Will 'The Impossible' Make Oscar Possible For Naomi Watts?

The Impossible Oscar

Here’s a shout-out for Naomi Watts, and I am afraid she'll need it.  She's the sole Oscar nominee from director J.A. Bayona’s  The Impossible, and that means she has a real uphill climb for a win.  Watts is up against four other nominees in the Best Actress category — Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) and 9-year old Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts Of The Southern Wild) — whose movies have the additional momentum of a Best Picture nomination. It's a huge disadvantage now that the Academy at large is voting, not just the actors branch.

Although a big hit in Bayona’s native Spain, The Impossible  — which tells the story of a family fighting to survive the catastrophic Thailand tsunami of 2004 — underperformed in its U.S.  run. The movie's mid-December opening, which took place the same week that Academy balloting began, didn't help its Oscar chances either.  That Watts made the Best Actress short list at all is a testament to her gritty, visceral performance, which she has described as the most physically challenging movie of her career.

And she'd have a real shot at a statuette if Academy members actually took the time to watch the movie. (Voting begins Feb. 8 and ends Feb. 19.)

The one advantage Watts does have over her fellow nominees is that she is playing a real life person: Maria Belon, a Spanish wife and mother who lived to tell the tale and has enthusiastically endorsed Watts' performance at various events this season.  Chastain's character, Maya, is also said to be based on an actual CIA operative, but the actress claims to have never met the woman who inspired her Zero Dark Thirty role. 

Although the Thailand tsunami took more than 200,000 lives, The Impossible is not about dying. Bayona and his screenwriter Sergio Sanchez have crafted a powerful, harrowing film about living and, more importantly, family.

Particularly during its grueling first half,  The Impossible is, at times, almost unbearable to watch as the injured and frightened Maria (Watts) and her older son Lucas  (Tom Holland) attempt to find what's left of civilization after being swept away and nearly killed by the tsunami. Gravely injured, Maria clings to life while her son leads them on, looking for medical attention and holding out hope that his father Henry (Ewan McGregor) and two younger brothers, who were separated from them by the cataclysmic event, are still alive. Once the pair finally make it to a makeshift hospital, Maria is not given much hope to survive, and Watt's plays these scenes brilliantly, acting largely with her eyes.

Meanwhile, Henry and his two other sons are desperately seeking to determine if  Maria and Lucas are okay, and in one devastating scene that will resonate with any father, McGregor breaks down during a phone call home, no longer able to bear the emotional toll of what has happened to his family.  It’s a sterling moment for McGregor, who should have joined Watts on the Oscar honor roll this year. He has never been more effective on screen as he is in those moments (surrounded, by the way, by many of the actual survivors of the 2004 Tsunami who were cast as extras).

For those who know the true story of Maria, the decision to change the nationality of her and her family may seem jarring at first, but quickly becomes inconsequential  thanks to the performances of Watts and McGregor in roles that would test the mettle of the best actors.

As for the tsunami itself, it has been exquisitely re-created the old fashioned way using a water tank and models. Although it comprises only a few minutes of the film — in the beginning and in brief flashbacks near the conclusion — it is stunningly realistic and a chilling reminder of how fragile life can be. Bayona understands that the best way to accomplish this is not through special effects but through the extraordinary performances of his actors. The Impossible is impossible to shake off, and Academy members should not miss Watts' incredible performance in this movie.

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  • Andrew K says:

    Unfortunately, everyone seems to be in love with Jennifer Lawrence these days... I don't get it. Much better than her peers, but she still has a long way to go. Why she gets love for SLB is beyond me - and the same could be said for de Niro and Weaver (who really didn't have much to do beyond saying in a caricature accent, "I made cheese snacks and homemades!") - they all paled in comparison to Bradley Cooper, the only deserving player in that highly overrated film.

    Chastain was great, as usual, but it wasn't exactly a "Best Actressr" type of role. Riva and Wallis are the oldest and youngest nominees, respectively - the Academy usually treats milestones like that as awards in and of themselves, so that's probably out of the question.

    I haven't seen The Impossible, so I can't speak to this... and from the sounds of it, that's basically the story of the movie - who saw it? Sadly, looks like Jennifer Lawrence has it locked down...

