‘Hunger Games’ for Best Picture? Lawrence for Best Actress? Nope.

The Hunger Games for Best Picture
Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games
Photo: Lionsgate

Building off an article at The Atlantic, Sasha Stone at Awards Daily has written a post headlined “Might The Hunger Games be the First Best Picture Contender of the Year?

Without delay or second thought I’ll just say “no.” That said, I’m not even sure Sasha thinks there’s much of a chance as she leaves plenty of outs within the article essentially saying it’s too early to tell, none of us know what will be “best” by the end of the year and as a result, why not The Hunger Games?

Fair enough, it’s fun to think of “what ifs” so I’ll play along, only I’m not considering the film for a second just as I didn’t last year when people started banging the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 drum last July. Just not going to happen.

Sasha’s reasons for considering the film (outside of saying it’s “one of the best pictures of the year so far” to which I’ll say, “The year is only three months old”) focuses primarily on it’s level of cultural commentary and what we consider “entertainment” nowadays (a commentary that isn’t exactly unique to this film) and the fact it’s a major box-office hit, reaching the $250 million mark faster than Avatar and only fourth behind The Dark Knight, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the already mentioned Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Sasha, while recognizing the Academy didn’t nominate Potter last year, notes they did nominate Avatar, but I don’t think anyone is comparing Hunger Games to Avatar… are they?

While the reviews for Hunger Games have been good (85% on RottenTomatoes), I’m not getting a sense of overwhelming acceptance in terms of quality. I’m not getting an “Oh man, I have to see it again” vibe, which typically accompanies a film of this sort, especially if we want to vault it to Best Picture status. It seems to have been declared a populist must-see, but in terms of being an “event” to experience more than once — a la a Potter film, Avatar or the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises — I’m just not feeling it.

In the Atlantic piece by Kevin Fallon he does a lot of comparing to the Potter franchise, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 specifically, which seems an odd comparison to make considering that film wasn’t nominated. He also builds off a post from Dave Karger at Entertainment Weekly who isn’t so much wondering about the film’s chances for a nomination, but more about Jennifer Lawrence‘s chances at scoring a second Oscar nom for her performance as Katniss Everdeen, a performance Fallon feels is worth comparing to Rooney Mara‘s Oscar-nominated performance in David Fincher‘s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I’m sorry… but again… no.

Personally, I don’t think Katniss was even written well enough for Lawrence to be considered and she didn’t do anything special to elevate the character to any level beyond the script or story. Compare that to the final moments of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Mara as Lisbeth Salander looking on at Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and Erika Berger (Robin Wright) together. Talk about performance and it’s only bolstered by everything she brought to that picture up to that point. Devastating.

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games
Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games
Photo: Lionsgate

The only time I felt Lawrence came close to that kind of an emotional gut punch in Hunger Games was just as the glass door shut and she began her ascension to the Hunger Games arena. I felt fear, but it was unique to that moment and gone in a flash. Lawrence fit the role and played it well, but talking Oscar isn’t really necessary.

The only real moments of perfection in Hunger Games, in my mind, came with the three-finger salute and only one of those times was it led by Katniss, and Lawrence’s performance wasn’t the reason it came across so strongly.

Speaking of which, and getting back to Stone’s thoughts on the film’s societal commentary, Fallon makes yet another comparison to a film that wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, The Dark Knight, and says, “They are crowd-pleasers with something to say. And the Academy loves saying something.” He isn’t wrong when he says both films “offer resonant commentary about society, particularly government control and corruption” and Sasha isn’t off when she says, “The Hunger Games isn’t so far from the celebrity machine we are helping to generate — daily doses of glory and tragedy.”

Problem is, The Hunger Games is too busy stuffing its narrative with everything it can to focus too heavily on the government or societal aspect, or treat it with any level of nuance. Much of what Sasha is taking away from the film is as a keen and experienced viewer. She’s looking deeper and finding more, something I credit her for but I don’t see that being the norm and, considering the way the film ends, I don’t imagine it’s what the majority of audiences are leaving the theater thinking about.

Addressing the “too early in the year” excuse, Karger throws out early year Oscar-nominated examples such as Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich and Frances McDormand in Fargo. Again, are we comparing Hunger Games and Lawrence’s performance to… (take your pick)? If so, you’ll have to convince me… I don’t see it.

I liked Hunger Games well enough and am anxious to see the complete franchise on the big screen with high hopes for however many films the future holds (probably three more). Problem is, the monetary interest in this franchise is too high for the films to be made with a mind for much risk and as such they’ll have to contend with being as on-edge as they can within certain constraints to assure the widest audience possible can still see them and accept them with a desire to see more.

For me to believe Hunger Games had a shot at Best Picture, I’d have to believe it brought something new and/or unique to the table. Considering not a single Harry Potter film was ever nominated and films such as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings features and Avatar were that is where I will have to make my comparisons. How does Hunger Games stack up to those films cinematically and within the industry? In my view it’s milquetoast by comparison.

Of course, this is just my opinion and I’m happy to read yours in the comments below and would love to see how you vote in the two following polls.

[poll id = “247”] [poll id = “246”]

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