.S. cities – on Oct. 10. Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis will be on hand in New York to answer questions live on Yahoo! Movies after the multi-city screening of the film.

Lincoln’s closing slot at the AFI Fest on Nov. 8 wasn’t a promising sign of things to come, but maybe its closing of the fest isn’t due to lack of confidence after all. Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, discussed in detail last week, will open the AFI Fest on Nov. 1.

And Fox Searchlight’s thrusting of that possible Oscar contender into a November release might be more beneficial than it initially seemed to be. Feinberg revealed that the distributor’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, a critical hit and Sundance favorite from earlier this year, is ineligible for consideration at the upcoming Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Thanks mostly to a weak slate of early-year contenders, Beasts, the first feature film from Benh Zeitlin, looked to score nominations in actress for newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis and adapted screenplay for the script Zeitlin co-wrote with Lucy Alibar, who also wrote the play on which the film is based. It also seemed possible for recognition in the picture and director races and perhaps a supporting actor bid for Dwight Henry, another newcomer.

But Oscar hopefuls Wallis and Henry are “locals who had never acted before and therefore were not SAG members,” and Zeitlin’s decision to use actors not registered with SAG created the eligibility dilemma. For most, Beasts seemed like a safe bet with SAG, though it was and still is very questionable as a Golden Globe contender. Now the film’s awards fate seems to be in the hands of the critics groups who’ll hand out their honors at the end of the year.

Beasts could meet eligibility requirements if certain actions take place, but the course of events necessary for the change probably won’t be set in motion. Feinberg explains:

“It is theoretically possible to retroactively bring a film into compliance with SAG-AFTRA’s Low Budget Feature Agreement, but doing so for Beasts would require that not only its domestic distributor, Fox Searchlight, provide additional payment to the film’s actors but also that all of the various other companies that are distributing the film internationally do the same. Some of them might feel less inclined to pony up additional cash in return for the mere possibility of SAG nominations.”

At the box office, Sony’s animated comedy Hotel Transylvania reigned with $42.5 million. While the public flocked to check it out, most critics wanted to check out of this hotel. Weak notices would hurt Transylvania in any year, but in one such as this, in which animation is in top form, Sony shouldn’t even bother campaigning this one with The Pirates! Band of Misfits in its arsenal.

In the runner-up spot, Rian Johnson’s sci-fi thriller Looper enters the market with $20.8 million and glowing reviews – including one from our own Andrew Robinson. Another film from Sony, the Joseph Gordon-Levitt-led film is probably too tough a sell for picture and director bids, but an original screenplay nomination might happen with a strong campaign. Bruce Willis, who’s never been in the Oscar running, also snagged some buzz for a supporting actor nomination. In a year where the race is such a conundrum, it could happen.

Won’t Back Down is an ironic title for this film about two mothers setting out to reform their children’s school. Once assumed a potential Oscar vehicle for Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, the film failed to impress the critics, and audiences weren’t interested either. The film entered the box office with $2.6 million, making it the second-worst opening for a film with 2,500 locations or more.

Also boasting a strong opening was the music-tinged comedy Pitch Perfect, pulling in $5.1 million from 335 locations. The reviews – such as one from our own Sarah Katz – sang praises for the film. Oscar consideration, though? Pitch might score with Golden Globe voters, but its Oscar prospects are less assured. Still, one wonders if Rebel Wilson might become a threat for a supporting actress nomination.

Last but not least, it was announced – to mixed response, of course – that Seth MacFarlane will host the upcoming Oscar ceremony. Given his “lefty” political views and the often-controversial nature of his humor, it’s a far cry from the safe choice of Billy Crystal last year.

Still, the Family Guy creator proved that he can handle a live audience on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live – for which he can expect an Emmy nod – and he’s also got an impressive set of pipes that’ll come in handy for the song-and-dance numbers. Good luck, Seth.

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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.