Best Original Screenplay: ‘Looper’

Well, it happened. The National Board of Review, one of the most notable early entries on the awards season calendar, announced their picks. There were a few surprises — Leonardo Dicaprio won Best Supporting Actor for Django Unchained, Bradley Cooper won Best Actor for Silver Linings Playbook. I’m sure we here at Statuesque will cover the implications of these surprises as well as other implications thoroughly but for me, the biggest surprise, though, had to be the strong showing of Looper.

Not only did it land itself a coveted spot in the Top 10 (edging out heavy Oscar favorite Life of Pi), but it won Original Screenplay. The Rian Johnson-helmed science fiction picture seemed D.O.A. before the NBR stepped in and gave it a much needed boost. In fact, I wasn’t aware of any kind of campaign at all. Why not? I’m not really sure. The film scored extremely well with critics, and TriStar Pictures–the theatrical distributor–has no other film to promote. It tallied a respectable $65 million in the States, but you can always make more money and Oscar attention is a proven boost to any film’s bottom line.

So why am I not seeing trade ads with Joseph Gordon Levitt’s slightly distorted face and “For Your Consideration” strewn across the top? I bet I will now. Where are Emily Blunt’s awards champions when you need them? Sure, the film came out in September and not the Oscar-friendly months of November and December. I’m guessing the only reason Looper had a virtually nonexistent Oscar campaign is because it’s a science fiction film. In 2009, the sci-fi genre earned two Best Picture nominations in Avatar and District 9, but before that the last nominee was E.T.–in 1982. The 2009 contenders also had another advantage over Looper. They made a massive amount of cash. We all know how big of a hit Avatar was, but District 9 pulled in a whopping $115 million–almost double what Looper did– to put it on awards-voters’ radars.

Is the Top 10 mention really enough to get Looper into the Best Picture race with the likes of Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, and Zero Dark Thirty? Probably not. It has a few things going for it–like the aforementioned critical praise–but its best hope is the favoritism shown by the Academy’s nominating rules for films with a small but passionate following. Looper may have just enough support to get five percent of the #1 votes it needs to earn a Best Picture nomination.

Yet I doubt it. I loved the film, but even I’m not sure it’s my favorite film of 2012. It has a much better shot at Original Screenplay. Zero Dark Thirty appears to be the only script near a sure thing at this point, but Django Unchained, Moonrise Kingdom and The Master have to also like their odds, while there are also passionate supporters of Ava DuVernay’s Sundance hit Middle of Nowhere and Michael Haneke’s Amour.

In reality, though, the race for best screenplay is extremely unpredictable. “Sure things” are snubbed almost every year. Looper doesn’t need to worry about the competition. It just needs to mount a stronger, more focused campaign and roll the dice.

Prediction: Picture, no. Screenplay, yes.