Tom Hooper's adaptation of the tip-top pop opera "Les Miserables" has already racked top nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes voters. How will the academy respond? Time to check in with the Oscar 8-Ball, that magical portal into the minds and hearts and, in the rare applicable instance, the souls of academy members and how they'll be voting this awards season.
It is certain: Since Thanksgiving weekend, "Les Miz" has been screening practically nonstop for guild and academy members, generating ovations and rivers of tears wherever it has played. The mid-December showing at the academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills was typical of the response, with voters breaking into applause on four different occasions and then showering stars Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and director Tom Hooper with a heartfelt huzzahs when they arrived on stage for a post-screening Q&A. Its appeal isn't limited to old-timers or musical-theater lovers, as its music (those melodies!) and themes (Freedom! Family! Redemption! Hearts full of love!) trigger something in viewers' minds that makes them ignore rational thought and endlessly swooping cameras and weird, wide-angle shots and uncomfortably tight close-ups and busy-bee editing, and give in to the feeling of it all. Tricolor flags could be sold in the lobby before screenings, though there'd be a tradeoff because the flag-waving would cut down on the thunderous applause.
Critics have not been kind to "Les Miserables," but, in this case, reviews don't matter. The movie's place in the best picture race is secure, as are nominations for the anguish of Hathaway, Paco Delgado's lavish costume design, Eve Stewart's production design, both sound categories (You may have heard, but just in case ... the actors sang their songs LIVE ON SET!) and for the new song that composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricist Alain Boublil wrote for the film, "Suddenly." (Though if this trifle wins over Adele's "Skyfall," we're going to storm the barricades.) And even though the movie's helter-skelter, higgledy-piggledy editing approach made our heads hurt, it's precisely the kind of showy effort academy voters typically favor.
Signs point to yes: Jackman's chances of securing his first Oscar nomination might boil down to this simple fact: He'd be honored, and "The Master's" Joaquin Phoenix recently told the academy that he doesn't "want this carrot." Plus, Jackman plays the virtuous Jean Valjean, while Phoenix's character seems to generate a palpable ill will from audiences. As always: the 8-Ball does not endorse this thinking, but it's there nonetheless.
Outlook good: The director's race likely comes down to six names -- Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Ben Affleck, David O. Russell, Ang Lee and Tom Hooper -- vying for five spots. Again, critics have found serious fault with Hooper's work, but academy voters may be inclined to reward his ambition in tackling a difficult project.
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