Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' May Not Be the Awards Juggernaut Everyone Expected

Few filmmakers working today are as revered by critics and audiences as Christopher Nolan, who makes visually extraordinary films built around sophisticated plots. If there has been a knock on them, it is that they sometimes seem more interested in technology than humans, resulting in awe-inspiring but emotionally cold moviegoing experiences. This, some have reasoned, is why the Academy famously withheld a best picture nom from Nolan's 2008 masterpiece The Dark Knight — a decision so widely criticized that it directly led to the Academy's expansion of the best picture category. And it is why the Academy has barely acknowledged his other films with the exception of Inception (and even then his peers in the directors branch still neglected to nominate him).

Nolan's latest and most ambitious film yet, Interstellar, appears to be his attempt to redress this. It is a drama set in the future and largely in outer space, but it aims to be a story about love and family. And yet, in doing so, my sense — and that of most others with whom I've discussed the film — is that it loses the narrative coherence that defined even his most complex earlier efforts. Consequently, I no longer believe that it is going to be the film to beat at the Oscars, but rather that it is much more of a question mark.

Read more 'Interstellar' Film Review

In practice, the stuff about human relationships is really just a framing device for a story about the possibilities of space travel — and in order to reach any sense of emotional resolution about the former, viewers must first traverse through complex scenarios involving the latter. Some of these are grounded in reality; others are, as of this writing, pure theoretical fantasy (traveling through black holes, wormholes and across dimensions). In an effort to make the more fantastical elements seem plausible, the director and his co-screenwriter (and brother) Jonathan Nolan introduce all sorts of scientific jargon and justifications — seemingly endless exposition, really — that may or may not actually make sense, but that are sure to cause some audience members' eyes to glaze over.

Moreover, after the epic journey that the film takes its characters and audience on — its the latest in a long line of recent films about people who get lost and struggle to get home — aspects of its resolution seem more than a little ridiculous and implausible. Maybe repeat viewings will clarify some of the question marks (I certainly intend to find out), but good luck getting Academy members to watch a three-hour film twice.

Read more 10 'Interstellar' Secrets Straight From Christopher Nolan

A Nolan movie is always an event, and the mixed reviews that this one is receiving surely won't keep it from generating massive — maybe even record — grosses at the box office, which is probably the primary concern of its distributors Paramount (which is handling U.S.) and Warner Bros. (which is releasing it internationally), which co-financed the $165 million venture. But how will it go over with the Academy? That is far less certain.

Much of its crafts work — the visual effects, sound editing and mixing, cinematography, and original score — is extraordinary, so I expect that it will generate a lot of nominations in the below-the-line categories. That being said, I'm not sure what film editors, writers, directors or actors, who represent the largest branch of the Academy, will make of its story issues (the human stuff is too simplistic and the science stuff is too complex). They are certainly not the fault of the performers — lead Matthew McConaughey continues his remarkable run of first-rate work, and Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain add multiple notes to characters that otherwise might have had just one — but their individual prospects may be collateral damage.

As for best picture, will voters put the film high on their ballots, something that is required under the current voting system, to land a nom? My gut feeling is that enough people will rally behind Interstellar to get it nominated in the top category. Nolan, like Gone Girl's David Fincher, Inherent Vice's Paul Thomas Anderson and a select few others, can do no wrong in the eyes of some. But the suspicion that I had a week ago — that this film might even win — is now gone.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg