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Weighing the Beauty and the Imperfection of Joe Wright's 'Anna Karenina'

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Tuesday, Dec 11, 2012
When it comes to reaping awards, the newest adaptation of Anna Karenina has as many pros as it does cons. Statuesque assesses the film's odds.

Ten Reasons Why Anna Karenina Should Be a Hit With Oscar:


1. It’s the epitome of awards bait: prestige cast and crew in an adaptation of a literary classic.


2. All of Joe Wright’s period movies have scored well with AMPAS members. Pride and Prejudice had a high awards profile and received nominations in key categories, while Atonement defied all expectations and got a Best Picture nomination in the tough to crack year that was 2007. 
  
3. Keira! Her Elizabeth Bennett was beloved by AMPAS and she’s at the very least been on their radar ever since, if not very close to nominations. The truth is, she is absolutely ravishing as the heroine here and after snubbing her genius work in last year’s A Dangerous Method she might be in store for a “make-up” nomination.


4. The eye candy (and no we don’t mean Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The film’s costume design, art direction, hair and makeup and the groundbreaking cinematography might make it the year’s most uniquely breathtaking movie.


5. The magnificent Tom Stoppard-adapted Leo Tolstoy’s novel. Just how much more of a pedigree can you get?


6. Wright has become a creative force to be reckoned with. Whether he’s adapting famous novels or working with original material, Wright has become one of the most versatile working directors. What classic director does he remind you of? The other day I was discussing this with a friend and came to the conclusion that he’s on his way to becoming a David Lean of sorts. Before you feel like punching me/fainting/stop reading, I do have several arguments to defend this…but let’s bring them up in the comments, shall we?


7. Jude Law breathes new life into a character that could’ve been completely one-dimensional. However he makes Karenin the movie’s emotional core, his cuckold being the one who eventually breaks your heart. Law has not been this good in almost a decade!


8. Even if there’s no explicit sex, the film oozes with sensuality. Seamus McGarvey’s camera captures the lust with astonishing honesty. Wright cleverly suggests sex more than he ever shows it and you too will find yourself realizing an image of two hands induces goosebumps in you,  in a way that might remind you of the chaste-yet-hot love scenes in Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993).


9. The ensemble was made for awards recognition. Besides the stunning leads the film features Matthew Mcfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, Shirley Henderson and Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery. 


10. In a time when most movies are afraid to “be”, Joe Wright’s adaptation pushes the boundaries of cinema towards a state of cinematic-ness that’s even more pleasure-seeking than its heroine. All the heaving, panting and craving we should feel in Anna, becomes an organic part of the film, few recent films have felt so alive… 


 

Ten Reasons Why It Won’t:


1. ...however it’s somehow still not a very good movie when all is said and done.  Its enamourment with its own technique and aesthetics make us forget it’s supposed to be seen by others and as such it feels tremendously detached, delusional even. People won’t feel like voting for something that’s not even aware it’s been entered in competition.


2. As beloved as the book is, none of the movie versions have fared well with awards. This is mostly surprising when thinking of what a great role it is for actresses. Or is it? Greta Garbo was notoriously snubbed by the Academy in the 1935 adaptation, while Vivien Leigh’s 1948 take was even picketed by an anti-British organization. 


3. Keira! Yes, she’s fantastic, but the character deeply unlikable. This shouldn’t be an issue of course, but awards bodies like their women submissive, sassy and adorable (Margaret Thatcher got Meryl an Oscar because Streep herself is sassy and adorable). Knightley on the other side is divisive as a public figure and never chooses characters who’ll make this line blurrier.


4. This ain’t no “decent” love story! Awards bodies tend to be quite moralistic and rarely vote for movies about infidelity, least of all if there’s never any repentance/struggle for the greater good at the center of the story (see Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Titanic etc.)


5. There is no chemistry between the leads. Taylor-Johnson is stunning to look at, but he doesn’t make Vronsky worthy of Keira or even the audience. Botched chemistry has been an obstacle for movies in the past, most recently we saw Cold Mountain crash and burn, even if it too like Anna Karenina, seemed to be going straight for Best Picture.


6. Other than the 1967 Russian version of War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy adaptations rarely strike gold with awards.


7. The film may have peaked too early. Upon its so-so reception in England, by the time it opened in the States, critics were ready to move on to the next big contender.


8. These kinds of ballsy, very theatrical movies rarely make the cut. Moulin Rouge! being one of those, awesome, headscratchers we’re still trying to figure out more than a decade after it occurred.


9. The Best Picture race is getting quite crowded and even if worse movies have made the cut in recent years, Anna Karenina will most likely be a movie voters admire or plain hate. There’s no in between for this one.


10. Will voters even see it? This is the kind of movie that could die out of mere word of mouth. Once older voters expecting to see Doctor Zhivago realize this is more like Dogville and tell their friends about it, the movie could be crushed.

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