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‘Licorice Pizza’ Might Be Tasty Enough for Oscar Voters, but Needs a Dash More Bradley Cooper

Paul Thomas Anderson's newest film could be appealing for awards voters and could nab him an overdue Oscar for original screenplay.

Licorice Pizza
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Auteur Paul Thomas Anderson ushers in his breeziest, most light-hearted effort yet with “Licorice Pizza,” a film that could be an all-around awards player, possibly nabbing him an overdue Academy Award for best original screenplay. Add in debut performances from Cooper Hoffman — son of late Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman — and singer-songwriter Alana Haim, and the film could steal the hearts of awards voters in the months to come.

The comparisons to Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age film “Almost Famous” will be plenty, in addition to parallels to another 2000 movie, “High Fidelity,” as well as “Dazed and Confused” (1993). Anderson has been nominated for eight Oscars over his career, failing to walk away with a statue:

  • “Boogie Nights” (1997) – original screenplay
  • “Magnolia” (1999) – original screenplay
  • “There Will Be Blood” (2007) – picture, director and adapted screenplay
  • “Inherent Vice” (2014) – adapted screenplay
  • “Phantom Thread” (2017) – picture and directing

Despite its lighter tones, Anderson’s film may not be beloved by all. Meandering moments of walking, awkward conversations, and an unclear perception of how much time has passed between scenes could frustrate voters and critics alike. Anderson is in a category of auteurs with dedicated fanbase who don’t necessarily appeal to the masses or broader Academy, despite multiple nominations. Wes Anderson, Lars von Trier, Terrence Malick and perhaps even Yorgos Lanthimos are among those filmmakers. Despite their films being revered and beloved by many, a future best picture winner doesn’t seem like it would come from their repertoire. However, the awards season can present an opportunity to reward such a visionary, often in a screenplay category. Quentin Tarantino had nabbed a pair of Oscars for writing “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “Django Unchained” (2012) when the Academy had more traditional options like “Forrest Gump” and “Argo.” Likewise, an unconventional director like Taika Waititi was able to push past the likes of Greta Gerwig, Anthony McCarten and Steven Zaillian for his adapted dramedy “Jojo Rabbit” (2019). AMPAS also found a way to reward longtime veteran filmmakers like James Ivory (“Call Me by Your Name”) and Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”) in recent years. Original screenplay could be Anderson’s golden ticket.

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Alana Haim, a member of the rock band Haim, plays a Valley local. Melinda Sue Gordon/MGM

In a fully naturalistic performance, one that doesn’t use any movie makeup (except in a scene or two when her character is supposed to be wearing lipstick), Haim shines brightly and could be the winner of multiple breakthrough performance awards this season. However, with the best actress category crowded with celebrities (Kristen Stewart), former winners (Olivia Colman and Frances McDormand), and two other singers-turned-actresses (Lady Gaga and Jennifer Hudson), it’ll be difficult for Haim to carve out a lane for herself to crack into the five. However, at this point in other Oscar seasons, I was hopeful, but doubtful for eventual nominees like Yalitza Aparicio (“Roma”), Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”), Catalina Sandino Moreno (“Maria Fully of Grace”) and Quvenzhané Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”), and they broke through in the end.

Prepare for the world to fall in love with Hoffman. You can’t help but root for his persona of over-the-top, suave businessman, who happens to be a high school student. However, his character, inspired by film and television producer Gary Goetzman — a frequent Tom Hanks collaborator — is not as straightforward as the movie’s leading actor as we would have assumed. While the story begins with him, by the midway point, we are looking at the world through Alana’s eyes, based on her experiences and narrative agencies. While the studio is campaigning him for lead actor, it makes you wonder if a supporting run would have been more appropriate because he straddles the line between the two.

The first trailer showed us a riveting scene of producer Jon Peters, who was dating Barbra Streisand during this time, but that moment comes about four-fifths of the way into the film and provides six to seven minutes of Cooper on screen. If they were able to add one more Cooper beat and find a way to move his entry toward the very end, then we could have been in store for a William Hurt-like turn, when he blew the doors off an already incredible movie in “A History of Violence” (2005). Instead, with two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn (“Mystic River” and “Milk”) also delivering a similarly brief drop-in, along with Benny Safdie, it’ll be hard to pick your favorite near-cameo. They may all be a scene or two short for supporting actor glory.

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Courtesy of MGM

In his editing debut, Andy Jurgensen keeps an engaging pace, but could have used a tighter runtime, as the movie is 133 minutes long. However, I would still expect a group like American Cinema Editors to recognize the pic in the feature film comedy category. Instead, look for the movie to make a serious play for categories like production design (from Florencia Martin and set decorator Ryan Watson) and costumes (from Oscar winner Mark Bridges).

Along with writing, directing and producing, Anderson shot the film with cinematographer Michael Bauman in his debut. Watching it in stunning 35MM is a treat, but it should be noted that co-DPs very seldom get recognized by the Academy. The most recent nominees were the black-and-white Polish drama “Ida” (2013) by Łukasz Żal and Ryszard Lenczewski, and the surprising entry “The Reader” (2008) by Roger Deakins and Chris Menges. In this competitive year, with monochrome, sci-fi and women possibly getting their due, this race may prove challenging.

Don’t count on composer Jonny Greenwood making a play for a third possible entry, along with his works on “The Power of the Dog” and “Spencer,” because there’s not enough music to qualify for the music branch.

Also produced by Sara Murphy and Adam Somner, “Licorice Pizza” will open in limited release on Nov. 26 before going nationwide on Christmas Day.

2022 Academy Awards Predictions