Clint Eastwood has had trouble getting back into the Oscar race lately. After winning best picture way back in 1992 ("Unforgiven"), he had a great run from 2003 to 2006 with two best-pic nominees ("Mystic River," "Letters From Iwo Jima") and one more champ ("Million Dollar Baby"), but then he got tripped up. His later films scored acting bids for Angelina Jolie ("Changeling") and Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon ("Invictus"), but they didn't make the best-picture contest. "Gran Torino" got shut out of all categories, but most Oscarologists believe it would have done better if it had been released to theaters a few weeks earlier.
Trotting out onto the derby track next: Clint's "Hereafter," which just broke out of the gate at the Toronto International Film Festival. It's hard to size up because it's not a typical Clint flick. It's part blockbuster (a tsunami hits in the first few minutes) and part sci-fi/fantasy (Matt Damon stars as a reluctant, real psychic) — two film genres that sometimes have trouble at the Oscars (except if they're "Avatar"). However, lots of Oscar royalty is involved, including producers Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy and screenwriter Peter Morgan ("Frost/Nixon," "The Queen," "Last King of Scotland"). Plus lots of academy darlings in the crafts/tech areas.
Reviews have been mixed but mostly positive from major media sources.
ROGER EBERT, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: "I was surprised how enthralling I found it. ... 'Hereafter' is unlike any film Clint Eastwood has ever made, but you'd think he'd been preparing it for years."
HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: "The film never is less than intriguing, right from its tour de force opening sequence, and often full of insights into why people long for answers, sometimes with great urgency. ... As with 'Letters From Iwo Jima' and 'Million Dollar Baby,' Eastwood has made a movie that shakes up the whole notion of what studio movies can be."
VARIETY: " 'Hereafter' is a beguiling blend of the audacious and the familiar but is armored against risibility by its deep pockets of emotion, sly humor and matter-of-fact approach to the fantastical."
Cinematical is among its detractors, blasting it as an "unchallenging dullard," but "Hereafter" may be critic-proof. I have a hunch it's going to be a blockbuster hit — just like "Ghost," which gave the masses the same comforting assurance that dead loved ones can communicate with us through the veil. "Ghost" spooked its detractors at the box office, pulling in $217 million domestically. At the Oscars, it reaped five nominations, including a surprise best-picture bid. It won two: best original screenplay (Bruce Joel Rubin) and supporting actress (Whoopi Goldberg).
Back in 1990, there were only half as many slots for best picture, of course. Until we observe how "Hereafter" performs after its theatrical release on Oct. 22, it's unwise to believe some Oscarologists who say it's not a strong contender for best picture. No doubt they're the same Oscarologists who pooh-poohed the possibility of another commercial, feel-good flick breaking in last year: "The Blind Side."
Photos, from top: "Hereafter." Credit: Warner Bros. Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon arrive at Toronto's Elgin Theatre for "Hereafter's" North American premiere. Eastwood, left, film costar Bryce Dallas Howard and Damon on stage before the film unspooled. Credit: Tom O'Neil