With the first footage of Steven Spielberg's War Horse newly arrived, and one has to admit it look massive and impressive in what will surely be a finely detailed piece of big filmmaking, one thought arises, and it may come out cynical, but it's honest: How will this fare come end of the year awards time. Surely a film like this, with it's pedigree, it's scope with its WWI setting and emotional musical cues, and it's director, the major reason it was made to begin with was for a couple of Oscar statutes. Perhaps Spielberg will have yet another banner, much like the mammoth one he had in 1993, where he managed to successfully meld his fun pop filmmaking sensibilities with that of the mature artist he had always tried to be. That year he opened the summer blockbuster Jurassic Park (which had been the biggest and most technically awe-inspiring of at least that summer) and the winter scorcher Schindler's List. That year his films won an impressive ten Oscars (seven for Schindler's including two for himself; and three awards for Jurassic Park.) This year again he has two very different films coming out-- War Horse, based on the acclaimed novel by Michael Morpurgo, which already spawned a successful and acclaimed play (that coincidentally won the Tony Award this year-- has a film and play based on the same source won both Tony and Oscar in the same year before?) as well as the 3-D fantasy The Adventure of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.
Suffice it to say that at the halfway point of 2011 where nothing has really stood out as an awards magnet, this is the first glimpse of a film we've seen that has the probability of doing anything. On that alone, and with all of the other awards friends components will already, fairly or not, peg War Horse the movie to beat. Which has gotten me thinking about how dreadful a spot that can be, even Spielberg knows the sting of the feeling of film that crazy heat going on months before it arrived, only to have its hopes diminished when the awards start actually get handed out-- in 2005 his return to serious, sober adult dramas, Munich was greeted with muted praise despite unconditional love sight unseen. It managed a Best Picture nomination, but momentum was lost before the darn thing even opened. The very same thing happened the year after, when Dreamgirls was the early frontrunner (and perhaps an apologia to coveted Oscar-loving gay crowd that witnessed the dismal Brokeback Mountain loss the year before), only for the film to fail to receive the top honor, despite critical praise and a more than decent showing at the box office. The very next year, Atonement for a time, was considered the classiest choice for the prize, but again was shut out, perhaps because it peaked too early. The list goes on-- Up in the Air allegedly had the Oscar sealed after it debuted at the fall film festivals, only to have its momentum shifted to The Hurt Locker and Avatar as the season played out. It's almost an unfortunate slot to be in, the pre-ordained winner.
Good luck, War Horse!