July 19, 2010 / 5:24 AM / 9 years ago

Oscar speculation underway for "Inception"

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Can “Inception” safely dream of Oscar glory?

Cast member Leonardo DiCaprio poses with co-stars Marion Cotillard (R) and Ellen Page at the premiere of "Inception" at the Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California July 13, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

That’s one conundrum that will linger long after average moviegoers have stopped debating the ambiguities of Christopher Nolan’s twisty new thrill ride into the subconscious.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to reward Nolan’s most recent movie, mega-grossing “The Dark Knight,” with a best picture nomination, though it collected eight other nominations. And though the producers, directors and writers guilds all nominated Nolan for that movie, the Academy didn’t. To date, Nolan has earned only one Oscar nomination, for his original screenplay for “Memento.”

The resulting outcry from “Knight’s” fans was so loud it influenced the decision last year to double the field to 10 nominees, with the Academy’s then-president Sid Ganis acknowledging, “I would not be telling you the truth if I said the words ‘Dark Knight’ did not come up.”

An “Inception” best picture nomination would be some compensation for the slight to “Knight,” but with nominations still six months away, “Inception’s” best picture prospects are a long way from a sure thing.

The Warner Bros. release cleared the first hurdle this weekend when it opened to a solid $60.4 million in North America. Oscar nominees don’t have to be box office blockbusters, but if Nolan’s fan base hadn’t shown up en masse, that would have damaged the movie’s chances.

Reviews have not been as ecstatic as those that greeted “Knight,” which scored an 82 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. As of Sunday, “Inception” was rated 76. The movie did get a key endorsement from hometown reviewer Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times who praised it for “expertly blending the best of traditional and modern filmmaking. If you’re searching for smart and nervy popular entertainment, this is what it looks like.”

But Leah Rozen, writing at theWrap.com, offered a caveat, saying the movie “proves more engaging to the mind and eyes than to the heart.” That could prove a potential stumbling block for Academy members, who vote as much with their hearts as with their heads.

Such other visionary movies as “2001,” “Blade Runner” and “The Matrix” all failed to earn best picture nominations, though they picked up nominations in other categories. On the other hand, it might be a good omen that Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound,” his 1945 plunge into Freudian dream analysis and Dali-esque surrealism, earned best picture and director nominations. Also like “Knight,” “Inception” should prove competitive in a wide range of categories, and, with 10 slots to fill, that would help push it into best picture contention.

Its chances in the acting categories — where “Knight” brought the late Heath Ledger a best supporting actor trophy — are the most problematic. The “Inception” cast boasts impressive credentials: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe are all previous nominees, and Michael Caine and Marion Cotillard are past winners. But, here, the actors are all working in service of the Rubik’s Cube plot, which rarely stops long enough to give them the sort of all-out dramatic scenes the Academy favors. And though DiCaprio could make a credible Oscar bid, he also could lose some votes to his companion performance this year as another man playing mind games in Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island.”

The rest of the key crew — several of whom also were nominated for “Knight” — all have to be considered contenders. Two-time Oscar winner Hans Zimmer performed the movie’s relentlessly driving score at the “Inception” premiere last week in Los Angeles, which could be the overture to a successful Oscar run. (Good omen No. 2: Miklos Rozsa’s classic score for “Spellbound” was an Oscar winner in its day.)

By cutting among three simultaneous dreams, film editor Lee Smith’s work harkens to the granddaddy of bravura editing, D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance.” Even New York magazine critic David Edelstein, who found a lot to criticize in the film, said of Smith, “He’s all but sewn up this year’s editing Oscar.”

Now, it’s all a question of how the industry responds over the coming weeks and months. First reactions, which trickled in over the weekend, were for the most part upbeat. “I saw Inception last night & had a good time, but must admit it’s a bit trite & stilted. Still though, leagues above most drivel,” producer Ted Hope wrote to his Twitter followers.

In another tweet, director Edgar Wright, whose “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” hits theaters next month, joked, “Amazing stuff. May have fallen asleep, but really who could tell?”

And “Lost” executive producer David Lindelof, no stranger to mind-bending puzzlers, exclaimed, “I wish that someone would break into my dreams and give me an idea HALF as good as INCEPTION.”

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