Oscars: 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Has Best Picture Nomination Potential (Analysis)

THR's awards analyst argues J.J. Abrams' film could become the franchise's first installment since the original to land above-the-line noms. (Spoiler free.)
Courtesy of Lucasfilms 2015/Walt Disney Studios
Carrie Fisher in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

Seeing any movie at its premiere — complete with a red carpet, stars, food and booze — has a way of making that movie seem extra special. And seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens at its world premiere on Monday night — the biggest Hollywood premiere in the 21st century — undoubtedly boosted the way I and others felt about it.

Even accounting for inflation, though, I still think the movie turned out as well as anyone reasonably could have hoped, and could be a player in an Oscar race that already was shaping up to be pretty unconventional before this latest twist. (Among its oddities, two other sequels to sequels appear to be seriously in contention: Mad Max: Fury Road and Creed.)

Why? Because people inside and outside of the industry really want to love The Force Awakens — that's why anticipation has been so high that tracking suggests it could set a new record for opening weekend and achieve an enormous box-office gross. J.J. Abrams, in essentially rebooting Star Wars following three disappointing installments around the turn of the century, takes the franchise back to its roots in story, look and feel. The three original stars — Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill — all are in tow, along with a host of talented up-and-comers like Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong'o and Daisy Ridley.

Do you remember how the first Star Wars, released in 1977, went over with the Academy, a group that famously is averse to genre pics? It not only won for its art direction, costume design, film editing, score, sound and visual effects, but it also was nominated in four above-the-line categories: picture, director, original screenplay and supporting actor. (Subsequent installments were limited entirely to below-the-line noms.)

Admittedly, the first Star Wars and the latest one appeal in very different ways. The first was special because it was so unlike anything that had preceded it, while the current film is special because it evokes the original. But I think The Force Awakens could resonate with the Academy, too, seeing how much that organization loves an ambitious, well-made megahit (see: Titanic's best picture win and Avatar's best picture nom), and keeping in mind that there now can be five to 10 best picture nominees, rather than just five, as was the case in 1977.

Frankly, I wouldn't be shocked if Abrams scores a best director nom. Indeed, much of the praise for the film after the premiere was reserved for him, and thanks to vocal champions like Steven Spielberg and Ava DuVernay, I could see enough support from members of the directors branch to land him in the race.

It's a year with a lot of movies that many people like, but not a lot of movies that many people love, and the passion that Academy members feel for a film or the people associated with it — as reflected on a preferential ballot — really matters.

We'll have to wait and see how the film goes over once more people get a chance to watch it. But for now, as I mull over my own thoughts and conversations from the premiere of The Force Awakens and read tweets from Academy members to the effect that it "might be the best blockbuster since the original … delivers on every level" (doc branch member Brett Morgen) and that it "totally delivers … just wow" (acting branch member Elizabeth Banks) and that it's "great. Nothing more to say. Just go." (short films and feature animation branch member Andrew Stanton) and that it's "a movie that delivers … cried like a baby, whooped like a teen" (acting branch member Rob Lowe), I think the film stands a great shot of firing up a lot of people.

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