Anyone who has paid more than a passing glace at the history of the Academy Awards, especially in the past couple decades, can’t help but notice a few key elements that, when applied to a film in the correct proportions, almost guarantee a slew of nominations and the mixed blessing label of “Oscar Bait”. For your ease and convenience, I will present a list of those characteristics that you can apply to any film you might be watching to ascertain its chances of Oscar gold, along with a few examples to prove the rule.
Foreign Accents (especially British) __
War (especially WWII) __
Disability (Mental or bodily-- Either does the trick, both and you write a thank you speech) __
Physical adaptations (neck twitch, big nose, gain weight, lose weight, cross-dress, etc.) __
Aging over several decades (makeup preferred, but good recasting is acceptable) __
Death of a main character __
Based on a novel or true story (double bonus if based on popular biography) __
Adding a strong romantic element to any of the above characteristics will result in multiplying the total by a factor of 1.1 for the presence of each of the following that exists between parties: socioeconomic disparity, physical distance, and/or all around star crossed ill-fated-ness.
Judging by this exacting and scientific system, recent BAFTA champ and Oscar hopeful Atonement scores a hefty 6.5 out of 9.1 theoretical Bait Points possible (all time Bait Point leader The English Patient scores a 7.8, in case you were wondering). Anything over 4, and you’re probably watching a film headed for at least that many nominations. But all this begs the question: are such bait-tacular flicks worth watching? The answer is the ever frustrating “it depends”.
Atonement is an undeniably classy and well produced tale of love, war, and the majority of other stuff on the list. It feels a bit too “been there, awarded that” at times, but a few elements help it stand out above many comparable films. 13 year old Saoirse Ronan brings surprising depth and subtlety to her performance as a girl whose selfish and childlike understanding of the world fatefully clashes with new feelings of jealousy and romance, and a six minute single take tracking shot of a battle’s aftermath is one of the most visually stunning and technically astounding acts of filmmaking in years. But the ending is kinda up its own ass, and regardless of Atonement’s merits, I think the vast majority of the public have had their fill of class struggle, sprawling manor houses, and their hyper-British ilk.
Grades -- Saoirse: A, tracking shot: A+, Atonement: B-
Wednesday, February 13, 2008