When the Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos last brought a film from the Venice Film Festival to the Telluride Film Festival, the Searchlight title, which counted Tony McNamara as a writer and Emma Stone as the biggest name in its cast, was greeted with rave reviews; went on to double-digits of Oscar nominations, including picture, directing and screenwriting mentions; and ultimately was awarded one statuette, best actress for its leading lady.
Could that exact history repeat itself five years after The Favourite? I think it’s very possible.
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On Saturday night, a day after being unveiled on the Lido, Lanthimos’ latest work, Poor Things, had its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, playing simultaneously at the Werner Herzog Cinema and the Galaxy Theatre. And while more than a few attendees found the film — which I will only describe as Frankenstein meets Barbie, and which Searchlight will release on Dec. 8 — a bit too weird, and/or risqué and/or lengthy for their taste, the critical response to it has been off the charts.
I’m sure that Poor Things will also polarize members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It’s much more in the vein of the truly out-there films that Lanthimos made before The Favourite, which the Academy could take (2009’s Dogtooth was nominated for best international feature) or leave (2015’s The Lobster and 2017’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer received between them just a single nomination, best original screenplay for the former).
But given the major changes at the Academy in recent years — including the addition to the membership of many people who are younger, based outside of the U.S. and have a background in independent filmmaking — I feel fairly confident that enough members will respond to Poor Things to propel it to the top echelon of nominees for this season. (Remember, this organization that once awarded best picture to Oliver! over 2001: A Space Odyssey, Annie Hall over Star Wars and Gandhi over E.T. has, in the last decade, given top honors to Birdman, The Shape of Water and Everything Everywhere All at Once. As Bob Dylan once put it, the times they are a-changin’!)
Even Academy members who aren’t crazy about the film will find it hard to not admire the fearless, inventive, no-holds-barred performance of lead actress Stone (a past best actress Oscar winner who joins Nyad’s Annette Bening at the top of this year’s list of contenders for that award); the colorful supporting work of both Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo (both of whom have accrued multiple Oscar noms without yet winning); and the film’s truly awe-inspiring craft and technical work, from its cinematography (Robbie Ryan) to its costume design (Holly Waddington) to its production design (Shona Heath and James Price).
The 1931 classic Frankenstein received zero Oscar nominations. The 1935 classic The Bride of Frankenstein received one Oscar nomination, for sound. The 1974 classic Young Frankenstein received two Oscar nominations, for its screenplay and its sound. You can take it to the bank that Poor Things, which is sort of a blend of all of those earlier films, will rack up even more noms than they received combined. And that’s just for starters.
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