How 'Diana' & Naomi Watts Went from Oscar Contender to Pretender
by Joey Magidson
November 3, 2013
Much like our recent talk about how Ridley Scott's The Counselor was a trendy, early Academy Award prediction, another one of that ilk was Oliver Hirschbiegel's much hyped biopic Diana, which opened in theaters this weekend. Once presumed to be a Best Actress contender for Naomi Watts as the princess that gives the film its name, the movie is now in theaters with absolutely no buzz or fanfare. It's gone from being thought of as possibly one of the year's top films to an absolute laughingstock. Watts is basically out of the Best Actress race and Razzie awards are probably more likely than Oscars at this point. So what happened?
At the beginning of the season, Diana was spoken of as a huge player, along with the potentially similar Grace of Monaco. Pieces were written about a Di vs. Grace contest for Best Actress, with Watts going up against Nicole Kidman. Then, as the year progressed, other movies caught pundits' attention, but most still hung on to these two contenders (not to toot my own horn, but I stayed far away from both all year…rightly so, it seems). Eventually, Grace of Monaco was pushed to 2014, making Diana appear like the one to bet on, that was until folks across the pond got their hands on it.
Usually, movies that cater to a British audience and their Oscar voting block can do well with the Academy overall, but that needs to start over in the UK with solid reviews. Diana didn't get those at all. That put the film at a huge disadvantage, but once critics here were shown it, things got ugly. Diana currently is at a paltry 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is only two percent higher than the abysmal Grown Ups 2, if you can believe it. Technically, After Earth at 11% is considered a better film. Hard to believe, right? Somehow, after all that early awards speculation, Diana is now likely one of the absolute worst movies of the year.
So how did this happen? Well, it's as simple as the film not being good at all and prognosticators getting caught up in potential while filling out their first sets of predictions. Like I mentioned before, it recently happened with The Counselor and is happening again here. Diana was also somewhat hidden from audiences and not campaigned early on. It skipped a lot of festivals (though not entirely) and never gave off the aura of a true contender. Rarely, that's a diversionary tactic, but more often that's just a sign that something is rotten in Denmark.
What was once mentioned as a Best Picture, Best Director for Hirschbiegel, Best Actress for Watts, Best Adapted Screenplay for Stephen Jeffreys, Best Costume Design, and Best Hair Design & Makeup contender now is an afterthought in just about all of those categories. Being a derided film basically takes you off of the map during the awards season, even in Watts' case, where she's supposedly not bad at all. Folks won't notice it though, because they'll be too busy looking at the flaws elsewhere.
This also goes to show how it's almost impossible for poorly reviewed flicks to make a dent in the Oscar race. We all remember last year how Kidman was talked about briefly as a potential Best Supporting Actress nominee for The Paperboy? As much as that would have been interesting to see come to fruition, disliked cinema just isn't honored by the Academy. Just ask Cameron Diaz now that The Counselor is out of the running, for example. The same could be said Only God Forgives, a film I love, but also know plenty who hate it with a passion, thus Kristin Scott Thomas has no chance at a nomination now. That's just how it goes. Yes, Meryl Streep winning Best Actress for The Iron Lady is a notable exception, but Streep seems to often be an exception to rules (or logic) when it comes to Oscar.
With just under a month now to go until the bigger precursors begun unveiling their awards, this is the absolute worst time to turn out to be a bad film. Non contenders usually try and get out of the way of contenders early, as to at least try and make some money. Now, Diana will have to play alongside true contenders like Dallas Buyers Club (which opened on the same day) and already released players like 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, and Gravity. It just makes a bad situation worse.
In the end, Diana just couldn't cut it as an Oscar contender, so it'll simply go down as yet another awards pretender. We've only got a handful of potential players left to see (and one or two still under embargo, but that will be changing soon), so in a matter of weeks the awards race will crystalize a bit. A lot is still up in the air, but one thing is certain: Diana will not be honored by this royal voting body.