With its Oscar clout and inevitable crowd-pleasing matched by widespread critical ire, Les Misérables is easily the year’s most divisive awards contender. The film does have its champions, like the oft-snarky New York Post critic Kyle Smith, who gave it the top spot on his 2012 top 10 list, but by and large, Les Mis has endured ample lashings from reviewers, as diverse as David Edelstein, Richard Corliss, and our own Calum Marsh. The divide between journos and tearful devotees has become one of the season’s buzziest narratives, most recently prompting helmer Tom Hooper to “respond to his critics,” whose qualms, as expected, couldn’t stop the musical from squashing the box-office competition on Christmas Day (the movie raked in $18.2 million, history’s second-largest holiday opening). What does it all mean for the movie’s Oscar fate? To be honest, probably not much. It seems unfathomable that Les Misérables won’t end up on the Best Picture shortlist, an outcome that was in the cards before a frame of footage was seen (or, arguably, before a frame of footage was shot).
If there’s one casualty doomed to be left out of the film’s nomination haul (which only Lincoln seems prepared to rival), it looks to be Hooper himself, as no other bigwig in the Best Director race has seen his or her choices met with such polarization. Hooper’s inspired, if not revolutionary, decision to film his actors singing live has earned near-universal praise for its emotional payoffs, but the same can’t be said for his fourth-wall-breaking extreme close-ups (which many found to be infernal and inconsistent), or his repetitive, aerial ogling of a CGI Paris (which often fills the screen after a fast zoom at the end of a thundering number). Though hardly an ironclad barometer for how the Oscars will shake down, the lack of a Golden Globe nod for Hooper is telling, for this time two years ago, the King’s Speech director was unstoppable on his path to an Academy Award, and the HFPA is nothing if not eager to predict the Academy’s choices. That Hooper is a recent Oscar winner certainly complicates matters, as does his good standing with the Director’s Guild, who surprisingly chose him over 2010’s supposed frontrunner David Fincher. Will the Brit’s King’s Speech afterglow help or hurt his chances this time ’round? Will voters agree that Les Misérables is not a grand achievement when it comes to the film’s direction? Such questions are the few still hanging in the discussion of this baity shoo-in.
Of course, a subject with just about zero gray area is Anne Hathaway’s nomination and all-but-certain win in the Supporting Actress category, where she’ll likely compete against Sally Field and Helen Hunt for her showstopping work as the ill-fated Fantine. Historically, a performance like this, which transcends all of the film’s discourse, good and bad, with its feverish must-see-ness, doesn’t reach the end of the trophy season un-Oscared. Just ask Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer, Christoph Waltz, and Hathaway’s closest Oscar-crowned cousin, Jennifer Hudson, whose jump-to-your-feet rafter-shaker in Dreamgirls is comparable to Hathaway’s instantly classic take on “I Dreamed a Dream.” Unfolding in a single, agonizing shot, the actress’s big number is certainly one of the standout movie moments of 2012, the depths to which Hathaway reaches holding you hopelessly rapt. Rarely can an Oscar win be pegged while watching one brief stretch of film, but it happens in Les Misérables. And Hugh Jackman should cap his year off with a nomination too, joining the Best Actor lineup for his wonderful, if not quite as sensational, turn as Jean Valjean. Make no mistake: this is the best role of Jackman’s impressive career, and unless he has some genre-defying tricks up his sleeve for Wolverine’s future outings, it’s probable he’ll never top his Les Mis performance. As one of six surefire contenders vying for spots in this field (the others being Daniel Day-Lewis, Bradley Cooper, John Hawkes, Joaquin Phoenix, and Denzel Washington), Jackman may wind up the snubbee, but he won’t deserve it.
The wealth of additional Oscar nods coming Les Mis’s way would be best presented in list form, so let’s just highlight the more noteworthy categories in play. For one thing, musicals almost always earn recognition in the field of Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing seems a good bet here too, so pencil in both aural categories for Hooper’s epic. There’s also an Original Song, “Suddenly,” that’s bound for contention, and should make up for the project’s lack of Original Score eligibility. If the movie makes good on what many are expecting to be a sweep, Les Misérables could end up with a Makeup nomination, beating out more deserving finalists like Rian Johnson’s Looper, and even an Adapted Screenplay nod for the team led by musical authors Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. But even on the off chance that the film fails to clinch an impressive tally, there’s still time for it to look elsewhere for citations, like, say, a well-deserved Razzie mention for poor Russell Crowe, who, let’s face it, was more Oscar-worthy in a kung-fu fantasy by the RZA.
Surest bets: Best Picture; Best Actor, Hugh Jackman; Best Supporting Actress, Anne Hathaway; Best Editing; Best Costume Design; Best Art Direction; Best Sound Editing; Best Sound Mixing; Best Original Song.
Possibilities: Best Director, Tom Hooper; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Makeup.
Shouldn’t be Overlooked: None.