'Oldboy' Remake Not Up Oscar's Alley, Will Another Remake Ever Be?
by Joey Magidson
December 1, 2013
Ever since Martin Scorsese's The Departed became the first remake to take home Best Picture in this modern era of remakes littering the cinematic landscape (and actually is the only remake to win that Oscar), folks have discussed if we could see others follow in its footsteps with some degree of regularity. We even saw Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit remake get nominated once the field expanded from five nominees to ten, so it wasn't like this was a one and done sort of thing. In 2012 we saw a new take on the musical Les Miserables from Tom Hooper, which could be considered a remake (and will in this piece). This year...
Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby was thought to be the greatest Oscar hope, but that was a more realistic thought last year, before it got pushed to the summer of 2013. The other film this year posited as a potentially classy/prestige remake (aside from Ben Stiller's remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) was Spike Lee's Oldboy. The original is highly respected and Lee is a filmmaker who the Academy hasn't completely ignored, so I understand why the rumors were there for this one. Of course, then I saw the film, and I can report that it's not an Oscar movie at all. In fact, it's pretty terrible. That got me thinking though... will we ever see another remake win Best Picture?
Truthfully, I'm not sure that we can ever know an answer to a question like this one, but with Oldboy now playing in theaters and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty still coming in just a few more weeks, it felt like something worth addressing. Remakes get a bad reputation, often for good reason, but every couple of years some baity ones come down the pike and compete for the attention of Academy voters. Those are the ones to think about, as opposed to the money grabs.
To some degree, it depends on the film when talking about remakes and their Oscar winning viability. While no one thought the new True Grit would win Best Picture, there was a time early on last year where this new incarnation of Les Miserables was labeled a frontrunner. It ultimately faded and was happy to have been nominated in the big category, but it was there. In the case of The Departed though, it was firmly in the mix from the beginning, but some outlying factors led to its victory.
Honestly, part of the reason that The Departed won was due to it being time in the minds of Oscar voters to reward Scorsese, but I think it also had to do with this being an American version of a foreign film. The Academy doesn't usually look at foreign movies in the same way as domestic ones, so they don't tilt they heads towards a remake like The Departed in the same way they might for "one of their own". This should have been a boon to Oldboy, but then again, that movie is on the terrible side, so it shot itself in the foot.
Yes, Lee's take on the well regarded revenge thriller is currently sitting below 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty much dead on arrival territory for awards recognition. Personally, I hated the flick, but the consensus seems to be that it's mediocre at best, which is the same as bad when in the midst of awards season. Had it been a critical darling, it's possible that a Best Picture campaign could have been launched (along with possibly campaigns for Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen, though their work is hardly deserving), but it seems that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will be the lone remake seriously competing for major Oscar attention this year, give or take The Great Gatsby in certain technical categories.
Stiller's movie has been mostly well liked on the festival circuit, but my rave review here on this site seems to be the exception more than the rule. Had more folks felt like me, it's possible that the film would have been a more serious contender in categories like Best Picture, Best Director for Stiller, Best Actor for Stiller, Best Supporting Actor for Sean Penn, Best Supporting Actress for Kristen Wiig, Best Adapted Screenplay for Steve Conrad, and some various tech nods as well. As it stands now, a tech nom or two seems to be solidly in play, but every other possibility is slowly becoming a longer shot.
In all likelihood, we won't see a remake even crack the Best Picture lineup this year, let alone compete for a win. In terms of my question about if one can ever win the Best Picture Oscar again, I think it'll all depend on what kind of remakes get nominated. Perhaps another highly regarded remake of a foreign film will do it, or maybe the Academy will determine that one of their old classics has been improved upon and bestow the honor on that sort of remake. Time will tell, but honestly, don't hold your breath for it anytime soon.