I have a barrelful of thoughts to share after having seen “Les Miserables” tonight, but the barricade against reviews has not yet been stormed, so I’ll hold many of those musings in secret, much like my past identity as a bread thief named Jean Weisjean. (Shoot – let that one slip.)
Instead, I’ll just try to talk about it from an awards perspective, as others have been since screenings began Friday.
Best picture nominee? Fer sure. Best picture winner? Not necessarily, because while it is a film that soars in many places and is rock solid in others, “Les Miserables” also displays enough bumps and bruises to hurt it (and director Tom Hooper) in a close race. Some of the flaws I identified come from comparing it to the musical that I’ve held near and dear to my heart ever since I saw it Thanksgiving week 1987 in London – no doubt, a huge swath of Academy members have their own personal relationship with the film, and I find it a little hard to believe that they won’t nitpick it.
That being said, I also anticipate those who aren’t acquainted with the musical having issues, such as with length and pacing. In short, I expect fervent debate about whether “Les Miserables” belongs at the pinnacle of 2012 films.
The best award possibilities for “Les Miserables” reside in Anne Hathaway’s performance, which elevates the character of Fantine far above any version I’ve ever seen, delivering its own kind of seamlessness where musical and reality don’t seem like two separate constructs. It’s desperately moving work. In a field that features Sally Field (“Lincoln”) and Helen Hunt (“The Sessions”), I have no trouble seeing Hathaway as a plausible winner, even if her screen time is much less than Hunt’s. In addition, Samantha Banks’ Eponine is worthy of the musical’s most cherished character if not transcendent – she could be in awards play as well.
On the actor front, there is certainly likelihood for Hugh Jackman to break through that brutal field that also includes consensus leader Daniel Day-Lewis alongside Bradley Cooper, John Hawkes, Joaquin Phoenix, Denzel Washington and more. Supporting actor might be a bit less promising, because the one to keep an eye on is lesser-known “My Week with Marilyn” vet Eddie Redmayne, rather than the more vaunted Russell Crowe or Sacha Baron Cohen. (Tonight’s “in passing” note: In a wonderful year for child performers, add another to the list: Daniel Huttlestone as “Little People” leader Gavroche.)
Hooper’s chance for Oscar glory on “Les Miserables” might be as good as it was at this time two years ago, before “The King’s Speech” thundered ahead and ultimately vanquished “The Social Network.” The difference right now is the appearance of a wider field that includes “Argo,” “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and, if you ask me, “Zero Dark Thirty.” I’d throw others in if I had my druthers, but those five are generating the most conversation and the least amount of dismissal. And I still don’t see an unadulterated favorite.