Life Of Pi

There's been some significantly sesmic shifts in the Oscar field in the last few days, and not just the surprise announcement that "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane will be hosting the ceremony itself (for the record, this writer dislikes pretty much everything he's ever done, but based on his 'SNL' appearance a few weeks ago, he's a pretty savvy choice by the Academy). But last Friday, one of the most anticipated movies of the season was unveiled, as Ang Lee's "Life Of Pi" opened the New York Film Festival (read our review here). And what was already looking like a busy field got a little more crowded.

As we said last time we discussed the Best Picture race, two major front-runners came out of the September festival season: "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Argo" (with "The Master" also very much in the game). We'd been reasonably confident that "Life Of Pi" would be a player, but Ang Lee misses as much as he hits (see "Ride With The Devil," "Hulk," "Taking Woodstock"), and the risks inherent in the material meant that there was a fair chance that it wouldn't end up paying off.

However, by almost all accounts, it did. Twitter lit up as the NYFF press screening let out on Friday morning, with our A- grade review only one of a string of glowing reactions to the film. It's been tricky to find full-on naysayers (though more will emerge in time, we're sure...), and it seems like it's truly won over some hearts and minds -- Anne Thompson called it one of the most beautiful films she'd ever seen.

Life Of Pi, Suraj Sharma

What does this mean? Well, it means that "Silver Lining Playbook" and "Argo" already have some major competition. The film seems to be technically impeccable (cinematography and effects nods at least seem certain, and Mychael Danna's score has won praise), and the use of 3D -- which has won James Cameron and Martin Scorsese nods in the last few years -- is said to be glorious, putting Lee himself, already a two-time nominee and one-time winner, in a good place too. Furthermore, it's the kind of deeply emotional fare that always goes down well with the Academy. To us, it feels like it's a more traditionally Oscar-type movie than either David O Russell's or Ben Affleck's film.

That said, it's still too early to call it the shoo-in frontrunner. While critics almost universally adore it, box-office could be a problem if it doesn't land as it should. Then again, who thought "Slumdog Millionaire" with zero stars and foreign language aspects would be such a gigantic hit? Additionally, a movie's financial performance is far less important to Oscars of late (we discussed this earlier in the year). But like 'Slumdog' or "The King's Speech," "Life Of Pi" does have potentially major, wide appeal so if it does connect with families and kids and the four quadrant audiences it's built for, that won't be a problem. On the downside in the Oscar race, 'Pi' is unlikely to make much impact in the acting categories -- newcomer Suraj Sharma will struggle to crack the tough Best Actor field, and while there's some talk of Irfan Khan, who plays the older Pi, in the supporting category, that could be a stretch too, especially if the comeptition is fierce, which feels like the case this year.

Life Of Pi, Suraj Sharma

Technically, the film is said to be such a dazzling marvel that, like "Inception" or "Avatar," it could sweep that type of category as well as Best Picture, Director and the other usual suspects. Where it's a less natural fit is for things like costume and production design. While many reviews have pointed to the screenplay as the weakest link in the film, the book was labelled as "unfilmable" by many so that will only help its case (though it should be noted it's a very crowded field in the Best Adapted Screenplay category this year as well). 

It might be the hot topic of the moment among awards watchers, but as usual, the temperatures can always shift in the Oscar game. Like "Argo" and 'Silver Lingings,' Lee's picture has a lot going for it, but if it's a three-legged race (at the moment anyhow), none of them are the surefire home-run that "The Artist" looked like this time last year. While this trio of films leads the pack at the moment, big hitters like "Lincoln" and "Les Miserables" could easily shake things up. However, even if "Life Of Pi" doesn't exactly have the field to itself, it's pretty damn close at the moment and the unveiling of the film was as good a start as 20th Century Fox could have hoped for. This week's Best Picture chart is on page 2.