James Bond At 50 Scores Big At The Academy But Could It Be The First To Get Best Picture Attention?

James Bond and Abraham Lincoln both were very impressive at the box office this weekend but they also killed at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences with packed turnaway crowds, certainly among the biggest of the year there and a good omen for their Oscar chances.

At Saturday night’s Lincoln screening the 1,012 seat Samuel Goldwyn Theatre was already full with Academy members by 7:10 and the smaller theatre in the building that seats about 80 was also at capacity just a few minutes later. In a rare moment for these official Academy screenings about 50 to 60 were turned away. One member who didn’t make it in and regularly attends almost all the Acad member weekend showings told me it was the first time in all the years he has been going that he wasn’t able to get in. The film reportedly played extremely well with a standing ovation for star Daniel Day-Lewis at the Q&A which also included director Steven Spielberg, producer Kathleen Kennedy, screenwriter Tony Kushner, composer John Williams and co-star Sally Field. I was also told that virtually everyone stayed for the Q&A which often isn’t the case. This intense interest bodes well for the film’s Oscar prospects down the line. An earlier all-Guild screening at the Westwood Bruin also drew a capacity crowd and strong response at the Q&A.

For Lincoln Academy Award attention is expected but now MGM/Sony’s (with Eon) Skyfall, thanks to top reviews and the best business ever for a Bond, is also surprising pundits as an emerging Best Picture contender. The Goldwyn was packed to the rafters on Sunday night and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, star Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes appeared for the Q&A. One member told me they felt it is definitely Best Picture material and that was seconded by another, a self-confessed Bond uber-fan who proclaimed it the best ever.

Skyfall marks the 23rd Bond film out of the Broccoli factory and it is the first I can recall getting truly serious Oscar talk, not only for Best Picture but even in acting categories for supporting players Javier Bardem as the villainous Silva and Judi Dench with a particularly meaty turn as M this time around. It currently stands at an impressive 92% fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes survey of critics, the best critical response to a Bond film in decades. Mendes’ smart re-invention of the series after the not-well received Quantum Of Solace (2008) is a big reason why.

In terms of past history Bond films have a very spotty track record at the Oscars being nominated just seven times, mostly in music categories and with only two early wins for Goldfinger’s (1964) sound effects and for Thunderball’s (1965) Visual Effects. But Never Say Never to James Bond and Sony may seriously be looking at an Oscar campaign  across the board. Although there was a spotty attempt made on behalf of Craig’s first go-round as Bond in  2006’s Casino Royale, the venerable series has never had a film with the Oscar pedigree of Skyfall starting with its Oscar-winning director Mendes (American Beauty) and including at least three craftsmen new to the Bond oeuvre and way overdue for a statuette including 9-time nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, 10-time nominated composer Thomas Newman (a Mendes regular) and 15-time nominated Sound Mixer Greg P. Russell. Russell, who attended Sunday night’s Academy screening, told me he is hoping this is the movie that changes both his and James Bond’s luck at the Oscars. “I have been a part of a lot of visual effects-type movies that are tentpoles and it is not the kind of movie that gets your 60-plus-old Academy member out to go see. But seeing this kind of turnout at the Academy was really exciting for me. I have read many reviews and most had the sentiment that this is not only one of the best Bond movies, but one of the best of 2012,” he told me earlier today. He has been going to the Oscars on a regular basis since 1989 and feels this could be his best shot, especially if it gets Best Picture attention.

“I believe that is why the Best Picture category broadened (to 10 nominees), when The Dark Knight came out and didn’t get in the five. Generally as Academy members we are dealing with art films or indie films but the big popular  movie that has critical acclaim too makes a lot of sense for Best Picture. I would love to see a more popular film get in and I think Skyfall fits into that as well,” he said while signaling Deakins, Newman and editor Stuart Baird out for special praise in addition to Mendes.

Another person with similar thoughts is Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-chairman Amy Pascal. At this weekend’s Contenders event where Pascal sat on our Moguls panel with several other studio heads I posed  the question of why the Academy doesn’t take Bond films and other Blockbuster movies of its ilk as seriously as smaller, artier fare. Enjoying record grosses and rave reviews rolling in for the film over the weekend she didn’t mince words. “Well I think the Academy should take big blockbusters seriously. I think the Academy  should take any movie seriously that is the best version of itself,” she said adding genre movies like Skyfall or Dark Knight fit that definition. “I think we all got into this business because of big American movies that we fell in love with, not because they’re small indie films. And I don’t think we should relegate the power that we have as filmmakers and Academy members to the French, or the English or the indies. This is what we do. We should own it.”

