It’s not always bad to be late to the party, even when it comes to the Oscars. Sony Pictures’ “A Man Called Otto” had its first official screening on Monday at the Academy Museum, with a crowd full of industry voters and critics alike. Though the film wasn’t really on anyone’s radar, the reception was surprisingly enthusiastic based on social media reactions.
After sitting out the best picture discussion for the last three years, Sony has a few hands to play during the season. Aside from Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King” and J.D. Dillard’s “Devotion,” Marc Forster’s “A Man Called Otto” could strongly appeal to the older demographic of the Academy, sure to bring joyous moments and a few tears.
Beloved actor and “America’s Dad” Tom Hanks is back doing what he does best: stepping into an “everyman character” that the audience can’t help but root for, despite his obvious human flaws. A two-time Oscar winner for “Philadelphia” (1993) and “Forrest Gump” (1994), he’s assembled six nods over his career. One of the most grueling gaps was between his volleyball-loving plane crash survivor in “Cast Away” (2000) and his most recent nod for transforming into TV icon Fred Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2019), also a Sony film.
Since his turn as Mr. Rogers, some of Hanks’ acting choices have been hit or miss. Earlier this year, he had some critics and audiences scratching their heads with his accent choices as music manager Tom Parker in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” and then again as Papa Geppetto in Robert Zemeckis’ “Pinocchio.” But in “Otto,” he brings a tender-hearted interpretation of a broken man, scorned by life’s dealings with an apathy for the people he encounters. He could make a play to nab his lucky seventh nod for the best actor race, which has yet to fully solidify. His “Elvis” co-star Austin Butler is among the contenders, meaning the pair could be nominated for lead actor from separate projects. The last similar pairing was Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey in 2014 (both were in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” with the latter nominated and winning for “Dallas Buyers Club”).
An adaptation of the novel “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman that was later made into a Swedish film of the same in 2015, “Otto” tells the story of a curmudgeon grump who has given up on life following the loss of his wife, wanting to end it all. But when a young family moves across the street, he builds a friendship with quick-witted, pregnant mother Marisol (played by Mariana Treviño), who challenges him to see the brighter side of things.
The film is a discovery for American audiences of Mexican actress Treviño, who steals multiple scenes and brings undeniable energy and charisma to an utterly mysterious supporting actress race. Best known for her role in Netflix’s first-ever Spanish-language original production “Club de Cuervos,” her hilarious banter with Hanks and actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, who plays her not-so-handy husband, is wickedly endearing. Does she have a chance to break into a category where big names like Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), Jessie Buckley (“Women Talking”) and Jamie Lee Curtis (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) have dominated the conversation? It’ll be quite an uphill climb, especially this late in the season when critics’ prizes are already being handed out.
The movie could play a factor in a couple of other races, notably adapted screenplay (written by “Finding Neverland” Oscar-nominated scribe David Magee) and original score (beautifully orchestrated by the 15-time Oscar nominee Thomas Newman).
There are examples of end-of-the-year awards success stories like the best picture winner “Million Dollar Baby” (2004). While “Otto” is far from a best picture winner, it’s comparable to last year’s winner “CODA” (2021) with its feel-good qualities and could likely be a box-office family hit of the holiday season.
The film is co-produced by Hanks, Gary Goetzman, Fredrik Wikström Nicastro and Rita Wilson, Hanks’ wife of 34 years. In addition, Wilson writes and sings the original song “Til You’re Home,” featured in the middle of the film and over the wholly satisfying credits scroll. Also featuring vocals from Sebastián Yatra, who sang the Oscar-nominated “Dos Orugitas” in “Encanto” (2021), the track only adds to the emotional tug of the film and is a likely entry on the original song shortlist when it’s announced Dec. 21.
The obstacle for Sony Pictures will be getting voters to watch the film before turning in their ballots. “Otto” will surely appeal to the older demographic of the Academy, with great potential for substantial crossover with others.