Thursday, December 17, 2015

Is "The Force Awakens" a Serious Best Picture Contender?

I don't have to tell you what today is. By now everyone is fully aware that tonight marks the first public showings of J.J. Abrams' beyond anticipated release, The Force Awakens. And while everything seems to be perfect for Disney's recently acquired sci-fi universe, critical adoration has been robust and public hype is astronomical, one question still hovers around the film. Is The Force Awakens a legitimate Best Picture contender for the Oscars? In order to fully wrap our heads around this fair, albeit unpredictable, question, we must consider many criteria both past and present.

Let me be frank, no science fiction film has ever won a Best Picture statue from the Academy Awards. That means J.J. Abrams and company are pitted against some serious odds. Now, that doesn't mean the latest adaptation of George Lucas' groundbreaking creation can't weasel its way into the final dance. In fact, if The Force Awakens is as triumphant and comparable to the original trilogy as many critics have suggested, then perhaps it has a real chance at a Best Picture nomination and, dare I say, more.

After the 1977 release of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, the epic feature went on to capture a robust 10 nominations from the Academy, 6 of which it won. Although Lucas' film cleaned up in the technical categories, as well as John Williams' symbolic score, A New Hope also earned recognition for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actor. Those are some major accolades and, even more noteworthy, a level of respect unmatched by any other sci-fi film to date (although James Cameron's Avatar came awfully close with 9 nominations and 3 wins).

It's also important to recognize that A New Hope wasn't the only Oscar darling from the franchise's original trio of installments. Although each of their subsequent nominations either pertained to technical aspects of the film or John Williams' score, The Empire Strikes Back was victorious with one of its three nominations and Return of the Jedi went home empty handed in all of its four inclusions. Therefore, a look at history would suggest that if The Force Awakens is as good as the general critical consensus claims, then J.J. Abrams' work could very well stand as a viable Oscar contender.

After catching up on the history of Star Wars, now it's essential to place the franchise's latest effort in the context of this year's Oscar race. Following Disney's lavish red carpet premiere on Monday that spared no expense, it was reported by Deadline's Pete Hammond that, not only will Disney make a viable Oscar push for its long-awaited release, but The Force Awakens is also screening for Academy members at their prestigious Goldwyn Theatre not once, but twice! Typically, the voting body attempts to illustrate complete transparency and fairness by simply giving all other films one chance to screen for members. This will be the standard protocol for other weekend Oscar hopefuls scheduled to screen, such as The Revenant and Anomalisa, however this extra opportunity could prove to be very advantageous for The Force Awakens' Oscar prospects.

It's no secret that the Academy Awards grasps for ratings at their annual event and a reunion with the Star Wars saga would clearly draw a massive number of fanboys to their program. Furthermore, 2015 has been a decent cinematic year but no film has separated itself from the pack as a formidable Best Picture frontrunner. With The Force Awakens opening this weekend, we'll all see if it's as good as advertised. And if it is, then perhaps the stars have aligned for history to be made at February's Academy Awards.

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