Could 'Skyfall' Be James Bond's First Real Shot at the Best-Picture Oscar?

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The film is so good that it could overcome the academy's bias against 007—and blockbusters in general.

skyfall sam mendes 615 oscars fallon mgm.jpg
Director Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig on the Skyfall set. (MGM/Sony)

Daniel Craig may want to keep that snazzy 007 suit close and ready.

Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film, commemorated the film franchise's 50th anniversary with a record $87.8 million debut this past weekend. But the film didn't just score monster cash. It earned some of the most glowing reviews an entry in the series has even received, sitting with a stellar 91 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes right now. With critics and audiences both cheering the flick, could Skyfall, 50 years later, be the first film to score James Bond an invite to the Oscars?

The movie is a loving homage to classic 007, featuring Bond girls, winking humor, a raucous opening chase scene, and a dastardly villain. But helmed by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and featuring four Oscar-winning co-stars (Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Albert Finney, and Ralph Fiennes), the film packs an emotional punch with as much wallop as any of the film's spectacular explosions (and they're really spectacular). A surprisingly poignant throughline carries the movie, with MI6 head M (Dench) finding herself getting pushed out of the organization, her long history with Bond explored, and the man with the license to kill's tragic backstory getting rare screen time. Even Skyfall's Big Bad, played by a scene-stealing Bardem, is given a painful past and sympathetic origin story. Skyfall is as thrilling as any of the year's big blockbusters, but it's a smartly written, affecting drama as well.

I'd argue, then, that Skyfall should be an obvious Best Picture contender at this year's Academy Awards. But with the Academy, nothing is ever obvious, or simple.

Over the past 50 years, the Bond franchise has only earned two Oscar wins, both in technical categories. Goldfinger won Best Sound Effects in 1965 and Thunderball took home Best Visual Effects in 1965, meaning it's been four decades since a Bond film earned Oscar gold. Since then, Bond movies have only earned nominations for songs (Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only), sound (Diamonds Are Forever), or effects (Moonraker). No movie in the franchise has been nominated since For Your Eyes Only's 1982 song nod, and there have been no mentions ever in more marquee races like Best Picture, Director, Actor, or Screenplay. Dr. No and From Russia With Love are canonical spy films, and certainly merited Director or Picture consideration. GoldenEye, without a doubt, deserved technical nods for its exhilarating action sequences. That "Diamonds Are Forever," "Goldfinger," or "Nobody Does It Better" didn't make it onto the Best Song shortlist is ludicrous.

If there's one thing going in Skyfall's favor, it's the timing. The Dark Knight Rises's momentum has stalled and The Hobbit's will just be getting started during campaign time.

When Casino Royale was released in 2006, it reinvigorated the genre and critical enthusiasm for the franchise, scoring a 95 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It earned BAFTA nods for Daniel Craig, its screenplay, and a slew of technical categories. The Visual Effects Society, Motion Picture Sound Editors, Costume Designers Guild, British Society of Cinematographers, and American Cinema Editors all recognized the film. But when the Oscar nominations came out, Casino Royale was snubbed completely, even in the technical races.

But these many instances of being overlooked may be less of a result of a bias against 007, and more a result of the Oscars' well-documented bias against blockbusters.

The Academy famously expanded its Best Picture lineup in 2010 to include ten nominees after The Dark Knight was snubbed in the race the year before. Ostensibly, widening the field would make it possible for those populist blockbusters to compete against the smaller arthouse offerings voters had been increasingly choosing instead. The move has been somewhat successful. Since the change, big Hollywood moneymakers like Avatar, Inception, and The Blind Side have all made it into the race. But last year, the griping returned when critically adored box-office hits like Bridesmaids, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Harry Potter's final installment were omitted while less-kindly reviewed but more self-consciously artsy films like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close made it in.

Skyfall is as stellar of an action-adventure movie as Hollywood has produced this past decade, but it will already have to compete with at least three other blockbusters to make it onto the Oscar shortlist this year: The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, and the first Hobbit film. The Bond stigma—that 007 films are merely a silly, campy popcorn flicks—could prove a disadvantage when compared to those other movies, which are thought of as much meatier offerings. Oscarologists are already predicting that the more standard awards fare—Argo, Lincoln, Les Miserables, The Master—are going to push this crop of big-budget films out of the race, whether or not it's fair. If there's one thing going in Skyfall's favor, though, it's the timing of its release. The Dark Knight Rises's momentum has already stalled while The Hobbit's will just be getting started during campaign time, as it won't be released until late December. Skyfall, however, will have an entire nation of moviegoers singing its praises in the prime of awards season, making for a word-of-mouth campaign that could carry it to Oscar night.

Skyfall could change Bond's Oscar luck in other categories, too. A snub for Roger Deakin's gorgeous cinematography would be sinful, and Thomas Newman's soaring score should earn the composer his 11th career bid. The Academy's Best Original Song category over the past few years has been a befuddling disaster (last year, only two entries made the cut), but it's still worth hoping the organization gets its act together to nominate Adele's sexy "Skyfall" theme, which couldn't complement the film more perfectly. Both Javier Bardem and Judi Dench do impressive work with their roles, with Bardem's bizarre and nuanced take on the savage ambisexual cyberterrorist Raoul Silva ideally meriting serious contention for Best Supporting Actor.

Still, any major nominations at all would be history-making given the franchise's past. Who'd have thought? After 50 years Bond's most challenging nemesis yet is named Oscar.

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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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