Why Isn’t ‘Lone Survivor’ Getting More Awards Attention?

Lone Survivor

Universal’s “Lone Survivor” faces two big tests: reception by general audiences and by Oscar voters. The film begins a qualifying run on Dec. 25, then opens wide Jan. 10. Despite being short-changed in awards handouts so far, the film could do well when Oscar noms are announced Jan. 16.

Some year-end films start awards buzz even before production starts. “Survivor” was not one of those. Universal saw the film as primarily an audience-targeted movie and a passion project for writer-director Peter Berg. A kudos consideration was a possibility, but not inevitable.

At early industry screenings, the reception was enthusiastic, and that continued at subsequent screenings. So the question has been asked more than once: “This film is terrific, why isn’t it getting more awards attention?” The answer is that it’s a crowded year, but there are other factors.

December awards from critics (and nominations from the Golden Globes) are often an indication of what films are hot. Oscar voters are human, despite what the media seems to think. Their choices may overlap with critics, HFPA members and so on, but they are rarely identical.

For one thing, half of the Academy’s 16 branches are devoted to below-the-line workers, who can appreciate all the expert BTL work in “Survivor” (editing, sound editing, sound mixing, cinematography, music). So this and Universal’s other awards hopeful, “Rush,” seem likely to gather more attention from Oscar and the guilds than from critics, if only because most of the December awards don’t recognize below the line.

This is not to short-change the above-the-line work in “Survivor.” In terms of acting, it’s uniformly good, but it’s a real ensemble and hard to single out one performer. As for Peter Berg, he has stiff competition in the writing and directing categories, yet there is hope there and in the best-pic race, which has more categories.

Oscar history is filled with films that scored multiple nominations — including best picture –after being ignored by most of the earlier-season awards: “A Serious Man,” “The Blind Side” and “District 9” in 2009, or, a decade earlier, 1999’s “The Sixth Sense” and “The Green Mile.”

After “Blackhawk Down,” “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” there is no telling how Oscar voters will react. “Survivor” is certainly an offbeat film to open in the holidays. So was “ZDT,” but that one had the pedigree of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal following on the success of “The Hurt Locker.” And its early critics prizes and its headline-making attacks from D.C. made it a box office hit and high on the radar of Oscar voters.

Berg, star Mark Wahlberg and the “Survivor” team have been working hard to spread the word. The next few weeks will offer evidence of how successful they’ve been.

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  1. Soldier44 says:

    Because this is Hollywood we are talking about, so far left they can’t see straight.

  2. bry00769 says:

    The best movie by walberg yet and the best told war movie all short of being there yourself

  3. CACorey says:

    I managed to catch a special screening and I could see it catching some fire under some other circumstances. I think the cast isn’t asked to do much except banter, grunt, curse, and grimace, none of which the marquee star, Mark Wahlberg, can do all that convincingly. A big emotional outburst or two might have caught some guilds’ attention but there’s no Best Actor magic there.

    The best comparison to judge its mettle is actually a Best Pic winner, The Hurt Locker. I love Bigelow’s style but I always thought The Hurt Locker suffered from extremely one-dimensional characters, and worse they were blatant stereotypes of soldiers that, frankly, don’t exist. If that film earned an Oscar in 2008, this one at least deserves some attention now. It’s too crowded of a field this year but those of us that enjoy realistic, unforgiving war movies can add it to the collection and justifiably insist it’s one of the best films of the year. Certainly better than The Butler.

    BTW, The Academy is going to float out the prospect of rewarding a film that piqued the zeitgeist like Gravity or American Hustle, but they’re going to land on 12 Years A Slave, and they should.

  4. Rod Thompson says:

    I started reading the script today, and how anyone can complain about the writing or story structure is beyond me. The first act is a bit airy, but it does everything that a first act should do – to include setting up the divided brotherhood of the SEALs in relation to the rest of the military. I’m Active Duty Navy and I can tell you that SEALs are 100% a breed all their own and it pours out of the written characters.

    I personally see this doing well in the statue arena.

  5. Lance Grode says:

    Tim,
    I can’t take this article seriously, even from Variety’s ‘awards editor”, admittedly a new title for me.
    This movie was, at best, a generous “C”; the writing was uniformly terrible, and the story was not believable. The basic premise: to wit, that the Seal team let hostiles go, insuring that they would be fighting for their lives, didn’t ring true. Mark Wahlberg, the actor, has developed into a .250 hitter, one good movie, three bad. At least in “Shooter”, based on the great novel, “Point of Impact”, the story was brilliant and Walhberg just had to be good. I guess in the end, all it takes is one reporter to raise the issue and off we go. I haven’t met one person asking the question why this film isn’t getting more Oscar attention.
    Please.

    • Scott says:

      Lance, Lone Survivor IS a true story, dummy. I’m sure some artistic license was taken for theatrical purposes, but Operation Red Wings did happen, and 19 of our bravest warriors died that day. If you want to offer your personal review, that’s fine and I respect that. However, check your facts before you embarrass yourself.

