How 'Diana' & Naomi Watts Went from Oscar Contender to Pretender

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.

Find more posts: Awards, Editorial



I like that you mentioned Cameron Diaz. I got to see The Counselor last week, and IMO she is a contender for Best Supporting Actress. Very convincing in the role.

Sherlon on Nov 3, 2013


Thanks. I don't think she is due to how poorly received the film was, but if someone was getting recognized from that movie, it'd be her...

Joey Magidson on Nov 3, 2013


This film was never going to get a lot of attention from critics and film goers. Her life was hardly worthy of a big screen adaptation and the majority of the film is just guess work. I dont even think Day-Lewis playing Diana could have generated enough buzz and praise to save this.

Al Apone on Nov 3, 2013


That's certainly possible (and part of why I routinely omitted it from my early predictions), but that didn't seem to stop a lot of my colleagues from predicting it...

Joey Magidson on Nov 3, 2013


Firstshowing, would you PLEASE stop citing Rottentomatoes as proof of anything? RT is a highly over simplistic aggregator site. Aussie crocodile b-horror film "Rogue" currently has a score of "100%". It doesn't give a "general idea" of what critics think. It spews junk data that pleases fools and seems legit, but is statistically flawed. As someone who has actually seen this film, I have to say that I really enjoyed it. Watts performance is quite good, as are all the performances. And the film feels extremely well-rounded and not disjointed like many biopics. It doesn't really feel oscar worthy. I acknowledge that it's only an interpretation of complex events. But by the same token, any highly negative review is an overreaction, pure and simple. The main criticisms that the British seem to have of this film, relate to factual inaccuracies. But surely the whole Diana story is a poison chalice? Can anyone conceive of a Diana biopic pleasing everyone in Britain? - There are so many differing theories and conspiracies about her life - and her death. - There will always be some relative, friend or insider ready to slam any attempted Diana film and say "she wasn't like that" - People have an unrealistic expectation of perfection about famous martyrs. - There seems to be more headline mileage to be gained from savaging any fresh attempt to depict her life. In this way, the press treats any film about Diana in the same way they treated Diana herself.

crystaltowers on Nov 3, 2013


Well, I can only speak for myself, but as long as you pay attention to how many reviews they're using and actually look at the reviews themselves, Rotten Tomatoes is just fine (also, personally I like Rogue). The reviews saw the film too, they didn't just make up the reasons it didn't work for them. That may be so for some of the British reviews, but plenty also just said it was a poorly made movie. Nothing wrong with you liking it though...

Joey Magidson on Nov 3, 2013


The main problem is the bad romance novel script.

cobrazombie on Nov 3, 2013


There's that too...

Joey Magidson on Nov 3, 2013


I haven't seen this yet and it may be horrible I don't know. But I DO know that Watts has given many excellent performances over her short career, that she definitely is entitled to a stinker here and there. It likely isn't her fault, but again, I haven't seen it. All I know is I feel the need to defend her when anyone speaks ill of her.

Chuckee Knowlton on Nov 3, 2013


As I mentioned in the piece, this really isn't her fault, and many of the reviews out there have said the same thing...

Joey Magidson on Nov 3, 2013


Princess Diana. Just a bit poop.

Carpola on Nov 3, 2013


That's essentially what the critical consensus has been...

Joey Magidson on Nov 3, 2013


Not the movie Joey, the real Diana, what a waste of space.

Carpola on Nov 4, 2013


Alright then.

Joey Magidson on Nov 4, 2013


Diana Princess of Wales was such an interesting figure and my main issue was that I think aside from the script, they seemed to focus mainly on her romances rather than her struggle with the public eye as well as her humanitarian efforts and life as a divorced "princess". There were so many more routes that they could of taken on and so many missed opportunities to shed light on what has such an influential woman and what made her so alluring. Instead they chose to put all their energy on her romantic conquests and after awhile it quickly just became bland and repetitive.

kailor on Nov 3, 2013


You're not alone in raising that point...

Joey Magidson on Nov 4, 2013


This is why Awards lists based off of a trailer and a synopsis always make me laugh. Also I saw this coming.

Brian Sleider on Nov 4, 2013


I agree, even though I'm an offender (luckily not in this case). However, I did too see this one coming, so this perhaps was always an easy target...

Joey Magidson on Nov 4, 2013


Frankly, I completely forgot this film existed. You do bring up an interesting point in the grand scheme about acting noms for performances in films that are, shall we see, not loved. For me, it's similar to debates that occur in major sports over potential MVPs on last place teams. Personally, I feel that if an individual performance is good enough to merit an award than that should supersede the rest of the whole. However, I know I'm in the minority there.

Brian on Nov 6, 2013


You're not alone there...

Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013


Hopefully Grace of Monaco does better next year.

Jess on Nov 7, 2013


We shall see...

Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013


This one always seemed lame to me.

Kim on Nov 8, 2013


Duly noted.

Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013

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