While "Les Miserables" is almost sure to take home at least one Academy award -- for Anne Hathaway's Oscar-baiting turn as Fantine -- the likelihood of it winning the Best Picture trophy seems pretty slim. The last time a musical took home the award for Best Picture was “Chicago” in 2002, which was one of the biggest surprises in recent Oscar history. Prior to that, a musical hadn’t won since 1968, when “Oliver!” was honored with the coveted statue.
In total, only nine musicals have won Best Picture in Academy history. So are we due for another? Maybe, but probably not this year.
When it comes to winning Oscar night's biggest award, "Les Mis" is about as doomed as its principle characters -- but not for lack of trying.
Prior to its release, the film was heavily hyped and touted as an early Best Picture favorite. Universal Pictures held numerous industry and Academy screenings in both New York and Los Angeles, a number of which were followed by a cast Q&A. Reports of overwhelming applause and standing ovations following these screenings streamed in prior to the film’s release, and early reviews called the musical “joyous” and “thrilling.”
However, "Les Miserables" lost some steam after its Christmas Day theatrical debut.
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The epic musical, which almost begs for mockery, did not prove to be the masterpiece that its promotional campaign promised. Additionally, Hathaway’s performance, which was one of the film’s main highlights, has been overshadowed by the star’s eye-rolling acceptance speeches -- though we still expect her to have one more obnoxious, gushing turn at the podium.
But Hathaway fatigue isn’t the only thing that may deter Oscar voters. Though the film has earned considerable praise, a number of critics have noted that the tragic tale is marred by extensive flaws. The film is impaired by awkward staging, unintentionally funny moments and the fact that -- with barely a word of dialogue -- it appeals to a finite number of viewers comfortable with musical theater tropes.
Of the film’s chances at winning Best Picture, John Wiesman of Variety is not too optimistic. "While it is a film that soars in many places and is rock solid in others, 'Les Miserables' also displays enough bumps and bruises to hurt it (and director Tom Hooper) in a close race," he said.
The race may indeed be close between some of the nominees, though there are a few who stand even less of a chance than "Les Mis."
For “Life of Pi” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” the nomination is probably recognition enough (we hope so -- because they are both extreme long shots). Though “Django Unchained” is one of the most inventive cinematic works in recent memory, gory violence and the extensive use of the N-word doesn’t typically go over too well with Academy voters.
Years from now, when the controversy has long subsided, “Zero Dark Thirty” will be recognized for the brilliant and courageous film that it is. Until then, “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Lincoln” and “Argo” continue to lead the pack. The Best Picture race will pretty much be a battle between the three films, and heartwarming audience favorite “Silver Linings” could possibly be an upset in the category -- we can’t forget that in 1998, the comedy “Shakespeare In Love” triumphed over “Saving Private Ryan” for the award.
But for now, it’s safe to say that “Argo” has the best chance at the ultimate Oscar victory. Let's hope that Hooper and company won't be too miserable if "Les Mis" goes home empty-handed.