    • Daric Wade says:

      How is the story not believable? It actually happened.

      • It was “based” on a true story. Every detail is not correct. The question is did they do a good job representing what those guys went through? The answer is yes. If you were former military, you would understand that most of the dialogue rings true. As to your question of letting the hostiles go, Rules of engagement (ROE) can be a slippery slope. Killing those goat herders could have ended Mike Murphy’s military career and potentially, brig time. So yes, as the ranking officer on that operation,it was his call. My suggestion to you,is that you talk to some former military before making comments like “The story was not believable.” Grade this movie any way you’d like, but judging by the amount of teary eyed movie goers exiting the theater, I’d say this was a job very well done……My opinion.

      • The writing seemed realistic and the story had excellent structure. It is a true story, and the events did happen. Wahlberg’s best acting role, yet!

      • ReadyforHillary says:

        ” the story was not believable. The basic premise: to wit, that the Seal team let hostiles go, insuring that they would be fighting for their lives, didn’t ring true.”

        Seriously, this is the dumbest comment Ive ever read on the internet.

        What a flippin moron,

  6. LONE SURVIVOR is among the very best films of this or any year. Terrific production values imbue a morally ambiguous story about heroic men in a horrific situation. Brutally poetic and told between two unexpected acts of mercy, this film resonates in a wider world we actually inhabit.

  7. Show soldiers behaving badly (like Hurt Locker) and you’ll get consideration.

  8. Glenn C. says:

    Saw it. Ok. Not great. Wasn’t that captivating. So what if it was based on a true story.

  9. editing and cinematography are off the charts …. make no mistake, this film well shot and put together … and it’s brutal, no scorsese film ever had violence this brutal … seen it twice, would watch it again

  10. james glass says:

    Hollywood keeps making movies with Marky Mark. What they don’t realize or seem to want to face is that those movies would have been better with somebody else. This movie should not have been made with all the Hollywood types…they get in the way of the real story…and then who wants to see a war movie with Marky Mark? Not many. And despite all the hype it is not all that good. Like if you don’t like it you are not patriot….it’s kind of Fox News propaganda…and the guys were stupid. and nobody knows what happened except Marcus…he’s pushing his own agenda trying to sell books to a public that is sick of war. don’t expect awards or big box office…

  11. james glass says:

    I keep reading that this film is “good entertainment” Really? When did dirty war become entertainment? Audiences this time of year are trying to get away from it all..war is on TV daily. Troops die everyday.. And then there is the problem of trying to sell this as a hero story. Marcus seems to be the messenger of his own story. He seems to be selling himself and his book as ‘hero” Most people feel he is not a hero and would have been had he saved the others. Also, movie audiences like it when the bad guys lose and the good guys win. Not so here.

  12. thornhill says:

    I recently watched a making of featurette; it looked like yet another “men bonding in the foxhole” war movie.

    The featurette briefly mentions the “sophie’s choice” decision they had to make — which seems to be the most interesting and complex part of the story — but then just talked about the bromance between characters ad nauseam, as if there is some doubt about the fact that U.S. Marines will die to protect each other.

  13. billyray523 says:

    Oscar voters live in their own little world removed from the realities of most people who contend with normal things like having more month left than there is money, choosing between toilet tissue or cold medicines. Their choices are colored accordingly, which have nothing to do with the real merits of a film work, as shown by some previous successful films !!!

  14. Ashly says:

    I thought this film was amazing. It is true though, there are quite a few contenders for award season in our new year — This film stands alone from that in my opinion. It deserves different recognition. As do the people that worked so hard to respect and make it known what really does occur in the world around us.

  15. Tim Sassoon says:

    A few reasons. First of all, it plays a bit too much like “Friday Night Lights – The Afghan Edition.” All it needs is Coach Taylor at HQ, and maybe Connie Britton doing some USO. Second, it feels outdated; that level of combat is yesteryear’s news. Third, it looks too “digital,” and plays as TV, not a movie. And furthermore, the entire thing is predicated on a really stupid decision – why in hell didn’t they tie up the young guys and make the old man go down the mountain for help?

  16. Peggy Allen says:

    A few reasons, judging by the script, it’s basically a “shoot em up”, with no deep emotions. Its pedigree, it has none. Peter Berg is not an “awards” type of director. More like a TV movie, Battleship, type of guy. And lastly, Mark Wahlberg and his big mouth, bad mouthing his fellow actors who haven’t joined the army and fought in a war, or at least made a movie about war, like him and Berg. Whatever.

  17. AA Jabrams says:

    Haven’t seen it yet but it’s going to be difficult to do the book justice. Esp if they try to PC it to death.

  18. mpress says:

    Or perhaps because it’s not that deserving. It’s a fine movie, yes. But the last half hour makes you realize that the real story came too late. Instead it was “HOO-RAH!” for over an hour and they completely missed the true emotional impact and the bigger human conflict.

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