Why 'The Hunger Games' Has a Shot at the Best-Picture Oscar

Well-reviewed, weighty, and commercially successful, the film could take advantage of a rule change caused by The Dark Knight's snub four years ago.

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Jennifer Lawrence announces Academy Awards nominations on Jan. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

It's fitting that Jennifer Lawrence, the stoic Katniss Everdeen in Hollywood's latest book-to-movie blockbuster The Hunger Games, was chosen to announce the 2012 Academy Award nominations in January. The star, already an Oscar nominee for her breakout performance in the 2010 indie Winter's Bone, may find herself back at the 2013 ceremony supporting her new film.

Lawrence's movie, an adaptation of Suzanne Collins's best-selling novel, bears much in common with another zeitgeist-seizing young-adult-novel-turned-record-smashing-film: Last year's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Set in the dystopian country of Panem, the harrowing Hunger Games follows 16-year-old Katniss as she is drafted to fight 23 other teenagers to the death in a terrifying government-sponsored reality TV competition. Like that final Harry Potter film, The Hunger Games is a noteworthy for its uncommon willingness to show brutality and deal with mortality, especially in relation to its young characters. Both efforts are based on hugely popular novels but managed to leap to the big screen while escaping the wrath of many of their most passionate fans.

More than that, The Hunger Games echoes The Deathly Hallows in that it is shamelessly, but also masterfully, populist. Both movies pandered to their massive fan bases with cheesy one-liners meant to mine hoots and hollers from the packed theaters ("You call that a kiss?" is right up there with "Not my daughter, you bitch!") and both sanitized the book's violence with camera trickery in order to achieve a PG-13 rating. Yet both movies were also well structured, smartly acted, emotionally affecting, and more exhilarating than any recent robo-space-transformer-pirate movie propping up Hollywood's bottom line. After The Deathly Hallows earned rapturous reviews for being the rare popcorn flick with all of the aforementioned attributes, there was a perfectly legitimate movement to get the movie a Best-Picture Oscar nod. Expect a similar campaign to be launched in support of The Hunger Games once awards season rolls around. Does it stand a better chance than Harry Potter at landing it? The odds are, as the movie's characters would put it, ever in its favor.

It's a crowd-pleaser with something to say. And the Academy loves saying something.

In addition to love letters from top critics like the Daily News's Joe Neumaier—"exciting and thought-provoking in a way that few adventure dramas ever are"—the film currently has a stellar 85 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That metric is already higher than four films that managed Best Picture nods earlier this year: Tree of Life (84), War Horse (78), The Help (76), and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (48). It also is prime material for Best Picture-comparable nods from several other organization, many of which serve as reliable barometers of Academy taste. The Hunger Games cast—past Oscar nominees Lawrence, Stanley Tucci, and Woody Harrelson; two-time Golden Globe winner Donald Sutherland; and well-liked journeymen Elizabeth Banks and Wes Bentley—is tailor-made for the SAG Ensemble Awards. It's also the kind of film the Producer's Guild loves to nominate for its big award: Well-reviewed moneymakers like Bridesmaids, The Town , and Star Trek have walked away with that prize.

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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