[Editor's Note: Oscar Prospects is your weekly analysis of an awards contender and how it's likely to fare come Oscar nomination morning. The column is comprehensive, so beware of spoilers.]
Does Looper have a prayer in the Visual Effects race, where tigers and hobbits and Avengers will be sprinting, neck-in-neck? Before the film's release, the answer would have likely been a resounding "no," as the throwback panache of Rian Johnson's aesthetic isn't even trying to compete with all the 3D bells and whistles of the spectacles above. But with a rapturous response from critics (RT score 94 percent and holding), Looper has the buzz and support to step into some serious contention, if not in the major races, then in tech areas that previously seemed beyond its reach. That is by no means to say the movie's tricks are not impressive. A near faultlessly calibrated slice of futurama (err, future drama), Looper is 2012's action flick to beat in terms of quality, and its old-school restraint has a contrasting lure that might make it a viable slot-filler (think the annual foreign trend in the Animation category). There must be scads of Academy members tickled by the dirty realism of a beat-up, flying crop-duster, or effectively unnerved by the rapid, Cronenbergian disappearance of a marked "loop's" appendages. This wouldn't be the title to declare where the industry stands today, but it would be the one to give the category an added touch of class.
There's a host of off-camera races in which this movie should compete, as its overall pristine look could be broken down into a lot of first-rate components. In a perfect world, this would be the film that, nearly across the board, steals technical votes away from The Dark Knight Rises. The sound categories could potentially be easy gets for Looper, with the Sound Mixing and Sound Editing teams of Jeremy Peirson and company reaping recognition for their crisp and kick-ass aural effects (move over pulse rifle, the blunderbuss has arrived). Often in the film, the boom-boom-pow of the sound is matched by the rhythmic verve of the Editing, which is best highlighted in the film's fascinating montages, like Young Joe's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) cornfield-to-nightclub daily grind, and Old Joe's (Bruce Willis) domestic evolution on the far side of the world. But an editing nod is next to impossible with the snowball-in-hell chance of Best Picture love. And though James Gelarden's Art Direction evokes a certain Ridley Scott metropolis, it's small potatoes when pitted against the Masters and Anna Kareninas of the season.
Sony should campaign hard for a Makeup nomination, as it's the one that Looper has the strongest shot at landing. Gordon-Levitt's semi-surreal makeover may not initially read "Willis," but as the characters spend more time together, and the dual roles are juxtaposed, the trickery of the makeup artists gains impressiveness, and that says nothing of the dimension added to Gordon-Levitt's performance. Voters are bound to dig the effect of morphing one celebrated actor into a young doppelganger of another. And speaking of celebrated actors, Emily Blunt might have an Oscar win in her somewhere, which would finally right the wrong of her snub for The Devil Wears Prada. Looper won't lead to such a golden end for the actress, but it may just feature her best performance. In the film, Blunt plays a farm-keeping single mom who's possibly raising the next Hitler. Blunt's character is a reformed, world-weary party girl, and she makes you feel all the life lessons—and hopeful naivete—of a woman whose care for a child is all she has left in the world. Blunt's miming of the indulgences her character's left behind (cigarettes, sex) cleverly help to further paint the backstory. There's great emotion in Blunt's work, and there's surprising emotion in Looper, but sadly, not enough to appeal to voters' hearts in major way.
Surest bets: Best Makeup; Best Sound Editing.
Possibilities: Best Sound Mixing; Best Editing; Best Visual Effects.
Shouldn't be Overlooked: Best Supporting Actress, Emily Blunt.