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Can “50/50” Beat the Odds for Best Picture?

October 3, 2011

By John C.

Anna Kendrick & Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50

When we reviewed 50/50 this past Friday, we were all deeply moved by the film and widely considered it one of the best of the year.  After a rousing premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival where it received a thunderous standing ovation, the film has been praised by both critics and audiences alike.

For a film like this that is released at the start of the fall movie season, an Oscar nomination would logically be in the mix.  But the awards chances of 50/50 are something that have been of much debate or discussion, and unfortunately a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars does not seem guaranteed at the moment.

I don’t say this to be cynical or negative, because I sincerely hope that the film does beat the odds for serious awards recognition.  Right off the bat, I would give 50/50 nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Levine), Best Original Screenplay (Will Reiser) and Best Original Score (Michael Giacchino).  In terms of performances, Joseph Gordon-Levitt would get serious Best Actor recognition for his beautifully understated work, Seth Rogen would be in the mix for his excellent supporting performance and a Best Supporting Actress nomination would be guaranteed for the wonderful Anna Kendrick.  But I don’t have a say in who gets the Oscar nominations, so I just have to keep my fingers crossed that voting members of the Academy agree with me in at least some of these categories.

There can be a minimum of five and a maximum of ten nominees for Best Picture.  The top five with the highest number of first place votes from Academy members are guaranteed a nomination.  To round out the rest of the field between six and ten, a film has to receive at least five percent of number one votes.  But if it receives less than one percent of the first place votes, then it is officially out of the running.  This means that in the first round of voting, five percent of the numerous Academy members have to put 50/50 at the number one choice on their ballot.  If it can reach that magic number, then the film has a very good chance of pulling off a much deserved nomination.

The downfall of the film’s Oscar chances will come from the fact that the majority of Academy members are older and tend to stray for more traditional choices.  Even though 50/50 is perhaps the most profoundly moving film of the year and is centred around a very serious issue, it still has moments of hilarious comedy involving the medicinal use of drugs and picking up women.  Will Resier’s wonderful semi-autobiographical screenplay will likely be recognized with at least a nomination, but could get serious competition from Woody Allen’s financially successful Midnight in Paris.  That, and the the fact that 50/50 only came in fourth at the box office over the weekend, pulling in just under $8.9 million.

What 50/50 really needs right now is stellar box office numbers.  If the film can take off in a big way with audiences, then more awards possibilities will immediately start opening up.  The amount of money that it makes at the box office will directly influence how much Summit Entertainment is willing to put behind it in terms of a serious awards campaign.  The film would have benefitted from a more limited release, allowing it to pick up speed through word of mouth in a way comparable to the early figures of Black Swan last December.  The brilliant ballet thriller opened slowly in limited release, before going on to become one of the most successful independent films of all time, picking up several Oscar nominations and a Best Actress statuette for the unforgettable performance of Natalie Portman.

Another one of my dream nominations that I can’t necessarily see playing out is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 getting a Best Picture nomination.  Not only was it a towering achievement and one of the best of the year, but it was also a breathtaking finale to one of the greatest film franchises of all time.  The bigger problem here is that the first seven films in the series were shut out from all but the technical categories.  But what the film has in its favour is over a billion dollars at the box office and Warner Bros. willing to pour millions of that into a serious awards campaign. Such is the case with The Help.  Not only does it have uniformly excellent performances from a great ensemble cast, but it sat atop the box office for enough weeks to allow the Academy to take note.

But it’s still way too early in the game to try and predict what will actually be there when the nominations are announced on January 24th.  Once the “for your consideration” websites start opening up, then we will have a much clearer idea just what kind of push each film is getting from the distributor.  For me, 50/50 is one of those truly special films that deserves all of the praise it has received.  I would like to think that it has what it takes to go all the way next February 26th, and pick up the Academy Award for Best Picture.  But nothing seems guaranteed at the moment, so fingers crossed that it will at least be recognized in several of the major categories come Oscar time.  It deserves it every step of the way.

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