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Unbroken Screens as the Last Gasp of Awards Season Awaits Major Critics

Nothing has won anything major yet. The Imitation Game won the top People’s Choice award in Toronto, which is a good thing. Way too many people were predicting Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken to win Best Picture, which will likely go down in awards history as one of those years where expectations were so impossibly high the film couldn’t possibly live up to them. But no pundit will take the blame for this, nor will they change their practices next year when a Big Oscar Movie on paper lands in their number one spot. I think it’s easy to predict a nominee that way, just not a winner. Never a winner. A winner happens organically. It is seen, then it wins. There are very few ideas so big they can trump a movie being seen.

There are so many of us clucking about, pretending to be experts, giving advice, predictions — making broad statements, dismissing films we shouldn’t. It seems like the number of people covering this race, which doesn’t have much of a story to it this year, has tripled since last year. It is an industry onto itself and half of the time I’ve forgotten what any of it means.

The simple of fact of it is, nobody knows squat, my friends. We think we know but we don’t. One movie could win a major award and the whole thing could be turned around. One movie could seem like it has everything it needs to get in — like Inside Llewyn Davis — and not get in. American Hustle can seem like a big sloppy mess of a movie and it can top the critics awards on the march to Oscar. In truth, the Oscar race starts tomorrow. Before that, dear friends, it’s just a lot of hot air in a dry desert.

Finally, Unbroken screened for audiences. It is by no means a bad film. Jolie shows promise as a director — she’s getting there. She’s not quite great yet, nor should she be expected to be. She seems drawn towards stories of suffering and Unbroken is no exception. Where other actors turned directors usually deal with feel-good material or else very solid stories, Jolie is dealing with telling the true life story of someone she came to love and admire. Her respect, admiration, and yes, love for Louis Zamperini shines through the film. It is a heartfelt dedication to a truly exceptional man. Does that make it a good movie? It has its moments. It is tough to sit through, meaning, it doesn’t let up. It’s one awful scene after another because it’s depicting Zamperini’s life, which was a whole lot of faith-testing suffering. To that end, it is not unlike Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. There are God references throughout Unbroken, which makes me think it is going to play well with the faithful.

In terms of Oscar – well, who knows. Look, Munich got in for Picture and Director and it had about as much hype as Unbroken had. Its momentum kept it in the race. Can Unbroken make the top five ballots of enough Academy members to get in? Right now, that isn’t a question that can be answered. There are too many variables. We don’t yet know where any of these films are going to land. We have our guesses. Most people think I’m nuts to see Gone Girl as a solid entry but how could anyone not see it that way with the kinds of films that have been opening? Gone Girl is one of the few entertaining movies in the whole lineup, one that isn’t depressing or hard to sit through. It’s creepy fun. But I could turn out to be wrong and you can all throw pies in my face and tell me how much you told me so. Another year, another dumb Oscar game.

I see it placed this way in the Best Picture race:

Boyhood
Selma
Birdman
Imitation Game
Gone Girl
Theory of Everything
Foxcatcher
Whiplash
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Next tier:
Unbroken
Interstellar
The Grand Budapest Hotel
A Most Violent Year
Wild
The Homesman

So I see it with potential but it’s not a slam dunk. If the critics praise it to high heavens that changes the perception. If it wins a major critics award, that changes perception. The Oscar race is fluid, not static. It is not determined by we who write about it. It is determined by industry voters, a giant consensus that picks and chooses.

Best Director has to be carefully considered this year because I think, with such a wide open year, you could be looking at two vastly different director lineups from the DGA to the Academy.

DGA might go:
Linklater
Inarritu
Fincher
Miller
Tyldum or Marsh

Academy might go:
Linklater
Inarritu
Miller
Chazelle
Leigh

You just never know. Good thing we have a whole bunch of awards coming up that will help guide us into the right hole. Right now, we’re just stabbing at things that look like holes. That’s too big to be a space station!

If Unbroken has one problem it’s the score. It just kept telling us what we were supposed to feel. I think it would have been better served with less of an obvious/sentimental score. But that’s just me. Let’s wait to hear what the critics say.

Last thing, it would be nice if this moment was the moment Oscar bloggers stopped putting movies at the top of their list based on what they look like on paper. But you know that ain’t happening any time soon.