Pundit Poll: Can 127 Hours One-Arm Climb Its Way Back into Best Picture Contention?
There was a time when critics and Oscar pundits thought Danny Boyle's 127 Hours was a lock to nab one of the coveted 10 Best Picture slots -- if not in the top three, at least landing somewhere in the comfy middle of the pack. Then came the infamous faintings and those sluggish box-office receipts, and the jaunty amputation biopic started slipping downward in the weekly charts into the dark nether regions of the awards-season landscape, pinned between its rock-solid 93 percent Tomatometer and a very hard place: the outliers of the Best Picture 10.
Sure, James Franco will likely nab a Best Actor nomination for his solo performance as Aron Ralston, the real-life extreme hiker whose effervescent spirit gives 127 Hours that key separation from its horror movie set-up. And a recent Producer Guild nomination has buoyed flagging hopes that the $18 million picture might hang on to one of the last few Best Picture slots after all. But how realistically can Boyle and Co. expect to bounce back as the Oscar race comes into the home stretch? Movieline polled some of its favorite pundits to see if 127 Hours still has a shot.
A lack of awards-season wins has pushed 127 Hours out of the hive mind as other films (okay, just The Social Network) keep racking up the kudos. How much momentum has the film really lost as it slips lower in the polls?
Sasha Stone, Awards Daily: "The Oscar race is a funny thing -- films that seem like they can't be stopped suddenly lose momentum. This usually happens not because of polls so much -- as in, not because pundits stop predicting it -- but because it doesn't win an adequate enough amount of early awards to stay in the race in a significant way. Fox Searchlight has 127 Hours and Black Swan. Neither have been doing particularly well in the early awards race, but Black Swan has buzz and heat and multiple nominations from major industry awards. It kind of took the heat away from 127 Hours, which had it in spades before Black Swan came along. Neither film is an easy sit or an easy sell, but the Oscar race for Best Picture is often about the director. Danny Boyle has had his place in the sun already with Slumdog Millionaire. Now, it's time for other directors to take the spotlight -- and this year, those are David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky and David O. Russell."
Scott Feinberg, ScottFeinberg.com: "I'm not sure that it has lost momentum. Even if it's no longer the hot topic of discussion, it still has a core base of loyal supporters, and that's really all that it will need in order to score a Best Picture Oscar nod. Yes, it's true that a number of people inside and outside of the Academy have refused to see it at all, but almost all of those who have seen it with whom I have spoken tell me that it will be among the highest-listed films on their nomination ballot. That is crucial because the ballots are weighted, so a small number of #1 or #2 votes (which reflect enthusiastic and passionate support) can easily outweigh a large number of #9 or #10 votes (which reflect dispassionate respect). This is why I still think that 127 Hours stands a better shot of making it into the final 10 than does a film like Winter's Bone."
Steve Pond, The Wrap: "It's certainly lost some momentum, but I think it's still very much a contender for a Best Picture nomination. Remember, it got lots of support from the guilds prior to the DGA, and the fact that it's not in their Top 5 doesn't mean that it wouldn't have fit comfortably in their (and the Academy's) Top 10."
So maybe all isn't quite lost for 127 Hours, which has the force of recent Oscar-anointed principals and Fox Searchlight's crack campaigning team behind it.
Stone: "They've got Franco, they will have adapted screenplay, cinematography, maybe editing, maybe score. 127 Hours will also get a Best Picture nomination, I figure. There isn't much they can do that they aren't already doing -- Fox Searchlight has one of the very best Oscar promotion machines around. Apparently many people just don't want to watch the movie because it is too much of a bummer."
Feinberg: "In addition to Franco (who is a lock) and Best Picture (which is likely given the fact that there are now 10 slots), I think it's very likely that it will score a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination (for Danny Boyle and the category's 2008 winner, Simon Beaufoy), and quite likely that it will also register nods for art direction (the cave where most of the movie was shot was actually built on a soundstage, hence the recent ADG nod), cinematography (Enrique Chediak and 2008 winner Anthony Dod Mantle handles the epic and the intimate equally magnificently), film editing, original song, and one or both of the sound categories."
Pond: "I don't think it ever left the Best Picture race. It may not be the slam dunk that we once thought it was, but it's definitely battling for one of those slots. And while Danny Boyle is definitely a Best Director long shot, I don't think he's completely out of the picture either."
Stone: "I also think that Franco choosing to become an Oscar host deflated it ever-so-slightly. It seems a trivial thing to do after spending 127 hours in a cave and breaking, then sawing off your arm with a dull knife to survive. Sobriety is necessary. Would it have made that big of a difference? Probably not. That's just the way it goes sometimes -- some films stay afloat, others fall away. It's the nature of the beast. It doesn't mean anything in terms of which films are going to last."
How much did reports of audience members fainting at screenings help or hurt the film? Some Academy voters' reported reluctance to endure the film's big bone-sawing moment (despite Grandma Franco's Christmas pep talk/video challenge) means 127 Hours could end up under-seen and under-voted.
Stone: "That's a hard one to answer. I personally think you're kind of a baby if you think anything on screen will be THAT difficult to watch: it is fake after all. I honestly don't think it's the cutting off of the arm so much but the being trapped in a cave and having it star just one main character through it all -- like Castaway or Into the Wild -- not exactly anyone's idea of a good time."
Feinberg: "I think that it probably turned on as many people as it turned off -- Hitchcock got a big bounce out of stationing nurses outside of some theaters that were showing Psycho for this very reason."
Pond: "The faintings hurt the film. The biggest problem that I see comes with getting people to see the movie. I've talked to quite a few Academy members who are reluctant to watch it because of all those stories about the faintings. The people who see it generally admire it, and we've seen with the other guilds that they vote for it. But if too many people are scared to see the movie, it'll be in big trouble."
How could the 127 Hours train get back on track? If the studio's got any more tricks up its sleeve not involving puke in the aisles, now's the time to step it up.
Stone: "I really think they're doing all they can. Other movies came along that stole its thunder. It is the rare film that can withstand the gauntlet of what's coming next."
Feinberg: "Over the last decade, no studio has more consistently demonstrated that it knows how to play the awards game than Fox Searchlight, which has taken unconventional little indies that are tough sells -- among them Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Slumdog Millionaire, and Crazy Heart -- and made them big players at the Oscars. I expect no less this year with either Black Swan (which is essentially a genre film) or 127 Hours."
Pond: "Honestly, I don't know what else they can do at this point. Boyle is a very charming advocate for the film, but he's in London directing a play and can't be working the town. And while they tried to turn the faintings into a marketing gimmick, I'm not sure that Academy members are the type to respond to stuff that basically boiled down to, 'Are you tough enough to sit through this movie?'
"I think that if voters watch the movie, it'll be fine. (And since Franco is pretty much a lock for a nomination, that indicates to me that at least the huge actors' branch will be watching it.) But if too many voters don't want to watch it -- and this might have been unavoidable from the moment Boyle made it -- then there's nothing anybody can do to give it momentum at this late date.
You can send a horse a screener but you can't make him watch."
Fox Searchlight could not be reached for comment before publishing, but guys? We have a suggestion: Bring Grandma Franco out for Academy voter home visits! Nothing says "Watch this movie" like a nice old lady calling you out in the flesh.