Gillian Armstrong’s Australian love story, based on Peter Carey’s novel, “Oscar and Lucinda,” enormously benefits from being one of the few epics this season — albeit lining up against more amply budgeted heavy-hitters “Titanic,” “Kundun” and “Amistad.” Oscar places unlikely lovers at its center for an unpredictable love story which may or may not play effectively with more tradition-bound Academy voters. What is certain to win Oscar attention in major categories is Cate Blanchett’s performance as the kind of spunky, fiery, beautiful heroine which has always been at the center of Armstrong’s brand of cinema. Voters attracted to over-the-top performances will find Oscar-friendly Ralph Fiennes irresistible, just as others will find him irritating.
Whether Laura Jones’ screenplay gains support from the always-idiosyncratic writers branch is an open question (her script for last year’s Australian epic from a woman’s perspective, “Portrait of a Lady,” was ignored), but other major categories should give “Oscar” supporters hope. Thomas Newman’s score, along with Geoffrey Simpson’s cinematography serve up the kind of classic movie lushness that wins strong Academy attention.
Because Armstrong will never fashion a conventional Hollywood love story — epic lushness or no — her films will always prove to be an uphill climb with the Academy. “Oscar and Lucinda’s” best hope, however, is looking to the Oscar attention paid to fellow Aussie Jane Campion and “The Piano” in 1993: also a love story, which refused to play by old rules. Female directors and Oscar haven’t been the best of friends, but perhaps having “Oscar” in the title will put Gillian and the little Golden Guy on more familiar terms.
Classic Oscar credentials: 10 (Sweeping epic, transcontinental romance, exotic locales)
Cause celebre: 0 (Unless Gamblers Anonymous finds offense)
Vanity elements: 3 (Fiennes’ developing stardom)
The David vs. Goliath Syndrome: 7 (Expensive looking, with studio-like craftsmanship, but very much from Down Under)
The feel-good movie of the year: 3 (Romantic tragedy, but sunny closing shot)
The unavoidable, inexorable buzz: 5 (Buzz is for Blanchett)
Idiot savants have more fun: 0 (Only addiction is gambling)
Timing is everything: 8 (Crowded field for epics in December, but should hang in)
OQ total: 36