Is 'The Book Thief' Another WWII Drama Oscar Voters Cannot Resist?

November 10, 2013

The Book Thief

As I mentioned when talking about the now delayed film The Monuments Men, one surefire way to get Academy members to notice your film is to center it around World War II. Oscar voters have a penchant to pay more attention when the antagonist of your movie happens to be Nazis. Even when you're not considered to be an absolutely amazing film (cough, The Reader, cough), being a World War II flick is a real trump card. Opening this weekend in limited release is the latest movie of this ilk, The Book Thief, and my response is a resounding shrug of the shoulders. The movie is fair, but nothing special and not too deserving of Oscar attention. Still, it's got Nazis, so a bit of attention must be paid, at least in some way.

Frankly, I never quite expected this one to be a major player. I know I've said that a few times about other Oscar non-starters, but this one isn't quite a no go, so it's a different story. The Book Thief is angling to be this year's version of The Reader, or more aptly, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (two of the worst reviewed Best Picture nominees of the modern era). That is to say, it has aspirations of rising above middling critical word of mouth and appealing directly to the hearts and tear ducts of Academy members. Quality wise, this tale of a little girl surviving the horrors of WWII isn't up to snuff in my eyes, but in terms of convincing enough weepy Oscar voters to give it a Best Picture nod, that's not an impossibility.

I don't want to make it out like Brian Percival's film is terrible. I think it's average and contains a great John Williams score as well as a solid lead turn from young up and comer Sophie Nelisse as well as a nice supporting performance by the always reliable Geoffrey Rush. Those are the highlights, but the good doesn't quite outweigh the bad, with Percival's direction missing a strong sense of pacing, the script by Michael Petroni lacking the narrative thrust to keep you interested, and some odd decisions holding you at arm's length. It's not a flick I'd recommend, so if it weren't for the subject matter, I'd say cross it off your predictions entirely. The subject matter counts for something though, so that can't be done.

The Book THief

Currently, the movie sits at a middling 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, just shy of what would move it from a rotten ranking to a fresh one. Keep in mind though, this is only with a shade over 30 reviews to cull from since it's only first beginning its theatrical run. Perhaps a strong showing of support from the heartland will propel this contender, much like a lagging contender in a presidential primary. By that comparison, look at The Book Thief currently as a Oscar hopeful version of the also ran who knows they can't compete with the big boys in New York and Los Angeles, so they focus in on winning middle America. Percival's film would do well to follow this lead.

If it suddenly does manage to break out and become a big time player, where could it show up? Well, the pie in the sky hopes for it would have it scoring nominations in Best Picture, Best Director for Percival, Best Actress for Nelisse, Best Supporting Actor for Rush, Best Supporting Actress for Emily Watson, Best Adapted Screenplay for Petroni, and various technical categories, with special attention paid to Williams in Best Original Score. Those are the fantasy nods, while reality rests likely with a long shot Best Picture campaign and a decently likely chance that a nom is scored in Best Original Score.

One thing that definitely works in the favor of The Book Thief is the delay of The Monuments Men to next year. It can compete pretty much uncontested for the WWII vote, if you will. Sometimes it seems like certain members of the Academy will embrace anything in that setting. Well, this film will pretty thoroughly test that theory, one way or the other.

Currently, I only have The Book Thief getting a nomination in Original Score for Williams, but it's possible that I'm underestimating it. I doubt it, and the fact that reviews were more or less embargoed until opening day didn't help any, but there's certainly a chance that this flick will do better than I'm expecting. It won't be the most popular contender in the race, but it does have that secret ingredient that the Academy loves, so at the very least, keep it in mind as the season progresses.

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  • Holocaust movies are like Zombie movies, a genre unto themselves. I imagine more holocaust movies have won more oscars than zombie films. Why does Hollywood need to keep making these films? Is it because the Nazi's are such good bad guys?
    • John M
      I do agree with you about the seeming abundance of Holocaust movies. But just like any other sub-genre (including zombie flicks), each film within that genre can have its own specific identity. Perhaps "The Book Thief" was made because the filmmakers/writers thought that it was a story worth telling.
      • Joey Magidson
        One hopes...
    • Bl00dwerK
      So I can save money by not going to the cinema, I guess...
      • Joey Magidson
        Fair enough.
    • Joey Magidson
      That has something to do with it, I think...
      • Sort of the ultimate evil character. Modern day evil is so grey.
        • Joey Magidson
          It's an evil that the Academy is quite comfortable hating, yes...
  • Jess
    They do seem to love their WW2 movies, don't they?
    • Joey Magidson
      That they do.
  • Rocky
    I am sad to read this review because the book was PHENOMENAL!
    • Joey Magidson
      I've heard almost universally good things about the book, but certain aspects of it (like Death narrating, for example) just don't translate well...
      • Rocky
        Agreed! I was surprised when I heard that it was made into a movie and immediately wondered how they would narrate the film. Perhaps that is what made the book so intriguing, and I guess time will tell if the director was able to pull it off as well.
        • Joey Magidson
          I saw it a few weeks ago, and he didn't...
          • Alex
            C'mon it wasnt that bad. I saw it last night and actually got the chance to meet Rush after the screening, there was a question and answer session and the way he described the film and the way he talked about the cast and Brian was just incredible. And you have to give the young girl a standing ovation. What a great job she did and also the young boy. Overall I liked the movie, a litte slow at some points but the story was incredible.
          • Joey Magidson
            I didn't say it was bad, just nothing too special to me...
  • Alex Williams
    20 bucks says there's no more then 2 noms.
    • Everyone knows noms come in three's. Nom Nom Nom.
      • Alex Williams
        Good point. 3 Noms.
        • Joey Magidson
          I'd be shocked though, unless the precursors show me something...
      • Joey Magidson
        Well played.
    • Joey Magidson
      I think two is even stretching it, honestly.
  • mylesedwardhughes
    The buzz on this one is pretty weak for this point in the season. Unless it has a surge of popularity during the precursors, I can't imagine it being remembered amidst the healthy offering of serious contenders.
    • Joey Magidson
      Most likely...
  • It really deserves a film Osca election. The film speaks of the meaning of pointless war that the Nazis created. It really is a great movie that I've ever seen
    • Alex Williams
      almost a complete thought...but point taken.
      • Joey Magidson
    • Joey Magidson
      Can't say I agree about its quality, but duly noted...
  • Daemon
    The Academy also love movies about slavery and racism.
  • Linsha
    This was an AMAZING Movie!The reviews totally missed the boat. It was one of my all time favorite movies. I even watched it 3 times (So far)! How could Sophie not get a best actor nomination? Reminiscent of biggest snub of all times...Leonardo DiCaprio not getting a nomination for the Titanic!!




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