The last of the year's best picture Oscar hopefuls dropped Sunday as Angelina Jolie unveiled "Unbroken," a biopic of Olympic athlete and American war hero Louis Zamperini, at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills.
There were two screenings for various guild members and media. There were ovations. There were a few tears. There was a scrum outside the theater when Jolie made her way to her SUV. And, apparently, there was an accident involving Jolie's car after the second screening because no one, not even the professionals, knows how to drive in L.A. when it rains.
How will "Unbroken" fare with the academy? This week's Oscar Watch, which comes to you every Monday, takes a look at the film.
"Unbroken's" Best Picture Hopes
Do good movies about great lives get nominated for best picture and sometimes win? Yes, though the winning part of the equation hasn't happened for some time now.
"Unbroken" rates as an accomplished effort. The early reviews have been respectful, though restrained. Variety's Justin Chang mirrored the sentiment of a few academy and guild members I spoke to, writing that the movie never quite "roars to dramatic life." We see glimpses of Zamperini's heroic nature and certainly bear witness to his strong determination to survive and live by his brother's words, that "a moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory." We see this both after his B-24 crashes into the Pacific and he spends 47 days on a raft and, later, suffering inhumane treatment at Japanese POW camps.
"We get it, but there's only so many times you can watch a man be beaten and not have it become repetitive, unless you have something else to say," noted an academy member after the screening. "In the postscript, you find out about Zamperini's faith and that he forgave. But you don't get that in the movie. And it's weaker for it."
Jolie's dutiful approach lessens the power of the film, but not the inherent force of the story itself. It's easy to see the academy rewarding "Unbroken" for its commitment to bringing Zamperini's life to the screen. And in a year without a clear front-runner (though "Boyhood" could make a convincing case if it sweeps the major critics groups), you could even argue that it's good enough to win. If nothing else, it gives the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, an 11-time nominee, the opportunity to finally take home his first Oscar for his inspired work here.
Chances are that most academy members will be seeing the 24-year-old English actor for the first time and he makes a memorable initial impression. O'Connell pulls off the role's physical demands -- the running, the weight fluctuations, the stamina and energy -- with ease. But he capably handles the internal conflicts and small gestures too, commanding the audience's attention for just about every moment of the movie's 137-minute running time.
The problem, as has been noted endlessly, is that the lead actor race is, once again, ridiculously crowded with worthy candidates. Eddie Redmayne for "The Theory of Everything"; Michael Keaton for "Birdman"; Benedict Cumberbatch for "The Imitation Game"; David Oyelowo for "Selma"; Steve Carell for "Foxcatcher"; Timothy Spall for "Mr. Turner." We could go on, but you get the idea. Voters are going to have to go for "Unbroken" in a big way for the engaging O'Connell to join the final group.
Academy voters don't know Miyavi either ... unless they've spent time in Japan where this dude is a rock star who has a lot of tattoos and, more often than not, doesn't really look like a dude. Cast against type as the sadistic POW camp commandant who makes Zamperini's life a living hell, Miyavi, like O'Connell, brings a magnetic presence to an underwritten role. Guild and academy members spoke highly of the performance after the movie, with one actor calling him a "major discovery."
The supporting actor category, led by a guy playing a sadist of a different sort (J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash"), isn't as crowded and often welcomes newcomers. (Barkhad Abdi can always captain our ship.) Who knows? Maybe if Coldplay wins a nod for the original song that plays over "Unbroken's" end credits, Miyavi can join them on stage and duet with Chris Martin. Or do something with host Neil Patrick Harris. The guy offers endless opportunities to add a little life to the evening.
The academy has nominated only four women for the director Oscar -- Lina Wertmüller for “Seven Beauties” (1976), Jane Campion for “The Piano” (1993), Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation” (2003) and Kathryn Bigelow, who took the prize for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009. Could Jolie be the fifth -- or the sixth if Ava DuVernay's name is called first for "Selma"?
At the moment, Jolie's chances are probably as good as a number of other candidates -- Bennett Miller ("Foxcatcher"), Clint Eastwood ("American Sniper"), Morten Tyldum ("The Imitation Game"), though not as strong as Richard Linklater ("Boyhood") or Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Birdman").
But Jolie has already succeeded where others failed, finally bringing Zamperini's remarkable story to the screen. And she was pretty great this year in front of the camera too. It's hard to imagine her having any regrets, save for maybe her choice of car service.