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Are Oscarologists underestimating 'The Messenger'?

December 10, 2009 |  2:05 pm

While chatting casually with a few Oscar voters over the last few days, I heard something very curious. When I asked them what movies they've seen and really liked, they all cited "The Messenger" among their three or four top faves.

"The Messenger" with Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster

Huh. Obviously, my casual poll isn't scientific, perhaps not even reflective of a real trend, but maybe it is. The other movies mentioned by these voters were all obvious fare: "Precious," "The Hurt Locker," "An Education" ....

"The Messenger" jumps out because it's not a high-profile contender from a major studio. It's distributed by small indie Oscilloscope, which unsuccessfully campaigned "Wendy and Lucy" last year, but managed an Oscar nomination for "The Garden" as best documentary feature.

However, "The Messenger" has become a shrewd contender thanks no doubt to savvy input from PR firm 42West. It was one of the first DVDs shipped to Oscar voters this derby season, arriving in mid-November, and clearly they watched it. Like me, they were probably surprised by the quality of the writing and performances in such a small-budget film about two soldiers (Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson) who have the nasty job of informing family members of military personnel about the death of loved ones in the Mideast.

The movie's won two awards at the Berlin Film Festival, including best screenplay, and two prizes from the National Board of Review, including best supporting actor for Harrelson. It was also on the NBR's top 10 list of best pictures. It's been nominated for four Indie Spirit Awards, including best picture.

"The Messenger" has kudos momentum now and will probably pick up even more when the L.A. and New York film critics vote this Sunday and Monday, respectively, and Golden Globe and SAG nominations are unveiled next week. Don't be surprised if it ends up in the Oscars' top 10.

Photo credit: Oscilloscope

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Woody Harrelson drops back down to supporting race at Golden Globes

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Comments

The Messenger was one of the most memorable and emotional films I’ve seen this year. it's understated and quietly observed where most other 'Oscar buzz' films don't have this. it seems awards talkers are taking notice.

The Messenger deserves its due. It's in my Top 5 as of this moment and unless I just adore a bunch of the releases yet to come, it'll be a Top 10 for me.

I also found out just a few minutes ago that it is on Peter Travers' Top 10 list. He has a lot of the usual suspects on there ("Precious", "Up in the Air", "The Hurt Locker), and some films that probably won't make it ("Where the Wild Things Are", "District 9"). It will be interesting to see where "The Messenger" falls because usually his tastes and the Academy's taste are pretty similar.

The Messenger is crisply written and startling in the emotional directness of its notification scenes. Foster, Morton, and Harrelson are in top form. I really think Harrelson is a stronger contender for a best supporting Oscar than many people might think, and his recent NBR win is the first indication.


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