Clooney's 'The Monuments Men': Will The Academy Be Able to Resist?
by Joey Magidson
September 29, 2013
There are certain things that Academy voters tend to love year in and year out. Chief among them are World War II-set films. They also are fond of when their well-liked actors step behind the camera. The Academy certainly proved as much in the case of actor/director George Clooney when they fully embraced his sophomore directorial effort Good Night, and Good Luck. Since then, he's had a mixed bag of luck awards wise with his projects (though his 2011 film The Ides of March did score an unexpected Best Adapted Screenplay nod), but his new movie The Monuments Men appears to be his most Oscar friendly flick yet.
What is The Monuments Men about? It tells the story of a race against time that a crew of art historians and museum curators united for in order to recover renowned works of art stolen and hidden by the Nazis before Hitler destroys them all. George Clooney is directing, co-starring, producing and co-writing with his frequent partner Grant Heslov. The cast besides Clooney includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, and recent Best Picture good luck charm John Goodman. As you can no doubt see, the man has no problems wrangling up A-list talent for his movies.
Despite a plot that screams "give us all the Oscars", the film isn't predicted to win much of anything, though the more prudent pundits are still predicting assorted noms for it. Why the lack of love? Mainly it has to do with the trailer, which didn't thrill most. It seemed unsure if it was an action adventure or a comedy, or even a light drama. Tonal inconsistency can be an issue with a film like this. The Academy likes their heavy material handled respectively, though in this case it could actually be a welcome breath of fresh air when compared to presumptive frontrunner 12 Years a Slave and its bleak tone.
Assuming the quality or at the very least the Oscar appeal is there, I think this could very well be the film that contends to lead in terms of overall nominations. Obviously, its got the potential to compete just about everywhere, including in the technical categories, and that's usually where the films that win the big prize manage to add to their nomination total. Here, clearly Best Picture, Director, Actor (possibly Clooney or Damon if they're good), Actress/Supporting Actress (wherever Blanchett is campaigned), Supporting Actor (whomever doesn't go Lead, along with perhaps Goodman or Murray), Adapted Screenplay, and then techs like Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. Double digit nominations are not out of the question if everything breaks right here.
The more likely outcome here is that the film will really only be contending for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay in the big categories while hoping to catch on in enough techs to give it a respectable nomination total. The pipe dream of a dozen nods is more likely to turn into the reality of hoping for at least three or four in the end, with anything else being a nice surprise that boosts its chances for actual wins. A lot will depend on if the actual reviews for the film and subsequent box office are solid enough to make voters think it's a realistic contender to win. As much as some are dismissing that, remember this: we've had bad trailers for good movies before. This wouldn't be the first awards hopeful to overcome less than terrific early buzz.
Though Clooney's new film is purportedly skipping the fall film festival circuit entirely, it's one of the top contenders that could potentially play at the end of the ongoing New York Film Festival as their annual Secret Screening. That would be a strong show of confidence in the movie and could certainly change the conversation somewhat. So where do I stand on The Monuments Men? I'm of the opinion that it's probably more likely going to be a Best Picture nominee than current flavors of the month like Lee Daniels' The Butler, which could easily fade by the end of the year. I wouldn't count on the film to win a damn thing, but it could wind up with more nominations than you'd expect from it.
If you want a random bit of awards trivia that bodes well for the film, you can look to the presence of the aforementioned John Goodman. The last two Best Picture winners have featured him in supporting turns (The Artist and Argo, for those with short memories), so having him in your cast has been a good luck charm of late. I wouldn't say this means anything serious, but hey… it can't hurt their chances, apparently.
We'll ultimately see what happens with the film between now and the year's end, but don't discount how much this sort of movie can appeal to Oscar voters, especially the older white males that may not be 100% on board with uniformly supporting 12 Years a Slave. It may not be the sexiest contender out there, but Clooney's The Monuments Men is one that you shouldn't turn your back on at all. It's going to be in the thick of the awards race, one way or another. We'll be keeping a close eye on it over these next three months.