No Awards Hopes for Mike Newell's 'Great Expectations' Adaptation?
by Joey Magidson
November 13, 2013
Much like the latest version of Romeo & Juliet slunk into theaters last month with barely a mention (and was gone just as quick), this past weekend a new incarnation of Great Expectations hit screens, but you'd barely know it (the poor box office only further proves that point). Yes, despite some solid reviews, a highly regarded filmmaker at the helm in Mike Newell, and Oscar nominees like Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes in the cast, virtually no one is aware the movie is coming, which in turn, cripples its awards chances. Why is it getting the same fate as other Oscar non-starters we've discussed like The Counselor and Diana, instead of being in the mix for awards season? There's a reasonable explanation. More below!
Basically, the situation that Great Expectations finds itself in is the same one that countless other films find themselves in as well. Essentially, they're quality works without any of the necessary buzz and traction that can work as fuel for the engine that drives the Oscar train. The awards race takes many shapes, but the one consistent factor in getting a movie nominated by the Academy is that you need buzz. Opening almost in secret is not the way to go about getting that buzz. That's what you do with presumed contenders that are truly pretenders, not works with at least some semblance of a chance at honors.
For me, it almost feels like the adaptation is looking at itself as an early year release, despite playing in November and the height of Oscar season. It's almost frustrating to see, since one can imagine contenders from the first half that would have potentially seen their candidacies boosted by coming out now instead of back then. I'm not saying that Before Midnight, Frances Ha, Mud, The Place Beyond the Pines, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now, or any others of that ilk would have definitely scored nods (though at least one of those likely will, if not more), but I think their chances of a nom or two would have been improved for sure.
The other thing that strikes me is the feeling of unsureness that the film has given off. After playing a few small film festivals last year, it seemed at one point poised for a 2012 release, but that never came to fruition. This year, it skipped the festival season entirely before quietly hitting theaters. It's as if it never adjusted to missing out on being a 2012 contender and was ill equipped to do the same here in 2013.
Though some of you readers aren't fans of the Rotten Tomatoes system, its use for this particular piece is actually essential. For one thing, Great Expectations having a 70% positive rating shows that it's a fairly well-liked film, but also it's indicative of the film's struggles to note that as of its opening weekend there were only 60 reviews in total available for it. On the flip side, non-Oscar contender (not counting specific tech categories) Thor: The Dark World has about triple that (180 or so reviews as of the start of the weekend), so it's clear not everyone on the critical side was even shown the flick. That's just another sign of no expectations for Great Expectations, if you'll pardon the pun.
Had the movie been seen as a viable awards contender, it likely would have been able to compete in a number of categories at the very least. Best Picture, Best Director for Newell, Best Actor for Jeremy Irvine, Best Supporting Actor for Fiennes, Best Supporting Actress for Bonham Carter or Holliday Grainger, Best Adapted Screenplay for David Nicholls, and whatever technical categories it could make hay in. Obviously, some of those would be long shots from the word go, but at least the techs would have been a stronger possibility than they are now. Honestly, with Adapted Screenplay as in flux as it is this year, that's one spot it probably should have begun a targeted campaign in. Alas...
In some ways, it's almost worse to see a film like this suffer as opposed to some of those rather lacking titles that I discussed in previous pieces. This one apparently deserved a better fate, but it won't get one, and that's a shame. In the end, Great Expectations is a film that's going to have to hope for a rediscovery on Blu-Ray/DVD in the coming months and years. The awards race was just apparently always going to be ill suited for it, so maybe this was all for the best? On the bright side, at least it didn't suffer the fate of The Counselor, Diana, or other such overt failures, and that's at least something to be happy about.