Oscar 8-Ball: Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’

Thinking about our love for “The Master,” we can’t help but recall that early moment in the film when the military official tells the gathered veterans that “people on the outside will not understand the condition you have.” Yes, academy members, we’re thinking of you. How much love will they bestow Paul Thomas Anderson’s divisive film? Time to check in with the Oscar 8-Ball, that magical portal into the minds and hearts and, in the rare applicable instance, the souls of academy members and how they’ll be voting this awards season.

Signs point to yes: Remember the heady days leading up to “The Master’s” September release, when Anderson staged pop-up screenings of the movie, first at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre and then throughout the country, and fans and critics swooned, feverishly debating the film’s puzzling themes? Then came the Venice Film Festival, where Anderson and the movie’s male leads, Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, all won prizes. Whether you loved it or were baffled by it, “The Master” seemed destined to be a major force during awards season. And now? It would appear that the four awards given to the movie recently by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. -- wins for Anderson, Phoenix, Amy Adams and production designers Jack Fisk and David Crank -- might be the high-water mark for PTA’s dazzling film.


The movie’s meager showing with SAG voters (only Hoffman received a nomination) signals a larger unwillingness to embrace what critics call a willfully opaque movie completely devoid of sympathetic characters. Now, last we checked, a film’s greatness wasn’t defined by whether we liked the people being portrayed. (But then, our holiday movie of choice is “Bad Santa,” not “It’s a Wonderful Life,” so what do we know?) An argument can also be made that “The Master” is a fascinating inquiry into what it means to be human and if you can’t work up a little empathy for Phoenix’s Freddie Quell, then, in the words of the great Lancaster Dodd, you must have unlocked the secret to living in these bodies that we hold.

And, in the words of another great American, “Spinal Tap’s” documentarian Marty DiBergi: Enough of my yakking. Let’s boogie through the movie’s awards outlook. Even in the face of obstinance, we feel pretty good about forecasting a nomination for Hoffman as well as cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. Even head-scratching haters admitted that the movie looked great. And though Anderson might not be able to punch through the crowded director category, he should still earn a nod for original screenplay.

Reply hazy, try again: SAG’s snubs of Phoenix and Adams don’t bode well. Phoenix could be the odd man out for lead actor, though we still think Adams will make it in over Nicole Kidman for supporting actress. Noms for score, production design and editing would all be deserved and remain entirely possible.

Outlook not so good: The 8-Ball has long maintained that the passion of the film’s die-hard fans would carry it to a best picture nomination. Maintaining that belief has become our lonely awards-season vigil. The candle is burning low ...


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