New York Film Fest: David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' Opens Fest, But Is It an Oscar Movie?

Other recent New York Film Festival opening-night films have had a hit-or-miss track record with the Academy, much like Fincher's own prior works
Scott Feinberg
Opening night at the 2014 NYFF

David Fincher's Gone Girl, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn's 2012 best-selling novel about the marriage of Amy and Nick Dunne — 8.5 million copies sold — that was scribed by Flynn herself and stars Rosamund Pike (Amy) and Ben Affleck (Nick), opened the 2014 New York Film Festival on Friday night with multiple screenings at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall and a lavish afterparty at Central Park's Tavern on the Green.

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The New York Film Fest has a hit-or-miss track record with opening-night films in recent years: Mystic River (2003), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), The Queen (2006), The Social Network (2010), Life of Pi (2012) and Captain Phillips (2013) all went on to land best picture Oscar nominations — but Celebrity (1998), The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and Carnage (2011) were entirely ignored by the Academy.

Into which grouping will Gone Girl eventually fall?

Based on the response to the official world premiere screening at 9 p.m. ET (at the end of which people politely applauded for about 10 seconds) and the chatter at Tavern on the Green (which, like the screening, was packed with industry insiders, more than a few of who are members of the Academy), my sense is that the answer could be neither, but rather somewhere in between.

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Why? Because, most seemed to feel, nearly everything about the 145-minute Gone Girl is first-rate and worthy of celebration — the direction, the cinematography, the editing, the music and the performances of the leads (especially Pike, finally in a role worthy of her talents), all of which could land Oscar noms — except for the story at its center, which may make for an engaging beach read but, brought to life on the big screen, struck some as a bit implausible.

Reviews of the film, which have been dribbling in for days now from journalists who were given sneak screenings of it by Fincher and Fox, to the annoyance of those who were not at the NYFF but as part of a quest to gin up buzz ahead of the film's nationwide opening on Friday, have generally been very strong. That's not surprising. Critics have always loved auteur Fincher's work — i.e., Se7en (1995), Fight Club (1999), Zodiac (2007), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) — and been susceptible to flattery.

But the Academy has never fully warmed up to Fincher, whose stories and characters have had a tendency to be a bit cold, and that could be a knock on this one, too. Why? To answer that, I must issue a major spoiler alert for the remaining paragraphs of this write-up.

The closest precedent for Gone Girl that did click with Oscar voters was Adrian Lyne's Fatal Attraction (1987), which is about an icy blonde terrorizing a man with whom she once was romantically involved, and which landed six noms, including best picture, best director, best actress and best adapted screenplay, the same four that Fox would kill — pun intended — to see this one bag, as well. The studio also wouldn't mind a box-office showing like the one Paramount got 27 years ago: Fatal grossed $156 million domestically, more than all but one other film in 1987, and doubled that take internationally. But there are some major differences between the two films — not least the motivations of the women, and their fates.

While many are calling Gone Girl an indictment of our tabloid media culture, at least one female journalist quickly — and eloquently — heralded it as a sort of female Dirty Harry (1971). (A few years ago there were similar pieces heroizing Lisbeth Salander, the character at the center of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — the original Swedish title of which translates to "Men Who Hate Women.") It's possible that some women in the Academy — maybe even many — will share these feelings; however, in another injustice against their gender, women still account for only 24 percent of the Academy's membership, so, in terms of the Oscar race, that alone will only take the film so far.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg

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