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‘Imitation Game’ Demands Oscar’s Attention (Analysis)

“The Imitation Game” is clearly an awards contender: Complex, impeccably executed and unique. The film’s offbeat approach to an oddball character will be its greatest strength — and its challenge.

A historical drama about WWII cryptographer Alan Turing, “The Imitation Game” is a kudos candidate in multiple categories, including the superb performances of Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley (lead or supporting? She could go either way). Artisan contributions seem like shoo-in contenders. And the film, direction and screenplay are clearly in the FYC category.

The big challenge to both mainstream audiences and awards voters: selling it. Based on Andrew Hodges’ biography on Turing, the British mathematician who cracked the Nazis’ code, “Imitation Game” demands that the audience work to keep up. When awards voters have a stack of DVDs and invitations to screenings, they’ll need a lot of buzz to lure them to a film about a WWII-era computer and the relationships among the real-life English geeks who are building it. What’s more, the first hour lays out events so slowly and carefully that you’re not sure where the film is headed.

The first lines of the movie are “Are you paying attention? Good. If you’re not listening carefully, you will miss things.” That’s a warning to audiences as well, despite the second hour paying off big, with a heartbreaking finale. So it’s not an easy sell, but the Weinstein Co. team are experts at handling difficult awards material.

Comparisons are tough. At times, the WWII-era geeks of “Imitation Game” make it seem like “Big Bang Theory” as depicted on “Masterpiece Theatre.” In terms of awards precedents, it could be compared to “A Beautiful Mind,” “Atonement” (which also featured Knightley and Cumberbatch) and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” They all got awards attention, but to varying degrees.

The film ultimately celebrates anyone who is not “normal.” As director Morten Tyldum said at the Telluride Festival screening on Friday, he liked the message: namely “how important it is that someone is different.” That may turn off some voters but should appeal to most creatives. Because if there ever was a place where the atypical made an impact, it’s Hollywood.

 

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