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Revisiting four months of 'The Impossible' with Oscar's deadline looming
A plea for Academy members to consider one of the best pictures of the year
It's December 12. The 2013 SAG Awards nominations are announced and in a happy surprise Naomi Watts has made the cut. Moreover, it’s an excellent sign she'll land what would be only her second Oscar nomination. The next day Watts also earns a Golden Globes nomination in the best actress - drama category, but "The Impossible" earns nothing else. Since Gurus of Gold had begun in September, Deadline’s Pete Hammond and I were the true believers that "The Impossible" would make the 10. After Globes and SAG he drops it from his 10. I’m the only one left.
After initially being reluctant to have the picture made, Maria ended up spending a lot of time on set and both she and the rest of her family contributed anecdotes and details to the screenplay. To some the events may seem too coincidental, but it’s almost beat for beat how they played out. At one point, Bayona says one of the family members was asked how close the film came to their actual experiences. One of the boys replied, “Well, the ball was yellow.” That refers to the red ball Henry goes after in the movie before the wave hits.
“The truth is that it's funny that you said coincidences because we really play with that because we have to play with that,” Bayona says. “There is no reason to survive more than being lucky. We couldn't put any kind of heroic action in the characters that would define their survival because it would have been like telling the other people who didn't make it maybe you didn't do enough. So we were very, very careful with that.”
As December rolls on more and more national reviews are published. Unlike Bayona's native Spain or even the U.K., they are surprisingly mixed to positive. American critics for the most part are not warming to the tale. By its opening day in New York and Los Angeles, "The Impossible" has a 73% on Metacritic and a 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. Very good, but not the great you need for trade ads and end of year top 10 lists. I find it somewhat disheartening. The picture has already narrowly beaten "Zero Dark Thirty" for best picture on my own top 10 list. A number of colleagues I respect have it on their own top 10's or close to it. Excuses such as "too intense," "too melodramatic" and "too coincidental" begin to rear their heads. Yes, a film that's factually more accurate than "Argo," "Lincoln" or "Zero Dark Thirty" is "too coincidental."
Naomi Watts has played real life people before, most famously as Valerie Plame in “Fair Game“. While Plame’s life was turned upside down by a Vice President’s vindictive leak, Maria thought she’d lost her entire world and life over the course of just a few hours. Meeting Maria for the first time was something that’s clearly etched in Watts’ mind.
“Maria is incredibly open. When we got together you don't want to just hit them with actor questions and pry because we're making a movie,” Watts says. “But with Maria she is just so open to speaking and it's so right there at the surface that it just kind of poured out of her. For the first few minutes in the room we just sort of sat opposite each other and she started to cry because this story is part of her now and to tell it and give it away is emotional for her and it will continue to be that way.”
"The Impossible" doesn't do wonders in limited release when it opens in 15 cities on Dec. 21. Sadly, I saw this coming. There wasn't enough heat in December around the release and just too much competition. Outside of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the art house market is glutted with too much product that is all underperforming (“Hyde Park on Hudson,” “Anna Karenina,” “Hitchcock” and, now, “Not Fade Away"). Plus, films such as “Les Miserables” and “Django Unchained” are the first choices among even the art house crowd. There is some hope with less than a week before Academy member’s ballots are due. Reese Witherspoon wrote an op-ed in Entertainment Weekly and said she was “blown away” by the picture. Angelina Jolie and Kate Hudson both held private Academy member screenings for the picture in London and New York respectively (Del Toro also hosted a screening).
The screener is out there, but will members watch? Will they recognize this impressive epic that is a more complete achievement than some other Academy hopefuls? Considering little feel settled this Academy season anything is possible, right? Throw the screener in your DVD player Academy members. You may be surprised at what you discover. If you don't? The legacy of "The Ice Storm," "Do The Right Thing" and "The Dark Knight" awaits.
"The Impossible" is now playing in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Toronto, Phoenix and Philadelphia.