Revisiting four months of 'The Impossible' with Oscar's deadline looming
Every season there is a movie or performance that is a head scratcher when it comes to why it does or doesn't appeal to the Academy. Films and portrayals that will be long remembered after a number of other nominated works are getting their share of the best picture spotlight now. Immediate examples that come to mind include "Do the Right Thing" (one of the greatest films of the '80s), "The Ice Storm" (ditto for the '90s), "The Dark Knight" (for the '00s) and, oh yeah, Stanley Kubrick's "2001" (of all time). And as for overlooked actors, last year found both Ryan Gosling ("Drive") and Michael Fassbender ("Shame") of the list of Academy omissions gone wrong. With the advent of the 10 nomination option for best picture, however, you would think that overlooking great movies would be a rare occurrence. Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I give you my own best picture of the year, "The Impossible."
In the middle of a very busy Toronto International Film Festival, I find myself racing from one hotel to another for what I think is just an informal conversation with the cast and director of "The Impossible." I have a habit of showing up exactly when something is scheduled as opposed to 10-15 minutes beforehand. I'm rarely if ever late, but it can make some publicity reps nervous. Considering my hotel is three blocks away from the talents I'm not too worried, plus this was all supposed to be just a "get to know" opportunity. I believe the word "tea" was even used at some point. I'm now racing through the streets of Toronto after a publicist's phone call has clarified this is really just a rare 30 minute group interview with Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, newcomer Tom Holland and the film's director Juan Antonio Bayona. No, this isn't everyone sitting around having tea, it's a full on interview. I feel unprepared and am beginning to get flustered. Ah, festival life.
"I know I look like 10, but I am 16. I look like I'm 10," Holland says.
"I want to look 10," Watts follows with a zinger you wouldn't expect from the normally serious Aussie.
We all laugh, but somehow I feel like I'm about to be grilled by a subcommittee. Sitting on a couch, Holland, Bayona, and Watts face me in chairs lined up like I'm being judged on "American Idol." A fourth chair is quickly filled by the almost always smiling McGregor. The publicists for Summit's agency stand in the distance and Holland's parents sit against the far wall. This is hardly the relaxing chat I had been expecting, but luckily the subject matter has a way of erasing everyone's discomfort.
I'd first seen "The Impossible" almost a month earlier at the Lionsgate screening room in Santa Monica. The buzz had been growing since the spring when Summit and its co-financiers including Warner Bros. Spain had seen the finished product. It was clear the mini-major realized they had something special on their hands. I start to hear similar reaction from my peers and a non-media person in the industry refers to it as "the finest film Summit's ever made."*
*Tapley will attest he's heard people say this also regarding "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," as have I. "The Impossible" is a more accomplished achievement, however.
McGregor is a major league charmer. He has a genuine kindness rarely seen in an actor with his years of experience (jaded is almost expected after 18 years in the biz), but also a refreshing bluntness (unlike some of his compatriots he doesn't "pretend" to still live in the UK, Los Angeles is his hometown and has been for over a decade).
"I thought the script was an incredible read and there was something very brutal about it, "McGregor says. "I didn't know it was a true story or based on a true family's experience when I read it but some of the lines --- the line when Tom sees Naomi's wound in the back of her leg when they come out of the water, that line stopped me in my tracks when he said—now I can't remember exactly what it is, but [something like] 'Mamma, I can't see you like this.' And it's such an amazing thing to say and it said so many things and it stopped me reading. I was just completely blown away by it and then when I find out later that it was based on a real family's experience and these are actually lines that they remember saying or hearing they made perfect sense, but it didn't read like another story about the tsunami. It read about—it read like an extraordinary insight into what—this family's experience there."
Three months later McGregor will wake up and discover he's received a Golden Globe nomination for his work in "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," a mixed bag of romantic dramedy lazily directed by Lasse Hallström. If he truly cares about awards, and it's unclear if he really does, "Yemen" was not the film he thought people would be talking about at the end of the year.