The film will inevitably be compared to Martin Scorsese’s similarly themed “Kundun” — in virtually every category including best director, where “Tibet’s” Jean-Jacques Annaud is at a disadvantage in that he’s never been a nominee, whereas Scorsese has racked up a few significant nods (“Raging Bull,” “Good Fellas”) in the category. The better “Kundun” is received, the less likely “Seven Years” will be taken seriously.
Brad Pitt would also have to be considered a long shot as best actor for his role as a former SS man who finds his spiritual center at the top of the world. The controversy surrounding the real-life story of Austrian mountain climber Heinrich Harrer and his Nazi past is not likely to warm the cockles of the actor branch’s heart, though Pitt also starred in “The Devil’s Own” (Irish accent this time) and thus has at least demonstrated his facility with dialects. That may, however, not be enough to ensure him a first nomination as a leading man. He was previously nominated in the supporting category for “12 Monkeys.”
However, the film does boast several supporting actor candidates, including David Thewlis, who plays Pitt’s fellow Austrian mountaineer Peter Aufschnaiter, B.D. Wong as the wily Tibetan turncoat Ngawang Jigme and Mako as the kindly Tsarong. Mako was nominated more than 30 years ago in the supporting category for “The Sand Pebbles.” The strongest possibility is Jamyang Wangchuck playing the adolescent Dalai Lama.
Nonetheless, since the supporting actor category is chock-a-block with strong candidates this year, whatever their relative merits, these four performances will have to shout to be heard above the din.
The same is likely to be true for Becky Johnston’s screenplay adaptation of Harrer’s book, despite the scribe’s previous mention in the same category for “The Prince of Tides.” The Nazi references only came in post-production via a glancing voiceover, and the skirting of that issue may, however justly or unjustly, be held against Johnston.
The film’s best opportunities come in the technical categories, in particular Robert Fraisse’s widescreen cinematography. Ditto perennial nominee and frequent winner John Williams, who contributes an old-fashioned Hollywood epic score which features cello solos by the renowned Yo-Yo Ma.
Classic Oscar credentials: 8 (Capital E epic)
Cause celebre: 2 (Pro-Lama factor negated by Anti-Fascist factor)
Vanity element: 5 (Pitt is major player)
The David vs. Goliath syndrome: 0 (Unless you’re David Duke)
The feel-good movie of the year factor: 3 (Even if you’re David Duke)
The unavoidable, inexorable buzz pic: 0
Idiot savants have more fun: 0
Timing is everything: 0
O.Q. total: 18