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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thoughts On Sweeney Todd

I’ve noticed that a few Oscar watching sites have started predicting a Sweeney Todd sweep. Admittedly I haven’t seen the film (though I am looking forward to it), but I’m… not convinced that this is going to be a film that the Academy embraces outside of the technical categories, and I've got a couple of reasons:

1. In recent years the Academy has decided that it likes Johnny Depp, but I wouldn’t expect that same amity to extend to Tim Burton. Burton’s too “weird,” too focused on style, too whatever. Maybe if Depp gets nominated as Best Actor the film and its director could get nominations as well but it’s a very crowded year in the Best Actor race and Depp isn't exactly one to campaign for awards, so I wouldn't be shocked if he was left out.

2. Although a musical revival was declared after Moulin Rouge! was nominated for 8 Oscars in 2001 and Chicago dominated the 2002 Oscars, the Academy hasn’t exactly been latching onto musicals since. The Phantom of the Opera, The Producers, and Dreamgirls were all released at about this time in 2004, 2005 and 2006, respectively, and all failed to connect with the Academy in the big categories. All were also (like Sweeney) stage to film adaptations, which isn’t in and of itself bad news – Gigi (1958), West Side Story (1962), My Fair Lady (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), Oliver! (1968), and the aforementioned Chicago all made their way from stage to film; in fact, the only two original musicals to win are The Broadway Melody (1929), and An American In Paris (1951) – but the Academy’s rejection of stage musicals in recent years could be an indication that they don’t necessarily care for recycled Broadway hits. It should perhaps also be noted that of the 8 musicals to win Best Picture, only three of them (West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Oliver!) are dramas, and Sweeney will most definitely be a drama.

3. Hype. Dreamgirls was hyped as the film to beat all last year… until people actually saw it. The year before, Memoirs of Geisha was much talked about and anticipated only to fail to meet expectations. Sweeney released its teaser trailed during the Super Bowl, which means it will have had nearly a year of advance hype before being widely seen. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this film ended up being built up so much that it can ultimately do nothing but fail.

4. Competition. I sincerely doubt that we’ll see two musicals nominated for Best Picture in a single year any time soon. I also doubt that Hairspray or Across the Universe have a serious chance, but Once could very well be the little film to beat this year and if a strong enough campaign is mounted for it, I think Sweeney will be in trouble. Once is an original musical that had fantastic critical reception, and which will have had nearly an entire year to build its audience by the time of nominations are being made. Once is the antithesis of Sweeney, the David to its Goliath… and who could resist that story?

I’m holding out hope that Sweeney will live up to its hype, but I think that ultimately the things that are going to make it so great – the moodiness, the style, the usual Tim Burton hallmarks – are also going to be the things that snuff out its chances at Best Picture.

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