    • SallyinChicago says:

      I agree with you about JenLaw....I walked out of two of her previous movies....I think she has a long way to go. I'm rooting for the youngest, because I think it would a helluva moment at the Academies and honestly, QWallis reminds me so much of Shirley Temple at her age. Instinctive acting.

  • Chris says:

    No oscar this year, but it is a nice one-two punch for when she plays Princess Di next year. That might be here time to shine.

  • Neil says:

    Watts is good at the screaming and moaning, but that doesn't change the fact that the film takes a huge disaster and focuses on five slightly annoying tourists: the entire population of a devastated country are treated like an afterthought in order to follow that family's arc, down to them getting their own jet to fly home on at the end.

    I don't deny the trauma of the Belon family's experience, nor the miracle of their reunion, but I could take or leave their fictional British counterparts. Though the production values are excellent and the direction sound, the script for The Impossible boils the whole thing down to a premise found in any number of TV movies, with characters to match.

  • Aria says:

    I haven't seen The Impossible, so I'm probably not the best person to comment on this, but it seems like the race this year is between Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence. During awards season, it's usually like this. The push for this year seems especially geared toward Jennifer Lawrence. Having seen Silver Linings Playbook, I don't see why not. I thought she was fantastic in the movie. However, I will have to say that out of the entire cast, Bradley Cooper is the standout in the movie.

  • Heartfelt thanks, Mr. Hammond, for your praise for the extraordinary "The Impossible" and for the truly amazing performances by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. Apparently I am one of the few people who actually saw this movie, and I am astounded that it has been completely overlooked by the myriad of awards citations (with the sole exception of Ms. Watts, whose chance of winning the Best Actress Academy Award, though well-deserved, seems hopeless). And, yes, while I've always found Ewan McGregor a likeable and pleasant screen presence, his performance as the father, particularly in the heartrending scene where he calls home, is one of the finest acting jobs I've seen in years. Frankly, I expected "The Impossible" to sweep the year-end awards, and the fact that most critics (though not all) dismissed it, and moviegoers avoided it, is more than depressing. Moviegoers and critics are continually complaining about the abysmal quality of the films Hollywood is unleashing on us nowadays, but when an astounding movie like "The Impossible" comes along and is snubbed by both, I can only come to the sad conclusion that we are getting exactly the type of movie we deserve. One more thing, Mr. Hammond. You are the only critic I have read who mentioned that the scene where Mr. McGregor breaks down while trying to make a phone call home is "a devastating scene that will resonate with any father." I felt exactly the same way and, despite the fact that a superb actor is supposed to be capable of conveying any emotions, I couldn't help but feel that Mr. McGregor and Ms. Watts simply HAD to be parents in real life in order to convey their parental emotions so effectively. So I looked up both actors on the IMDB database and, indeed, they both have children. My sincerist gratitude to you, Mr. Hammond, for conveying so eloquently my feelings about this extraordinary film. I hope it's not too late for readers of your column to take your advice and make an effort to seek out one of the richest movies within recent memory that I wouldn't hesitate to call "perfection".

  • Rodrigo Bertotti says:

    Naomi Watts gave the best female performace of the year in The Impossible,is a wonderful,real tour de force.She is much more better than Jennifer,Jessica or even Emanuelle Riva. Naomi really deserves to win,her performace is strong in some scenes and very subtle in others.I hope she wins.

  • Aamer says:

    Naomi Watts deserves the Oscar this year by far than any other actress in the nomination with Mrs.Riva coming in a close 2nd. I feel that Jennifers performance wasnt too difficult to perform but I feel completly different with Naomi's, whose performance is amazing! I also with Tom Holland who plays Lucas in the movie wouldve gotten more recognition for his outstanding role in the movie as well

  • Naomi Watts really deserves to win the oscar in the best actress category. her performance was so natural and she succeeded to convey the pain that Maria Belon went through. she is simply outstanding.
    The Impossible is what we call a quality film. I watched it three times. Tom Holland has a great future in the film industry.

  • kingff88 says:

    Even Maria Belon herself said Naomi Watts' portrayal is the most accurate & breathtaking during casting , what else more can i add for Naomi's fantastic performance?