‘Interstellar’ Feels the Pull of Oscar’s Gravity

Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” has been compared to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but for awards voters, Christopher Nolan’s eco-epic may bring to mind a space odyssey from just last year: “Gravity.”

To be fair, “Interstellar” is a total original and the film’s state-of-the-art below-the-line-work is guaranteed to be a talking point during awards season, but voters’ memories of Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fier present both a big advantage and a challenge for Nolan’s film, which opens Nov. 7.

Last year, “Gravity” went on to earn a total of seven Oscars, including best director, and nearly swept the tech categories, and was also nominated for best picture. It’s also a reminder that a VFX action movie set in outer space can be serious, emotional and substantial.

And of course, there’s the $700 million at the box office. “Gravity,” like Nolan’s last three movies, was a commercial hit and an easy topic of conversation for awards pundits because, let’s face it, no one missed it.

It’s a similar strategy as “Interstellar” (which Paramount is releasing domestically), which takes the space setting and family-themed explorations in a completely different direction than “Gravity.” In the past, Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” and “Inception” each earned eight Oscar nominations, the majority in craft categories. Nolan has earned two writing Oscar noms but, incredibly, none as director. “Interstellar” is an opportunity to change that; it’s clearly a director’s movie.

The other kudos factor to consider: screenplay. “Gravity” didn’t earn a nomination in that category, even though the filmmakers carefully reminded voters that every vivid visual image had first appeared in the script.

“Interstellar” has a slightly different snag. It is long (169 minutes), with some confusing plot twists and heady scientific theories — there’s more talk about quantum data, wormholes and time-space-gravity than all the episodes of “Cosmos” combined. That may give a pause to some voters, but the script gets bonus points for tackling big ideas on a big scale. In a 2012 interview with Variety, Ted Turner bemoaned the lack of serious films addressing the depletion of earth’s natural resources and our need for solutions. “How many stories can you think of where we’re preparing for the future?” he asked with concern. “And if it’s not coming out of the entertainment business and the information business (i.e., the news media), where else is it going to come from?”

Nolan and his co-writer, Jonathan Nolan, sound the alarm loudly and that alone makes the film worthy of voters’ attention.

While it’s not really an actors’ movie, leads Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain do terrific work and have been tubthumping the film heavily in recent weeks, which should help. Also helping the cause is that Nolan, despite the cutting-edge technology, is in some ways a traditionalist. “Interstellar” uses soundstage sets rather than greenscreen, with a lot of shooting done in L.A.; he also prefers film to digital and he uses good ol’ 70mm. Nobody is going to vote for a film just because of these factors, but they’re positive talking points for Academy members.

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