If “owning it” means also launching a big campaign, James Bond could be joining Abraham Lincoln as a major Oscar contender at the ripe old age of 50.

  1. It was nowhere near good enough to receive such an accolade. Besides that, Casino Royale is still the best of all the Bond films in my eyes.

  2. Saw Skyfall on Saturday but haven’t seen Lincoln and a few other possible best picture nominees. Right now I’d include it in the 10 best pictures of the year.

  3. I think it would be a shame if Skyfall was to get a Best Picture nomination. It’s not even the best Bond film (Casino Royale was a better film, though it didn’t have such showy supporting roles).

    I could see Bardem or Dench scoring nominations, though.

  4. Sure big American blockbusters can be nominated that’s why we now have 10 slots but they won’t ever win Best Picture unless they’re Titanic. Dark Knight and James Bond are too mainstream and populist for the elite snobs who actually vote for Best Picture. They hate movies that make a billion dollars. If a movie is a huge success the voters automatically disqualify it unless it’s Titanic. A movie like that has historical relevance to the elites so they can vote for it without feeling guilty.

  5. The problem with most “big blockbusters” is that they’re dumbed down to appeal to knuckle-draggers and kids. When a picture like SKYFALL comes along–not just spectacular but also smart and compelling–then absolutely, attention must be paid. I would have no problem whatsoever seeing it as one of the BP nominees.

  6. I don’t think they will give Skyfall a Best Picture nod as a merit badge for the durability of the franchise. Voters certainly have restrained themselves from nominating other blockbuster chapters, like the last two Harry Potters.

    I’m still not thrilled with the expansion of the Best Pic category, but overall I’ve been impressed that the doling out of nominations hasn’t yet become a mere tool for major studios to brag about their biggest hits. But I’m sure it will devolve into that soon enough.

    highly, highly doubt a MORE visually impressive blockbuster will be released in the next
    10 years. it was amazing to see what he did with such a big budget.

  8. I can’t say if Skyfall is worthy of an Oscar nomination but it is a helluva fun movie to watch. I do think however both Judi Dench & Javier Bardem definitely deserve supporting actor nominations. Also best song sung by Adele is worthy of an Oscar & the sound effects are nearly deafening in the climactic action scenes so I could see that winning in the technical category.

  9. I agree that Skyfall doesn’t deserve to be nominated, still it’s fantastic and fun mainstream movie. But to compare with Argo, for example, which is supposed to be made as alternative historic “for the Oscar” movie, it looks very “Tony Scott” and totally lacks director’s class and proficiency. For now, Killing them softly is the best candidate if not for best picture, but definitely for best actor category.

  10. This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a long time. BEST PICTURE?! It’s one of the worst Bond movies ever made. And not even the best would deserve that accolade.

  11. Even the song was good yes but is it better than Tomorrow never dies or The World is Not Enough which were snubbed years ago? No.

  12. isn’t the fact that the mere mention of a best picture nomination for a James Bond picture isn’t being laughed at a sign of how low our culture has fallen?

  13. To be fair, if the Academy devolves into doling out awards for the biggest hits, they brought it upon themselves for going excessive with nominating the pretentious artsie indie films that people don’t even like.

    1. I think it may be more “pretentious artsie indie films that Jesse doesn’t like.” I get more nervous when dressed-up Lifetime movies like The Help get nominated than when a great film like The Tree of Life take up a spot.

  14. By far the best cinematography I’ve seen in years – the use of light and shadow throughout was absolutely breathtaking. It would be a travesty if Deakins didn’t get nominated and an affront if he didn’t win.

  15. Dench is terrific – rarely isn’t – she’s been nominated plenty of times of course – and won once, this is as good as that one was – actually rather better – so I think she has a decent chance.

  16. Nominated for Best Picture??? Oh, no.
    But for Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench), Cinematography, Sound Editing, Song, Sound Editing and Film Editing? Definitely yes.

  17. What makes you think a James Bond movie can’t be that good? Dismissing a movie just because it’s based on a particular character or genre is the equivalent of judging a book by it’s cover.

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